Rather than participate in a transparent, fitness-industry popularity contest and name my favorite articles of 2013, I want to speak genuinely about people that had a huge impact on me this year. I do this in the hopes that it moves you to consider who made your life better this year; and, maybe, seek out a few of the people that I mention. My entries appear in no particular order, but each has had a different, distinct impact on my life.
(Disclaimer: I’m aware that I’m not a guru of any sorts—psychologically, philosophically, or in any other means of life. I’m a strength coach that does his best to do the right thing. That being said, we’re all in this shit together, so let’s help each other out. Take from this what you can.)
Dr. Andreo Spina: What can a coach/therapist expect from a weekend course? In most cases, it’s a few new tricks or an examination of your current process. It’s not rare to walk away inspired and motivated to try new techniques—it’s been my experience with every seminar I’ve attended, save for one. What is rare, however, is a weekend course that changes the way you think—about the body, about training and about your process.
During the first weekend in October, Dr. Spina, and his Functional Range Conditioning, changed the way I think. I mean this in the broad sense—the way I critique and process information—and the narrower sense; training the body. Beyond the understanding and application of FRC, Dr. Spina taught me a new perspective, a new way to consider every input we offer the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.
It’s worth the time and money spent to learn from this man.
Michael Ranfone: During the early part of this year my plans to open a gym in State College collapsed. The implosion of a few years of planning and life structuring was the swiftest kick to the nads I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing. Most likely, though, it was a necessary offering of perspective.
Mike had been mentoring me throughout the process. During 2011 and 2012, I’d call Mike on my long drives from Central PA to the Finger Lakes in NY; we’d talk training and business with a lot of Tom Foolery mixed in. I had acquired another big brother. P.S. Boobs will always be cool and farts will always be funny.
When my gym plans failed, Mike knew the whole story. I was in massage school and unsure of my next move when he offered me a place at his table—an opportunity to join the staff at Ranfone Training Systems.
I took the position reluctantly knowing that I needed to leave Central PA for a while. It’s home, and I love it, but at this point it’s not where I need to be.
I took the position knowing that I would learn a lot about training, therapy and business. Mike is a great coach and therapist—being in the same space as him makes you better seemingly by osmosis. The intangibles, though, have been the most valuable lessons thus far.
No matter if he’s tired, uncomfortable or otherwise compromised, Mike shows up every day and makes people better. I’ve seen him roll in on two hours sleep and coach foam rolling more intensely than most people deadlift. He’s the best coach I know.
It’s a rare opportunity to work directly for a man you respect. Truth-be-told, I couldn’t work for a man I didn’t greatly respect, but I’m also oppositional and defiant to the tune of getting a D in an art class to prove a point. The point is, Mike’s a great coach and a great dude. He impacts a lot of people and I’m proud to wear the RTS logo on my chest.
Surround yourself with good men and you’ll live a better life.
Josh Hull: In late August, just after I moved to New Haven, I was scouring ESPN.com to confirm what I had just heard—Josh was cut by the St. Louis Rams—when my cell phone rang; it was Josh.
He was calling to tell me that the Rams released him after what he thought was his best camp since being drafted in 2010. With his trucked packed up and pointed east, he was driving to Pennsylvania to spend the night before coming to train with us at RTS.
Josh and I have been good friends since high school. Late in my high school career, and during the summer before I started college, we trained together. Every session was a competition; every sprint was a race; every exercise was a challenge for one more rep. It’s a tradition that lives on.
The trip from St. Louis to New Haven cost him sixteen hours of his life and he arrived distraught. There’s no shame in being upset after losing a job that you love, playing a game that’s helped define you since you were a boy.
But for Josh there’s no shame. Instead of sleeping in a comfortable bed in Pennsylvania, he slept his big ass on my futon, three stories above the sweltering street in New Haven. Instead of going home and ‘hoping for the best’, he drove half-way across the country to train and stay ready for an opportunity to work. Instead of letting disappointment consume him, he took his time off to improve his lacking attributes.
During his six-week furlough, he was invited by four NFL teams to work out and potentially earn a roster spot. At each try out the coaches told him he was the best prepared of all the linebackers that were invited. A true testament to Josh’s resiliency.
Josh was eventually signed by the Redskins at the beginning of Week 7 of the NFL season. He’s played in ten games this season and recorded more tackles thus far than he did during his last full season with the Rams.
Disappointment didn’t defeat him; it changed his perspective and he got better for the trouble.
Pat Tillman: I’m not sure where to start talking about Pat Tillman—there’s so much to mention about a hero. Almost ten years have elapsed since his death and his life still dramatically affects mine.
April 22, 2004—two months before I graduated high school—Pat Tillman lost his life behind a boulder, on the side of a hill in Afghanistan. When I heard about his death, I remembered hearing the story of his enlistment a couple years earlier. Mostly I remembered watching him in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State when I was ten or eleven, and how aggressively he played safety for the Arizona Cardinals in his years after Arizona State. I loved how he played football, but I didn’t realize how truly he was a man to emulate—and not only because of his military service.
As an eight-teen year old kid, I read every article I could find about Pat—I watched every interview. Soon after I called my soon-to-be coach at Lycoming College to ensure that I’d be able to participate in ROTC; the plan being to play football for four years and then contract active duty in the hopes of being a Ranger. I do my best to live by principles, and the wars of the Bush regime didn’t fit mine, so I left ROTC and also decided not to enlist after college. I’ve toyed with idea of enlisting ever since—even as a twenty-seven year old with a good career. It still doesn’t sit well for some reason.
I had to wait until my junior year, but I wore number 40—Pat’s number when he played for the Cardinals—to honor my hero. He was a far greater football player than I ever was, but I was proud to have 40 on my chest every Saturday afternoon.
Although his military service and courage under fire are truly admirable, those attributes pale in comparison to the entire person that Tillman was. Pat acted based on principles—he did what was right because he thought it was the right thing to do. He was the guy that took interest in every one and made sure everyone felt included—he lived a passionate life based solely on his own principles. He was gentle, thoughtful, considerate and ferocious when necessary; he was undeniably his own person that carefully chose his path; he exemplified all that’s best about men.
Recently I read Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer’s tribute to Tillman. Returning to the story of his life has made me question if I am doing enough with mine. I think great men that run towards trouble because it’s the right thing to do pick us open—make us vulnerable to introspection. There are few lives lived that inspire others to live more fully—Pat’s life was one.
Be passionate. Run towards the chaos.
“Somewhere inside, we hear a voice. It leads us in the direction of who we wish to become. But it is up to us whether or not to follow.”