Appreciation at 100mph

I’m out of bed every morning at 5:30. I lift, walk, write, feed my dog—I do something. I work to give back the time that I’ve borrowed.

See, I’m not anyone special—a kid that grew up in rural Pennsylvania in a family that didn’t have much. When I was in elementary school we bounced around from Navy bases in Virginia, to one in Florida, back to Virginia again before we settled in Mifflin County Pennsylvania—where both of my parents are from.

After getting out of the Navy my dad kept a job for a solid two years—after that it was hit or miss. If he would have put as much time into working as he did trying to get out of work he could have started a successful business or managed one for someone else. Hunting, fishing and infidelity were always more important.

Mom was a slave to purpose—me, her youngest child; the only one still at home. She’s worked in a supermarket deli since 1995 and in the past few years has moved up in the ranks. The deli is now hers to run. She’s so proud.

But at the start she worked long hours for minimum wage to support a lazy husband and a young son. We didn’t have much—some beat up cars, a duplex house and food to eat—but she made sure we never went without. In truth, she gave too much and didn’t ask enough of me.

About the time I started to realize the problems with our family dynamic—mom worked a lot, dad didn’t do anything—my brother put a barbell in my hand; it’s been my closest friend since. I was a twelve or thirteen year old kid that had friends in what seemed to be normal families. Mom and dad both worked good jobs, they had expendable income and everyone genuinely cared for each other. It was hard for me to process—it didn’t make sense, but it made me angry.

Luckily I was good at sports. Between collisions on the football field and tension in the weight-room I kept anger from swallowing me. Athleticism kept me in the social loops.

I turned 15 in April and my dad left in July. My mom, my dog Missy and I were left in a duplex house that my mom couldn’t afford. We moved from our home to a trailer close to my high school. Athleticism and iron could no longer quell the angst. I spun out of control. My GPA fell from the high 3’s to the low 1’s, I lost all but a few of my friends and I got in fights at school. The decent-looking, seemingly All-American kid went from being a jock on the college track to being a problem.

My brother, at the time, was doing his best to keep my mom and me from falling apart. He was 27, my current age, with a baby on a way when he took me into his home. He fed me, showed me how to get a job, coached me on the football field and gave me the structure I needed to stop being a lazy, angry shithead.

After all this, in my late teens I was struck by a few years of clarity. I got my shit together, played football well enough to get recruited by colleges and graduated high school. There was a point in time when all of that was dangerously in question. But I made it to Lycoming College to play defense and earn a degree in Psychology and, being away from the structure that made me successful, I almost pissed both opportunities away.

I relapsed into the cancer of being an angry, 15 year old boy—becoming a social recluse and feeling a sense of entitlement on the football field that relinquished me to playing special teams and serving as a backup. One day, during two-a-days of my senior year, I packed up my locker and walked out of the field house. I was a punk. I quit.

A few weeks later, however, I hit the lottery. My attachment to the iron got me a job as a student supervisor of the campus gym—where a lot of people saw a pissed off guy that lifted all the time, Laura Johnson saw potential. She gave me a job, working with 5 other students, supervising the recreation center.

One of my co-workers, an awesome girl named Lauren, was a senior on the women’s lacrosse team. She knew how meticulous I was about training—that I spent most of my time doing it—and she got her coach to hire me as their strength and conditioning coach. I worked for 5 to 10 hours per week, for $7.15 an hour and it was amazing.

I felt purpose even though I was terrified—coaching 30 girls that you see in class every day took some balls. But we bonded. I saw what the iron did for a group of girls that wanted to get better at something. They didn’t have to show up—lifting wasn’t mandatory—but they did. When they came they gave all they had. I had the chance to help a group of people that wanted something badly to achieve it—it felt better than any touchdown I ever scored; it made me realize how unappreciative I had been for most of my college career and how I wasted football. Given the opportunity, I was going to make sure other kids got to be great at something—that they didn’t repeat my mistakes.

It was an experience that made me want more. I decided I wasn’t going to be a teacher anymore. I was going to spend my time using the iron—the thing that I love most, the thing that healed an angry kid—as a catalyst to make other people better. It grew beyond strength, improving my body and releasing anger—it became an opportunity to make the world a better place. When I graduated I was going to grad school to get my Masters in Exercise Science.

And I did—finishing up in 2010. Now I spend a few hours per week pounding my fingers on a key board and taking every writing job that I’m offered. I spend more hours training high school boys to be better athletes and good people. I finish the hours of my week by putting people back together with my hands using massage therapy. Each element that fills my hours is just a conduit of the message—we’re here to make people better. Each element of my week spins through the whirlwind of my body and mind moving at 100mph.

Being grateful requires you to do something with what you’ve got. It’s acknowledging that people have worked their asses off so that you didn’t go without. It’s taking every opportunity that’s presented because you’re not special, you’re just lucky. You’ve been given gifts.

We’re all operating on borrowed time. I took mine from a mother that wouldn’t give up, a brother that wouldn’t let me sink and a few other people that didn’t want to see potential wasted. So I make the most of it. I get up at 5:30 every morning and I do something. I appreciate what I’ve borrowed by moving at 100mph. (7127)

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Todd Bumgardner
M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
Todd Bumgardner

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Todd Bumgardner
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M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
11 Responses
  1. Joe Giandonato

    Dude, this is deep stuff! Having coaches like you in our field enriches the lives and development of the athletes with work with.

    Thank you for your passion!

    Also, I will be in State College during the first week of August. If you’re free, let’s link up, train, and grab a few beers.


  2. Not many people have balls to show where they came from. It defines who we are. You could have quit 100x but you did not. As a collegue I have always admired your research, poise, and general analytical but realistic approach to strength and conditioning. As a friend I value your empathy, honesty, and integrity. I selectively chose those words. I like you understand the actions behind WORDS and what it takes to show yourself and be proud. I admire you more then yesterday and you are a better man then 95% of the dudes out there. I tilt my snookipoof to you:)

    1. Todd Bumgardner

      Wow.Thanks Adrianne, I really appreciate that. Just hoping this essay struck a few chords and got people moving.

      I’ll take a tilt of a Jersey bump any day.

      P.S. Tomorrow is Rugby Shorts Friday.

  3. Moving. Humbling. Insightful. Though I’ve only dipped my toes into the world of coaching, I see the same resonances between teaching and coaching– hell, the same resonances between writing, teaching, and coaching. For me, it’s about empowering others… in the classroom, I’m constantly urging my students to think for themselves– to question what they’re told, to exercise their independence through critical thought. On the gym floor, it’s understanding, listening to, and owning your body– its strengths, its weaknesses, its occasional fumbles. In everything, it’s learning to understand and embrace what makes us human and to channel that hot mess into something productive.

    Much love,

  4. Marc

    Great article Todd. I grew up much the same way. Single mom who worked way too hard and after my dad passed away my uncle taught me how to lift and that’s something I’ve held onto my whole life.

  5. Ismael

    Todd, I love this story; but I think you might be wrong about one thing.(don’t take it the wrong way) Teaching! Coaching is still teaching. Tool might be different, but the result might surprise you. I happen to believe that you and Chris are awesome at this game that we call fitness.

    P.S. I needed something uplifting today… Mission accomplished.

    1. Todd Bumgardner

      Thanks, Ismael, and you’re right–Chris and I definitely teach. It’s easier for me to get the message across on a gym floor than I ever would have in a classroom. That’s all I meant. I really appreciate you reading, man, and I’m glad the article had a positive impact.

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