They Call Me Big Jerm

My nickname at the gym is “Big Jerm”. My buddies Josh, Jake and Shawn lovingly crafted the name over two years ago because I was a lanky guy trying to gain strength and pack on muscle. All three of them are much stronger and can lift much heavier things.

It is a name similar in vein to that of Robin Hood’s compatriot Little John, who was anything but little. Or like Curly of the Three Stooges.

What some of my friends in Minneapolis don’t know is that at one point that name was much more literal. Up until graduating high school, I was never overweight but also not in great shape either.

College led to the “freshman fifteen” thanks to a dining hall that offered daily access to a fro-yo machine and frost your own cookie days.

Couple that with a lack of exercise and moving into a fraternity and I reached a high of 197 pounds.

That weight fluctuated a bit after college as I did make some focused attempts to run and swim. They would usually peter out though and the New York City lifestyle of take-out food and happy hours kept my weight high.

I also take the blame as my focus was all about my social life and extracurricular activities, none of which involved exercise.

In the fall of 2008, I moved to Rome, Italy. Despite what you might think about living in the land of pizza and pasta, I actually started to shed some weight immediately upon arrival.

Everyday I walked 30-minutes each way to and from my apartment to campus, which was a lot more exercise than I was used to.

I was also cooking my own meals at least two times per day and eliminating a lot of processed foods without realizing it. Rome doesn’t do shelf life. Most of their food is perishable and it’s a diet much more focused on homemade rather than made in China.

By Christmas break, I had lost 20 pounds.

I have told the story before of how by the spring of 2010 my focus turned towards fitness. I started running and I was feeling really good.

When it was time to move back to the United States, I didn’t want to return to NYC partly because I didn’t want to fall into the trappings of my old lifestyle.

For so long I had normalized what I looked like when I was at my heaviest that it wasn’t until I lost the weight that I began to understand the lack of health and wellness in my life.

It’s amazing how a suit and a tie and a haircut can hide what’s truly underneath.

This all makes for a long introduction to the fact that now almost three years into doing CrossFit and starting to compete, I am nervous about going backwards.

I want to get “bigger” but I don’t want to be big again. I realize that perspective is all relative and that my “extreme” weight is far less than others.

But I can only compare me to myself and the fact is that I am in the best shape I have ever been. It makes me sad that it didn’t happen until I was almost 32 years old, but I can’t dwell on that and instead have to just be thankful for what this new lifestyle will mean for my next 30+ years.

However, with all this cleaner eating and heavy training, I hit a low of 161 pounds in January of this year. Lanky is no longer the desirable aesthetic.

Now that I have so many tools in my arsenal in terms of exercise and diet, I have consciously been trying to put back on some weight – hopefully mostly muscle.

But it is hard to think about bulking up and eating extra calories because of that fear that all my hard work will go away.

I realize that this is not rational since I am at the gym so often. I know that I won’t go back to before. And at the end of the day, the number on the scale is not as important as how I look and feel.

Rich Froning weighs 195 pounds and he is only 5’9″. Michael Phelps is 6’4″ and weighs 194 pounds.

The scale doesn’t tell the story any longer for either of them. And I would be happy to look like either in terms of physique.

The fact is if I want to get stronger, I need to put on some weight. So I am cycling in HMB+ Creatine, which helped me back in April put on six pounds and I will start again next week.

I am focused on my protein intake and carbs, rather than calories.

And I am not worrying about my weight as an indicator of my strength or physique. I am looking in the mirror and feeling better about walking around with my shirt off.

I am so hesitant to even include this before and after as I don’t want to be that guy, but I think it is important for me and for others to see the transformation taking place, even if it is not overnight.

There is more work to do, but I like the guy on the right a lot more as he is a lot stronger and healthier, even if he is a bit heavier.

Dakota Games Recap

It was a long road to Fargo, one that started back in February after I completed the Freeze Fest Team Challenge and decided I wanted to compete on my own.

I registered for the Dakota Games soon after and have been training for the past few months.

Finally the weekend arrived and 230 miles later, I had crossed the state border into North Dakota and found myself at the Southwest Youth Ice Arena with 179 other fellow athletes ready for two days of competition.

I’m not sure if recounting each event blow by blow will do much for my ego or really be of much interest.

The important thing to know right off the bat is the punch line – I didn’t finish last! I came in 37th place out of a field of 38 competitors in the Men’s Intermediate division (a nice euphemism for scaled). And that’s okay.

I had a great time competing, especially since I was there with seven other fellow athletes / friends from my gym.

They, especially my carpool pal and hotel roommate Ryan, were an amazing support system the whole weekend.

Our time spent together as a group having sushi after the first day of competition makes me smile as much as any PR that I achieved in the arena.

I went to the Dakota Games wanting to win. I believe I completed each event with as much sweat and effort that I could muster. I might have returned home without a trophy, but here are the lessons I learned in Fargo:

Locate all the restrooms. Part of me wants to think I did a really good job keeping hydrated the entire weekend, but the truth is my nervous energy related to competing led me searching for the bathroom repeatedly, especially right before it was time to line up for my heat.

My brain seemed to be able to communicate with my body that something intense was about to happen and it would be best if I lightened up before the starting bell. I was like a trained race horse. It’s just unclear if I was more of a thoroughbred or a nag.

You be you. As mentioned, there were eight of us from our gym competing. Eight different personalities. Eight different body types.

Eight different strategies. Knowing all that, we discussed each event together ad nauseum. We talked about how to best approach it, rep schemes, etc. However, in the end, we each did our own thing.

One event involved deadlifts and I decided to not wear my weight-lifting belt while my friend Michael did. One approach wasn’t better than another. The important thing was we each listened to our gut and did what was best for ourselves.

Fair is fair. The staff at the Dakota Games did an amazing job of quickly posting scores. As I caught my breath after event 5, I checked the Wodcast and saw that my score was wrong.

They had given me credit for ten reps that I did not complete. The mistake didn’t make a big difference in the standings as I was second to last in the event.

However, it did mean a lot if I let it go unnoticed. It would be cheating and I would be denying my fellow competitor, Will, the fact that in that event he beat me fair and square.

I informed the staff and had them update it. I would rather be loser than a cheat any day of the week.

Better to be last than not be there at all. I know I have spoken about how important it is to compete to win rather than just participate; and I’m not trying to backpedal. However, competing for two days is mentally exhausting.

It is stressful and tiring, especially when you are at the bottom of the leaderboard throughout the weekend.

You have to go into each event wanting to win and putting forth your best effort. But you also have to take a step back sometimes and give yourself a break and remember that at least you are there. I showed up.

There were a few people registered that did not even check-in. Perhaps they had an excuse. Maybe they were injured or had a family emergency.

But maybe, just maybe, they were scared. And you weren’t. You took the risk and so reward yourself for that. Otherwise you will be a sad, miserable person.

Don’t be a lunkhead. My friend Alice tore up her hands during the 40 toes-to-bar in Event 6. Despite the injury, she desperately wanted to get in there for the last event and go for the gold. She had already taken first place in a few of the previous events.

She knew she had a great shot in the finals. But her hands were in terrible shape and the medical staff advised against it.

Alice could have been a lunkhead and ignored common sense and suffered the consequences. Instead she smartly bowed out of the finals with her head held high because she knew that her long-term health was a hundred more times important than any momentary glimpse of glory.

Trophies lose their shine and eventually get buried in garages among old baseball mitts and newspaper clippings.

Your health and wellness can’t be so easily discarded.

Take a step back. Here’s the hard truth – I need to hold off from competing again for awhile. Not because I can’t handle the pressure but because my base is lacking.

I have a lot of the skills down now thanks to three years of CrossFit but I’m missing the strength.

I knew this after Freeze Fest; yet I turned a blind eye and convinced myself that a few months would move the needle.

Then I showed up to compete and did a 3 rep max of the bear complex at 125# and the top half of the leaderboard beat me by 50 to 100 pounds.

Then on day two, I spent four minutes attempting to get one rep in the snatch at 115#. Sure, I didn’t give up, but after awhile no one is going to applaud the guy who keeps trying out for the PGA Tour if he always bogies every hole.

I need to spend a lot more time building my base if I really want to compete. I’ve had the experience, now I need the win.

And I’m never going to win if I don’t put in the proper time and training required. I’ll show up again in the arena, but next time it will be with so much more than just the right attitude.

Overall, the Dakota Games was absolutely worth it. The organizers did a fantastic job of keeping everything running on time, being clear with the rules and instructions, and setting a tone that was both fun and professional.

The venue worked out great and the events, while tough, were a perfect mix of strength and endurance.

I’ve got a lot more training to do and it is hard to say right now if I will be making the trip back to Fargo next year.

While things are a bit uncertain, I know that what I learned this past weekend is going to propel me forward for years to come.

Lack of Presence

Last week, at an internal company golf retreat, all my work over the past six months was decimated with one casual comment.

Towards the end of the round of golf, after I consistently had been hitting the ball long and straight off the tee, my coworker in an attempt at a compliment said that I reminded him of a professional golfer.

He told me, “Yeah, he’s a real scrawny guy but he hits it a ton.”

Scrawny!?! Of all the words he could use in relation to me, he chose that one?

For someone who has spent the past year training to compete, putting hours upon hours in the gym, the word stung.

If he thinks I am scrawny, he should see the picture of me from January when I only weighed 161 pounds.

I’ve made great gains since then. Now, at 175 pounds, I would hope to never be considered scrawny anymore. Perhaps if I flexed a bicep, he might reconsider?

The cold hard truth is that at 32 years old this type of comment makes me feel that I still lack presence.

It is fine to be a scrawny kid, but that term needs to be left behind when you become an adult, buried in the sandbox.

And the reality is that besides just my physical build, I still have a ways to go with my confidence and how I carry myself to feel like I have a substantive presence.

I still get carded at bars. People tell me it’s a compliment that I look young, but there comes a time in your life, especially when you are 10 years out of college with a graduate degree, a full-time job and in your 30s, that you stop wanting to be mistaken for someone just escaping the pimples of adolescence.

I want to be perceived as an adult. I don’t want my parents’ friends asking me upon introduction what I am studying in college.

I don’t want my coworkers thinking this is my first job out of college. I want people to look at me when I enter in the room and wonder, “Who is that man?”

I inevitably connect my sense of presence to the physical. While I now have a more muscular build, I still look like just a skinny guy.

Lean is the nice word for it. Despite my height, I sometimes look shorter than others because I am not as physically commanding.

But then again there are plenty examples of men who have presence no matter their height or weight or build.

One of my absolutely favorite shows is Mad Men. I am one of many viewers who loves the character of Don Draper, no matter how badly he behaves, because he is a man and has presence.

While his hard drinking, smoking and general treatment of women is offensive, you cannot deny that he commands the room when he enters.

He’s confident, he’s charming and he looks like a million bucks in his gray flannel suit. No one confuses him for a kid. Instead, they hand him a martini and a cigar and ask for his opinion.

He might seem like a dated sense of manhood, but the fact is that it still resonates with us today.

Compare Don to Pete Campbell, a sniveling insecure person. We take joy in his undoing because he is a jerk and he is weak.

He wants to be invited to the board room, but is constantly undermined and undervalued. The constant offense leads him to lash out and only further dig himself into a hole.

It is all due to his lack of confidence, despite the fact that he is a very smart, talented guy.

Pete lets others intimidate him and shows it is in his body language. When he does pull his shoulders back and speak up for himself, it comes off as annoying and unnatural. He seems aggressive rather than assertive.

Unlike Don who always seems in control (at least when he is sober), Pete lacks a clear sense of self.

He is not physically imposing and his lack of presence makes him appear even smaller than he is. Next to Don or Roger, one might even call him scrawny.

More important in comparison than any fictional character, my father has presence. My family lovingly calls him “Mayor Bob” because he makes friends instantly with everyone.

He strikes up a conversation with anybody and everybody – most famously while waiting on line for the urinal at Yankee Stadium.

He is a really nice guy, but goes beyond any niceness I ever embody because his confidence allows him to shake hands and kiss babies without hesitation or concern what others think.

My Dad is tall and broad shouldered and looks like he can win a fight if he needs to. He carries himself with authority, but never with condescension to others.

He is a natural athlete and fills a room in the best way possible with his energy and humor. He defines presence for me.

So is my feeling that I have a lack of presence just a euphemism for saying that I lack confidence? Maybe. Is continuing to get stronger and bigger really going to change anything? Maybe not.

I am starting to come into my own these past few months – something that has been brought about through competition – but I need my physicality to better match my age, experience and personality.

I believe I am a memorable person but often don’t catch the attention of many early on as I just appear to be nothing more than a nice, young scrawny guy.

I lack authority, despite having the qualities of a leader. I lack respect, despite my credentials. Too often I am underestimated and undervalued.

I recently went on a few dates with a gal. I didn’t bring up my training on the first date and so when it came up on the second, she was shocked when I told her I was into CrossFit and was going to compete in the Dakota Games. She told me she never would have guessed.

Her first impressions told her I was a bit more unassuming than the truth revealed in conversation.

Something about how I carried myself gave no hint that I am an athlete who lifts heavy stuff.

I’m tired of the assumptions people make. And I’m tired of the assumptions I make about myself. I have to do something about it.

I need to continue to bring about the needed mental and physical change required so that I can start feeling like what I am – a MAN!

Celebrating my 3rd CrossFit Anniversary

Three years ago this week, I saw Kayser post on Facebook that he just did a CrossFit workout and it kicked his butt.

Not knowing exactly what CrossFit was and confusing it with some P90X system, I left a comment on his post asking, “Is that some sort of DVD?”

He excitedly responded that he did the class at TwinTown, just four blocks from our building, and that I should do an intro with Teddy as soon as possible.

Since Kayser grew up in the town over from me out east, I trusted his advice and have never regretted it for a moment.

I could extoll the virtues of CrossFit for the community that it introduced me to in Minneapolis and beyond.

But you probably already know that I have made lifelong friendships and spent the last few years happily celebrating countless birthdays, new jobs, random Fridays and even two weddings.

I could speak volumes on the high-quality coaching, support and encouragement that I have received from Teddy, Peter, Kayser, Joe, Brock, Ashley, Michael, Andy, Martha, Emily, Drew and others.

I could tell you how they helped push me to achieve new PRs in every movement and exercise, from being able to actually squat below parallel to cutting my baseline time in half.

But what I most want to discuss is how CrossFit, and thus TwinTown, helped me transform from thinking into doing. And through that process helped me finally connect with my actual self.

Growing up, I wasn’t very athletic but always wished I was. I thought constantly about how great it would be to be picked first for kickball or score the winning run for my team.

I got to high school and college, dreaming about how much I would like to be stronger and be in better shape.

I wanted to take so many more risks, try so many more things, but was always thinking, never doing.

Post-college, I was always busy. I organized lots of social activities for my friends and was always running around to see a new play or concert or gallery opening or happy hour, etc.

It was an active life, but with little physical activity. I filled up my time to mask the fact that I was dissatisfied with my life. I even did improv for a few years, enjoying the ability to escape and be anyone but me.

Cut to that summer in 2011 when I did my first month of CrossFit and felt every bone and muscle in my body suddenly be forced to work and shake and be sore.

And from there, I was eventually getting my chin above the bar and climbing to the top of the rope. I was using equipment that I had never dared to touch before and sweating by choice. And I was happy!

I improved and worked harder and allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of strangers and friends.

Allowed myself to wince and tremble, grunt out loud and collapse in a pool of sweat and tears. And I wasn’t playing a character or doing it for laughs.

I was me. For better or for worse, I was being my true self, warts and all, displaying all my quirks and all my grit.

Outside the gym, I was now signing up for half-marathons and (multiple) Tough Mudders and on vacations going horseback riding and zip lining and training at a Muay-Thai gym.

On my weekends, I was going to yoga and boxing and stand-up paddle board classes. I was competing against people and standing up in front of a crowd of 700 plus and telling my story. I was no longer thinking about all these things in my life. I was actually doing them.

Now, three years later, I am physically stronger thanks to CrossFit. But more importantly, I am mentally stronger and more closely connected to who I am, rather than just always thinking about whom I want to be.

How Competing Helped Me Get a New Job

This past week, I accepted a new position at my company and will be transferring from the main corporate office in Bloomington to the satellite office in downtown Minneapolis.

While I’ll still be working for the same company in the same metropolitan area and in the same industry, I am beyond excited for this new role.

It is a huge departure as I move from a support position to a production role. There is more risk involved, but a much stronger potential for reward.

In reflecting about how this change came about, I can say without a doubt that my foray into competing this past year was absolutely responsible for helping me get this new job.

Competing has taught me so much about myself and how to approach life, from my career to my relationships.

It has provided me with a better sense of self and thus more confidence to pursue the things I want in life.

I will be joining the Advisory Services Group, which is focused on providing real estate solutions to nonprofits, religious and educational institutions.

It’s a niche part of the larger commercial real estate industry and a bit foreign to me after specializing in retail real estate for the past eight years.

A year ago, if the same opportunity was presented at work, I’m not sure if I would have pursued it. I’m not sure if I would have had the tenacity or confidence to set up a meeting with the team and be so direct with them in explaining why they should add me to their group.

I probably would have been too reluctant to stir the waters at work and be too hesitant to welcome such change in my day-to-day routine.

And beyond pursuing it, I’m not sure if I would have recognized that an opportunity was being given to me.

But thanks to competing, I have learned how to be more open to the opportunities in my life. Back in October 2013, my friend Alice asked me if I wanted to be her partner in the Freeze Fest Team Challenge.

I said yes in a fit of enthusiasm. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this was the opportunity I was looking for to challenge myself and go outside my comfort zone.

To be more than a participant. To push myself to be better.

Thanks to the good that competing has brought to my life, I was able to recognize the opportunity that was being presented to me at work earlier this month.

A coworker informed me that the Advisory Services Group was looking to add a new member. It was a chance to join a successful team and to propel my career forward.

I jumped on it because I now know that simply being complacent and staying with the status quo would be detrimental to my personal growth.

I know from competing that you never win just watching from the sidelines. You have to step into the arena.

I’ve also learned from competing that if you want to win, you have to allow yourself the chance to lose. In short, that means taking risks.

In a CrossFit competition, it could mean attempting a new PR in the deadlift as it might be the only way to score the extra points you need to win.

If you fail, it could cost you the competition. But wouldn’t you rather go for gold than just play it safe to take silver or bronze? You know the answer.

It’s why when you watch “Jeopardy” you always root for the person who bets it all on the final question. There is nothing to be gained nor any satisfaction from playing it safe.

Moving from a focus on retail properties to these special assets, like churches and school buildings, has some risk to it.

The “safer” move in my career would be to stick with what I know – malls and strip centers. Further, I am transitioning from providing support and consulting services to being focused on transactions (i.e. leasing and selling properties).

I’ll be entering a world in which you eat what you kill. So ahead of me could be some years of feast and some of famine. There’s a lot more on the line but I believe I’ve got a stronger disposition for it thanks to competing.

At the Freeze Fest Team Challenge with my partner Alice, I dropped her during a partner carry, my jump rope broke and we were in last place by the end of the morning.

But I demanded more of myself than just being okay with losing and fought hard and put in as much effort as possible to try and win.

Similarly, at the Dakota Games, I was at the bottom of the barrel for the entire two days during the competition, but I wasn’t there to just participate.

I was there to show my best self and treated each event with purpose and determination.

It’s a long-winded way to explain that competing has taught me to ask more of myself. To do the that set of 15 deadlifts unbroken, to sprint not run, to put in extra time at the gym training so that I am constantly improving and growing bigger and stronger.

And now I take that attitude with me into the office. The team I am joining is extremely hard-working, driven and yet also humble.

They pitch in wherever needed to make sure they are best serving their clients, no matter their title or seniority.

They also know that they have to keep learning and challenging themselves to be better. When we interviewed, I was able to demonstrate that I now take a similar approach and display these needed traits.

I learned humility when I hit a PR in the 3-rep max bear complex at the Dakota Games and then found out the guy who won the event lifted 100 pounds more than me.

I learned to hustle when there was only three minutes on the clock and Alice and I needed to do as many burpee box-jumps as possible so that we could score enough points to move out of last place.

I learned through my training how to recognize my strengths and weaknesses and how to be willing to ask for help.

I learned that I can survive all the sweat and pain and soreness and exhaustion and get up the next day to get right back in there and try again.

When being offered this new position, the team told me that one of the reasons they wanted me to join their was because they believed I had “grit”.

It was one of best compliments I’ve ever received in my career. What they don’t know is that my grit has unearthed itself thanks to my experience competing.

Now is the time in my career to put myself in the ring. To fight and really go for the win. I believe that I can do it in this new position and am really excited for all the ups and downs as I know at the end I will be better than I was before.