Weekly Weigh-in

Weekly Weigh-in

THERE IS NO FEELING LIKE LEAVING HOME

I’ve been traveling. Over the last 10 days, I fidgeted in a classroom chair for 30+ hours, been in and out of uniform, perverted my gut with Voodoo Donuts (Cock n’ Balls, to be precise), interviewed for a new job, driven 30+ hours, connected with friends and family, delighted my gut with taqueria favorites (Carne Asada burritos, to be precise), ran support crew for a 40 hour event, and honored those who died in uniform.

I witnessed incredible fortitude, met interesting, smart, and strong people, and spent time in the best places one can find on the west coast: Portland, Highways 5 and 101, and San Diego.

THERE IS NO FEELING LIKE COMING HOME

As I sit in the quiet of home, coffee in hand and creek trickling outside, I can finally reflect on how powerful the past 10 days has been. It’s been busy, I’ve been distracted, and I’ve been away from writing. I feel fat from indulging and being away from my go-to meals. I don’t even want to look at the scale. Still nursing this injury, I’ve been away from training too. Divorced from those practices for the past week-and-a-half, I’m ready to sink back into the routine.

Such is the ebb and flow of Life. Too often we stress out when we’re not training every day, keeping our routine, and operate out of our comfort zone. We worry that we’re getting fat with all this eating, that the kids are alright, or that work will be miserable when we get back. It’s too easy for fat kid fears to keep us from appreciating exactly where we are.

But relaxing amidst all that is key to getting the most out of the chaos. We must, in order to negotiate the muddy obstacles, grab new opportunities by the huevos, and feed the brain housing group. To feed the soul we have to let go of all that wobey and be in the moment. It’s a true leap of faith. More often than not, there will be no permanent damage. It’s all recoverable. Push yourself. Seize the damn day. Live every moment like the Devil himself is trying to steal it.

Because he is. Fuck him. This moment is yours.

For now, it’s time to cleanse the system, pull the diet back into focus, and after a few days of active recovery, jump back into the training schedule. Time to soak up the lessons learned, apply them,  get back after it, and enjoy the feeling of being home.

GET SOME!

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5 Round… Saturday

5 Round… Saturday

DISTRACTED BY RAIN IN PORTLAND
This week I traveled up to Portland to attend a class, so I’m a little late in getting my weekly list of stuff that’s been working for me lately. Better late than never – for the most part. I’m blaming the Oregon rain. It’s just not supposed to be raining this time of year.

Drinking  Bulletproof Instamix
Okay, I’ll admit. The thought of butter in my coffee seemed silly at first. But after trying it for a while, I found it really left me feeling satisfied in the mornings and staved off the hunger until lunch. The Instamix eliminates the need to blend it before tossing it into your to-go cup. Just mix it straight in!

Studying  About Face, COL David Hackworth
This 700-page epic memoir is a beast to take on. I have slowly been digesting it this year, even loading it into a Ziploc and packing it to the field while training. But it’s a beast of lessons learned, incredible military history, and a different perspective on Korea and Vietnam. Hackworth was a Soldier’s Soldier, and his lessons translate into any organization.

Tracking  Robb Wolf, Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast
Ben Greenfield interviewing the legendary Paleo author, Robb Wolf, and the result is filled with great info. From farming to binaural beats to nicotine gum to glucose monitoring – lots to learn here.

Supplementing  Reserveage, Grass Fed Whey Protein
Protein powder. We all take it, though usually it leaves me feeling empty. Moving to grass-fed whey has made quite a difference. I feel fuller, more satiated, and less foggy afterwards due to the low carb/sugar content. I really like this stuff.

Pondering  This is Now, Hatebreed
Cause this is now
If I can I change tomorrow if I can’t change today
This is now
If I control myself I control my destiny

Let me know your requests and suggestions. Which round is your favorite? What do you want to see more or less of? Let me know! Send a tweet to @getblacktoenail using #5roundfriday so I can find it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

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Beware the Old Man

Beware the Old Man

FAMILY REUNIONS ALWAYS LEAVE A MARK

I’m still recovering from the events of New Orleans. I came home sick, injured, and out of whack from a weekend of indulgence, excitement, and poor life decisions. I fucked up as much as I found success. Only now can I sleep through the night without waking up to the pain. I know that sounds whiny, but facts are facts. This hurts.

Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young.

Old warriors did not get old by accident; they got old by being wise, having the right knowledge, and being tough. Never underestimate an old man who has grown up in a rough profession or a rough environment.

These men have been around. They have done things, and experienced things, that you probably have never even thought about. They are tough, their minds are tough, and they have the knowledge, the skill, and the will to finish you off, if you force them to do so. A boy will fight you, but a older man will hurt you.

Bohdi Sanders, Modern Bushido: Living a Life of Excellence

10:00PM. New Orleans. The GORUCK GRT Reunion Welcome Party was just getting underway when I came to the Casualty Carry lane. We paired up with folks of similar size & weight. First round, no rucks. No problem. Next round, with rucks. This added 70-80 pounds to the move. I got myself set, lifted him onto my shoulders, and my core just gave way. I dumped my teammate and crumpled to the ground under his 270+ pounds. Not accepting defeat, I setup to try it again. Nope. Same result – crumpled to the ground under my teammate again. Frustrated, hurting, and angry, I caught my breath and pushed through the section with another teammate and forged ahead through the next 10 hours.

Such is the way of testing the mettle of an old warrior. Turns out I strained my internal & external obliques, lats, and lumbar muscles pretty damn good. It’s been 10 days since the event and I’m nowhere near doing full sit-ups or get-ups without pain. Hell, sneezing is a significant emotional event. But I have been at this long enough to know injuries are just part of the game, and the smart Marine knows when to slow down, recover, nurse that injury back to health, and not to give up.

Healing and recovery are difficult concepts to execute well, especially when drive and A-type personalities get in the way. We get scared we will lose fitness, get fat, or not perform well if we’re not pushing hard every day. But Scott Howard, Krav Maga instructor and coffee collector, said it best…

When we work out, we make ourselves weaker. When we rest and recover, that’s where we make ourselves stronger.

Or as Bobby Maximus, Director of Training for Gym Jones, puts it in his essay There is No Such Thing As Overtraining

There is no such thing as overtraining, there is only under-recovery. Most people don’t put in enough time, effort, or train with enough intensity to put themselves in a state of overtraining. Most people simply don’t recover well enough.

FALLING PREY TO MONKEY BRAIN

Recovery takes discipline. It takes carving out as much time as we do for training, and often it’s the first part of our programming to fall prey to Monkey Brain, deadlines, and shuttling kids to soccer school/practice/parties. It’s the first part of the discipline we work so hard to build for training to get sacrificed on the altar of Life. As we get older, I think this just gets more and more difficult. Life gets bigger, responsibilities get heavier, and time gets more limited. That’s why so many people rest on the laurels they gained in High School, College, or pre-parenthood. Marathons, Triathlons, Wrestling, Baseball, Football, whatever. All things of the past once Life – and a comfy couch – get in the way. “I can’t” becomes the infection.

Which is why we need to beware of the old man in the young man’s profession. They haven’t let Life get in the way, settled on their laurels, or discarded the power of the lifestyle required to stay in the arena.

Maybe we need to BE that old man?

I will never be a black belt. I will never successfully compete against similarly ranked opponents half my age, I will never be great at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There is an urgency to my training because I’m sure as shit not getting any younger, or more flexible. I’m certainly not getting any faster. And as I head down the highway on my Jiu Jitsu journey, the likelihood of the wheels coming off the car grows stronger every day.

A while back, one of my favorite writers – and yes, TV personality – built a whole episode around his addiction to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Anthony Bourdain directed his whole team to San Francisco just so he can train with Kurt Osiander at San Francisco’s Ralph Gracie Academy. In his Medium blog post, “Sweep the leg, Johnny!” Bourdain talks a lot about running out of time, the love of the challenge, and his “why.”

I do it because it’s hard. Because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And because it never ends. Every day presents me with a series of problems that I spend the rest of the day thinking about how I might solve — or at least chip away at. Next day same. And the day after that.

There is no way to continue to be in the ring, on the road, or under the bar, without solid recovery. Sanders, Maximus, and Bourdain all allude to it, if they don’t say it directly. While Bourdain doesn’t talk about his recovery plan much, it does seem to include artisanal cocktails, incredible food, connecting with people, and a creative outlet that feeds the rest of his soul.

WE CAN’T COME BACK THROUGH BEER AND CHEETOS

Recovery suffers from the stigma of not doing anything, especially when injured. Too often we feel pain and use it as an excuse to put our feet up, avoid more pain, and take “rest” as watching TV with beer and Cheetos. But there is so much we can do to recover from our training, as well as the knocks Life throws at us. Maximus spells it out completely – workouts, ice baths, yoga, stretching, foam rolling, etc. While most of us can’t afford the TV show style of recovery, we can build those concepts into our lives – live and eat well, connect with people, and be creative. We can always do SOMETHING. Even in the face of a strain, break, or falling off the wagon.

This is the only way we can remain in the arena to compete, build a team, get uncomfortable, get stronger, faster, smarter; and learn how to be the best we can be. This is the only way we can be that proverbial old man the rest of the world need to be aware of. As I recover from the GRT Reunion Tough, I’m learning that all of these lifestyle factors come into play and are critical to coming back stronger. But it takes considerable effort to overcome the mental obstacles and stigma to properly heal from this injury and not lose what I’ve built so far. We’ll see what I got to make it happen.

Do you have the discipline in you?

The ice bath is calling.

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5 Round Friday

5 Round Friday

SOOTHING A NEW ORLEANS HANGOVER
Last weekend we were in new Orleans for the GORUCK GRT Reunion. 225+ of us weirdos were in town for a Tough + Party. We overindulged. I hurt myself. So this week has been about recovery. Here are five things I’ve been pampering myself with in order to come back to reality, push off alcohol once again, and get back to training…

Cooking  Almost 5 Ingredient Pizza Spaghetti Pie
Juli over at paleomg.com has been making food magic happen for many years now. This recipe was originally published in 2014, but it’s new to our kitchen. And I think it’s going to be a weekly thing. Once you make it, you’ll see why.

Eyeballing  Tribe, Sebastian Junger
I just stumbled across this yesterday, but I am really curious to see what Junger has to say in it. I rather enjoyed his book War, and it seems this one is the next step in defining – from a civilian point of view – what it means for a Servicemember to come home. More to come as I get to read it over the next few weeks.

Headbanging  The Concrete Confessional, Hatebreed
Hitting us up with brutally honest lyrics about life, Hatebreed continues to motivate us with their latest record. It just came out today. I’m going back for a second helping – alongside leftover Pizza Spaghetti Pie.

Rolling  Lacrosse Ball
I have plantar fascia issues. If I don’t take time with it, rolling out my glutes, hamstrings, and everything upstream from my feet, they begin to hurt. This simple lacrosse ball is the best, cheapest mobility tool out there. Lots of ways to apply it to every muscle group. Painfully delicious.

Meditating  Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World, Kelly Starrett
“What’s even more disturbing, and what virtually no one realizes, is that inactivity is killing our brains—physically shriveling them.”

Let me know your requests and suggestions. Which round is your favorite? What do you want to see more or less of? Let me know! Send a tweet to @getblacktoenail using #5roundfriday so I can find it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

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Stop with the 22!

Stop with the 22!

THE PIT OF DESPAIR HAS A TALL PARAPET

It was Sunday. The weekend had been good, and we were winding down on the couch with dinner, wine, and brainless television. That’s when I got a phone call from “Bill” – a friend, co-worker, and fellow Senior NCO. One of our Soldiers was drunk, wrecking his place, and in a horrible state. The friend that was taking care of him called for help, as she couldn’t handle him anymore. So the two of us drove out to the house to see if we could calm him down, sober him up, and try again to steer him towards help.

This wasn’t our first trip out to salvage his situation.

“Jim,” at one point, was a good Soldier, a father, and husband. He deployed to Iraq with us in 2008, and was well respected in the unit. Along the deployment, he suffered a back injury. Once he came home and sought treatment, the road to recovery was long and painful. He fell in and out of depression, aggravated by pain medication and alcohol, that dark emotional hole became deeper and deeper. We all tried to get him the help he deserved, but it was getting more and more difficult to get to him. He became distant, wouldn’t show up for appointments, and wouldn’t sign the needed paperwork. Eventually he disappeared. A few weeks later we got word from his mother that he had passed away. Overcome by alcohol and medication, that good Soldier, father, and husband, was gone forever. Jim simply could not see past the tall parapet that surrounds the pit of despair. He couldn’t crawl out.

Jim’s story is nothing new.

All over the media there are campaigns to promote awareness of Veteran Suicide. In 2012, the Veteran’s Administration published a study that analyzed the death certificates from 21 states from 1999 to 2011. Their estimate was Veterans were committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day. The number 22 became the rallying cry for awareness of Veteran Suicide, spurning non-profits, campaigns, and websites all across the country. It was quoted in Congress and Senate to pass bills, it’s been pasted on signs at protests, and countless push-ups have been done in sets of 22 (all on video and plastered on Facebook). Being a part of that community myself, I am inundated with these messages, and every time I see them I think of Jim – and all the others I have lost to the burden of war since coming home from combat. Even more so, all the Soldiers and Marines I know live with this possibility an arm’s length away. Myself included. To all of it I have to say…

STOP WITH THE 22!

Just stop it. Stop the fucking t-shirts. Stop the push-ups. Stop the rings. Stop selling shit. Stop making a buck or drawing attention to yourself because you want to show you care. It’s not solving anything. It’s not a solution. Derek Weida, Veteran, fitness junkie, and internet personality, recently brought this to light in a video post that was seen by millions. I have to agree.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fderekweida%2Fvideos%2F1090366127689028%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Do I think Veteran suicide is a problem? YES. Without a doubt.

Do Veterans deserve to be taken care of after their time in service? YES. Absolutely.

Do I think people are making their money and careers on the back of troubled Veterans? YES. And that’s sad.

Please DO NOT think for a moment that I am against all of the efforts being made to help Veterans. But suicide isn’t just a Veteran’s problem, as noted recently by Task & Purpose.

The new CDC study shows that suicide is most common among middle-aged white men. VA research has found the same to be true in the veterans community.

This data point highlights a significant weaknesses in efforts to prevent veteran suicide: Much of the conversation has focused on post-9/11 veterans; even with a spike in recent years, post-9/11 veterans clearly account for a relatively small percentage of veteran suicides.

Yet because the majority of campaigns and initiatives to address veteran suicide are run by post-9/11 veterans, they invariably are designed and promoted in ways that reach post-9/11 veterans. A review of the websites of several groups working to prevent veteran suicide — such as 22KILL, Mission 22, Stop Soldier Suicide and the National Veterans Foundation — show that they do not effectively explain which veterans are dying by suicide, and commonly utilize photos of younger veterans as visual illustrations.

As long as I’ve been in the Army, we have had continual training on suicide. From annual Suicide Awareness training to ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) to Master Resilience Trainer. Huge budgets are being thrown at this problem. We are constantly being bombarded by messages and videos and posters and checklists and Smartcards in an effort to give us the tools to do something about this difficult problem. It gets to the point where we become numb to the issue due to the noise-to-signal ratio – and far too much noise. It’s missing something crucial.

It’s missing action. Execution. And facing hard truths.

AWARENESS IS LOOKING AT A FIRE AND QUOTING FACTOIDS

In his book The Warrior Ethos, Steven Pressfield wrote something that has stuck with me over the years:

The hardest thing in the world is to be ourselves.

Who are we? Our family tells us, society tells us, laws and customs tell us. But what do we say? How do we get to that place of self-knowledge and conviction where we are able to state without doubt, fear or anger, “This is who I am, this is what I believe, this is how I intend to live my life”?

In this task, our mightiest ally is the Warrior Ethos.

Directed inward, the Warrior Ethos grounds us, fortifies us and focuses our resolve.

Acceptance is the first action we all need to take. We – meaning Veterans, friends, and family – have to accept that death is a part of warfare. There really is no getting around it. As Veterans, we have to accept that people die under our trigger, under our orders, and sometimes by our mistakes. And people die by the enemy’s trigger, orders, and mistakes as well. That is the nature of warfare, as well as – and this is the tough part – the nature of humanity. Period. The sooner we can accept this, the sooner we can find a way to live with it, heal from these experiences, and use them as fuel to recover, teach, and perform.

But that’s not to say we don’t face other obstacles. Unwritten tenets we are taught from a young age about behavior, customs, and conduct. The Man Rules tell us:
• Do not cry
• Do not show weakness
• Take care of things yourself
• Do not ask for help
These are common in so many cultures, and they keep us from accepting our situations, seeking help, and healing from the punches life throws at us.

I believe it will take all of us – Veterans, Military, and Civilians alike – to have an impact on these numbers. All of us can apply the Warrior Ethos to our communities. One suicide is one too many, especially since each suicide impacts so many more people with each incident. On the large scale – meaning on TV, social media, internet, and mandatory training – the focus has been on awareness. Awareness is just the five-meter target. We need to look at the ten to three-hundred meter targets.

We need to change the message. We need to stop thinking awareness is a solution. It’s not. It’s looking at a fire and quoting factoids about Smokey the Bear and deaths by fire as we continue to watch. We have to run into that burning building, put out our hands, and pull whoever is in there out of their personal fire and back to their families, communities, and sense of purpose. Back to Life.

We need to stop focusing on the dark shit of the past, the adversity we face; and start focusing on the greatness we can become.

VETERANS ARE TEACHERS

ADVERSITY IS FUEL

WARRIOR ETHOS WILL SAVE WARRIORS

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Dog-Eared and Water Damaged

Dog-Eared and Water Damaged

THAT SMELL SHOULD BE MADE INTO A CANDLE

Weightless at moments, ground deep into my seat at others. Lit only by red lights and the occasional white-light flicker, that C-130 combat approach to Baghdad International Airport in 2004 was my first real taste of being in a Combat Zone. I gripped my copy of “Unholy Babylon” like others would grip their Bible – hoping I didn’t lose it and that its knowledge will guide me in the coming year. Dog-eared and water damaged, that book went with me everywhere since I had started training for the deployment. And while it wasn’t filled with existential lessons to save me in case I lost my way in the sands of warfare, it offered a glimpse into the enemy we faced amidst those same sands.

Abruptly, the plane landed and we coasted along the tarmac. The aft loading ramp dropped slowly as we cruised and the night air rushed in. A combination of burning trash, open sewage, and diesel exhaust followed, filling my nostrils with a stench I hadn’t smelled in 15 years. It’s a pungency not found at home, smelling of difficulty, death, and adventure.

Around the same time, General James Mattis was preparing to deploy as Commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, mission-bound for that same country. Before deploying, on 20 November 2003, General James Mattis drafted an email to a colleague answering a simple question about reading and history for military officers. That email went viral before “viral” was a thing. Twitter didn’t exist. Facebook didn’t exist. My Space was outlawed for military use. But email was our link to the world, personally and professionally. Mattis’ words soon made their rounds through the ranks of leadership. First in the Theater Command Group, then the Pentagon, eventually rippling out to servers around the world.

IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT COMBAT, BUT ABOUT LIFE

The crux of his email was the importance of reading and study. Through this practice he had “never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before.” Quickly crafted, his writing shows General Mattis’ no bullshit approach to everything. It also shows his reverence for history and the opportunity we have today to learn from those who came before us.

I know that many of you are not in the military or have not seen combat. We all have something to learn from this essay. The concepts General Mattis talks about can be applied to every aspect of life, from sports to parenting to business to Book Club. It’s about asking the question “Who has done this before me and what can I learn from them to improve my performance?” Your consequences may not be life and death. They might be quarterly sales or employee relations or triathlon times. But they are important enough for us to study, learn more, and apply what we’ve read to what we are doing. And that’s important enough.

RIF ONLY WORKS WHEN GROWN-UPS MAKE IT WORK

Mattis opens with the most poignant reason to up the ante in our reading game. He’s not just writing an 80’s Reading Is Fundamental PSA, but rather giving us the “So What?” we need to realize.

“The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.”

A very key point here is not only is it ourselves that suffer the “consequences of incompetence,” but that our “men” do too. That means all the people around us. Our children. Our employees. Our parents. Our clients. For all those times we are moving too fast to learn better ways of doing things, how often do we fail to realize how that impacts others? We can do better.

“Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun.”

A number of years ago I read “Warrior Politics,” by Robert D. Kaplan. In it, he goes through all of the big issues we faced in foreign and domestic policy at the time and related each issue back to points in human history. From ancient Mesopotamia to modern United Nations, through every war, pact, and victory, we have experienced all this before. Mattis, again in his no bullshit fashion, reminds us of this fact – and that we have so much to learn.

“…leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.”

Studying versus reading. Today we are so flippant and consuming with our media that it’s hard to stop long enough to get past the Twitter-feed-style of reading. We read a little bit, nod our head “oh yeah,” and move on to Like or Retweet. Digital Post-It’s with a tasting menu of information, but never a whole meal. But to read something – to really read something – write about it ourselves (in a journal, blog, or Facebook post perhaps), and apply that learning – that makes the difference, I think. That bridges the gap between reading and study.

“As commanders and staff officers, we are coaches and sentries for our units: how can we coach anything if we don’t know a hell of a lot more than just the TTPs?”*

Coaches and Sentries. As leaders, is it not our job to set our people up for success? As a parent, as a CEO, as a Non-Commissioned Officer; don’t we have to look out for our people, take care of them, and give them the tools and knowledge they need to succeed in the jobs we give them? TTPs – or Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures – is a military term for the ways we do things. To Mattis’ point, we need to know more than reciting the textbook answers in order to effectively coach and watch out for our people. The only way to do this is to study more, practice more, and apply that learning to those we lead.

WADING THROUGH THE COLLECTION ON THE SHELVES

Unholy Babylon,” by Adel Darwish and Gregory Alexander, was only part of my study of Iraq, it’s politics, and it’s personalities. I was working in Human Intelligence at that time, and needed to know all of the backstory I could. I could well be meeting these people, or those loosely related to them, and had to be armed with all the knowledge I could collect. It was a turbulent year, 2004. We got shot at and blown up on a regular basis as the insurgency was kicking into high gear. Our job was to get the neighbors of the bad guys to sell them out so we could stop the attacks. It wasn’t an easy gig. But I could not have done my job well or set my team up for success if I hadn’t taken the time to study before heading in-country.

Today, I share General Mattis’ penchant for learning in order to better lead and teach. I was impressed with the number of takeaways I found in his short email. I’m sure your bookshelves are full of things you’ve collected over the years. Thanks to Amazon, it’s cheaper and easier than ever to line your living room with knowledge. But how often do we sit and study a topic, and then share what we’ve learned from that lengthy chat with the author with others around us?

What are you reading right now?

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LINKS_____________

Business Insider article on General Mattis Email http://www.businessinsider.com/viral-james-mattis-email-reading-marines-2013-5
Reading is Fundamental PSA via YouTube https://youtu.be/XIKiFB3xzEQ
Unholy Babylon, Adel Darwish and Gregory Alexander on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Unholy-Babylon-Secret-History-Saddams/dp/0312065310
Warrior Politics, Robert D. Kaplan on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Warrior-Politics-Leadership-Demands-Pagan/dp/0375726276

Always Do Sober What You Said You’d Do Drunk

Always Do Sober What You Said You’d Do Drunk

It’s early. The 45-pound plates were rusting from living outside on the porch. We needed to move them 100 yards from the back of a car to the start point, so each of the four of us grabbed one making it in one trip. Rust stained our chest and sleeves, tainting our fleeces and t-shirts, but no matter. It was a minor sacrifice for the sufferfest we were about to witness. The morning beach air and chilly breeze balanced out the sunshine and warmth we shared. We were there to support a close friend as he embarked on a physical challenge not often seen.

It was titled the St. Baldrick’s $10K Challenge. In order to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, benefitting children with cancer, Stephen DeToma committed to doing an immense amount of masochistic exercise in exchange for the donations he had collected:
• One-mile Bodyweight Sled Drag, 200 pounds
• One-mile Bear Crawl
• One-mile Casualty Carry
• 1000 Burpees

All in one day.

I caught up with Stephen to ask a few questions about himself, the event, and St. Baldrick’s.
__________________________________________
How did you come to your health & fitness lifestyle?

I played paintball when I was a kid. My Dad ran a paintball field. When I was like, 14 to 18 or 19, I was working the paintball field almost every weekend, playing on competition teams. But that was my only physical activity. Even for practice, I should have been running and lifting and doing things that would make me better at playing paintball; I just figured I could just show up, do shots of Jack Daniels, run fifty yards, and light people up and it would be fine. So, no physical activity.

When [Heather and I] got engaged, it was like – well, if this is a thing, this is serious, and we’re going to be together for ever, then I want forever to be long enough so I’m going to get motivated to start taking care of myself. We ended up trading – I wanted her to learn how to shoot. She said, “Great – you do that, and you start coming to yoga.” We did that for a while, going to the range and yoga a few nights a week.

Then a buddy of mine had been trying to get me to go to CrossFit with him, and the way he started to do that was he would show me the Hero WODs*. Murph** – are you fucking high? There’s no way I can do that. I just wrote it off, and he kept trying to get me to go and trying to get me to go. Long story short, he ended up taking his own life – kinda out of nowhere. That was rough. In dealing with that, I basically crawled into a bottle of Jameson for about a month.

He had been working at the company I’m at forever, and he was really well known around Santa Cruz. Local boy, punk rock bands, and huge extended family. A handful of weeks of really horrible shit. In my head – you know, you start doing the “Fuck, why did he [commit suicide]? What the fuck was the rationale for all of it?” And I was thinking maybe if I actually said “Hey, yeah, I’ll go to the gym and do a workout with you,” Who knows?

But in my head I’m like “Fuck it. I’m going to stop procrastinating and I’ll do something.” So that was the first thing that got me up and got me like “Let’s get going here.” At one point one, my buddy Josh and his wife came down to visit one weekend. He said he was going to start training to do a Tough Mudder. “You should come do one with me.”

Around the same time, good friends of ours had been training for a [GORUCK] Challenge in Boston, on St. Patrick’s Day.

On [the day of the Challenge], Heather and I were waiting around, waiting for text messages from her husband, wondering “What happened? What happened? Did she get a patch? Did she finish? Did she make it?” Finally, we get a message… She made it, she’s driving herself home. She got to the house and he said they had to carry her up the stairs and put her in an ice bath. And we’re like “Oh my God.”

The Tahoe Tough Mudder got cancelled. [Josh] sent me a message and said “Hey I went to go sign up and they’re not doing it.”

The next day, [my friend from Boston] asked “Are you doing Tough Mudder?” No, they canceled it. And I would always fly home to Boston on my birthday on July 4th.

“There’s a Challenge on July 3rd in Newport. You should come and do it for your birthday.”

That gave me like, four months. “Yeah. <sigh> yeah, I could probably do that. Yeah, fuck it.”

And then that was it.

I know St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a special charity for GoRuck. For you, what makes Baldrick’s special?

So, I missed the first Baldrick’s. It came up after I had done a couple Challenges, but I was still – hmmm, I’m not really gonna jump into that. I was still kind of a wallflower, even though I knew people. So I just kinda let that one roll by.

Baldrick’s comes up again, and I was like… I totally want to do this. I got the bug to not be a shitbag, basically. I got a pretty good life, you know? We don’t have a ton of money, but we wake up with a roof over our head every day, we’re healthy for the most part, there’s no reason I can’t be doing something to help somebody else. [Baldrick’s] was something that I can bite into and actually make a tangible difference. Not like I’m solving problems or anything, but the fact that at the end of the day I can say, “Holy shit, I raised $7500 with Heather and I combined for this charity.” I don’t have $7500. I can’t throw down at any point. But being able to draw that in, that gets exciting.

Really early on I decided if I’m going to do this, I’m going to jump in with both feet because that’s how I’d been living the last year. If I’m going to work out, I’m going to bust my ass. If I’m going to do this event, I’m going to step up. If I’m gonna be the guy, I’m gonna be the guy. Don’t talk about it, be about it.

At that point, everybody in the community knew me as “the Beard.” Everybody was like the Viking beard, the animal beard, the whatever – whatever you want to say. So, okay, I’m going to use that to my favor. And so that’s when I decided “Hey look, if you get me Five Grand the beard comes off.” And people I didn’t even know really started backing me and getting really excited about it, re-sharing [the page], and getting people to pitch in money.

As I was approaching Five Grand, Heather said “Hey, if you hit $7500 I’ll shave my head.” So that’s when people really got whole hog into this and really got fired up. We hit just north of $7500.

Actually going to the hospital was super huge. Heather and I both, getting there and walking around, seeing the kids coming out and hanging out. On the drive there, we had this understanding that it’s just hair and it’s for the kids, and it makes the kids feel better. But when we actually got there and you see the kids hanging around and waving over the railing and they’re looking at you, everybody is yelling and screaming and having a good time. We saw a little girl grinning and smiling, and that was it. Any hesitation – gone. Any nervousness about having my head shaved – gone. We go out and have a really good event, hanging out with all the people like we normally do. But that 2-3 hours that we were there at the hospital, that was concrete. This isn’t just a ticker on the internet that I’m raising money for.

The previous year you had shaved your beard, but this year was different. This year you didn’t have the beard and you took on something unusual. What brought you to that?

It legitimately was, okay – we raised $7500 dollars last year, and because Heather was one of two or three women at the event, that was the big ticket. I “lost” to Erin Benjamin – she beat me by a couple hundred bucks. I freely admit I have a competitive streak a mile wide. I’m usually pretty good at letting things go, but if I have an opportunity to come back stronger I’m going to do it. That’s what this year was about. I did $7550 last year. How do I make more money out of that?

[Last year] a lot of people said, “If you were doing pushups or doing burpees or something to kick your own ass, I’d give you a fucking hundred dollars.” Then they said “No, you’d like that. I’m not going to do that.” Whatever. You just didn’t want to spend the money.

But the second time around, that was the thing that kinda stuck in my head – okay, fucking Gladiator Games. It’s that Bread and Circus style shit. It’s rubbernecking at an accident. People want to look at a train wreck.

People enjoy watching suffering – even when it’s self-induced.

Yeah. Last year, I was actively banging on doors, fingers in faces, “Hey you, just give me ten dollars.” I called people out, I tagged people on Facebook, I would make lists on my page. I was an asshole about it and just rode people into the ground. This year, you know, I’m gonna go the other direction. I’m going to put up this menu of bullshit, and I’m not even really gonna talk about it that much. I’m just going to put it up on the page, and every once in a while I’m going to make a post. But I’m not going to do the finger pointing. I’m not going to do the banging on doors. I’m just going to let it go and see how it does.

And people… people fucking gave… just to watch.

So where did you end up? How much did you end up raising?

Total was $8,976.

From your $10K Challenge, what were your biggest lessons learned?

Oh, man… Have a plan. Like [General] Mattis says, have a plan.

With knife hands?

Yes, specifically with knife hands.

When the donation for the burpees came in, I had a couple days to seriously consider the fact the burpees were going to happen. And then when it did actually happen… <sigh>

[The morning] I drove to the start point for everything, and I stopped at a 7-11. And there was a chalkboard in the 7-11 that said “True happiness is doing something for someone that can never repay you.” I needed to see that. Not like I was upset having to do it, I needed to have my head in the right space to remember what I was doing and why I was doing it.

It’s really easy to say, “Hey I’m going to do all this stupid, horrible shit” and to have people throw money down because I’m going to do stupid, horrible shit. It’s another thing to actually follow through and show up on game day and do what you said you were gonna do.

The first round when I took the sled around, I took the 200-pound sled around the quarter-mile and came in, I was thinking “I have bitten off way more than I can chew. I’m going to do it, but oh man this is gonna suck!”

Doing my first lap on the Bear Crawls, and I look back and Shawn [Landreth] is dragging around the sled. I said “What the fuck are you doing?” And he’s like “I’m buying your debt! I’m going to buy a quarter-mile off you.” In the back of my head, I’m thinking how do I view this in my own mind – is this me slacking off and not pulling my own weight? Or is this my friends seeing me going through this amount of bullshit and stepping and saying “No”? And realistically, that’s what I kept coming back to. We always talk about “one team, one fight,” “nobody fights alone,” and that’s what it really came down to. From doing all these events together for so long, we all have this engrained in our heads that when I’m watching one of my friends suffer, I don’t want them to have to suffer alone. I still did the majority of the workout, which was brutal, but when people say they are going to show up, they show up. And then they do more than you expect them to do. That was a massive takeaway.

What’s the one thing you want to teach people?

Perseverance. Strength through adversity. Having someone who doesn’t think they can do anything and doesn’t think they are good enough, and then find a sense of self-worth.

I find that there’s a lot of shit in life that doesn’t matter – things people put an extensive amount of value on that doesn’t fucking matter at all. When it comes down to it, you have to be happy with yourself and be able to look yourself in the mirror and know that you have done a good day’s work. That you have done everything that you can, and maybe a little bit more, than you did yesterday.

When we talked at the $10K Challenge, you referred to the Hemingway quote, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” After all this, will you keep your mouth shut?

Ha. No. I always have dumb ideas.
**==______________________________________

*Hero WODs: Workout of the Day (WOD) named for a fallen hero, usually military, law enforcement, or firefighter.
**Murph: Hero WOD named for Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, who was killed in Afghanistan.
For time:
1 mile Run
100 Pull-ups
200 Push-ups
300 Squats
1 mile Run
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