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Chapter 12: Step 6: The Workout Plan

All my plans had succeeded beyond my expectations.

Results of Step 1: The Food Plan, included a total commitment to eating healthy foods and maintaining the minimal portion sizes needed to remain healthy enough to perform my job, my family obligations and my workouts. Maybe I overdid the food plan in the minimal lunches I ate, but I knew my body and I knew the depths of my limitations. I had completely changed my mindset about eating and revolved all consumption around need, rather than desire.

I had successfully executed Step 2: The Measurement Plan, maintaining meticulous records of my weight each day including how many miles I ran, my average monthly weight, my average weight loss month over month, my average daily mileage and my total average monthly mileage. I had goals of running 60 miles per month including an average of 7.5 miles or more per run and conducting more than 1,000 push-ups per week. I tracked all of this in a spreadsheet and logged data every day with graphs and charts to quickly show my trends and my progress against the goals I had set for myself.

I had become nearly perfect at understanding how each ounce of food affected my weight and how each unit of physical effort and exertion impacted my calorie burndown. I could stand on the scale at any hour of the day and predict within two tenths of a pound what I would weigh.

I had not backed down from Step 3: The Exercise Plan, hitting all the expected targets from the measurement plan and continuing to push myself beyond expectations. I even ran in another road race in the early Fall, coming in 14th place out of 750 competitors, averaging 6:30 minute miles and again, finishing fourth in my age division.

Additionally, Step 4: The Disclosure Plan was in full gear with my Dad’s attendance of my first tournament and my communications with Jay Jones and Rusty Carlsten. I also posted articles about my exploits on LinkedIn, which garnered nearly a thousand “Likes” and a couple hundred positive comments. The post also received numerous shares from people I knew from high school, college, various jobs and throughout my professional affiliations.

And, surprising myself, I had quite a robust Step 5: The Strength Plan going between my couple hundred pushups and sit-ups every few days and my sporadic trips to the gym to conduct curls, bench presses and other weight training to strengthen my glaring upper body deficiencies. During business conferences where I had to travel and stay in a hotel, I sought the on-site gym and started running intervals to further develop my running speed. I’d run a quarter mile at a 7:30 pace and then notch the pace down by 15 seconds every half mile thereafter, challenging myself to see what combination of miles and pace I could reach. By the one-mile mark, I’d be down to 7:00. By the two-mile mark, I’d be at 6:30 and by three miles, I’d find myself sprinting a 5:45 mile. The best I accomplished was four miles with the last two quarters holding at 5:30.

I also took up skipping rope and found I could complete 2,000 jumps in increments of 500, which I felt would increase my footspeed and agility.

At a major technology conference in October that attracts more than 180,000 attendees in downtown San Francisco, I worked out like a madman in the hotel gym every night until midnight. I had the honor of presenting my expertise on a topic called “Overwhelming Benefit” on one of the keynote stages, appearing before tens of thousands of audience members. I also appeared on their closed caption television program, which they broadcast across the internet to their hundreds of thousands of customers and prospects worldwide. I looked back at the recording and loved how trim I looked in my slim fit khaki’s and European cut jacket. The dents in either side of my face cast shadows where my cheeks used to bloat outward. And, with my nicely cut short hair, I looked back at myself and thought I was starting to look like a world-class athlete. I also appeared 20 years younger and if I looked quickly, I saw the old college wrestler in my own sculpted face and especially in my eyes.

But, I needed a job. I had until the end of the year to find a new one. A few weeks before I learned of the potential shake-up at the Ad Tech firm, I had received a call from a recruiter about a company a few stops further down the subway line that needed someone of my experience and expertise for a VP role managing a much bigger team than the one I oversaw at the Ad Tech firm. Having only accrued a year and a half at the Ad Tech, and – at the time – not knowing anything about a possible layoff, I delayed my response.

But now, in need of a landing, I called them back and they invited me for a round of interviews. These interviews spanned a couple weeks and I ended up speaking to nearly a dozen different employees including several of the C-Suite executives. In the final interview, the hiring manager for the position, the SVP of Global Sales, sat across from me and asked me his opening question.

“Tell me how you can deliver ’Overwhelming Benefit’ here at our company,” he asked.

I looked at him in surprise and he quickly revealed to me that one of his employees had heard me speak at the conference in San Francisco and he later Googled the video and watched it. He expressed how impressed he was in the content of my message and my influential presenting style. We launched into a productive discussion about the role and my qualifications to lead the team.

They offered me the job a week later. I had hurdled one more potential roadblock. This was a major relief as a prolonged, stressed-out job search would have crimped my ability to stay focused on my fitness, endurance and wrestling goals.

Of course, with starting a new job, I faced a new set of challenges. I had a bigger team, a much larger budget an enormous game-changing project to lead and scope of work that exceeded any challenge I had previously taken on in my career. The commute extended another 15 minutes longer and half my team lived on the west coast, in London or in Asia, which meant I would work much longer days. Fitting in my late-night workouts would not be easy. I’d have to intensify my resolve and heighten my focus on finishing my work, engaging in as much family time as I could and clinging to the successful routine I had established with all my might.

As the year flipped from 2016 to 2017 and the Nationals were set to take place “this year” rather than “next year”, I faced the reality that I had to escalate my efforts to achieve Step 6: The Work Out Plan.

The two tournaments I wrestled were a good start. I obtained live wrestling experience and proved that I still had a place competing on the mat. But they only accounted for five individual matches, making up about 20-30 minutes of actual wrestling time. I needed more and I needed to practice actual moves.

I also had to clear the Workout Plan at home as it would entail leaving the house for an entire evening, driving to a faraway location, practicing for a couple hours and then driving home late at night. In a normal time, this activity would disrupt our family routine, but during the college application process and my wife’s health struggles, it seemed like a non-starter.

By late November, my wife had agreed to another cortisone shot, this time with one of the preeminent New York hospitals in the country. And, for the most part, the treatment seemed to work. She felt much better. The numbness down her leg and into her foot dissipated soon after receiving the shot and her back pain dulled considerably. She slept through the night almost immediately for the first time in nearly a half of a year. Her mind cleared and her beautiful smile lit the walls of our home once again.

She had slept soundly for several weeks after the treatment, and didn’t even wake up when I came in and out from running at night.

I tentatively asked her if I could participate in a couple wrestling practices and without hesitation, she said “yes”.

“I’m fine now,” she said with a genuine smile. “Go ahead and do what you need to do.”

I started at the high school level, visiting Avon High School, my alma mater where my brother, John, served as the head coach. He allowed me to practice with his team and I spent two hours drilling moves, doing push-ups and sit-ups, running sprints and wrestling live with his 160 and 170 pounders.

At a shade over 140, the kids closer to my weight did not offer enough competition. And even after a few rounds of scrapping with his bigger guys, I still needed a challenge. So, I picked out the largest, most athletic looking kid in the room and asked him to wrestle against me. This kid turned out to be the 180-pound team captain who had a state ranking.

With him, I met my match. None of my moves worked on him as he was just too big and strong to beat. At one point, he slammed me face first into the mat and scuffed up my face. But I loved the beating and survived the practice with less stiffness in my neck than I had after the last tournament. The lifting weights had firmed up my core, neck and back. I could feel myself toughening up. I felt ready for the next challenge – my old college team.

Jay Jones invited me to practice with his squad on a Friday evening in Providence. I’d have to take a half day off from work and drive up before rush hour. As a bonus, they had practice on Friday evening and again on Saturday morning. I could drive up, workout for two hours, sleep over my dad’s house about ten minutes away and then participate in a second workout the next morning.

I left myself the option to bail out on the second day if I took too much abuse during the first and didn’t feel up to the second practice. But, honestly, I’d have to break a bone to stay away from that second workout.

There I stood, 48-years-old, facing 20 kids in their late teens and early 20s. They were in the prime of their lives, strong, fast and not particularly interested in getting beat by an old man like me. Jay slung his arm over my shoulder and introduced me. He pointed at my name on the wall where all the school’s New England Champions are listed. And he asked me to say a few words before the practice started.

I told them that while I had won the New England championship in my senior year, during my junior year and every year leading up to my senior year, I wasn’t good enough to make the team. I had better, faster, stronger wrestlers ahead of me and I just had to come to practice every day, run the miles, do the push-ups and sit-ups, drill the moves and take my beatings without the gratification of showing what I could do as a starter.

I asked them if they had goals and they all did. Most of their goals were what I would call outcome-oriented goals. They wanted to win a championship, place in the Nationals or just win some number of matches. Some of them just hoped to make the team. I revealed to them what my goal throughout college was, and they were surprised to learn that it was not to make the team, to win matches or to win a championship.

I told them that for three years, my goal was to wake up each morning, make it to every practice first and to be the hardest worker in the room. This was not a goal with a tangible reward. This was my daily objective and my supreme focus during every practice. I would look around the room, observe anyone who might be working harder than me and then double my efforts to outwork them. I figured that on a daily basis, I couldn’t control whether I made the starting line-up. But I could control my own actions and how hard I worked. I had faith that it would pay off at some point. And at the tail end of my college career, it did. Eventually, I formed more specific goals to make the starting line-up and to win the championship. But it all started with the set of daily objectives to be the hardest worker in the room every day.

Today, as a business professional, I can face a room full of executives and present to them with confidence and self-assurance. But working out with those kids at full college-level intensity for two straight days; that was intimidating. At least, it was at first. It helped that my name hung on the banner over the practice room. It helped that they showed such respect for my past accomplishment. And it certainly helped that, as it turns out, I was relatively competitive in wrestling against them.

I felt rusty in my technique and Jay quietly pointed out gaps in my form, suggesting ways to improve my technique. In the live wrestling portion of the practice, I faced the 141-pound wrestlers. As it turned out, I had gotten down to 139 and they all ranged closer to 145 or 146. Possibly, I might have been better served facing the 133 pounders who all weighed about 136-137.

Regardless, I battled the 141 pounders well. I don’t think I would have made the team or even the third string. But at one point, I tied up with one of the bigger 141 pounders, who weighed closer to 150 at the time. I felt him push into me. I felt his hips slide just off balance. I had his arms tied up just right. And without hesitation, I threw my hips into him, arched my back and pulled him right on top of my chest as I flew backward toward the mat with his weight born directly on my sternum. Just before crashing to the mat, I flexed my chest and turned my hips to flip him over my head and flat on his back. I had executed an impressive throw called a Lateral Drop, which would have amounted to a five-point move and a chance for a pin in a real match.

The other wrestlers including the assistant coach all cheered me for hitting the move. The wrestler I threw, impressed but unamused and somewhat embarrassed, quickly arched off his back. I grabbed his leg to hold on until the end of the period. To save face, he immediately tried to work a pinning move on me called a Spladle, which would punish me by splitting my legs apart in a painful stretch. I fought it off the best I could, but I knew I couldn’t stop him. Mercifully, the assistant coach blew the whistle a few seconds early to put me out of my misery before suffering too much in the Spladle. It was all in fair competition and neither I nor my opponent had hard feelings about having scored the moves we did. I got the better of the adulation as his teammates jeered him for falling prey to my Lateral Drop and scoffed at him when he pointed out the Spladle that he had executed against me.

I realized that I had nothing but upside in wrestling against the kids. If I won, I was a hero. And if I lost, well, I was supposed to lose anyway.

I had a wonderful evening with my dad and slept relatively pain free in his comfortable spare bedroom. The next morning, I returned to practice at RIC. The team welcomed me back with smiles, pats on the back and high fives. I had earned their respect and they showed their appreciation for my contribution to their practice.

As part of my opening comments the day before, I had foolishly told them that I would challenge myself to be the hardest worker in their wrestling room over the course of the two days that I would spend practicing with them. It was another example of disclosing my objectives for the purpose of prodding myself to maintain my resolve and seek their encouragement along the way.

The most gratifying moment of the two-day experience came toward the end of the second practice. We were running sprints and I was starting to fade. I hung my head, slumped my shoulders and fell behind the other wrestlers in the room. The big 190-pound captain of the team came up behind me and quietly spoke into my ear for only me to hear.

“Hardest worker in the room – right coach?”

He totally understood. And his seven quick words motivated me to gut through the rest of the practice with my head held high. To this day, when I feel myself losing steam or my energy drop, I think of his words.

Hardest worker in the room – right coach?

And I find another level of strength to pick myself up. If I gained nothing else from the workout at RIC, I had that to carry with me into the National Championship tournament.

After showering in the coaches’ locker room, I threw on a T-shirt and shorts and visited the team locker room. The wrestlers were sprawled out talking about girls, movies, classes and food. They all weighed themselves and changed into their street clothes. They asked me about my experience in college and what it was like to wrestle in the NCAAs. They asked me how I had managed to come down from 200 pounds. And they wished me luck in my training plan for the senior Nationals.

I stepped onto the scale. The numbers on the digital screen flittered and settled on a number.

I weighed 137.4 pounds. Not only had I lost a total of 66 pounds since the start of the year, I had made weight for the Nationals. With three months to go, I was a pound and a quarter under.

Or, was I down to just 10 pounds over the next lower weight class of 127.75?

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