“For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length–and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.”
― Carlos Castaneda,
It was windy day in February of 2009 in Ramadi, Iraq. I took a deep breadth, grabbed the dog tags, and walked towards the memorial…. Trevor Johnson and David Wallace were Killed in Action in the not too distant country from us: Afghanistan. Both of these men were friends and comrades to me. We had all spent time in The Suck together. We came from different states, had different backgrounds, but were family just the same. Even countries away, two different combat zones in the same war… our platoon held remembrance and respect for them. I took a knee in front of the rifle, boots, and bayonet, slowly and deliberately draping the dog tags over it, and whispered, “See you soon, friend. But for now I have to go finish a fight.” My thoughts drifted back to my memories of Trevor….
My time in the Marines came to end… at least by contract. I grabbed my sea bag, threw it in the back of my pick up truck, and drove into the mountains. While there I distanced myself from the Marines… from the military. Not because anything was bad… I had just been through a lot. I knew that in order to ensure my success in life, to carry on the moments of Trevor and Dave… that I needed to get right. While in college up in Boone, NC, I spent my time hiking and training. I spent hours and hours in the gym, honing my craft. People used to mention that it always looked like I was fighting something… in a way I very much was…. I then traveled through several states, working, networking, and training. Through the next 9 years I spent my time, inch by inch, clawing my way back to peacefulness. I needed to heal. In the back of my mind, as the healing process progressed, I knew I wanted to give back. My success was beginning to yield fruit: I got a degree, I was addiction free, I was employed wealthily, I had family and friends.. and I had my body. The training has always been the center, been my lifeline. As long as I had a barbell near me I could work through any of it. Sure, there were nights I fell into depression… mostly trying to figure out how I could do men like Dave and Trevor right. How can I carry such a weight? If you cut a man’s spirit he will bleed just the same.
Through many, many ventures (mostly described in other blog posts), I eventually became a coach in Weightlifting. For a lot of years (the last 9) I sort of avoided being a leader. The war had taken so much out of it for me. But… it’s a gift for me… I can’t really avoid it as it always seems to find me. When it felt right… I finally rose to the task again. I read a quote once when I was a kid: “A leader knows the way, goes the way, and then shows the way.” It was time for me to show. Life will hand you opportunities. Carlos Casteneda once wrote, “The difference between the warrior and the average man is that the warrior views everything as a challenge… whereas the average man views everything as a blessing or a curse.”
Eventually… the way to give back became clear. Through the years that were behind me on my path, I had developed the networking, skill, vision, and resources to finally do something that I felt may have an impact. I threw a Weightlifting Meet… in honor of Trevor Johnson. I have never thrown a charity event before… but the resources were given to me: I had the support of loved ones that helped every step of the way, I had my Weightlifting club that donated their time, athleticism, and support to the meet as well as other members of the gym. Local coaches brought in a wealth of experience, knowledge, and athletes for me to lean on. As the word started to spread… doners and sponsors started pouring in… as the meet came closer… more and more athletes were registering. In my mind, when I started this thing… I would have been happy with like 30 athletes and a successful meet. I have learned in my life now though that my biggest rewards come not when I ask for things… but when I start producing the change I wish to see. I started looking at the response… and it dawned on me: This may actually be a a big thing…. I woke up at 430am the morning of the meet and whispered to myself, “See you soon, friend. But for now I have to go finish a fight.”
The doors opened at 6am for the first weigh-ins… and by 8am in already had a full house. I do not know that I can accurately describe the amount of support this community showed us: The local Weightlifting clubs ranging from Rose Performance, Heavy metal, Bull City, and Mash Elite. Doners and sponsors from new Vet combat apparel like 7-Five to major brands like Barbell Shrugged and Fitaid. Food was donated, injury and medical services were donated, local clubs came together. I had to just sit in awe at one point.
The day moved forward… we literally had lifters on the platform from 8am to 7pm. No heat was under 11 lifters. What I saw was a joining of forces and a show of how powerful we can all be together. It wasn’t a bunch of clubs competing against each other… it was a bunch of clubs competing with each other. Together. There wasn’t any division among the athletes, coaches, or clubs in attendance. It was truly us as a community coming together for a cause. In that moment, we all became something bigger, something better… we became a community that communicated and made a statement.
As the pictures, videos, posts started to spread into the world, I could see that everyone involved could see and feel what I saw and felt. Something big happened that day. Trevor Johnson’s widow, Nicki Johnson (director of the Charity FOB Johnson) messaged me. She didn’t know what Olympic Weightlifting was. What she saw was hundreds of people from a city across the entire continent, the vast majority of whom didn’t even know her husband, come together in amazing feats of strength. All shapes and sizes, colors, religions, ethnic backgrounds, tax brackets… all of it melted away in the face of this amazing moment in time. This region of Weightlifters made a statement that echoed into the hearts of Johnson’s kids. I wished in that moment I could have shown him his impact on this world… even in his death.
Eventually I met up with Nicki Johnson. We sat and drank coffee together as her child, Trevor’s child, climbed on the benches and played around. The greatfulness in her eyes was nothing short of humbling. We spoke about Trevor, the charity, and she expressed how amazed she was at the event. As we spoke I looked over at her child. I remember my last conversation with Trevor… she was just in the womb, not even a person yet. And here she was… walking around, talking with me. I could see Trevor in her face… it was surreal as i was literally staring his legacy right in the eyes. I could see him again… like he was right in front of me.
“Do you see us now, Trevor?” I remember thinking. My thoughts drifted back to Trevor and Dave’s memorial in Ramadi, Iraq. We had built this dusty old room our of plywood and 2×4’s with a makeshift door. The dust would blow in from under the cracks and fill the room. I stood up from hanging the dog tags and walked to the back of the room and took a deep breadth. I had no idea where my path would take me in the next 10 years from that moment. It’s amazing to sit back and think on it. How far reaching, in even their deaths, their impacts would be. That’s the responsibility we have as a society, as human beings: To remember and to build. Time will come for us all, and it’s important to ask yourself what your legacy will be. How will people remember you? And when the memory of us as individuals drifts under the floorboards like in that dusty room in Ramadi… will you have left this world a better place than when you found it? I know one thing is for certain: The barbell never lies. See you soon, Friend. But first I have a fight to finish.