The competition was fierce but Mike fought hard and inspired us all in the process. He puts it all on the line every time. With a smile on his face he stays mentally focused, holds nothing back and continuously pushes himself to the limit while challenging us to give him more. His determination to reach his ultimate goals have made him a winner and saved his life. Congratulations Mike! You deserve it.
Tell us about your background and what got you interested in working out?
I’m 41 years old and have been a cop for 12 years. I am married and have two kids, 8 and 6 years old. After about 25 years of alcohol abuse (a whole other story), I had my last drink on July 25th, 2009. I weighed 305 pounds, couldn’t walk a flight of stairs without a rest and knew that a heart attack was waiting right around the corner if I continued living the way I was. I decided that after poisoning my body and mind for most of my adult life, I was going to make a sincere run at changing my life. At first, exercising was something that I was doing to kill time and release some energy now that I wasn’t drinking or nursing hangovers. My workouts were occasional at best, and even then they were half-hearted efforts and thoroughly ineffective. They were usually torn from some muscle mag that promised quick and easy results and focused on the arms and chest. My nutrition had to improve generally, due to my lack of alcohol intake but I had just as many misconceptions and poor information about nutrition as I did about exercise. In hindsight, I can see that I was spinning my wheels regarding my fitness during the first few weeks of my sobriety. But then the rubber met the road when I met Doug and AJ from Rise Above and my fitness level took off!
Describe your first Rise Above Class, was it what you expected?
My first Rise Above class was not at all what I expected. It was an intense, grueling, full body experience. It included using chains, sledgehammers, ropes, a tractor tire and those silly looking cannonball things with handles that I’ve since learned to love and respect so much. This was not an ordinary gym or an ordinary experience. I’d be lying if I said that first class was fun. It hurt. It hurt because my body only knew to be stagnant, lazy and ineffective and I was now getting my ass kicked by this explosive, full body experience! I literally couldn’t walk the next day. I’m not kidding. My legs wouldn’t move, I could barely lift my arms, and muscles I didn’t know I had were screaming at me! But I still felt great! I felt like just completing the workout was an accomplishment and that If I could make it through just one more, I would feel even better about myself. I felt I was paying the price for years of neglect and when I had paid my bill, I would have my reward. I went back again and again. Now fitness and Rise Above are an important part of my daily routine.
What motivated you to come back to the gym and start working out again?
My motivation for my commitment to fitness comes from many factors in my life that are specific to certain scenarios. I’m motivated by my wife and kids who never wanted anything except for me to be a husband and daddy. They could have left me a hundred different times during my drinking days but they didn’t and when I finally walked out of the fog, they were there to take my hand and support me. I want to be the husband and Dad I should have been all these years and Rise Above helps me be that guy.
I expect every workout at Rise Above to be harder and more brutal than the one before. I push myself to leave it all out there in the gym. If I drop dead during my last set of a prowler pushes or a killer kettlebell circuit, I’m cool with that because it’s the one place that I know I’m giving 100% of myself, for myself. The great feeling of the pump afterward, the confident feeling, the higher energy level …those are things I get to share with others in my life. But the work I do to get those rewards is all mine.
I wouldn’t be true to this process if I didn’t mention that I’ve learned from Doug and AJ that motivation breeds motivation. In all aspects of life, it’s contagious. Doug and AJ are as fanatical as I am about my progress. They treated me with respect, patience and tolerance the first day we met and it continues today. I hope that someday someone will look to me to motivate them as I look to Doug and AJ. I credit them both with being part of a small group of people that literally saved my life. Essentially, I went to two strangers and asked for help in changing my life. They gave all without question and do so every time we meet. If that’s not motivating, I don’t know what is.
What were some of the changes you made in your diet that enabled you to lose the weight and keep up your strength?
As you know by now I’ve discovered that I’m allergic to alcohol (It makes me grope women and say things I regret). It’s also really bad for your fitness goals….unless your goals are to be fat and lazy. So I don’t drink alcohol.
Secondly, I didn’t do everything all at once. It’s a lifestyle change and it can feel overwhelming at times so I didn’t want to set myself up to fail. After getting used to living without booze, I cut out refined sugars found in all the stuff I love like pastries, cookies, pies, and on and on. Then after getting a handle on that I cut out all fried foods. Now, I’ve moved on to eliminating (or cutting way back) on carbs. Not all carbs obviously, just the bad ones found in all the stuff I love (see above) and pastas, breads and potatoes.
I think people are doing themselves a disservice and will be working against themselves if they don’t make an effort to understand nutrition and how foods are processed by the body before starting a diet. Although diets are traditionally thought of as eliminating foods, you also need to add healthy foods that support lean muscle growth. I also eat more often. I try to eat some protein about every three hours and don’t allow myself to get so hungry that I make poor choices. It takes some practice and training of the mind and body, but it’s very doable and results come quickly if it’s taken seriously.
Lastly, I would say that the occasional beer, burger or slice of pie won’t kill you or de-rail your fitness goals. Life is good and it was meant to be enjoyed. You just need to find the right balance that works for you.
For newcomers to the Rise Above experience, what words of encouragement can you give them?
Believe that your mind and body can do things you never thought were possible. You are the only thing holding yourself back.
And because I’m a drunk that lacks originality, I’ll steal a common line from Alcoholics Anonymous that applies to Rise Above also: Keep Coming Back. It works.