My Personal Fitness Journey – Part 1

If you really think about it, everyone has a personal fitness journey, even if you think you don’t. Right from the first time we kicked our mom’s bladder while in the womb, straight through to our golden years, health and fitness is something our minds are very well aware of…even if we ignore the signals.

Some of us choose to make fitness a daily endeavor and some just walk from the couch to the fridge as their form of exercise. No matter which way you slice it, each of us has a unique story to tell and almost EVERYTHING that has happened, is happening, and will happen, plays a huge role in our own personal fitness story.

My personal fitness story started when I was 8.

Wax On, Wax Off: My First Experience with Health and Fitness

My fitness journey started when I was just 8 years old. At least that’s when I started to experience the effects of healthy living and was conscious about my physique.

My parents had enrolled me in Martial Arts and I quickly realized what cardio and strength training was all about. It was also the first time I found out what the heck a “burpee” was.

My teacher (Sensei) at the time was big into fitness and valued cardio and strength training above round house kicks and little jabs to the belly. This was the first time I experienced hard-core fitness and I remember doing push ups on my knuckles, doing sit ups while someone sat on my feet, performing jumping high kicks for 2 mins straight and running around the dojo doing burpees every time my Sensei yelled “HUP!”. I’m pretty sure his name was even Mr. Miyagi.

I stayed with Martial Arts for the better part of 6 years and attended a few tournaments along the way. I even managed to win 2nd place in all of Ontario for my age range in one major tournament . I did fairly well in Martial Arts and earned the nickname “The Jack Rabbit” for my ability to perform the highest jumping scissor kick in my dojo. I had a lot of fun, learned a lot about stretching, felt the sting of defeat, felt the burn of too many burpees and was well on my way to a healthy and fit lifestyle.

Noticing that I had a knack for sports, It was during this time that my parents also signed me up for little league baseball playing for a team that would eventually become number 1 in the league. Having been in Martial Arts for 2 years by then, I was fast and agile. I was a terrible out fielder but I had speed and agility on my side. I became well known for awesome fluke outfield catches due to my speed, was an effective base stealer and had a keen eye for different pitches and the strike zone. My coaches taught me how to stretch specific muscles that I used in Baseball, helped me build endurance for muscles that helped my homerun swing and made me do endurance drills that I never knew existed.

Life was good. I was a true Karate Kid and was well on my way to becoming the next big baseball star (I was even invited to a Major League Baseball scout camp because of my pitching ability). I was also in really good shape for a 10 year old.

Right up until the age of 12 I was heavily involved in sports and was part of competitive teams for Baseball, Soccer and Hockey. I had learned a lot about the power of team work, had been exposed to different types of sports (all with their own unique training requirements), had felt the sting of defeat, the excitement of victory, and was generally a very healthy young man ready to take on the world.

Looking back, I get the feeling that life was preparing me for the reality of hard labor versus a life as a sports star.

A Butcher? A Baker? A Candlestick Maker?: My First Experience with Muscle Building.

When I was 12 things we’re a little tough on my family and money seemed to be the argument of choice for my parents at the time. Having left sports behind, I was quickly becoming a large part of the family business, to help make ends meet, and working full time hours during the summer. The year was 1986 and this was the year that I learned a thing or two about running a family business… and also about muscle building.

As you can tell by the picture above, our family business was a small bakery. We made various baked goods for many locations all over the city and working in the family business became more of a necessity than it did a cool summer job. Baking was a tough job back then and between waking up at 4am and working long hours, I was always exhausted. To make matters worse, some of the ingredients we used in making baked goodies for the masses came in very heavy 60-100 pound bags. That type of weight wouldn’t be so bad if it was carried by an adult once or twice a day and for very short distances. However, I was only 13 and would end up carrying those bags roughly 25-30 times a day across the entire bakery floor.

Since I didn’t know any better, I used to carry those ingredient bags in very awkward ways across fairly long distances to be used in various machines across the bakery. Carrying bags that weighed roughly the same as an adult Golden Retriever, was apparently a great way to build muscle…even though I had no idea I was doing so.

By my 14th birthday I had unknowingly built a really strong back with bigger-than-average arms, legs, chest and shoulders. I was the biggest guy in school but I had no idea at the time. My fellow class mates would often ask “How much can you bench press” and “What gym do you go to?”…but in reality, I had no clue what really went on in a gym and didn’t fully understand why they kept asking me those questions.

What I did know for sure, was that people feared me on the field and my Football and Rugby coaches never benched me. I also lost my grade 7 nickname of “Pillsbury Dough Boy”.

Red Ross: My First Experience with High Impact Sports.

I met a lot of great people back in high school and generally had positive experiences throughout my entire high school career. My nickname had gone from “Pillsbury Dough Boy” to “The Big Irish Bear” and I was stronger than most people in my school at the time. I wasn’t a very bright student but was well liked by my teachers and fellow students. I hung out with everyone and it didn’t matter if you were a “nerd”, “Brainiac” or “Jock”…I liked everyone.

It wasn’t until I joined my schools Rugby and Football team that I became even more popular at school, and the most feared player on the field.

I’ll never forget the day that a friend of mine, while sitting in Math class, leaned over to me and whispered “You should play Rugby with me this Spring”. I vividly remember leaning over and whispering back “What the hell’s a Rugby?”

In the Spring of my grade 9 year I decided to take my friends advice and joined this thing they called “Rugby”. This was my first foray into high-impact sports and I was totally not prepared for it. Up until that point, I had played basic sports and had tons of experience in hard labor, but had never participated in sports that involved purposely hurting people to gain the advantage.

By the time my high school day’s were done, I had played Rugby and Football right up until my graduating year. I had won a few awards, had caused a number of bruises to other players and was constantly asked to join adult Rugby clubs across the City.

I had learned a lot about high-impact sports, the types of endurance exercise that can be used to make yourself faster and stronger, had developed strong bonds with my team mates and had won a few championships.

Conclusion: Sports, Muscle and Odd Nicknames.

From the time that my parents enrolled me in Martial Arts, Hockey and Baseball, until the time I played my last high school Rugby game, I had developed a strong understanding of what it takes to succeed in sports, had learned why maintaining healthy eating habits is key to performance and discovered why improving your strength and endurance is a crucial goal to work towards if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Working in the family business helped me to build a solid core and ideal frame for muscle building while playing sports helped me to improve my endurance and taught me all about different training methods used to increase your performance on, and off, the field.

By the time I was ready to graduate high school I had experienced fitness on multiple different levels, learned a ton about strength and endurance training, felt the rush of victory and the sting of defeat and earned nicknames like “The Jack Rabbit”, “Big Irish Bear”, “Bez” and “Tank” due to my popularity, athleticism and muscle mass through those years.

It was now time to head into my adult years…

Check out part 2 of My Fitness Journey where I reveal how I gained close to 50 pounds of fat, my first experience with a gym membership and how I passed the hardest physical test of my life.

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