You may have the Victoria’s Secret fashion show circled on your calendar from weeks out….and that’s great. But those are not the models I’m going to talk about.
The models I’m referring to are people or systems we can follow, imitate and learn from.
In my life I can think of tons of examples where I have learned from people in positions where I want to be- both good and bad.
“Dylan and crew”
As a high school track athlete my grade 10 year was especially formative. I moved to a new coach (whom I’ll discuss later), and had a new training group. I spent all winter running brutal hills in the freezing cold with several guys who were OFSAA track medallists, and one in particular named Dylan Wykes who went on to win big in the NCAA finish as the top Canadian in the marathon at the London 2012 Olympics. That was also the year I started winning. My times came down drastically, I took 3rd place at OFSAA as a grade 10 amongst grade 11’s, and later on that summer I won the Ontario club championships and the Ontario Summer Games.
In grade 9 I was just a fast kid. I had some talent but I didn’t really train much. I made it OFSAA but I didn’t make any finals. The grueling winter was the foundation for the change. When I first got to the club I was amazed at how those guys just showed up to do work, and it just seemed like they could go forever. I would look at their workouts and almost pity them, and then before I knew it, they were done. They had a great time and joked around, but when it came time to hammer down they got shit done.
At the University of Western Ontario (now Western University) I was again cast into an incredible group of athletes. The men’s 400m group at Western was known for excellence. We had anywhere between 4-6 of the top 20 guys in the country. And when it came time to run the relays…well, when we stepped on the track, we won.
I was lucky enough to spend two years with a legendary coach before he retired (more in him later as well). My first year, again was a bit overwhelming. I wasn’t in the shape I needed to be in. I didn’t get brought along to race at the big meets. As much as that year was a big disappointment, it was also an eye opener. This was a bigger stage and I had people to model after. The one I gravitated to was a guy named Bob Westman. He coaches now at The University of Toronto and I sincerely hope the athletes there know the wealth of knowledge this guy is. I sort of tried to have him take me under his wing, even though I was essentially irrelevant to the team. Bob was a captain and it just seemed like he did all the right things, and when it came time to race you could tell he had nerves like anyone else, but he was intensely focused. When it mattered, he would beat you.
I went home from school that summer at a crossroads. It was either quit track for good, or get shit done. I trained what seemed like every day, though I’m sure I made time for rest. I didn’t touch any candy, chocolate, or alcohol for nearly 6 months in preparation for the coming season. I came back in the fall and the team didn’t even recognize me. From day 1 that year I was taken seriously. When it came time for the Intrasquad meet where people had to make team standards to stay on the team, not only did I make them, I won both of my events (The previous year I did not make the standards, but was allowed to train with the team because of the success I had in high school).
The following year I was named one of the captains of the team. It was kind of surprising at the time, but now that I think of it, I suppose I had become one of the athletes who was trying to do all the right things.
I’m now 31 years old, owner of a gym and models continue to be an important part of my day to day life. As a coach, business owner, and essentially a team leader I have learned from many others- again, both both good and bad.
When I first got into training others I worked at a big commercial gym. I got into it because I love to guide others to that feeling of accomplishment and self-confidence. There is almost like a voice in my head that wants to say something to the effect of “Come with me. You can be afraid, but you’re going to do great things”. The attitude among the owners and leadership at this gym was pretty much a polar opposite. As long as every was selling and everyone got paid, things were good. The clients didn’t matter, the numbers did. There were dirty sales tactics, talking behind backs, and a general distrust that was palpable. There was an up scale smoothie bar in the gym right up at the front. I remember being reprimanded because the owners founded out I was telling my clients not to buy smoothies after their workouts. I had the nutritional information and most of these smoothies contained upwards of 120g of sugar! Boy, did they taste good…
I just did my best to stay away from everyone there and do my own thing. I only spoke to the owners when I needed to. Same with the head trainer. To be completely honest I was somewhat of an outcast in that establishment. I got my clients not by actually working out on the floor with everyone. This was back in early 2010 and when someone was doing CrossFit in the middle of a commercial gym it was pretty easy to spot. That was me. My clients were people that approached me after (and sometimes during) my workouts. If it was during they got a quick “come back in 10 minutes” response. Afterward we’d talk and I’d tell them all about what I was doing and answer any questions they had. More often than not, those people turned into clients. I was working hard and seeing great results and acted as a model for my clients. From my perspective, I was also stuck under people who were models of how not to do things. Luckily I was only there 8 months before moving to Stoney Creek. In 2011 their business went bankrupt.
My next position was at an actual CrossFit gym. It was great. I felt respected. I took on a major coaching role and was able to do a lot of things that I wanted to do with the athletes. Over time, I became a larger figure in the gym, and the CrossFit community as a whole. I was having lots of success as an athlete, garnering sponsorships with well known companies such as PurePharma, and 2POOD performance, and as a coach I was coming into my own. I was learning to teach the more complex lifts and skills much better than before, and able to choose weights and progressions for people with greater accuracy. People were getting better, and I was passionate about it.
I don’t necessarily fit very well in positions where I can’t exercise some level of leadership or control, especially when I feel it’s needed. When I was there, I felt it was needed. To be fair, I was younger and less mature and at times the things I did didn’t do anything to help the situation.
From my view I was so invested in the clients that the gym started to feel like it was mine. The was one major problem- it wasn’t. I saw too many things being done that I disagreed with. I knew those decisions were not mine to make, but I started thinking about the possibility “what if they were?”. I had never asked myself that before. I learned a lot while I was there, some good, some bad. The biggest takeaways for me were things I would never let happen in my gym. Not to say that we haven’t made mistakes- we certainly have. But it is important to pick up on the mistakes of others, and see the consequences of those actions rather than having to make every mistake yourself.
I have a few coaches in my past that I use as models, each for different reasons.
My track coach that I worked with throughout high school that I mentioned above who had us run all those hills was Dave Grant. What I take away from him was what it meant to be passionate about something. He would have workouts written up for each of us every day, in his unmistakable all-capital handwriting. You could tell he was just thinking about those workouts all day. He didn’t even have to write up copies for everyone, but I think he thoroughly enjoyed it. When we piled into the van to head to the track was when he came alive. He knew details about our split times and pacing that only someone who studied their athlete’s races thoroughly would know. He only took a small handful of athletes into his group- but if you were all in, he was all in. He saw potential in athletes even when they didn’t know it yet. At the beginning of grade 10 he hand-delivered to me a package on 400m training with a personalized note saying that I would be much more suited to 400m running (in grade 9 I was just the fast kid who made OFSAA at 100m and 200m). His note also said to not come out if I didn’t believe in him, and not because he asked, but because I genuinely wanted to. I made the move, and it was a breakout year. I went on to win 8 provincial titles in track, and if not marred by injuries during my last two years of both high school, and university I am confident that number would have been much higher. C’est la vie.
Mr. Grant was not just my track coach; he was my science teacher, my physical education teacher, and the father of one of my best friends. Yet when I think of him, it’s the track coach that shines through. That’s where he made the impact.
The next coach I want to speak about was Head Coach of the of my high school football team, Wayne Tindale. He was big on fair treatment of everyone, and staying humble. To say our team was a powerhouse would have been an understatement, so he had his work cut out for him. It didn’t start that way. Prior to my cohort of grade 9’s coming in, the team had a history of losing. Two years of 0-8 to be exact. We followed suit, losing the first three games of the season. And then we won. Not just one game, but all the rest of them for 4 years- OFSAA bowls and all. There were a ton of potentially great athletes, but we were all young and needed proper direction. It was in grade 10 that I learned humility the hard way. We were playing against a particularly weak team, and I broke out running for over probably close to 250 yards and 4 touchdowns. The final touchdown was a 100 yard run and when I broke clear I knew I was not going to be caught. As I ran down the sideline past our cheerleaders, parents and fans I slowed down and waived to them as I went by. I didn’t plan it; it was just sort of something that happened. I got to the sideline all happy and pumped up. My coach came over to me, I had assumed to give me a pat on the back or something of that nature. He grabbed me by the facemask and called me a prima donna. He asked if I thought I was better than everyone else, and if not why would I showboat like that. I was pulled from the game, and had a particularly hard following week of practice. His point was clear. From then on I did not showboat. When I scored, I handed the ball to the referee and jogged back to the sideline.
Actually, there was one more time when I let showboating get the best of me. In my last year before the city finals the other team was doing all sorts of talking to the newspapers about how they had a better running game than us, and they would contain me, etc. I scored my first touchdown on a 35 yard run untouched and turned to their bench, dropped to a knee and did a double bicep flex. I went on to score another 3 times and won the game MVP. Thank God my coach didn’t see me in the end-zone or I likely wouldn’t have played the rest of the game.
The final coach I want to speak about was the legendary 400m coach “Jungle” Jim Parker. He was a former national champion and went on to coach I believe it was 30 years at UWO.
He taught me how important it was to have high expectations for people. I don’t have the exact stats but, during his time there he produced many champions and his 4×400 relay teams basically did not lose. It was well known, and it didn’t happen by accident. There were other great teams, but his were better. In 2004, my first year (where I was irrelevant) the team broke the CIS 4×400 record with a run of 3:13.23. In 2005 we had even more talent. We went down to Notre Dame for a big meet in the States and ran a 3:15. We were actually on pace for the record. Randy went out in sub 48 seconds (a personal record), I ran a personal record split of 48.9, and it was actually the after that where we fell off the pace. Bob was the third runner and in the record setting run a year before he notched a 46.9 split. If he reproduced that we were surely on pace. The problem was that he was injured this year, and at that time he had only been back to training for a couple of weeks. He came through in 50.0 and Heff came through in 48.0. We missed the record, but I think it was the fourth fastest all-time in school history, and it was clear the team was fit.
When it came to the Ontario Championships we rested Bob for the 4x400m, wanting to keep him fresh for Nationals. Our specific instructions from Jungle were to run under 3:19.
We won the Ontario Championships, running 3:20 and change. The 4×400 is the last event of the meet and afterward there is a medal ceremony where you receive your medal, certificate, and flowers. Usually afterward the team will take a picture with the coach and everyone is happy. Usually.
Jungle was nowhere to be found. He left the building after seeing the time and when we got home there was an email waiting stating that we have a lot of work to do before nationals in 2 weeks and that we had better be at practice on Monday. Winning was great, but it wasn’t the most important thing. He wanted us to realize our potential, and sometimes it took some tough love to get that through to us.
(Sidenote: Bob Westman went on to win the 300m at Nationals beating Olympian Ibrahim Miete. It was his final year of eligibility. He had been injured, trained less that year than any before, and still went out as a champion)
I draw from those three coaches especially, and I hope that some day my athletes will think of me in a similar way.
Models are important not just as an athlete, or coach, but from an entrepreneurial standpoint as well. I have lots of people that I look to in this regard, as it is the one that I have the least experience in. I would love to say that the Intramural Open that we run at CrossFit Outlaw North was my idea, but that’s not true. It’s Chris Cooper’s idea. We have tweaked it a little bit to our liking. But the idea was his. Chris is a gym owner and entrepreneur from Sault Ste. Marie and has helped countless people with their gyms. I am in his mentoring group Two-Brain Business, and aside from the course work even just the Facebook discussion group with all the other mentees is very valuable.
Model athletes. Model coaches. Model entrepreneurs.
One day, when Lacey become parents we’ll need models there too.
Now I ask you- who are the models in your life?
Who is standing where you want to be? How did they get there? What can you learn from them? How do they handle themselves? What is their mission? How do they treat people? How do they view what they do?