My Journey to Become an Athlete

287 pounds (left photo) 195 pounds (right photo)

This is the story of my journey of weight loss and taking back my life. This story is not what I would call pretty, but it’s as real as I can be. There were good times and bad times, but I am going to start from November of 2016.

How I Got Started

I had spent the last 6 months of my life in a job that was difficult for me. I was stressed all the time, and found myself in a situation where I had stopped taking care of myself. I had gained a lot of weight, and I didn’t really even notice it creeping up on me. I went to the doctor and found out I weighed 287 pounds. I had never been that big, I mean, I was never small, but I was never THAT big.

I had just left my job because I knew that I was no longer in a good place for myself. I landed a job in Tuscaloosa, and I wanted to try to get to a place in life where I was happy with myself again. I was depressed about my weight. I didn’t know anyone in town, and I knew I had to do something to get out of that negative spiral I had found myself in. I knew that losing some weight would be a major place to start, so I began looking for personal trainers. I figured I would need some accountability. I mean let’s face it, I was fat and unhappy. I didn’t know if I could make the changes in my life I needed to make. So I began my research.

I crawled through Facebook, Google, and anything else to help me find a good trainer. I stumbled across someone’s post about Sam Morgan. I didn’t know anything about him, but they had mentioned him as a trainer and they enjoyed their time with him. I did a bit more digging on him, and I appreciated that his education had focused on exercise and sports science. However, I noticed that he was no longer really focusing on the personal training aspect of his career, but had found his way to a manager position at Iron Tribe Fitness in Tuscaloosa. I had been living in Birmingham for the last year, so I had seen Iron Tribes around town, but every time I passed one I would think “HAHA not for me!” I had never been a gym person. I had tried a few in the past but never really put any effort into it. But, I was ready for a change, I needed help. So, I just wanted to stop by and talk to him and see what Iron Tribe was about. That was the day that changed my life. I mean, really. That was December 1, 2016.

The Struggle is Real

I waltzed into Iron Tribe Tuscaloosa around 11 am that day with no expectations other than to have a conversation. Sam greeted me without hesitation and with a smile on his face. I was thinking to myself, “This is ridiculous, I don’t even know why I am here.” Sam showed me around the facility and sat me down to talk. He started asking me a few questions about my workout history and what I had done in the past. I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know anything about working out. I felt ashamed of myself because I had let myself go so much. But no matter, what I said, he didn’t flinch. I talked to him about where I was and how I really wanted to make some changes in my life. Sam told me that I would be starting that night. He told me they had an intro class starting that day and I would be there. I was freaked out, but I agreed to give it a shot. I had no idea what I was in for.

I met Sam again that night to start my 101 Intro with 4 other people. I was a nervous wreck. Sam and another coach guided us through a couple of movements. I was already sweating, and we hadn’t even begun the short workout for the night! After we had learned all the moves for that night, they had us gather around ‘the board’ where they explained the Baseline workout. We  lined up outside for our short run. The next thing I hear is Sam shouting “Three… Two… One… GO!” We were off. I was slow. It was painful. I made my way through the run and found my way back inside. We started doing air squats. They were awful. I hated every minute of this workout. My legs started shaking. I felt like I couldn’t move halfway through it. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I fell apart. I remember walking over to the corner of the room and sitting on the floor in tears. I wanted to disappear. I didn’t even finish the workout.

He said something to me that I will never forget — “Just show up, just keep coming.”

The last thing I remember from  that night was Sam sitting next to me on that floor. He said something to me that I will never forget — “Just show up, just keep coming.” I walked out of Iron Tribe that night thinking I would never make it through the 101 course, much less a real workout. I made it back to my apartment somehow, but I couldn’t even walk up the stairs. I had survived my first night, and I was terrified of going back. Sam contacted me the next day, gave me some tips to try to help my recovery, and left me with the same message… “Just show up.”

I was struggling to walk, I was stiff. Everything hurt. But Sam greeted me that second day of 101 and it started all over again. They put me on a rower instead of running again. They didn’t even put weight on my bar. I felt like the weakest person in the room every time. But, they kept telling me it was okay.

I just kept doing what they told me to do, and let’s face it, that was really difficult for me because I am one stubborn man. I don’t remember a whole lot more about that month in 101. I know I never lifted the recommended weight. I had every single move modified. I kept moving forward.

Then came the last day of 101. I was a nervous wreck. I knew we were doing the same workout from the very first night. We warmed up and practiced the moves. I was actually feeling pretty good about it. I had already lost around 10 pounds in that month alone. Then we got into position, and I heard the familiar words that I had become so well acquainted with, “Three… Two… One… GO!” I took off. I was faster, not by much, but definitely faster. I was able to swing a kettlebell and do the squats and even finish the sit-ups. About 9 and a half minutes later, I actually finished the workout. I had pride in myself for the first time in months, if not years. We graduated from 101 that night, and then I realized, this was only the beginning of my journey. 

Growth and Bargaining

It was time for me to actually join Iron Tribe. I sat down with Sam and began discussing how this was going to look for me. In the back of my head I was thinking about how I was still in pain constantly. I had no idea how this was going to work. I don’t remember exactly how it started, but this would not be the first time I tried to bargain with Sam about my health. 

By the end of January 2017, a lot of the pain of going every other day had subsided. I was still modifying almost all of the movements and rarely finishing a workout — but I showed up. I was down 20 pounds total now, weighing about 267. I remember looking around at all the other athletes who could do push-ups and pull-ups and were getting on the wall to work on their hand stand push-ups, and I remember telling Sam that I wanted to do those one day. He told me they would come.

I did notice that my clothes were fitting better at this time, but I couldn’t tell that I was losing weight by looking at myself in the mirror, and that was frustrating. I wanted to not only feel better but look better. Well, unfortunately I spent 32 years turning my body into what it was, and now it was going to take time to adjust it to what I would like to see.

The next month flew by, and I was consistent with my diet and working out 4 days a week. I was another 10 pounds down. I started lifting heavier weights. I began attempting to do the runs. It was NOT pretty. There were some battles I didn’t think I could win. Not only physically, but emotionally. There was more than one occasion on a simple 400 meter run that I didn’t think I could make it. I wasn’t able to breathe. I would start each of those runs with the best of intentions. However, Sam would catch me running by the open door, sometimes with tears in my eyes, and he would go with me. He would push me to get as much jogging in as I possibly could. I am pretty sure I cursed him a few times. But, he would pull me up and we kept moving. That became the next mantra of mine I took from Sam, “Just keep moving.” I know I looked ridiculous, but after every single workout, I was laying on the floor, struggling to catch my breath, and every time they came by to check on me I would tell them “I’m dying.” They would respond in kind with, “You are still breathing, doesn’t look like it to me!” I was surviving.

I was beginning to actually see a difference in my body for the first time. Clothes were no longer fitting. Workouts were getting easier to make it to the end.’

The beginning of March rolled around, and I began pushing myself more. I was now going five days a week. I weighed 257 pounds, down 30 pounds total. I was lifting at least the minimum recommended amounts during each workout, sometimes even more. Sam sat me down one day and began talking about my nutrition again. I was still losing weight, but I wasn’t keeping up my muscle mass. We began talking about a new diet for me to start following, and I didn’t like the idea of this at all. I was comfortable where I was in my diet. I had finally learned how to not overeat, how to manage eating healthier when I went out to lunch with friends.

We began discussing a new diet and how we could use it to get body composition results I wanted to see. I was scared. It was intimidating. There were numbers next to Proteins, Carbs, and Fats. There was a new vocabulary to learn (what on earth is a macro?). Then there was my next step of bargaining with Sam.

April rolled around and we stuck to this diet for a while, still maintaining two of my meals to just eat healthy, but not attempting to overwhelm me. I was another 10 pounds down. I was beginning to actually see a difference in my body for the first time. Clothes were no longer fitting. Workouts were getting easier to make it to the end. May came and I was at 237 pounds.  I was getting much stronger, faster, and I was now able to do push-ups, and on May 16, 2017, I got my very first pull-up. June came and I was now at 227. It was time to begin working on my body composition more. I was proud of my results so far, but I wanted to move on to the next phase of my journey. 

From Surviving to Thriving

I wanted to lose more body fat. I was finally ready to push myself harder. People at work would always ask, “How do you eat the same thing all the time? I would be sick of it.” But we tend to be creatures of habit. I mean, honestly, how often do you go to the same restaurant and get the same exact meal every time? We find something we enjoy and return to it. I had found out what worked for me. I was still losing weight for the first five of 12 weeks on this plan.  I was getting more lean and surprisingly stronger. I was lifting more, and running faster.

I was getting more lean and surprisingly stronger. I was lifting more, and running faster.

I won’t lie, the most difficult part of this whole diet plan was maintenance. I had spent the last twelve weeks of my life cutting foods out. Now I had to learn to add them back, in a healthy way. I was terrified that I would balloon back up. I was down to 195. I have lost over 100 pounds of fat. I was so proud of myself, and I was honestly terrified that I couldn’t maintain it. But I followed the plan, I listened to my coaches, and I have been maintaining it for five months now. But, I finally feel like I have a “normal” relationship with food. But not only has my body shape changed, but my workouts have gone through a transition also.

Now that I look back over this past year, I see the difference in my skill level. But the most difficult part about these workouts now, is not necessarily my physical ability, but the mental hurdles that came my way. During runs, my brain tells me I need to stop running and breathe, that I need to let go of the bar because I can’t stand up from a squat again, but it isn’t true most of the time. I will notice that while my brain is telling me these things, my body doesn’t feel like it’s failing me. I know my legs can continue to move, I know my hands can continue to hold onto the kettlebell. It’s an internal struggle that I still see almost every day. It’s worse on the days I am stressed, or not feeling well physically, but I know those are sometimes the days that I need to make sure I walk through those doors. I often want to run away, just skip out and go later, but that is not the person I want to be anymore. I don’t want to run away from myself, run away because I can’t handle the fear or the pain. No, I am an athlete. I may not compete in competitions, but I compete with myself. I want to run faster, I want to learn new physical movements. I want to be the healthiest person I can be while still having what I would call a “normal” life, whatever that is.

For those of you who have read this story who are already into fitness and health, I hope you understand there are people that look to you and want to be able to do the things that you do. Encourage someone while they are working out sometime, people sometimes forget that this is a journey, and I thank all of you who have done this for me. For those of you who are like me and have never done anything like this, I welcome you to take on the challenge. I know it sometimes feels like an impossibility. Feels like you can’t change, but it’s not true. Sometimes all it takes is walking through that door.

I am now about to turn 33, in the best shape of my life.

People talk about change being made from blood, sweat, and tears. It’s true, all of it. But I am now about to turn 33, in the best shape of my life. I still have goals set for myself. Always set small goals for yourself. Make them manageable. See how you can change your life, it is possible. If you see me when you walk into Iron Tribe Fitness – Tuscaloosa, say hi to me. I would love to see you join me in your journey. Once you get past the hardest step, that front door, I want to leave you with two quotes that got me through this past year. “Just show up.” “Just keep moving.”

I can’t thank those who have helped me out on this journey enough. Every other member of Iron Tribe that I see everyday. The coaches who still greet me with a smile when I walk through those doors. You are all amazing people and I love you all. You have all been there with me throughout this whole journey, and I can’t wait to see where this next year takes us all.

“Three… Two… One… GO!”

Big thanks to Brandon for sharing his story with us! His words prove that this journey isn’t an easy one, but it is well worth it.