I was brought up like a lot of kids, with sports being a big part of my formative years. I was definitely an active kid, and spent most of my summers outside playing with kids in the neighborhood. There wasn’t a lot in the way of video games or movies on video at that point, so we were forced to actually play outside and be active. I have great memories of the things we played. Kick the can, whiffle ball, dodge ball, tag and a million other games that had us running around. My parents also enrolled me in soccer at a very young age, so I was out there on the field chasing the soccerball, and trying my best to at least kick it in the right direction without getting kicked by some other kids with the same intent. Good times.
Then my dad signed me up for little league. He even became the manager of the team so he could be with his kid. My first year in little league was a rough one. I wasn’t very good. I was stuck in right field and probably batted close to the bottom of the batting order. But my dad worked with me during that off-season and found that I wasn’t a half bad pitcher. I gained some confidence and tried not to let myself get intimidated by the bigger kids. During my second year of little league I was actually striking people out and the coaches were telling me what a great job I was doing. Polar opposite from the year before. I even made the all-star team. I’m not exactly sure what happened to me between those two seasons but a lot of it was my frame of mind. I looked at myself as “not good enough” and felt like I was dead weight to the team. But while my dad was working with me on pitching, my frame of mind changed and I started feeling like a contributor to the team, and saw myself as an equal with my teammates. I let myself feel like I was part of the team instead of an outsider. I played baseball up until high school when I just grew tired of it. I needed a break.
When I started high school….athletics weren’t a huge priority for me. I was more into the music and theatre world. But then walking down the halls I saw some of my Freshmen classmates wearing their football jerseys to school on Fridays. Hmmmm Football. How cool would it be to be on the football team?! Then I get to wear my jersey to school on game days and pretty much, just be cool. That’s about as much thought as I put into it before going into the coaches office and telling him I wanted to be on the team. The school year had already started and the team had been practicing throughout the summer, so I was a late walk on. I was already behind the eight ball. I had never played organized football in my life and a lot of these kids had been playing since they could walk. I was completely outclassed. I stuck with it though. I was the third string offensive guard. They gave me the playbook, and I had a horrible time trying to memorize it since I had absolutely no experience. When the games started, my dad came to every one with the hopes of seeing his kid play. Didn’t happen. I stayed on the sideline and watched with my helmet on ready to go if the coach were to point at me, and secretly I was hoping he wouldn’t. Then I’d act all disappointed after the game to my dad and let him know that hopefully next week I would get in some playing time. I never enjoyed football. It hurt.Getting hit and getting tackled hurt! I didn’t understand how people liked that. But I stuck with it. I liked wearing the jersey in school.
Fast forward to the second to last game of the season. We were leading by a huge margin and the coach started throwing in people that hadn’t seen playing time yet that season. Then I hear it……”Smies! Get in there!!” Aw crap. Ok, stay calm…you can do this. I ran out to the huddle and the world was spinning. I was full of adrenaline and I didn’t even really hear the play the QB called. Was I supposed to pull? Was I supposed to stick in there and block? I didn’t know! Well I decided to just stick in there and block for the QB. Well it was a running play and I was supposed to pull and block for the running back. Oooops. So he got creamed. Got back in the huddle and people were like “Smies! You were supposed to pull!” Next play came and went. It was better. I did the right thing at least. Then, I was replaced in the game. That ended my illustrious career in high school football. I was defeated. It was just like my first year of little league. I felt like I wasn’t part of the team. Like I was the weight that was dragging them down. So that week I went into the coaches office and let him know that I was quitting. What was the point? It made me unhappy, it hurt physically and I wasn’t very good at it. Maybe if I’d stuck with it, it would have gotten better like my second year of baseball. Who knows?
I spent the rest of my high school years in the music and theatre programs. I thrived there. I was good at it and I absolutely loved it.
In college, I was an actor. Went to school for theatre and immersed myself in it. Sports had no part in my life aside from watching the Bears and playing in an occasional intramural flag football game (usually played with a hangover). I graduated from college and entered the theatre world professionally. I made a living as a professional actor doing everything from Shakespeare to Guys and Dolls. I traveled to a lot of different theatres and had a blast.
Again, sports had no real part of my life. I would go to the gym (because it was usually paid for by the theatre I was working for) and do my bicep curls and bench presses to try and keep my physical appearance up to par to maintain my leading man status. I had no passion for it. It was literally part of the job.
Fast forward about 5 years and I’m married. I wasn’t working out at all. I was smoking. I was gaining weight like crazy. I was settling into a life of leisure. Golf was about the most physical thing I was doing. Other than that it was basically…go to work…come home …eat a big meal….pass out on the couch and go to bed .
After a couple years my marriage ended, and I desperately searched for solace. I felt like a complete failure. Not the first time in my life. I was still gaining weight and was almost at 250lbs. It was to the point where I couldn’t even suck in my gut to “appear” as if I had a flat”ish” stomach. There was no hiding the gut. No hiding the jowls. It was that vicious cycle people go through. You look at yourself….feel that disgust and disappointment….then continue to eat crap. I knew I needed to do something but I didn’t really know what to do or how to get started. Starting is usually the hardest part, particularly when I had no focus. Yeah I could go to the gym, but what do I do once I get there?
I was one of the drones who would walk into the gym….find an open machine…..study the diagrams on it and try to figure out how to use the damn thing. 9 times out of 10 I was doing it wrong and then felt like everybody else in the gym was looking at me and thinking…”That dude has no idea what he’s doing.” I had no interest in personal trainers at the gym because all they did was count my reps…..try to make small talk…..and then try to sell me more crap. No thanks.
A couple months later some friends of mine invited me out to a bar in the city to watch one of the NFL play-off games. As I sat there drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette, they casually mentioned that they were going to train for a triathlon that upcoming summer. I didn’t even know what a triathlon was. They explained it to me. They also explained the distances associated with the actual triathlon they were going to do. It was an Olympic distance triathlon. That means a .9 mile swim, a 25 mile bike and a 6.2 mile run. Holy hell! What kind of insane people would do that? That was WAY out of my league. I couldn’t even fathom running that far let alone the other parts of the event. It was sooooo far out of my comfort zone. But……..there was something kind of … attractive about it. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. What if I trained for something like that too??
Slowly, my thinking changed from negative to positive. Afterall, there was a lot of time between January and September. Maybe I could do it. It seemed so out of reach, but at the same time, it seemed like something I could work at and then maybe be able to call myself a triathlete! It was a focus.
I made the decision that day that I would train for this thing. That day….changed my entire life. 2005 would be the year that turned the switch.
And my journey began.