I’ll never forget those two words my mother told me as I was standing at the kitchen counter. “You’re fat”. It was the spring of 2004 and I was in 8th grade at the time and about to head off to high school (boarding school) in the fall. My whole life I played sports and was always considered one of the best athletes in my grade. Don't get it twisted, with the extra weight I could crush baseballs, run through people on the football field, and toe kick a soccer ball like no other. That being said, I had never looked at myself as “fat”. Not to mention this wasn't some punk in my grade telling me this, it was my own mother.
At the time, my father was smoking at least a pack of Kool cigarettes a day, and it began to aggravate me. My family has a long history with gambling and betting so I decided at 14 years old to make a bet with my old man. My bet was that if I lost 20 pounds he would have to quit smoking. We shook on it and off we went.
Two days later, I registered for “fat camp” at Camp Pocono Trails in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. Yes, I have seen the movie heavyweights and there are some striking resemblances. Our calisthenics instructors name was actually Tony (Ben Stiller as "Tony Perkis" in the movie). "Attention campers. Lunch has been cancelled due to a lack of hustle".
In previous summers, I had attended sleep away camp for 4-8 weeks at a time so the living away from home thing was never an issue. My father drove me the 5 ½ or so hours to camp in late June and off I went.
As I stepped on the scale in late June of 2004 I was 5’7" and weighed 198 pounds. Here is a picture of me at Fantasy Day at Fenway Park in early June before leaving for camp. Felt bad for those baseballs that day...they didn't have a chance.
To me, Camp Pocono Trails was like any other sports camp I attended except for the calisthenics part. All my life I had played team sports, but at camp that summer I found this desire to compete with myself. Each day I would try to hammer out more pushups, run a little harder, and jump a little higher.
For the first time in my life I was forced to eat well, which complemented my daily activity. No knock on my parents, but we had no idea about what was good and what was bad to put in our bodies. My biggest takeaway from camp to this day is eliminating soft drinks/soda from my diet.
Four weeks into camp, I stepped on the scale for our weekly weigh in and the counselor keeping the records told me I weighed 176 pounds. Having never been the greatest at math, it took me a little bit to calculate the difference and then I realized that I had already won the bet with 4 weeks left in camp.
Campers could communicate with their parents by either writing cards or using a phone card they provided. That day, I rushed to the phones before dinner and made the call home. My dad got a bit emotional on the phone and since that day he has never smoked a single cigarette OR had a lick of booze. Talk about paying up, he paid that S**T off with interest!
Camp ended 4 weeks later and my father picked me up. He was shocked at how I looked as I was now down to 168 pounds. An astonishing 30 pounds in 8 weeks! Not to mention, that drive home was the first time in my life that there was no trace of cigarettes in the car.
Although camp was over, my weight loss mission was not. With football season almost completed in the fall, I stepped on the scale and weighed 133 pounds! I had lost 65 pounds in just about 5 months’ time.
Below is a photo of me in the football team photo in the fall of 2004 (bottom row all the way to the left). We actually had one of the best football teams in the country that year and went on to win the Class A championship.
Having lost all that weight, I felt light on my feet but weak at the same time. Like many high schools, we just followed a standard sheet of paper and didn’t really have a strength coach to monitor and properly program for us. During the off season the following year, I was doing jump squats and the next morning I couldn’t walk. After some X-Rays the doctor said that my L5 vertebrae had shot out ¼ inch and I would have to miss my football, and basketball seasons. Still convinced I would have another inch or two of height if this didn't happen.
My mother and father were living in Florida at the time because of my mother’s diagnosis with MSA. New England winters made it tough for her to stay. While they were down there, they connected with Dr. Aaron Mattes. My father did not allow me to have back surgery at 15 years old, so during the Winter break he mentioned that I go see Dr. Mattes. During my sessions, we never wore shoes as he had me stretching and strengthening my whole body from the ground up. This method is what he coins “Active Isolated Stretching”. This was my first introduction to removing my shoes while working out. In fact, wearing shoes in general would always throw my back out of line and cause some sort of irritation. I'm sure many of us feel the same way after wearing dress shoes or heals for an extended period of time.
My brother at the time was into competitive strongman and he got me in the gym with him. He too did not wear shoes as he would deadlift, lunge, squat. Fast forward to my senior year, my mother passed in September and the gym became a place for me to relieve stress and get it all out. So not only did she get me into working out, but has kept me motivated to this day.
Ten years have passed since and I’m still addicted to working out. Not sure where I would be today and what path I would have gone down if it had not been for those harsh and brutally honest two words from my mother.
Here is a picture of me in November of 2016 (6'2" - 220 pounds) after I deadlifted 315lbs 32 times (10,080 pounds) in honor of hitting our $10,000 dollar goal in just two days on our Kickstarter campaign. Thank you for all of your support!
My biggest learning in all of this is that sometimes the truth hurts, but you have to use that harsh reality as motivation to make a positive change in your life. At the end of the day, it’s you versus you.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story and for your support of the Pedestal journey.