If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,  and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

New years eve (2015-2016) I’m sitting with some of my best friends… amongst those I would call family.  We decided to toast and in this toast we had to describe one another with one word.  This could mean anything, my words to them were in the context of what they were to me at that point in my life.  My friend, Jack Lafferty, has a unique perspective of me.  We became friends shortly after I moved to Boone, NC in 2009.  I was fresh out of the Marine Corps… my boots having been in Arabian sand only two months prior.  He perhaps can give you insight into who I was at that time in my life.  Battling an immense amount of stress, coupled with integrating back into civilian life… there were times that I didn’t think I’d make it… that my spirit was wounded forever.  Jack raised his glass to me and said, “Balance.”

I didn’t expect that.  But it shocked me and almost immediately had my head searching for the meaning.  He said, “You have been searching for it for so long now… and I believe this will be the year you find it.  I have watched you fight and struggle for years now.  But you are finding yourself, and you will find your balance.”

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If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,  If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster  And treat those two impostors just the same;

There have been so many times in my life when I just got feelings, urges… sudden desires that are built off of other experiences.  As a troubled youth into drugs, spending a lot of time on the streets (my own doing) with the wrong crowd… getting into fights and skipping school.  In and out of boarding schools.  I had an abusive step parent.  I was so angry… really angry.  I rebelled naturally against every form of authority.  Anytime a female tried to get close to me I would instantly rebel against that too.  I had every reason to fail at this point in my life.  I had dropped out of high school, left my home, and chosen a life of petty crime.  Lost.  One day I just left Chapel Hill, NC.  Not sure why, just had it in me to walk away.  I spent 6 months in silence at my mothers home collecting my soul… basically.  On a whim I decided to apply to a camp I used to be a counselor at, in which I met a future brother of mine, Brad. I also met a girl that summer that showed me what it meant to feel loved again… no matter how hard I tried to push her away, and trust me, I tried.  Thank you, Stacey.  Turns out he wasn’t supposed to be there either, but that’s a different story.  We instantly connected, and after the summer moved in together.  He is a best friend and brother to me to this day.  While spending time with him I developed another sudden urge.  I wanted to be a Marine.  This made absolutely no sense.  I was a deadbeat.  I had stopped competing in sports, drank and drugged, with little to no direction in my life.  What in the fuck did I have any business thinking I could join the world’s most elite military branch and go fight a fucking war?  But I did it.

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If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,  and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:  

Then I went to school.  At the time I wanted to stay in the killing fields.  I felt it was where I belonged.  The degree was only about getting a degree… I was going to take it and go right back to the bloodshed via a private military or some form of tactical law enforcement team.  Didn’t matter to me as long as I was fighting.  A fight was a fight and I welcomed the darkness.  Again another hunch… go fight.  Get into a ring and fight.  You’re a shark out of water right now and you need to channel this energy.  I found a fight club and through that made absolutely irreplaceable friends that today are amongst my best, and I call them brothers.  Without them I’d be a dead soul.  Probably a real world Darth Maul.  They got in the ring with me, time after time… we all did, together, as a family.  So, why did I switch my degree (which was criminal justice) to Geospatial Sciences?  That is the million dollar question.  I had only one elective… a world regional geography class (1001) with Rob Brown.  It was exactly the right thing at the right time.  I could immediately identify with his teaching style… he was gritty, a guys-guy, knowledgeable, sarcastic, funny… and wasn’t afraid to dish it out.  I sat in the back and watched.

Some lights started to turn back on.  I slowly came into a period of conflict with myself.  I was hell bent on going back to the killing fields.  What is this feeling?  I like this class?  I want to pursue it more?  I had a natural knack for it.  I talked to my brother, some other people close to me.  I was reminded… I always loved science, and the world.  I always placed well in those fields, amongst the top in standardized tests.   A light started to grow in me.  I made a leap of faith.  Yet another decision that made absolutely no sense to me.  In a period of silent reflection I remember hearing a voice inside me: You’re still alive.  You’ve made it all this way, battlefields, gangs, drugs… you’re still here.  Use your gifts to study and provide for life… rather than take it.” Boom.  That was it.. a real life epiphany.  I created a great relationship with a friend, Saskia, who became a mentor as well for me.  She was a great support, mentor, and friend.  Thank you, Saskia… and the rest of the Geography department who all had a hand in teaching me.  I excelled.  Once I made the decision to pursue this avenue… so many doors opened to me.  The light started to grow, I started to heal… and to this day it has been an immensely fruitful decision.

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If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about your loss;

So where does this tie into Weightlifting?  Listen, because here it comes.  After getting my degree I moved to Florida.  Again, something out of the blue.  I was in a hard period of my life, having dealt with a major transition… and I get a call from Sarasota Florida of all places.  The interview process went quick, and they gave me an offer… in my major.  So without my major, I wouldn’t even be there.  Crazy to just pick up and move to a town I never knew existed… and didn’t know a single soul there.  I joined a CrossFit gym: Real Fitness Sarasota.  Once I joined that gym it started to instantly click for me.  I loved the competitive nature of it… and realized how much I really loved the barbell.  Like most CrossFitters though, I was afraid of leaving CrossFit to pursue Weightlifting… not knowing really how to start.  An injury happened.  I saw it as a bad thing… but it was a gift in disguise.  Through my rehabilitation I developed an immense amount of respect for the technique required to control the barbell.  From there, I eventually made the move to pursue Weightlifting full time and leave CrossFit.  Once again a decision that was born of a tragedy, but opened doors to me that I never could have imagined.

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If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

On a whim I joined Flight (Barbell Shrugged)… which is a Weightlifting program.  I had been drifting from program to program.  And this is where it really took off.  I connected with flight extremely well.  I instantly connected with the other members, was given Athlete of the month, used in their advertising, and even put on their podcast.  The strangest thing is that I’m not that remarkable as an athlete.  I consider myself average.  Which eludes to this being the right path… but not the final destination.  As I started training Flight I started meeting all of these people… legends, so to speak.  When I was a fighter, I made friends… but never really integrated into the community as a whole.  As a CrossFitter it was the same, so-to-speak.  Once I started lifting… so many opportunities and wild meetings have happened… and even relationships formed.  I can remember sitting  in my cubicle in Florida watching Barbell Shrugged podcasts, listening to Elliott Hulse, and watching motivational videos with Travis Mash and Jon North.  I remember being inspired and thinking they seemed like cool people.  Especially Barbell Shrugged.  I would watch and think: I feel like I have so much in common with their beliefs and style… but I’ll never meet them.

Eventually, I went to Florida to train with a teammate Mark Novak.  Next thing I know I’m at the famous Strength Camp.  I’m training with weights that I had seen in Elliott’s videos, lifting the notorious atlas stones, and holding an in depth and impactful conversation with Elliott himself.  It flowed very naturally.  I always felt he was another leader I really identified with… and it was exactly true.  I even appeared in some of his videos.  We exchanged information and we are in touch to this day.  They say to never meet your heroes… but in this case he is every bit the man I believed him to be.

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If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, if all men count with you, but none too much;

It doesn’t stop there.  Next thing I know I’m driving to Travis Mash’s barn for an athletic event and meeting Barbell Shrugged there.  It was crazy.  I’m standing in front of these people, once again, that I could identify with… but you never think you’ll meet.   They’re just images on a screen… nobody actually meets those people.  I was out there, coaching a best friend of mine (Travis Elliott), right beside Kurt Mullican and Alex Maclin.  CTP is filming everything.  In a year I went from watching YouTube videos to sitting in the arena with the personalities that make it!  After the lift I’m drinking with everyone.  Drinking with the entire Shrugged Crew, talking shit with Travis Mash, and drunkenly philosophizing with multiple world record holders or previous owners.  We drink through the night and I wake up in my pick up truck, my dog licking my face, in Travis Mash’s front yard!  CTP had asked me if I wanted to do a 10 minute section with them for Flight… which turned into me doing an entire podcast with them.  This is all completely surreal to me.  How is this happening?  Again, the men you’d expect them to be.  But now I’m even making friends with these guys.  I can remember watching Barbell Shrugged’s Strength Gain Challenge video with Kurt Mullican.  I was like that seems like a rad dude….  A few decisions and just over a year later I’m standing next to him drinking beer and talking shit.  I consider him a friend today and he’s even coming to visit.  There is so much light growing!  Alex Maclin too.  Next thing I know it’s not even about Weightlifting anymore… that was just the medium.  I’m developing friendships here.  Good people that spread light.  Shit, we talk about Fallout 4 half the time.

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If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!  

I kept using the momentum.  Now all of a sudden Barbell Shrugged has pushed me, Kurt specifically, to go compete in the hookgrip classic.  Now I have a god damn Hookgrip watermark next to my name.  Two years ago I’d have never thought.  Now we are in the talks of launching a Flight Weightlifting meet which will attract 60 athletes, maybe more, from across the nation and internationally… and holding it right here in Charlotte NC!  I am working with Kurt on this.  I am being approached by friends about programming and training… or even to just say I’m an inspiration because they watch my videos or read my blog.  I will be starting a video series with Kurt and a podcast with Travis.  I will also be making my own videos (actual ones, not just segments of me lifting) as well as photo editing to raise this blog to the next level.  I am programming for a close friend and putting him through his first competition.  He reads this blog and reached out.  Flight athletes reach out to me separately for advice, or just to say thank you.  Not to mention, I’ve made real friends!  And ones that I know will last.  All of this because I chose to listen to a small voice in my heart and follow my instincts, or heart, along a path.

This year was a very challenging one… but those challenges, the pain, the highs, the victories and defeats… it all lead to a basic spiritual awakening.  I see paths now… not coincidences.  Too much has happened to bring me to the state that I am in when it all could have easily gone the other way.  The above blog isn’t even a fraction of the examples I can use.  How about when an RPG stuck in the wall next to me in Iraq, 5 feet away… and didn’t go off?  It’s there.  The signs.  The light is small, but it doesn’t need to scream, not like the darkness does.  You just need to be awake.  I don’t see random anymore, I see patterns.  There is so much for me to look forward to this year that has all stemmed from the fact that I picked up the barbell and chose Flight.  It’s amazing.  Lives have been impacted, including my own, doors are opening, I am growing.  What Jack had meant earlier, about my balance was that he had seen me try to find it.  I relied on people, activities, things…. but he sees now that I see more clearly.  He said I am finding out that it is within myself.  It always has been.  And the barbell has helped to keep me grounded when everything wanted to rip away.  This year I will find balance.  I’ll see you in Regionals or the Open.  Don’t be afraid to say hello.  Thanks Flight.  And thank you barbell Shrugged.

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