The other day I was speaking with a member after getting in a much-needed workout in the afternoon at Prototype and she said to me: “Mike, you make those push-ups look so easy!” My first response to her was “Haha, thank you! Then I told her “I used to hate push-ups when I was younger, now I love them! I actually remember struggling through them when I started working out in 8th grade…” From here the conversation turned into a story. From that story stirred up a lot of emotion and to be honest, I never really thought much of it or reflected on how we got to where we are today. This member asked me to share my story. Now, I’m used to writing about your stories not my own so bear with me!
Like I mentioned above, I started working out when I was in 8th grade after I noticed one of my classmates starting to look a bit more muscular. He would flex for the girls and show off a bit (I mean when you’re in 8th grade… being strong is a huge confidence booster). I thought that was cool (writing this now I don’t know why I thought that was cool) and I really wanted to be jacked too so I started to go over to Chris’ house after school and work out.
Side note: Just so everyone reading this knows when I say working out, I mean doing bicep curls, push-ups and attempting pull up’s at Chris’ house (Leg day didn’t exist).
There was no real instruction, no technique, just do what you think will get you big arms and do sets of 10. Even with that, it put me on a path that I never saw coming.
Growing up, both my brother Jon and I were overweight kids. Jon really didn’t start putting on weight until he was around 10 years old, I however was always called the “husky” one by my mom. “Oh Michael, you’re not fat you’re just husky!” (thanks for being nice Mom : ) Love you!). When you think about overweight kids you might think lazy or inactive, but the reality was that I was an athlete. I played every sport. I have been throwing a baseball since I was 3 years old, I played soccer almost my entire childhood, I played street hockey, pickup football with friends and I was always outside running around and wanting to play. You can imagine why I wanted to work out and get jacked, I really didn’t want to be the husky kid forever.
One of the pivotal moments of my overweight childhood that I can remember was when I was in 5th grade. I didn’t play soccer that season so I could sign up for our city’s pop-warner Football team. I was the overweight 5th grader who got to play on the B team and was playing with kids 3 years older than I was. I wanted to play because my cousin started playing and I always wanted to try it out, however, my cousin was a tall skinny kid who played on the lighter weight team, so we didn’t get to play together. I’ll tell you this, it was and still is one of the most challenging experiences both mentally and physically I had to endure to date. They made us run before and after practice, there were a ton of conditioning drills and the coaches yelled and screamed for you to work hard and I absolutely hated it (thinking of it, you may feel this way towards me now : ) ).
I wanted to quit so bad. I would beg my Mom not to take me to practice because I was scared to do all the running and conditioning drills. I was terrified and had serious exercise anxiety as a kid. As a matter of fact, that didn’t go away until after high school and into college. I hated to be forced to run and work hard. Being made to run was typically a punishment for something, which really made me develop a disdain for it.
Side note: Freshman year of high school one of my fellow husky friends and I went to the winter track meeting because we wanted to do shot-put. When we got to the meeting the coach said, “Okay everyone, we are going to start practice with a lap around the complex. Get to it!”. My friend and I looked at each other and thought “we want to do shot put, not run” so we left. Winter track wasn’t a husky kids thing in my mind at the time.
Long season and story short, my parents didn’t let me quit. I didn’t really play much (I think I was 3rd string Defensive tackle) but I actually lost a lot of weight. I could run faster, I felt more athletic, I was more confident and I appreciated the hard work that I spent to get to that level. That was a level of growth that now reflecting on it was pivotal to my personal development.
The next year I went back to playing soccer and continued with that sport all through high school. I didn’t want to sit on the bench of a sport, I wanted to play and perform! But I still hated running. That didn’t change! I still got anxiety when I went to soccer camps because I knew they were going to wake us up to run at 6am. I hated it all through high school and to be fully transparent, I didn’t play in college because of the conditioning work. It may seem odd now, but I didn’t always like working on my weaknesses…
Now that you have some background on me, let me tell you about Jon and the start to his journey as it’s much different than mine was. As kids, Jon and I played all of the same sports. We were separated by 2 grades, so we never played on the same team (except 1 year of indoor soccer at the YMCA) but enjoyed the same activities. I remember as a kid Jon was always the little fast kid. He was quick, he could run faster than any of the other kids and was always smiling. He was like the energizer bunny, always moving and wanting to play.
However, that all changed when Jon was around 10 years old playing little league baseball. Jon had the misfortune of being publicly humiliated by his coach. As a kid, words can shape the perception you have of yourself and your self-confidence. Mind you, this was around the same time Jon started to put on more weight and wasn’t necessarily the fastest kid any longer. The moment Jon decided to quit playing baseball came after he was stealing a base, got thrown out, and then the coach publicly shouted: “why did you try to steal? You’re too slow to be stealing bases!”. Jon was humiliated and his confidence as a kid clearly took a hit at a time where developing self-confidence is so important. The impact a coach can make on someone can go a long way. The direction it goes is incredibly important.
Not only did Jon stop playing baseball, Jon didn’t want to play any team sports anymore after that. The days where Jon and I were playing the same sports came to a pretty sudden and abrupt end. I will tell you; this was the pivotal moment that shaped a good part of Jon’s childhood. Sports and group activities are so important for kids and their development. They are an outlet for their energy, practicing new skills, forming friendships within multiple social circles, learning and developing basic leadership qualities and most importantly, having fun!
What went from Jon being an overweight kid spiraled into Jon gaining a significant amount of weight. Jon was 5 feet tall, 185lbs and was 12 years old. He wasn’t leading an active lifestyle by any means. I would come home from sports games and Jon would be playing video games or watching a recently purchased DVD with his paperboy money (the kid had over 400 DVD’s at one point). He wasn’t the same kid anymore. As Jon went through middle school and High School you could see him start to go through these phases where he was trying to figure out what he enjoyed now that sports haven’t been a part of his life for some time. I remember Jon getting a skateboard and giving that a try for a brief period. Shortly after, he got a drum set and worked on his musical skills (that drum set drove everyone in the house crazy). As time passed, and as I look at it now, Jon was trying to find his purpose and his passion. But this story has a happy ending, don’t worry.
Fast forward to 2010. I recently graduated College and got a job as a personal trainer at a large fitness facility in Westborough, MA. Jon calls me up and say’s something like “Hey… I want to start working out, what do you think I should do?”. So, I send Jon a workout plan and give him some pointers. I even remember going to the gym with him back in our hometown of Attleboro to show him a few things. Some time passes by and Jon is working out regularly on his own. Jon has lost a significant amount of weight and has leaned out quite a bit. There certainly was still progress to be made but this was where Jon started to transform his body.
Hot tub Time Machine to early summer 2012, I am in the build out phase of what is now Prototype Training Systems (Home of CrossFit Prototype). I came back to Attleboro to visit my stepdad Bob as he was helping us do most of the build out and also put together some of our old boxes for box jumps. I remember this clear as day, I go inside my Mom’s house and say to Jon: “Jon, come outside with me and I want to show you a CrossFit workout”. The workout consisted of Double Unders, Box Jumps and 400m runs. We had to test the new boxes with a workout, and this was Jon’s first exposure to a CrossFit WOD. After the workout, we were both sweating and exhausted and I said to Jon, “So, what do you think?” and he loved it. Something completely different then what he has been doing and it was FUN.
At this point, Jon was doing meaningful work with kids with developmental disabilities, but he didn’t see this as his future career path long term. As I was opening up the gym, I mentioned to Jon that I wanted to have a Kid’s program as a component to the gym and that I would personally develop him to be part of the gym, if he was open to it. Jon jumped at the offer and wanted to make fitness a bigger part of his life.
In order to make this work financially, Jon got a part time job as a host at Sapporo Korean BBQ (thank you Jay Chung for hiring him!). I’m not going to lie but I think Jon made a better coach and trainer than he did a host at a restaurant where he still couldn’t pronounce the titles of the meals!
After several months, Jon started coaching our Kids classes. From there he moved in with me in Westborough and started training full time at the gym. From the kid’s classes he moved on to coaching our adult classes, to doing more 1-1 personal training to eventually working as a nutrition coach at Prototype.
Flash forward to 2020, Jon is one of the most tenured coaches at Prototype. He heads up Prototype Nutrition with Coach Leah, he has helped people lose 100’s of pounds, he’s changed lives, he’s married, he owns a house and he just recently got a puppy. Jon’s life has changed for the good over the past 8 years and I can’t be more proud of him!
Since opening Prototype in 2012, my life has taken me on a long, strange trip. I’ve been involved in multiple businesses, wore a ton of hats, had a business separation, endured through COVID, got married to the love of my life, bought a house, and also recently got a puppy (#Koda).
The point of this post is to tell you a story. Our story.
There are several things to learn from this journey that both Jon and I have been on at Prototype that I want to point out for you.
- Follow your passion
I didn’t find my true love for exercise until I was in college. As I mentioned, I worked out in high school and started lifting weights in 8th grade but it wasn’t until I was in college where I formed a relationship with exercise. After graduating from college and started training others, I shortly found CrossFit. Like many of you, I fell in love with something that reminded me of the sports I played and that promoted getting outside your comfort zone. I’m glad I followed that path as I have no idea where I would be on my journey if it wasn’t for making that decision!
- Get outside your comfort zone
If there is one thing you need to know about me as it relates to exercise, I’m the one that won’t skip a workout because it scares me. I embrace those uncomfortable things because I realized the more you do it, the more comfortable you feel and it’s not a weakness anymore, it’s something you can be confident in.
- Protect your confidence
You can argue that the single greatest asset that you have in life is your confidence. Confidence allows you to do things, make decisions, and take action. For a kid, it’s even more important for this to grow just like a muscle would. If you’re a parent or a coach, you have a responsibility to protect your kid’s confidence and help them develop this muscle. It will pay dividends in the future.
Oh yeah, don’t ask Jon any questions about the Korean BBQ menu…