My Everyday Health & Fitness Journey
What got me to where I am now
Good day everyone - Sitting here in my apartment. And all I can think about are the many years I’ve put into this craft. What makes me “good” at this thing called everyday health and fitness is that I know the amount of years I’ve invested into this. I’m nowhere close to perfect, I’m nowhere even close to where I want to be. If you ask me, I still don’t eat as nutritiously as I would like. I’m definitely nowhere near as strong as I would like to be, or as strong as I think my body can be. I also don’t believe in myself and show love to myself to the degree that I know I deserve or would benefit from. To put it plainly I love where I am, and definitely still need work.
The one thing that makes my journey different now is that I have finally accepted the fact that I know my body. I have built an amazing connection between my mind, my body, and my outside world. My body has opened doors for me in ways that have allowed my mind to flourish.
For example, here I sit, confused because my body knowledge, something I’ve obtained over 2.5 decades of growth has created the most viable avenue for my self-employment and entrepreneurship. I kind of hesitate to take such a huge lead based off something that uses my body knowledge more than my mind-knowledge. But for me, I’ve been building this connection for so long that it may actually be the best route for me to have impact and change the world.
THE EARLY YEARS
I’m working to accept that my truth is that I’ve been active and moving purposely and with the intention of being the best physical specimen I could be since I was 8 years old. I say 8, because I can always remember loving to race. I would race you everyday if I could. I loved being fast and showing and developing my speed. Thankfully, growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago, I grew up in a neighborhood that was able to provide for this talent. On my block alone, me and the neighborhood kids created no less than 7 race tracks to test our talents against each other. I grew up running and entering my exploration of athleticism at this stage.
My first defining moment as an athlete actually came in 1st grade. My school had a random field day, and there was a 50 yard dash scheduled.
I line up, and I take off somewhere in the middle of the pack. Halfway through the race I had caught up with Benjamin Gadison. He was fast and leading! We took a second to acknowledge each others presence at the front. Ben looked over and greeted me. He said Good you caught up, I gotta go back and get ____ . I can’t remember the name. But I do remember looking over to him, and continuing to speed up and up and up. I finished 1st. I wasn’t in the habit of losing races. This became my first real victory outside of my regular neighborhood shenanigans. It was a defining moment for me. I remember feeling proud all throughout elementary school for this accomplishment.
That would be my last organized race for almost a decade as I didn’t grow up running in organized track. I did however grow up with a group of peers that challenged me and helped me train during my early years as a runner. My sister, my neighbors Tiara, Darren, and Ranard all lived close by and all had amazing speed. Our races were never a given, and we all enjoyed challenging each other in this way. Tiara would go on to later be a standout star on my HS women’s track team. A state qualifying team and a team responsible for bringing home 10 consecutive conference titles. Darren and Ranard both becoming standouts on our schools basketball team. And my sister a standout and the star of my HS’s soccer team. All within 5 houses of me. These were my neighbors and we were athletic and positively competitive in nature. This talent was all nurtured there in University Park, Illinois on Sullivan Lane.
I also spent time in Swimming and Karate, where to this day I still maintain the ability to do a back flip and back handspring. My mother played basketball and so we had a hoop cemented into our front yard. I wasn’t very good at ball. My mom was good though. She had skills, and my mom kinda turned into a AG and a different person when she balled. It was really cute for her. She turned into one of the guys. You would almost expect her to grab her balls and hit you with some legendary Jordan style trash talk. My pops, a police officer was swole AF. I grew up with gym equipment in my house. I didn’t really use it for anything until my teenage years. But seeing my dad workout regularly obviously influenced my knowledge and understanding of what everyday health and fitness looked like and meant. What was so astonishing was that my parents were naturally athletically gifted. More so than me. No matter how fast I knew I was, my dad could absolutely beat me in a race. I remember being offended about that for years. How dare he!
While I wasn’t good at basketball, I did manage to play in leagues and make my way to the 7th grade traveling team. Here I rode the bench the entire season and eventually accepted that I wasn’t good at basketball. If you ask me to play today, I’ll instinctively decline. I was too awkward for basketball I knew then it didn’t really click with my small and lanky body and movements. In 8th grade I took up soccer, following the inspiration of my sister. I wasn’t necessarily good at soccer. But my speed was undeniable, and I was athletic which essentially means I was willing to will my body to figure it out no matter what it was. This was the beginnings of my confidence in my athletics. I absolutely wasn’t good at soccer. I couldn’t handle the ball worth shit. I mean I could get down the field. But don’t ask me to shoot or pass the ball with anything more accuracy than flipping a coin. Don’t ask me to pass in a way that’s producing plays versus just being hap hazard. They put me at goalie. And… I thrived with the title. Yes!!! Let me grab the ball and dive and use my hands and try to launch this b*tch off this field. I was a so – so goalie. LoL But again it was mainly a space to grow confidence in my overall athletic abilities.
WHY I’VE ALWAYS HAD A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH TRACK & FIELD
2 years of soccer led me to My freshmen year of HS. I played soccer in the fall and was mediocre at best. Track season came around, and it was my 1st time doing organized track. I remember the first week of conditioning was REALLY hard. It was shocking and alarming to my body. I had never done a track workout before. The volume of running we were asked to complete felt like it was killing me. I remember contemplating if I could even do it. I contemplated quitting. At this same time I made an executive decision that I wasn’t going to do homework everyday! Who does that!? A decision that impacted my grade in the honors algebra class I was in. As a result, my mother removed me from the track team, specifically due to my grades. I remember my friends over the next few months thinking I quit because I was slow. I remember being pissed the fuck off for a whole year about this. I vowed the following year to prove to everyone that ya boy aint NEVER fucking slow! Ever. As a result, I returned my sophomore year ready and super focused to participate and prove to everyone that I was the man to know in regards to speed on the track and field!
I was an early standout my sophomore year. I immediately jumped in and wanted to prove myself. During early assessments I showed natural athleticism in jumps and hurdles. Hurdles honestly came super easy for me. I remember on a Monday, we were introduced to the hurdles doing walking drills, taking our trail leg over. On Tuesday we did some lead leg drills, a little harder, but it was about rythym. Watching the upperclassmen leaders, they cruised over uhrdles with rythym, it wasn’t a jump. So I focused mostly on picking up the rythym. By Wednesday I was clearing hurdles with ease. Picking up on my mentor and big brother, Mike Harden’s gate, stride patters, and routines. I am honestly a carbon copy of him as a runner. I was a versatile runner. Completing sprints, jumps, relays, and hurdles. It came down to me specializing in Triple Jump and the 300m hurdles. The easiest transition I can take you through looks like this.
In both Triple Jump and 300mHurdles (HS)/400mHurdles (College), I became 2x Team MVP, HS Conference Champion, Top 2 in HS Sectional, Top 4 HS in State of Illinois, 2x College Team MVP, 3x College Conference Champion, Top (25) Jr in the Nation, NCAA All-Region, NCAA Division-1 Qualifying (top 25). This growth was achieved from ages 15 - 21 years old.
During this time, for 10 months I accumulated on average 4 - 5 days of intense training activity a week. With an additional 1 – 2 days of competition each week. With approximately 2 months spent in off-season each year. The training program consisted of sprint training, distance training, off-track and off-road training, moderate strength training, and moderate nutritional restrictions, and moderate pool work. Event specific training consisted of hurdle training, broad and plyometric jumps training, as well as other coordination and relay work. The training was diverse, it was intense, it was consistent, and it was programmed.
Part of why its important for me to share my journey and experience of everyday health & fitness is because we all have a training program we have put ourselves through to shape and mold our bodies and our minds into what they are today. This nugget above, describing what my everyday physical activity looked like during my youth and development into a young adult demonstrates why the patterns we set up for ourselves matter. And why the patterns we have experienced matter! Actually sharing my journey in that way highlighted for me for the first time why I can be so hot and cold with working out in the gym (which I’ll get to later). I absolutely vacate and desert the gym and any true mentality of optimum health for about 2 months each year. Sometimes its spread out, sometimes its all in one chunk. But now I can see that its perhaps my body working to keep a similar balance of being engaged and pushing for health for 5/6 of the year. Its also important to allow myself to indulge in other things and rest and recuperate for about 2 months time as well.
While track and field was an amazing and powerful training ground for me. I did begin to experience emotional and personal challenges in connection to track. So at 21, as I wrapped up my last meet at the NCAA Track & Field Championships of 2007, I hung up my spikes and have since not returned to any hard core running or sprint work.
TRANSITIONING TO THE WEIGHT ROOM
That energy and body knowledge was easily and quickly transitioned into the gym. As mentioned before, I grew up watching my father workout. He was always big and muscular to me.
Growing up I would play with his weights. I would lift what I could lift, and do what I could. But lifting was never a focus of mine. It was never something I did regularly at all. I would almost say I was anti-weight room during my track-era. For no reason other than I had no real understanding of developing a lifting program that put me at the same level of strength as my peers. I felt very weak muscularly in college compared to all my peers. So while I did have a strength coach, and we did go to the weight room in college. I personally depended more so on my talent in a way that I could slack off in the weight room and not take that piece as seriously and still show progression and development on the field. This is something I look back at and regret. I didn’t push myself to grow in all areas I could, and I got so far. What could have happened had I fully invested in my track and field career? This mentality of challenging myself and working to be my best self have followed me into my adult life. They are the drive that pushes me today.
After I finished running, I immediately switched my attention to getting comfortable in the weight room. Something about not having the burden of having to run freed me up mentally to invest in the gym. I was partially nervous that running and lifting would disturb the harmony of my body too much to really function. (Don’t ask.) I started working out regularly. I can’t give a true time frame, but I would assume it is where I developed the consistency of at minimum 3 days per week. There is a lot of value to gain from a 3 day per week minimum mentality.
I remember working out in the dungeon. It was an old caged gym in the downstairs of the old auditorium building. Just outside the dungeon was a white and black concrete indoor running track. I remember having one class and internship at this time, working at Kohls, living alone in my university apartment, and spending time in the dungeon. Its where I first began to understand I could mold my body into what I wanted. Its also where I gained a powerful and beneficial mental model, mentor. I remember this guy Terrance had transferred to our school the year before. He was kind of country, but real cool, kind of an unassuming guy. This dude would be in the dungeon in a tank top big as fuck! Like back, shoulders, and arms every fucking where, dominating the fucking space, cranking out pullups. All day! I was used to athletes throwing weight around. Shout out to my thrower friends. They used to move madd weight. My sprinters and jumpers were strong too. I specifically remember people like Steve, Rylen, Janea, Yolanda, Jason Carruthers, Drew Traub, Marcus Alexander, Alicia, my friends were lifting. But they ran. They weren’t normal. Terrance was a normal person to me and he was pound for pound the strongest person I had seen.
I was still one of the most athletic people on campus, but I remember him being a super impressive regular guy. I couldn’t do a pullup then. Definitely nowhere close to what I do now. (I’m currently challenging myself to bust out 100 pullups as a warm up). Having Terrance as a mental model of what my training could look like clearly impacted my everday health and fitness journey today. I know you’ll never see this Terrance. But thank you so much for being you and being a dope as gym beast.
After I graduated in Fall 2007, I moved back home living with my pops. He had a house in the north Chicago suburbs. In it I had a lil basement room and next to my room was my dads gym ^_^. I pretty much moved into his gym, which was bigger than my room and had a cable tv. Actually let me correct. My dad had a smith machine! And a bench. So I learned how to do the two most essential movements I could. Squat and Bench. I had humble humble beginnings. Very humble. But it was here that I was able to play around and learn the foundations of squatting form and bench form. I will say that looking back, I don’t think I learned my form very well back then. It wasn’t until approximately 2 years ago that I began to feel solid and rooted into the Earth for my squats. And I’m just now feeling comfortable and able to generate strength in my bench within the past year. Its been such a learning process.
From there, I eventually moved to Boston around. During this 3 years of time I would say I developed my style of training. Intense, Superset heavy, Laser focused. It is where I first started experimenting with Hiit training. I got my first and only personal trainer there, that I didn’t really need. But it was nice to be exposed to someone else’s training style. He kicked my ass that first workout. I didn’t quite understand that even though my workouts were rigorous, my body truly wasn’t ready for the shock and experience of another training style. I quickly adapted and grew to be able to manage the new stress my body was under. I trained my first client here. A high school friend that ended up moving to Boston as well. We were roommates my last year. Its perhaps the first time I realized that health and fitness was a lifestyle. I had pretty much always lived the lifestyle of an athlete. It was all I knew. I managed my eating, I managed the foods I ate at managed times. Not really because of science, but because I understood that sometimes eating carelessly would impact the time that I’m supposed to be at the gym. Furthermore, the way I ate at any time would have impacts that I will have to manage and deal with later in the day. So the goal had always been to choose foods items, food portions, and feeding times at levels that would allow me to move physically throughout my day with the least resistance and enough energy possible to complete the day. Realizing my roommate at the time did not have those skills highlighted for me how useful and autonomous these practices had become for me. It wasn’t until very recently that I had broken the cycle of eating like a college track athlete. As I shifted into adulthood, I didn’t do the work to update and transition my eating (nutritional) habits to something that would better match my new goals.
My time in Boston can be considered my young adult years. 2009 – 2012. 22 – 25 to be exact. I began to truly understand and internalize that I had built a physical presentation based on my earlier athletic years. The framework had been set. Now was my time to build solid walls and structure to continue to develop what was there. I had flaws, and still do. But I also knew that my specific body type and health make up had great strengths. I will take here to say that every individual - no matter who you are, what you look like, or your journey, also has great physical and bodily strength and areas of development. We all do. The work is to tap in to and manage where your balance lies.
FROM NOVICE TO INTERMEDIATE
In 2012 I moved to NYC. After settling into my new home, I began working out at the local planet fitness. I was shocked and intimidated. It was the first time that I wasn’t one of the most fit people in the gym. Everybody was fit. Everybody was doing amazing work. I wasn’t as special as I thought I was. What I appreciate about New York is that it really forced me to step my game up. These guys are ripped here. There are ripped people everywhere. Starting in a Harlem Planet fitness was helpful. 1st the city has beautiful people everywhere. People in general go to the gym to get that work! 2nd specifically the Harlem PF on 125 is just a great atmosphere similar to the dungeon that I started in. Its grungy. Its not clean, you had to fight for your weights, you had to fight to get the smith machine. You had to be creative to get your workout. It built in a level of intensity that I needed to lift my training to another level. Being competitive, it just took me acclimating to my new surroundings to get comfortable and into a routine.
I transitioned to New York City to enter a fellowship program. I shortly moved close to downtown Brooklyn to start my masters of education program and to begin teaching in a high school nearby. The stress of grad school and teaching forced me to develop a safe coping mechanism that I could count on to release frustration, energy, confusion, etc… Lifting became that arena. I began to connect my journey and evolution through track, to an actual body of knowledge. It wasn’t just running and winning races. I had known that it included so much more, a sense of leadership and team that follows me everywhere I go. A can do attitude that stems from my understanding that within enough time, my long stride will run you down! And now, what is becoming clear, a mastery of MY body. A growing mastery of what my body can do based off of what its been through, but also where I want it to go. I’ve realized that my ability to connect with my body and operate it in a way that it can carry out great physical feats is a package of knowledge that has created great value for me. The educator in me has found new depths to study and learn about how to move and operate this thing. The researcher in me has identified new experiments I want to put my body through (see bodybuilding.)
I haven’t even mentioned the journey to being a personal trainer, and how the road to becoming a certified trainer and fitness nutrition specialist has given me a language and understanding about anatomy, muscle structure and muscle building. Nutritional needs, nutritional profiles of foods, nutritional programming, holistic and natural living. Whew… it’s a lot.
I mean, I’m blown away because I feel like I haven’t even included everything. But this is my real journey. I know not everyone has had this particular journey. A few of you may wish to tap into this knowledge that I have. I am here to share it with you.
REFLECTION & WRAP UP
Thank you for reading my everyday health and fitness journey.
Writing out my journey helps me make clear links between my long term behaviors and my results then, and how those impact me as I stand now. I believe its important to get a clear sense of what has made us the person we’ve become. Sometimes I hear people attributing their current state with outside factors. Yes outside factors are at play. But our habits are the most heavy-handed dealer in the game of life.
I encourage you to take some time to reflect on your everyday health and fitness habits throughout your life. What large cycles of repetitive activity and inactivity have you fallen into? Is this activity working in service to your goals? If not, what are you willing to release and change to start to receive different results. If your activities are in service to you how can you continue to fortify and compound your current practices?