Ryan’s journey began long before he met me, but it continued when we met in 2018. He was one of my first one-on-one clients, whom I met while working at Iron Empire in Dover, New Hampshire. We spent 12 weeks together for the 12 Week Transformation that the gym was running and met every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the ass crack of dawn (I can’t remember if it was 5am or 6am), even if there was a snow storm.
In that time, Ryan became one of my favorite people and remains to be today. He shines bright even on the days when he’s not feeling it. Ryan is bluntly honest, and is 100% himself every day. And when he sets his sights on what he wants, he pursues those goals until he achieves them. He’s been a huge inspiration to me as a gym rat and as a coach.
I was born a big kid and I grew up into a bigger kid. And I ended up a very large adult. Like, very large.
Even as a little boy, I was ashamed of my large size. I grew up involving myself in all sorts of designer diets, fading fads, and lame tricks; I was stepping on the scale at local Weight Watchers meetings, sweating to the oldies with trusty VHS tapes, and restricting food like it was my job. Because, in truth, it was my job. Any chubby kid will tell you—it’s a 24/7, 365 (sometimes 366), full-time gig.
To be fair, I’m pretty tall. I have broad shoulders, long limbs, and that certain thickness only a “big personality” can offer. But, despite what was genetically unchangeable, I always tried (and failed) to be smaller. Always trying to diminish what I actually was—a big, larger-than-life person with serious presence.
I wanted to be thin, I wanted to be invisible, and I wanted to be like my perception of everyone else.
In high school, way back in the 90s, I secured some Paula Abdul “workout” tapes (yes, that Paula Abdul) and I slowly began to shed some pounds. After I mastered Paula’s pop moves, I took up running–or as I call it “flogging” (my cute term for flabby jogging).
I ate a very restrictive diet of lean meats, brown rice, and steamed veggies–dropping a significant amount of weight, but not adding one single atom of muscle, kids.
Remember that my goal was to be thin! My goal was to dramatically diminish!… Muscle and I were not yet acquainted.
My college years arrived, and I found booze.
Like, really found it. Vodka, late night burger feasts, vodka, endless pizza parties, vodka, piles of nachos, and then more vodka! Life was a party and I was right on time.
But as the story goes; more schooling, professional stress, relationship stress, world stress—and the weight began to add back on. By this time, I had happily abandoned running (and Paula’s aerobic VHS empire) and was living my life in late night bar crawls and not early morning gym sessions.
In my mid 30s, I began to develop a burning interesting in weightlifting and strength training. Starting in my early 30s, I started seeing a therapist (this is a good thing) and began working through all the junk that builds up in the brain as your number of spins around the sun increases. One happy side-effect of sorting out my mental health was–I began to accept my size and stature; realizing maybe I was done with playing it small. Also realizing that my playing it small was more for others! A pressure assault on myself (and by myself) to diminish, demean, and disregard who I was —all to make others more comfortable.
So, I signed up for a local gym and was rather haphazardly making my way through my cute little “workouts” (the quotes are necessary). Using the standard machines, exactly as the gym laid them out, I began chasing those “gainz”. While hopping from machine to machine; I would see those free weights across the gym, I could hear their rhythmic heavy clanging for more action, and I could smell the barbells metallic pheromones enticing me. Time to start thinking big.
Oh, and a side note here–my nutrition. I’m not a nutritionist and it showed in a majorly unfortunate (yet tasty) way. Eating my thrice weekly chicken tender, mac and cheese, and small side salad feast was my plan of attack! I figured as long as I was eating only one dipping sauce with my “tendies”, I was good. The gainz would surely pile on in quantum speed. I had no macro goals, I did not count my non-existent macros, no measuring, no meal prep. The “hot case” at the local supermarket did that for me. Now, even as I type this historical misjudgment, I giggle lovingly at myself.
Now the story is about to get good. Thanks for sticking with me here.
Luck or destiny (maybe both) intervened in early 2018 and I was linked with Mariah through a local gym. A co-worker pointed me in the direction of a facility offering personal training; something that I knew I needed to ensure that I didn’t break every bone in my body and sever all my ligaments during a deadlift disaster. I nervously made an appointment to meet with staff at the facility and quickly found myself training three times a week with Ms. Mariah MacDowell. And I’m telling you—cosmic doors opened.
I began to learn about real fitness training, gaining skills for success, and realizing the extreme error of my patented “chicken tendies” diet plan (although I still do love them chicken tendies). Once you have this type of knowledge, you find your previous attempts quite laughable. And I mean that in the most good-natured, silly of ways. Each movement, set, rep, and each week and month; these experiences just add to your training knowledge.
I could babble (do you babble when you type) on and on about this, but chances are if you’re reading this, you already know what I’m throwing down.
My goals are not completely traditional. While training always contains some element of attaining a concept of one’s personal sense of physical beauty; goals can be about structure, refinement, and relationship building.
And that relationship is with yourself–the single most important relationship you can build. You simply cannot offer your best self to anyone if you don’t first offer that version of yourself to, well, you! Yes, I want a powerful body with rounded shoulders, a billowing broad chest, and a juicy bubble-butt that makes both men and women weep tears of exalted joy—but my biggest goal is to build a better relationship with myself.
And yes–it’s also important to honor those smaller, short-term goals; more reps, hit new PRs, finish a cut cycle without massacring a sweetly frosted cake. Small goals lead to big goals, each step is a step in the right direction. Honor your little victories because they matter too!
If I had to offer one piece of advice, one single morsel to help you reflect on your own process—I would offer you this;
Make it about you
And no, it’s not being self-absorbed to make it about you.
The biggest thing I’ve learned is to not compare myself to others. And that’s not an easy task! Constant easily accessible media, the rise of influencer culture, and artificial images constantly assault our sense to feel contrary.
Now, and this may shock you, but I’m not perfect. I still struggle with that desire to scratch that comparison itch. It can be extremely hard to separate fact from fiction and not twist images in your brain as you covet those perceptions.
In the past, I plastered my social media follows with powerlifters, fitness influencers, and scantily dressed dudes whom I thought would inspire me to greatness, manifest my goals, and make me feel better! Sad truth was…they just made me feel worse. The illusion of social media is very toxic. But you know what isn’t toxic? Hard work, consistent training, and solid nutrition. Remind yourself of this daily, maybe even multiple times a day!
I believe in you.
Oh, and what’s blowing up my Insta these days? My deep love of special needs cats domesticated feisty squirrels, and darkly irreverent memes. Man, oh man, do I love a dank meme.
I cannot express how proud and happy I am to have been and to still be a part of Ryan’s journey today. We hit our 3 year anniversary back in January. He’s been one of my greatest supporters since day one and I don’t know where I’d be without him. I’m so grateful to have him in my life as a client, but greatly more for the friend that I have gained.
Are you ready to claim your health and wellness?