How Fitness Became My Path to Personal Growth

I was recently interviewed by former client and marketing professional, Meghann Conter on how fitness and nutrtition started my personal growth journey. Take a moment to watch before reading the story behind my passion for fitness and nutrition for personal growth.

I grew up a lot like other kids in the 80s. Playing backyard football, baseball, and tag while it seemed like enjoying every moment was a full time job as a in our communities in Montana, Virginia, and Colorado.

I must have tried every sport growing up because it seemed like every season except winter was full of go, go, go from one field to another. I didn’t get involved in indoor sports like basketball or volleyball because I enjoyed playing outside so much as a child.

As it would turn out, I was a pretty decent baseball pitcher up until high school. While my teammates hit their growth spurts, I was left nursing my pride from not getting past baseball tryouts my freshman year. So I gravitated to track where not a single person was cut from the team and everyone got to participate in practice and team activities. That felt like a better environment for an undersized freshman that never seemed to fit in with any one crowd.

Track and Cross Country were my focus as I began to uncover performance anxiety and fear of not being good enough. At every starting line of every race, I felt the knot of insecurity in my gut as I was learning what limiting beliefs were for the first time.

Eventually, by the end of high school, I was excelling at Cross Country in spite of those fears and limiting beliefs. In the final meets of my senior year, I would place 9th in our league race, 16th in regionals, and 67th overall in the state 5A Championship race. And by the time track season rolled around in the spring of ’98, I was burnt out on competing and chose to work instead to save for college.

I turned in my uniform and hung up my spikes in front of the look of dismay from my coach. In actuality, I quit because I was afraid of not meeting my own expectations that year. I had been in communication with the head Cross Country coach from Western State College and he had asked me to get my mile time down to 4:40 and my two mile time down to 10:00.

I didn’t believe I could meet that expectation, so I quit. And used work as an excuse and a priority. I would use that excuse a thousand times over the next 20 years to confirm that belief I wasn’t good enough.

Over the next few years, I found myself struggling to find my groove at college, although I would stay pretty consistent with fitness. I added 45 pounds of overall mass my freshman year thanks to my “consume everything in sight” nutrition plan, which included beer. Way too much beer.

I ran with the party crowd and would transfer schools after my sophomore year to escape the influence a small town and my guy friends had over me. I was facing the darkest depression of my life from a combination of factors; drinking too often, feeling out of control, and ignoring proper nutrition.

After transferring schools, I felt more at home in Ft. Collins, CO at CSU because I had a non-drinker roommate, began attending church, and found the on campus recreation center, and I gravitated to the healing effects fitness had on me as I decreased my drinking and began cooking at home more often.

About a year later, I met my daughter’s mom at a restaurant that I worked at in town, began partying again, and stopped working out entirely to spend my days with her. I made some poor choices during this time; including a DUI and becoming pregnant with my girlfriend.

Once again, I was at a time in my life that the limiting beliefs were raging and I quit school to work full time in a restaurant and support my soon to be new adventure in life. I had limited activity at this time in my life because the depression and anxiety I felt heading into fatherhood weighed heavily on me. About the most I could commit to was joining a men’s roller hockey league one night a week.

My partner and I would soon move to Denver to live with family and I found full time work in the restaurant industry with my first management position. Along with the late nights at work, came free beer, and a sleep schedule that was not helping my parenting at all. And with my drinking came challenges in my marriage and an eventual divorce from my daughter’s mother.

Gratefully, I was getting back into the gym with the help from my employer committing to a group membership for the restaurant team. The challenge at that time was to make it a priority. As an adult with a lot of responsibility, I faced a new challenge in personal growth. How do I make the time for work, family, parenting, friends, and the gym?

All of which I loved. Something had to go to the bottom of the priority list at that time. I chose to change jobs at that time and it made a huge difference in my life.

I raced head first into the catering and convention services career as a Banquet Manager at the Brown Palace Hotel! I began making better income and the hours were an improvement so I was able to dedicate more time to my fitness goals; plus the 24 Hour Fitness I joined had a kid’s club.

I chased success in the years after my divorce and shift in career paths. I felt lost, alone, and without direction although the one constant in my life was my commitment to the gym. It was’t until the hotel and restaurant industry bottomed out in 2008 with the recession that I found my purpose in life.

My roommate at the time had a twin brother who was a strength coach at Penn State University and he wrote us a remote workout program that took our squat, bench, and strength to new heights. I felt a draw to the science behind fitness and figured that if I was just serving tables in a restaurant, I would go back to school to finish my degree.

I found a great program at Metropolitan State University and transferred credits to complete my Exercise Science and Adult fitness degree in about three years. All while juggling parenthood, a relationship, and my course load.

I made many strong friendships along the way to earning my degree and none was more important than the relationship I found with myself. I began to gain confidence by putting in the work to earn my degree as well as working full time, becoming debt free, and being a part of my daughter’s life.

The education at Metro State included a 405 mandatory internship which I chose to pursue at The University of Denver in their strength and conditioning department. I learned many valuable lessons observing and coaching with their athletes but none was more valuable than the impact Olympic lifting has on sports performance.

I became obsessed with the Power Clean exercise. The nuances and technical requirements to move big weight FAST had me captivated. This was the key piece of the puzzle I was looking for in my own fitness journey.

Take a look at this quick tutorial of the power clean from 2020.

Watch this instructional video from me on the power clean.

What exercises would benefit me most physically, mentally, and emotionally? I am drawn to intense choices, risks, and activities. I attribute that to my Enneagram personality type, The Challenger, who seeks out all things intense. (More on this later).

Almost a year after graduating college, I was still working in a restaurant with late nights and feeling the exhaustion creeping in from the craziness that I experienced the last few years. It finally caught up with me while I was applying to strength coach positions to fulfill my purpose.

That was when my mom reached out to help her reach her fitness goals. She had already seen tremendous weight loss with a shift in nutrition and wanted to keep building lean muscle mass.

We began to meet weekly at a local gym to workout together and she paid me for my time. I saw my path and my future for the first time in becoming a self-employed personal trainer; the money was good and the work came naturally to me.

What I didn’t expect was to grow as much personally as I did professionally through starting up a fitness business. Honestly, in the beginning, I didn’t know at all what I was doing so I stuck to the basics. You know…

  1. Set up a business entity
  2. Set up a business account
  3. Seek out clients
  4. Manage my time and finances

What lay beneath those simple tasks was where the personal growth happened. Could I really build a sustainable personal training business?

Could I be though of as a leader and a good personal trainer that people would hire and pay hard earned money for?

I didn’t know the answers but it didn’t stop me from trying my hardest to figure it out along the way. Soon after, my mom and I got “busted” at the local gym and were asked to leave if I was coaching her.

So I took the leap and found a private training studio to rent space from. Instantly, my business changed. I felt the desire to create something bigger than myself. Something for others to experience personal growth through fitness like I had.

I put in a lot of hours in the beginning. Between the restaurant and the gym, I would sometimes have 20 hour long days with a nap and 4 coffees tucked in there. I loved the work and the challenge I was facing to build something from scratch.

I began to feel the exhaustion and the negative effects coffee was having on my adrenal glands. This was a major turning point for me to realize I couldn’t thrive on coffee, naps, and willpower forever. I started to clean up my nutrition choices by turning to meal prep to save time and money.

This was a game changer for me personally! I finally had a plan of action and the energy I needed to get through long, hard days spread thin between to jobs.

Things began to change for me at that time. I began to attract clients easily through social media and word of mouth. Although my physical and financial health were improving, my relationship was not. About six months into building my business, I went through a break up after three and a half years together.

I began to face some demons at that time and fitness was a powerfully positive force to help me get through the challenging times. I cut back on eating out, drinking, and skipping sleep and in exchange, I was able to make space for new hobbies, friends, and clients.

One of those hobbies became a passion: boxing. I absolutely loved the high intensity nature of the sport plus the mental side to effectively strike with power while maintaining a steady pace over the hour long classes. I found myself in the best shape of my life by making time for olympic lifting and boxing three times each per week. Here’s a picture from that time in my life at about 33 years old, 162#, and 8% body fat.

Could I keep this up forever? I soon found out that the answer was… NO.

I developed a herniated adductor muscle in my hip from the repetitive rotation in boxing and the stabilization necessary to accomplish power cleans. My body was asking me for rest so I finally listened.

Being humbled and told to slow down like this needed to happen quite a few times in my fitness journey. It was part of the process for me to learn my limits and just how far I could push my body before it began to break down.

That summer included rest and it also brought tremendous growth to my business! I eclipsed the $50k revenue mark after only 14 months in business and I felt like my professional path was laid out clearly before me. Beyond the professional development I experienced in the first year of my business, I also found my ego rise up a attempt to destroy what I had created through limiting beliefs, taking unnecessary risks, and a misunderstanding of the power behind the psychology of money.

Staying consistent with my exercise routine during this time was paramount to maintain happiness, decrease stress, and boost my confidence. I was facing hardships in a relationship and learning about my limiting beliefs for the first time in my life. It was a shock to the nervous system to try to balance it all out while running a business, parenting my daughter, and repairing the relationship with myself and others.

Summer of 2013

This feeling of balance was an illusion. What was I trying to control that was giving me an illusion of balance that was entirely beyond my control?

I’ve learned since that balance is just a clever word for control. Controlling any outcome is what I was clinging to the second and third year of my business.

I’ll never be able to control how long a client stays with me. I’ll never be able to control the economy which impacts my business, or rent prices skyrocketing in Denver, or even how long the gym I was renting space at would remain open.

About 3.5 years into my business, the gym moved locations on short notice. We were kept in the loop about how the current landlord wanted us out, or raise their rent, or how they delayed repairs. In the end, the gym owner found a space a few miles away and gave us 30 days notice to find new locations for our business. I could not control whether I received an invitation to move with their business or not; at that time, I did not feel welcome to move to the new location with the community.

The next few years were hugely impactful on my personal and professional growth. I chose to find my own studio space and my clients came with me; some stayed long term and others left when their packages were finished.

What I found within myself over the next 12 months I never knew I was capable of enduring. Business tanked and my personal viewpoint of my worth went with it. Fact is, I was burnt out and needed help because I was wearing too many hats in the business.

Head trainer, janitor, CFO, CTO, CEO, COO, etc. It was too much. I was humbled once again by another dimension of my fitness journey.

Thankfully, I was still working with some very passionate clients and I loved coaching them while building lifelong relationships with some of them. I am grateful for the consistency in fitness, nutrition, and progress in olympic lifting during that time that helped me regulate hormones like cortisol.

Demonstrating how our online programs work for remote clients.

I was trying to do too much and all of it fell on my shoulders. I was burning out and my body was reminding me to slow down, rest, and relax. I wouldn’t listen.

And my personal relationships suffered as a result. I began to connect the dots between my personal relationship challenges with my long term battle with mental health; specifically depression and anxiety.

Upon exploration, I found that depression and anxiety were the symptoms of many years of ignoring and suppressing emotions. What was lying beneath all that?

While sabotaging my business and personal relationships by pushing people who loved me away, I realized I needed to turn the mirror on myself and look inward. There is no amount of running, lifting, eating, and sports performance that will help you outrun your problems.

Especially if you are bottling them up inside you for so long.

That’s about the time that I found jiu-jitsu. I kept driving by a boxing gym that was within a mile of my studio. I reflected often on how good it felt to hit the mitts and heavy bag a few years before, so I walked in one day to try a free five class package.

The instructor was a former Mexican professional boxer with skill and speed with a flare of enthusiasm. I was hooked on the community there from the start.

After my five pack was up, I decided that jiu-jitsu would be my next adventure and looking back on it four years later, I am so grateful that I took the leap. I had watched my daughter train jiu-jitsu for two years and thought, “If she could do it, so can I.”

Through jiu-jitsu, I have met some of my best friends, found a community, and even teamed up with the owners of that school and operated my business out of their space for two years. Things were rolling there for a while.

I had left a bad relationship, recruited three trainers to work with me in my studio space, and had even grown my business while working with clients only about 20 hours per week.

The personal growth I found through jiu-jitsu was unlike anything I had experienced up until that point in my life. I felt as if my physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial health were coming together to lead me down my path to my true purpose.

To share the benefits of fitness and nutrition for mental health with as many people as I possibly could.

Let me come back to the Enneagram really quick. My Challenger personality type gave me a new lens at which to view my world and I really began to see myself for who I was as a man.

The Challenger, or type 8, is drawn to intensity in all endeavors. There is no half-assing anything so when it appears as if I go hard all the time in weightlifting, boxing, jiu-jitsu, relationships, and business… you’re absolutely right.

I go big or not at all! After four years of personal discovery and self-awareness through the Enneagram, I can confidently say that I am “Enthusiastic about challenging people.” What better profession is there than a strength coach, personal trainer, and business owner for a type 8?

As I mentioned before, I was facing challenges in my relationships, both personally and professionally. The Enneagram helped me see through the blind spots that had been plaguing me for years…

And that began the next level of personal growth for me and a turning point in my fitness journey. I really, truly began to look at myself in the mirror.

One relationship ended. And then another in the fall of 2017. I was near rock bottom and I was taking on too much responsibility.

I had three teammates at the studio and an intern yet I was still working too much; early mornings to later evenings and I had very little quality of life. I decided to take a break and schedule a two week vacation the final two weeks of the year.

The team with a few clients.

It was the best choice I could have made for myself to listen to my body and delegate some client session hours to trainers that believed in our mission. What happened on that vacation, I’ll never forget.

I had bought some Christmas gifts for the team, copies of Strength Finder and the assessment that went along with it. I also purchased a book for myself, The Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Burchard. While I struggled with the author’s voice and writing style, I took away one great message.

Your message has meaning.

That message told me that I could and would be able to share my powerful message with the world and be empowered because of it. Instead of carrying around the shame and embarrassment of childhood memories, I could share the rest of the story with others to inspire and educate.

So I wrote my book. Aspire Higher tells my story from the age of 17 to the time I was about to turn 38. This memoir-esque story shares how the benefits fitness, nutrition, and personal growth impacted my mental health. I completed about 90 pages during that two week vacation because of that one line from Burchard’s book.

Your Message has Meaning

I screamed through the remaining 160 pages over the next three months and it honestly became the therapeutic experience I was seeking the previous 20 years. I also found a tremendous counselor who listened to me share my thoughts over the course of the next 20 months; from about January ’18 until November ’19.

While processing my life’s experience through writing, journaling, counseling, and shadow work of the Enneagram, I stayed consistent with my jiu-jitsu practice, competing four times, lifting heavy weights, and building my business. All of which I attribute to helping me survive through the highs and lows of life.

I remained single during this time for a reason. My purpose was strong enough that I dove into serving others through fitness and nutrition and began to cultivate another idea to help so many others. I decided to take my break ups as a learning experience and begin a podcast to explore the depths of modern dating.

In June of 2018, the Believe Be Real Be Bold podcast was born to help busy adults navigate the modern dating world with a better consciousness by interviewing experts each week; dating coaches, authors, therapists, counselors, and matchmakers have joined me from across the world to make a great change in so many peoples’ lives.

Host of the Believe Be Real Be Bold Podcast

I feel that when we combine a holistic and mindful approach to personal growth through fitness, nutrition, and our relationships, we can improve our lives dramatically. And that of our family too.

When we heal generations worth of trauma, eliminate blockages from years of limiting beliefs, and share our story with others, we can and will make our experience on Earth worthwhile. Leaving behind a legacy that will greatly improve generations to come.

Hopefully you have a deeper understanding of how much of a role fitness and nutrition can play in your life when you stay consistent with your goals and purpose in life.

Brave. Strong. Fit for life. Is our slogan and if we were to leave anything out of our story when building relationships with our members, we would be doing them a great disservice by becoming robots engaging our clients through technology and screens.

I can’t say, at this time, everything is rolling along smoothly. I sit here, sheltering in place during a global pandemic, hanging on by a mere thread of hope that life will improve for us all. I have considered this one of the largest mental health crisis in our human history and I feel as if I am not alone in that opinion.

One of the first choices I made when told to stay home, shelter in place, and flatten the curve was to join a virtual men’s group. My men’s group leader serves a role in my life as well that is indescribable the impact he has had on my personal growth in just nine short months.

Additional choices I made to stave off the hardships our mental health crisis has given us was to continue to train with body weight workouts at home, kettlebells for overloading my system, and jiu-jitsu with my roommate and partner. I realized early on that nutrition would play a huge role in my stability while isolated but I acknowledge that giving myself grace at this time would better serve my long term holistic health.

Training at home with Sam McGraw

So I order in dinner twice a week, eliminate alcohol from my lifestyle, and choose a new recipe about once a week to further my passion for meal prep and thriving with healthy choices in the kitchen.

Are you looking for additional support right now to reach your goals quickly and safely? Set up a free consultation with me now to hear about the new programs from Fit Life for 2021.

Just find a time on my calendar below to speak with me personally on the phone.

Guest Instructor: Daniel Chacon

Daniel Chacon is a jiu-jitsu black belt, an expert muay thai instructor, and my teammate at Easton Martial Arts Academy.  He and I recently sat down to record an episode for the Aspire Higher Podcast!  We then understood that we share many of the same passions for mastering our mindset and motivation.

Today, he is our guest instructor and is here to introduce you to the basics of kickboxing for conditioning!  Could everyone in the Fit Life Champions community, please welcome my friend and instructor, Daniel Chacon!

Now that you’ve met Daniel, here’s a quick video of what he would like to show you today and why it is so important to improve your mindset!  Once you watch this video, please keep scrolling to view today’s butt kicking cardio kickboxing workout! If you loved his workout and want to get more from him, head over to his website now! coachdannychacon.com

Thank you Danny for that awesome introduction to why you are so passionate about martial arts!  Now, it’s time for the workout!  Please don’t hesitate to invite your friends and family to join you in this incredible chance to build a stronger mindset and confidence!

If you haven’t gotten your free workout yet, just click the link below now to get his full 20 minute kickboxing class!!! 

Can we all give a huge warm welcome to Danny from the FLC community?!

https://mailchi.mp/d5590e6863c4/body-weight-workouts

Below is the full interview with Danny Chacon on the Aspire Higher podcast, please subscribe, rate, and review it on your favorite podcast platform or watch the interview on my YouTube channel below!