Thank you for checking out The Community Conversation, brought to you by Prototype Training Systems, home of CrossFit Prototype! The Community Conversation highlights a different member of the Prototype Community each week and allows them to tell their story, share their life experience, and communicate their perspective on all things fitness.
We’ve all listened to podcasts and watched YouTube videos that highlight some of the world’s greatest leaders and visionaries. We believe we have some AMAZING people at Prototype and we want you to get to know them! (Check out our last episode here!)
For this episode, the Owner and Founder of CrossFit Prototype/ Prototype Training Systems, Mike Collette, shares his story and the journey he has been on over the past few years. Mike goes into detail on why and how he got involved in fitness, why you need to follow your passions, and what defining moments he has had in his life.
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I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I always contemplated what I was going to do when I grew up. What did I want to be? Where did I want to live? I imagined the type of house I wanted to have, car I wanted to drive… all of those things I thought about as a kid. But one thing I always thought about and what I really wanted was to be successful. I wanted people to be proud of me. I wanted to help people in some way. I wanted to do something I was passionate about. But at the end of the day, I had no idea. I never was a long term planner, I always was a “fly by the seat of my pants” type of kid. My mom used to say I was a great “bullshitter”. I don’t know if I still am or not but I do know that I have a story to share.
My journey of where I was to where I am today really starts back in high school. I think we all have these experiences or defining moments that change our path in life and while this wasn’t a massive moment or series of events, it certainly put me on the path.
It’s no secret that as a kid I was overweight or as my little league baseball coach would call me, “husky”. It’s not that I was lazy or anything, I just really liked to eat! I loved playing outside with friends, being competitive, winning and also I was (and probably still am) a terrible loser.
But my story isn’t about being a little overweight as a kid because I changed that path around 5th grade. Believe it or not I used to absolutely hate exercise… running specifically. It’s still one of my biggest weaknesses, but I am well aware of it! But around 5th grade, I wanted to play football. I was playing soccer and made the switch. I was a 5th grade kid, playing on the 3rd string defensive end, against kids who seemed like monsters to me because they were all 2-3 years older than me. Remember, in pop warner (or back then at least) the teams were based on weight.
So I was the heavier, younger, new player on a team filled with older kids. I think I wanted to play because my cousin was playing, but we didn’t end up on the same team, go figure. I remember absolutely HATING football practice. The running, the sprints, the heat in the summer, the laps… it was miserable. I cried, begged, and pleaded every day not to go to practice. Thinking back at it, I had serious anxiety and fear. Not around playing or getting hurt, it was fear of being uncomfortable. The fear of not knowing if the coach would make us run. I wanted to run and hide.
I found myself doing that at times during baseball when I knew the other team had a pitcher who could throw really fast. I wouldn’t want to go to those games. I was scared.
But everyday, my mom and dad made me go to those practices. No matter how much I cried and whined, they told me that I made a commitment and that I had to go (again, looking back at it, they may have just wanted me out of the house). So I finished out the season, I lost a lot of weight, I got a heck of a lot faster, more athletic and it was the first time I really got outside my comfort zone.
I still ended up quitting football and going back to soccer. I wanted to score goals and it was nice being the bigger kid on the field!
Ok, so flash forward to my junior year of high school (remember how I said I hated running?), in order to make varsity, it was an unwritten rule that you had to attend the head varsity soccer coaches soccer camp out in Maine. I didn’t go the previous year because I knew we would be up at 6am running before breakfast, then running some more, and some more… and playing a little soccer. But despite the fear, I had a lot of friends who were going so I went. About 3 days in I strained my right quadricep muscle doing some hill sprints. YES! I was out for the rest of the camp, I wouldn’t run or participate. But little did I know that this strain would linger the entire season. It was excruciating to kick a soccer ball with my right foot (yes, that’s my dominant side)… so did I learn to kick with my left? Nope… I just played the whole season slightly injured. As a result I didn’t make the varsity team but was able to be the captain of the JV team and an alternate on Varsity. But back to my leg… it really hurt. It hurt to the point where I didn’t know how long it would take to get better. So after the season, I went to physical therapy and I kid you not, within 2 weeks my quad felt 100% better.
This was one of the defining moments in my life where I said to myself “hmm, I would like to help people get out of pain”.
Now let’s Flash back to 8th grade.
This was the time in a young teenage boy’s life (well, I guess for me) where there is nothing more important than impressing girls. Now I had such little confidence around girls. I was the guy who would go home after school, dial up the internet, pull up AOL instant messenger and flirt with girls online, but when I would see them in person, I couldn’t look them in the eye! As a matter of fact, I think I asked out my first girlfriend over AOL. I know I had some serious game!
Anyway, I had a good friend who clearly moved up the puberty ladder a lot quicker than me and many of the other kids and he was jacked. I remember asking him what he was doing and how he was so jacked (that’s exactly how I probably said it), and he told me his parents had a home gym in his house. I then proceeded to invite myself over to his house to workout with him. And you know, we did the whole dumbbell curl and lat pulldown thing, but it was my first experience working out and I loved it.
But it wasn’t until my freshman year of high school when I started to go to an actual gym. I remember asking my parents to get me a membership to the local YMCA for my birthday. I would go, walk into the weight room and if it was too crowded or if there were too many older dudes lifting weights I would go into the basketball courts and shoot around… going into the gym without friends or people I knew back then scared the crap out of me. But I kept going and a few more of my friends got memberships and we would go after school when we weren’t playing sports.
Funny story, Freshman year of high school during the winter sports season, my friend and I (who also hated running, he was a fellow husky guy like me) went to the winter track tryout meeting. Our plan was to do shot put or javelin. So my plan was to play soccer in the fall, track in the winter and Baseball in the spring. Well, after the short brief from the coach, he told us all to head outside and take a lap around the school complex as a warm up. My friend and I looked at each other and proceeded to walk out and go home. We weren’t signing up for running!
So anyway, the new plan was to workout at the Y during the winter (not track) and that’s what I did. Only a couple of my friends stayed dedicated to working out in the winter, but I kept with it. Again, not knowing anything about anything. I just thought if you wanted big arms, do some bicep curls. And if you want to impress people, bench a lot of weight. I don’t think I did a single squat until after I got out of college.
Ok so let’s flash forward again…after my Junior year of high school baseball, I was nominated co-captain of the team. I’m still working out, I’m getting stronger, crushing those bicep curls and in the summer leading into my senior year I hurt my elbow doing a stupid exercise in the gym. It hurt to throw a baseball now… so I thought, “ok no big deal! Just go to physical therapy and I’ll be good in 2 weeks”… the difference is that I went and it didn’t get better. After several more weeks, an X-ray and MRI later, they found that I tore cartilage in my elbow and to fix it it would require surgery. Now we are 6 weeks out from baseball tryouts and there is no way I can get elbow surgery. So I played… and just like in my junior year of high school, every throw from center field hurt.
Despite the pain, I still played but playing in college probably wasn’t going to happen now. But my bigger question was “why wasn’t this getting better like my leg?” and “what the hell am I doing in the gym?”. So when it came time to try to figure out what I was going to go to school for, this was another defining moment that led me to major in Exercise Science with a concentration in sports medicine.
Ok, so now you know why I got into the fitness field but originally I wanted to get into physical therapy. Right? I wanted to help people fix their pain. Well, let’s skip a few semesters to my junior year of college. I took a strength and conditioning course and I loved it. Matter of fact, the professor owned a gym in the town where my school was and I applied to be a personal trainer (with no credentials by the way) at her gym. This was my first training job and I really enjoyed it. I remember asking her what it was like to own a gym (and this was like a 24 hour fitness type of gym) and I remember her saying “don’t do it”. Thanks for putting that in my head!
So after graduating with my degree I knew I wanted to get into the personal training field. I had some experience, I had my degree, I had some certifications… I’m good to go. But I really had no plan, I kind of just winged it I guess? I applied to be a personal trainer at Boston Sports Club in Westborough MA in 2010. I went in highly confident (more ignorance to be honest with you), highly motivated and ready to make a name for myself.
I remember the first few weeks and how exciting it was. I loved it. I would wake up at 330am to drive from Attleboro (I lived at home for 3 months before I moved out on my own) to Westborough to open the gym at 5am.
But I honestly had no idea what I was doing. You start on the floor, making minimum wage and you had to develop your own book of clients. How do you do that?! There was very little leadership, guidance and help (outside of a couple corporate sessions you had to take) for the trainers. More specifically, there was no career roadmap.
I knew that I had student loans coming up that I had to pay off and that I needed to make a living doing this. But I never felt I was chasing money, I just wanted to be the best trainer there. I wanted to do the most, I wanted to be there the most, I wanted to know the most. That competitiveness that I had in my athletic career was coming out in my fitness career.
Looking back, I spent a lot of extra time doing the little extra things that set myself apart to get me to where I wanted to be in a short amount of time. Like in football practice or in soccer camp, there was the same feeling of fear and anxiety to introduce myself to people. To try to “sell” my services to those people who needed it. Most of them didn’t know they needed the help (like me when I was in high school working out).
So within 6 months I moved up from a floor trainer to a master trainer at BSC. I was the youngest master trainer in TSI (town sports international) history. I was the highest grossing trainer in Westborough and one of the highest in the entire company. Within 12 months, the Westborough location was the highest grossing PT department in the company with only 5 Master Trainers.
But let me tell you, ignorance can be bliss… I had no idea the work and time that had to go into what I wanted. I thought I knew everything… or at least enough but having the “doing skills” didn’t prepare me enough for the real world.
Ok… so now let’s talk CrossFit, another defining moment in my life.
So about 3 months in at BSC, the General Manager and AGM were doing these workouts daily that totally confused me and blew my mind at the same time. Remember, I went to college for exercise science and what they were doing defied a lot of the traditional training practices that I thought I knew. So one day I asked them “what are you guys doing?” and they said they were doing the “CrossFit Daily WOD”… now I heard about CrossFit when I was in college but I knew very little about it, I thought it was for football players and power athletes to be honest.
So I asked a few more questions, trying to get an understanding for what they were doing and basically they just did what the CrossFit Daily WOD app told them to do each day. Everyday was different. Sometimes you lift weights, sometimes you run, sometimes you do circuits… it was completely varied and random. But they asked me if I wanted to do the workout with them, actually I think it was a bit of hazing to be honest with you, but I still complied.
The workout was called “Fight Gone Bad”, but we changed it up a bit due to lack of equipment. But FGB is a 5 minute running clock of 5 exercises, 1 minute max reps of each exercise, then rest 1 minute after each 5 minute round. Repeat 3 cycles. The movements were Box Jumps, Wall ball shots, Sumo deadlift high pulls, Rowing and Push press. We subbed the battle rope for the rowing.
Needless to say, this workout is no joke. It was hard, it was grueling. But it was fun. I was in the arena with my two bosses working out, joking around, being competitive… I loved it. I also beat them on the workout so that made me feel pretty good!
After that workout I was hooked, I couldn’t get enough of CrossFit. I learned everything I could about CrossFit, what it was, the methodology, the science behind it… everything. I’m so grateful that YouTube was around then!
From there I committed myself to practicing and improving my skills within this new method of training that I was hooked on. I wanted to master the complex olympic lifts, improve my powerlifting, learn how to do double unders, fundamental gymnastics movements like handstand holds, toes to bar, muscle ups… the good thing was that not only was our GM and AGM doing CrossFit, our newest Fitness Manager, Mr. Brain Zancewicz had his CrossFit Level 1. I had so many people to learn from. It was amazing.
So this all happened from 2010-2011 and it wasn’t until summer/fall of 2011 when I experienced another defining moment in my life. Now I talked about how I thought I knew everything with fitness… well that wasn’t true. And I didn’t know anything about business, sales, networking… I was just a kid along for the ride!
I was introduced/invited to create a local networking group. Another trainer at BSC who was much more experienced than me gave me the insight and advice that as a trainer you need to expand your network to other professionals that work in proximity to your space. So the networking group included a physical therapist, a chiropractor but also a local restauranteur, real estate agent and financial advisors. I’ll spare you the details and shenanigans of the networking group but there were a few big takeaways in this for me:
- I created a lot of valuable, life long relationships with almost everyone in this group
- This was very much outside my comfort zone and challenged me to grow
- My first business partner and business spawned from this group
Several months later, I began talking more and more with one of the members of this networking group and we hit it off. He and I became really close, as if he was like an older brother to me and I, a younger brother to him. He was a successful guy, highly intelligent and I have to say I was incredibly impressive/almost smitten by his demeanor. One of my core values is knowledge and wisdom and I felt I could learn a lot from this guy. He seemed to have all the answers.
So without really knowing what I was doing, a few months later on a ride home from an MMA sparring session (I can tell those stories another time) I pitched to him my idea of opening up a fitness facility that tied both our passions together (he was very much into martial arts and I was very much into CrossFit). We then brought Brian Zancewicz (remember, the fitness manager who I learned a ton about CrossFit from?) and a bunch of meetings and work later, we opened up our gym in September 2012.
There are a lot of details and side stories I could talk about here but I will save that for another time.
So let me break this down for you… I’m 23/24 years old, I’m doing well as a trainer, but I wanted more. Remember how ignorance is bliss sometimes?…well, it was weird. I had no fear of starting Prototype. I was 100% confident that it was going to be successful. I knew how to coach people, I knew how to train people, I knew how to program and create training plans, I knew how I wanted my CrossFit gym to be different than the traditional CrossFit gym. I made a lot of bold and fast decisions and looking back on it, I am really proud of those decisions I made.
On the other side, I had no idea how to run a business let alone manage and lead staff. The gym started off as Brian and I did all of the coaching and training. We moved all of our 1-1 clients over to Prototype and told them CrossFit and group classes were better than PT (wrong!). I made so many mistakes… it took me so long to trust anyone else besides Brian to coach anyone. I coddled (A LOT), I didn’t want our coaches to make mistakes or fail, I held a lot of the burden and stress of both working in the business (coaching, training) and operating the business and learning as I went.
Fortunately, we hired help from Chris Cooper before we opened the doors to give us advice. Chris has owned an affiliate since the late 2000’s, he wrote for the CrossFit Journal at the time and he was the perfect guide to help us.
But I still wasn’t the leader I knew I needed to be. But that all changed when I was forced to grow.
Around 2016 I started working in other businesses with my now former business partner (remember the guy from the networking group?). He saw I had been successful with Prototype and getting it to where it was to that date, so why not try to do that in other businesses and industries? You can sell stuff, you understand social media and marketing, you can operate, you’re organized… you got this!
If imposter syndrome was a hat, I was wearing a giant green one! I was thrown into having to lead (or try to lead) multiple people who were responsible for operating and growing various businesses. I had to bring my insight and little experience (in my mind) into these organizations and try to bring up the results. There was a martial arts business (remember how Prototype originally started?), financial advisor practice and an exotic car rental company. Cool right? Well, it was a lot of work.
I couldn’t work in the business of Prototype as much as I once was, I had to do better working on the business and leading.
After some time and some success, the next venture I got involved in (which at the time was controversial and maybe it still is) was the legal cannabis industry. My task and role: raise funds for this vertically integrated cannabis company… and they needed a lot of money.
Hmmm, well I’ve never done that before, but let’s give it a shot.
In a matter of a couple years, my world went from shorts and a t-shirt training people to wearing button ups and sport jackets to high end networking events and flying out to Family office conferences… Can you say imposter syndrome again but 10x louder? Holy uncomfortable. Imagine trying to talk to someone when you feel like you have no idea what you’re talking about?
In 2018 I earned a partnership in the holding company where all of the businesses I was helping operate were housed. If I learned one thing from this brief 2 year journey, I understood the value of equity vs. just a paycheck.
Yeah… it was hard and it was growth, but it wasn’t necessarily the growth I needed to level up…I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing and I wasn’t being the leader I wanted to be.
Was it checking off the box of success for me? Yes. However, I wasn’t waking up excited. I didn’t have the feeling I had when I opened up Prototype or when I would wake up at 330am to start training at BSC. As a matter of fact, I was burning out and burning out fast. To be candid, I became miserable.
In addition, my business partnership relationship changed. I didn’t feel I was a partner, I felt like I wasn’t part of a team and I felt like I was still the little brother.
There was very much a lack of good, effective leadership in my opinion, or at least the level of leadership that I felt helped people thrive. The defining moment that came out of this was when I made another big decision and that was to part ways with my now, former business partner.
Talk about a series of difficult conversations. Unavoidable conversations. I couldn’t skip these like I tried doing with my football practices. And this pitcher was throwing his fastest.
In the end, I got what I wanted and that was my gym + a bit more and that was finalized at the end of 2019.
I had big eyes for 2020. I’m by myself, I’m in control, I’ve learned a lot in the past few years and now I can dedicate my focus to my passion… and then COVID-19 hit.
This was another defining moment for me. This is, as they say, where the rubber meets the road. I realized, I’m all alone. All the decision making and leadership is on me. I have to step up and be the better leader that I wanted to be to weather this storm and continue to pursue our mission.
I remember the day we decided to close the physical gym doors. It was about a week before the state mandate. Some thought it wasn’t the right move, but it was the first of many decisions I had to make. I remember driving home, parking my car, turning off the engine and sitting there for a minute. You might think this is strange but I had a conversation with myself and I remember myself saying “You are ready to lead”. As David Goggins would say, “Roger That!”
From there we pivoted to a virtual model, we created a ton of content and resources for our clients and community, we sent out a daily email with a daily home workout if people wouldn’t make the virtual class. We put all the classes on demand, we divided our membership amongst the coaches to communicate with, we created a virtual coaching and programming option, we held virtual events, seminars, challenges, competitions, game nights and we even had a virtual holiday party. We then created a COVID-19 advisory board to help us with the decision making as the state mandates changed and phases rolled out. We outfitted the gym to make it safe, we spent thousands of dollars to improve our space, we added new staff to the team. We communicated, we stayed true to our values and we led… I led.
We finished off with a record quarter in 2019 and a strong 2020. We actually grew 10% in 2020, while 20-30% of gyms closed and many had more than 50% loss in revenue.
We were fortunate to win Two Brain Businesses 2020 Gym of the year award. Remember Chris Cooper? Yeah, that’s his business… and I couldn’t have been more honored. Not just for myself, but for the team and community at Prototype.
But man, that imposter syndrome hat grew back on my head. I thought, did we really deserve this? There are 1000 gyms in the running, how did we win? So many others went through these challenging times and came out strong as well. Then we won it again in 2021 and I was able to celebrate that success a bit more.
One thing i’ve learned just in the last few months is that there are times when you need to press on different levers. Charlie Kim of Next Jump talks about PEACE-TIME and WAR-TIME in business. 2020 was WAR-TIME. We had to focus on saving our business, our products and our strategy. However, as 2020 ended and 2021 emerged, things started to come back down to some level of normalcy, this would be peace time. And in peacetime, where the business isn’t materially changing much, you need to press on the lever of people development.
So around December 2020 I reached out to one of my personal mentors, Brent French for some guidance. I told him that I wanted to focus on myself and my personal development. I needed to tackle this imposter syndrome and improve my emotional intelligence with the goal of being the best leader I can be. He then told me how he was taking a weekly class called Leadership in Practice, led by Charlie Kim and Meghan Messenger, the Co-CEO’s of NExt Jump (remember, I just mentioned Charlie!). They started running this class through their online community called Community online Academy, which they started in 2020 as a result of COVID-19.
Now, I’m familiar with Next Jump because back in 2015/2016 Brent invited me to take a tour of their Boston campus with his graduate class. Next Jump is a $2B E-commerce company with offices in Boston, New York and London. But the interesting thing about them is that they are a Deliberately Developmental Organization (or DDO for short). They are invested in the development of their people, leaders and making better decision makers. Most importantly, creating a social change by improving workplace culture is their mission.
Since then I have been investing in myself and investing in our team more than ever. I’ve attended and have rarely missed their Leadership in practice sessions on Thursdays. In addition, I was invited to participate in a couple small group leadership training classes and have put this into play at Prototype with our own small group. My focus on applying my leadership is going directly into actionable practice not only at Prototype, but also with the launch of Empowered Rx with Coach Leah.
What I do know is that 6-7 months ago, I wouldn’t have shared this with all of you. I’ve learned a lot about vulnerability, truth, leadership… the importance of investing in yourself, the importance of reflection and truly appreciating things. I’ve learned why we can’t stop learning… I’ve learned how important it is to have mentors and people you trust to challenge your thinking. I’ve learned that if you want to have a bigger impact that you can.
I’ve learned that over the years that getting uncomfortable helps you grow. I’ve learned that fear drives behavior, but you can conquer your fears with deliberate practice. I’ve learned that not everything comes all at once. And the biggest learning I’ve had is that I have a lot more to learn.
I appreciate you listening to my story.
There are a lot of people that I didn’t mention by name in this for personal reasons.
There are a lot of people like my brother Jon, for example, that I didn’t talk about because he has his own awesome story.
I didn’t talk about all the mistakes I made. I didn’t talk about all bad decisions I made. I didn’t talk about everything but I’m an open book and would love to hear from anyone that would like to talk or has questions.