From Couch Potato to Personal Trainer: Part 1, Terror and Survival on a High School Football Field

I’m a personal trainer. I can deadlift over 400 pounds. My timed mile is 6:13. I’ve placed in fitness and weightlifting competitions. My fastest 5k is 21:41. I’ve run a half marathon. I can breathe fire and I drink liquid lava for breakfast. I have brief moments of awesomeness but for the sake of journalism let’s rewind my story to a frigid November morning about three years ago.

It was 6:45 and the sun wasn’t up yet. I was bundled head to toe in innumerable layers of fleece and sweatpant material (think Randy from A Christmas Story). I kept texting and calling Denise while I sat in my car blasting the heat. She wasn’t answering. I was panicking. How on earth was I going to walk into this bootcamp and roll around in pain exercise without a friend nearby? It was bad enough I was going to be outside and have some dude scream in my face that I was a piece of human garbage, but to do that alone seemed unbearable. Denise finally responded and informed me she wouldn’t make it but to “have fun.”

When it came to me and fitness, there was no such thing as “fun.” I never did sports because I was an uncoordinated chunker who hated competition. I sweat uncontrollably in my everyday life so why would I want to exacerbate that? I was overweight and thought that was my predetermined genetic destiny. So with overwhelming anxiety and feelings of futility, I got out of my car and headed toward the high school football field to meet my fate. I contemplated calling loved ones and saying my final good-byes. After my third lap around the campus (I get lost easily) I spotted a mass of humans contorting themselves into a veritable cornucopia of positions. For the uninformed reader, this is known as stretching. As I descended the steps, my only thought was, “I hope I survive long enough to see one last sunrise.”

Spot the differences: July 2011 to December 2013

Spot the differences: July 2011 to December 2013

“Hi, are you Patrick?” The voice rang out of the dark mist. Maybe it was an auditory mirage. Perhaps I had fallen down the concrete steps and died. Maybe it was St. Peter checking me into heaven. However, it turned out to be an actual living human being, thus crushing my dream of a merciful death. As I approached the figure I responded with a dull, “Unfortunately.” He laughed. We shook hands and did introductions. His name was Kevin and he was the trainer in charge. After I signed a number of waivers and had my last will and testament notarized, Kevin told me to join the others for the warm-up. After that, he said, he would pull me out of the group and we’d work 1-on-1 to go over proper exercise form and get some assessments. Cue a loud gulping noise.

About 20 bundled-up figures were running a warm-up lap around the field. It stood to reason that they must look like Olympic athletes under all that Lululemon. Ten steps into my waddle jog I got a stitch in my side but I continued nonetheless. I thought it would draw attention if I waddled jogged right off the field toward my car.

Everyone completed 3 laps to my 1 but, alas, it was time to start the actual warm-up. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the people around me were just that: people. They smiled and looked normal. I was unable to determine if most of them were wearing any Lulu at all.

Another trainer took us through a series of movements to get our bodies warmed up. Some were slower static holds like quad stretches. Others were more dynamic like squat jumps. My heart rate and breathing never came back down after the jog so I was dumbfounded to see the others looking peaceful. It seemed as though they could do this warm-up for the rest of their beautiful perfect lives. I hated them.

Ten minutes later, we were done with the warm-up and I was gasping for air. It was the most exercise I had done since I sprinted from Mrs. Yates’ sixth grade English class to the cafeteria after an announcement that there was a 2-for-1 special on nachos.

I had hoped Kevin would forget about me and that I could blend into the AstroTurf until it was time to go home. He tapped me on the shoulder and down came all my dreams. In our own little corner of the field, he went over a technique called “bracing.” It involved squeezing your core and keeping everything tight to minimize injury risk throughout an exercise. Squeezing. Check. I was a squeezing champion. Then came the squats. I’ve always had good hip mobility (whatever that means) and monstrous quads so I was able to squat to an “adequate” depth. I was bursting with pride. I was still out of breath from the warm-up and started to see little bright lights in my field of vision. Then came the push-ups…

This is where our tale takes a turn for the worse. Push-ups seem easy from a very theoretical stance. You lay on the ground. Easy. Then you push yourself off the ground. Easy. I got into position and pushed with all my might. I elevated my torso about 3 inches from where I started. Then I stopped moving. I was suspended in a state of limbo. Gravity and I were battling it out and she was going for the jugular. “Squeeze your core!” “Squeeze your quads!” “Use your chest!” This was becoming an anatomy lesson from Satan himself. Meanwhile I was shaking all over and slowly sank back to the ground. How could this happen?! They seemed so easy. I lay there sweating, breathless, defeated. Then it happened. I felt it. It ran over my spirit like a tidal wave against a clueless sea lion: I was going to ralph. Toss my cookies. Feed the fish. Kevin wanted to try more humiliation push-ups. I told him I needed to sit down. He said I didn’t look well. I sat on a milk crate and tried to ignore what my body was telling me to do. I could do no more exercise but I definitely could NOT throw up on/near/around this trainer man.

I know not what happened the rest of that day. Through eyewitness accounts and other research materials, I have gathered that I completed the cool-down and got myself home without killing any innocent bystanders. I did this all without vomiting!

There have been approximately 50,000 steps between that first day and where I am now. However, the person I am today (with all the deadlifts and running and magma consumption) was made possible because I blindly showed up that first day. I was nearly defeated by 1/18th of a push-up but for some reason I showed up again the next day. Thus began my fitness life. So if you’re facing a painfully deconditioned body, medications, injury, huge weight loss, metabolic syndrome, or any other seemingly insurmountable health obstacle and want to make a change, just remember these two things:

Step 1: Show up.

Step 2: Show up again.