For me, my true fitness journey started the summer of 2006. Whilst my family and I were vacationing that year at my 85-year-old grandfather’s lake house in Maine (clear as day to me), my grandfather was crawling on the floor, playing with my two-year-old (who is now ten). They were having a blast, so I decided to join in on the fun, and, whilst crawling busted my 38-inch-waist pants open! I had a harder time getting up and down off of the floor than my 85-year-old grandpa! Now, mind you, my grandpa is not your common man. He was a pilot in WWII, served 25 years with the New Jersey State Police, and retired as Captain. And in his “retirement,” he worked part time as a Corrections Officer at various prisons and detention centers. He always was in shape—his job depended on it—and even in his retirement, he has kept a very strict fitness regimen … YMCA three times per week, owns and maintains two homes in Maine, snowshoeing, animal tracking … you get the picture: a real man’s man and my biggest inspiration! Enough of the mushy stuff …
At 30 years old, I had a BMI (Body Mass Index) of well over 30% at 5’10”, and weighed nearly 300 pounds. I decided I was going to climb Mount Katahdin. For those unfamiliar with this mountain—at 5,267 feet high, the tallest mountain in the state of Maine—this is where the Appalachian Trail ends for most people. To that day, this was by far the most physically challenging thing I had ever done. I recall about five hours into my climb wishing I hadn’t started and wanting to go back, my legs failing and feeling weak. But something inside kept pushing me, and ten hours later, I had completed what is arguably the most difficult ten miles on the East Coast! It was a real eye-opener to my poor condition, but at the same time, I also felt hugely accomplished for having had the mindset and resiliency to push through. That summer was huge for me! I recall talking to the sales rep of the medical supply company I was working for at the time when I returned from vacation, and her telling me “John, you’re 30; it’ll only get worse from here.” And that was the tipping point for me. It was like a voice inside said, “John, if you want to see your kids graduate high school, you need to change.” And I set out to prove that sales rep wrong!
The summer of 2006 really made me evaluate my regimen. Frustrated with myself and where I was with my health, I was more committed at the age of 30 to change than ever! You see, over the years since high school, I had been in and out of various gyms trying to follow conventional fitness “wisdom” being sold by FLEX and other bodybuilding magazines, and the only thing that ever really seemed to change was my increase in weight. So, I did a Google search for “unconventional fitness” … and was introduced to a world of kettlebells, sandbags, and people doing all kinds of cool, very effective fitness with little to no equipment! Zach Even – Esh from the Underground Strength Gym was my first unofficial online coach. I recall watching him do some kettlebell snatches, and was challenged to try it. All I had were 40 pound dumbbells, and I did my best to imitate the movement with my dumbbell and was humbled after just 10 reps on each arm, and thought to myself (“Wow! I’m really out of shape,” and, “Wow! This stuff really works!”). Within a few months of backyard and basement training with kettlebells, sledge hammers, tractor tires, pulling sleds and homemade sandbags, the weight started finally coming off, and I went from a size 38 waist at 298 pounds to a size 34 waist at 230 pounds. I was moving better, stronger and more efficiently than ever before, and was feeling pretty great, but still wasn’t happy with my weight and body shape.
My tool of choice was fast becoming the kettlebell. I just love its efficiency and simplicity. So, I decided it was time to step up the training, and after some research and consideration, hired my first kettlebell coach, Andrey Patenko, Hardstyle RKC kettlebell instructor. After about eight weeks of training with Andrey, he encouraged me to go for my first kettlebell certification and I successfully acquired my HKC (Hardstyle Kettlebell Certification). That weekend, not only did I learn a LOT about kettlebells, but I also learned a lot about my body and how to move it properly, and became fascinated with movement … which sent me on my next journey: to acquire my FMS (Functional Movement Systems) certification, developed by world-renowned physical therapist (MSPT, OCS), author, lecturer and strength coach (CSCS, RKC), Gray Cook. After attending that workshop, I came away armed and ready to progress to the next level and studied at the Pennsylvania Institute of Massage Therapy for the next 18 months and became a State-Licensed Bodywork Professional. My most recent accomplishment has been the acquisition of my StrongFirst Level 1 (SFG I) Kettlebell Certification.
I have been working now for the past five years as a strength/movement/therapy coach part-time from my home-based studio in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. My fitness level continues to improve and evolve as my understating of this amazing human body we have been blessed with grows. I have been able to maintain a bodyweight of 200 pounds consistently for the past eight years and am in far better health now than when in my twenties. I am passionate about sharing with others what has worked for me, and over the years have acquired the knowledge and skill set to help from many angles—from movement assessment, to movement treatment and movement strengthening. And, yes, my tool of choice is still the kettlebell! Oh, and by the way, Mrs. Sales Rep Lady … you were wrong! I have climbed Mount Katahdin every year since the age of 30, and beat my time every year, with my best time being this past year at 4 hours, 45 minutes, just over half of my original time! Aging is inevitable, folks, but we can age gracefully, and die as young as possible.