Own Your Progressions

15072611993_861f065b7a_zJen has seen steady improvement in her gymnastic skills through mastering her progressions.

You’ve all heard us tell you to be patient through the process of learning the skills in CrossFit. There are plenty of them. There are also plenty of articles/blogs on this, specifically on kipping, so rather than beat the nail over and over, I want you to look at it from another practical perspective. Think about another pretty challenging skill, let’s say a muscle up. There are a ton of elements involved and several necessary progressions that you must have in order to achieve a muscle up. You need grip strength holding the rings, shoulder and arm strength to do a pull-up and a ring dip, coordination of hip and shoulders, and enough strength to hold yourself on top of the rings are just to name a few. So you start doing ring pull-ups and dips with a band for a month or two and eventually you can hit ONE ring dip unassisted. Ok….were ready to start attempting full muscle-ups, right? Well, not exactly. Being able to squeeze out one or two dips or pull-ups most likely will not result in a muscle up. This is the frustrating part. I’ve finally been able to do the pre-requisites for a muscle up but I’m still nowhere close. Three things usually happen here: 1.) You stop working the progression. 2.) You move on and attempt muscle ups, but you moreso learn how to FAIL muscle ups, or 3.) You avoid any and all things muscle up.

You can’t skip progressions and you can stop once you’ve hit the bare-minimum skill requirement. What I am trying to say is, OWN THE PROGRESSION. Master the ring dip. Master the strict pullup. Be able to hang off the rings extended or in ring support up high for a minute. Be able to do multiple sets of each. AND….once you get your first muscle up…DON’T STOP THERE! Now, I’m not saying be completely turned off to learning or trying the kipping or working the transition, as learning those is a key step, but a majority of the time spent should be on mastering the basics. You cut out SO MUCH transitional practice, if you are more than strong in the basic elements.

 

Confessions of a Middle Aged CrossFit Newbie

deneseMiddle-aged?  Perhaps.  But in many rights Denese is no longer a newbie!

While there may be a lot of talk about the competitors, local competitions and the CrossFit Open (especially at this time of year), there is an even larger population at the Sweat Shop that are there simply to improve their health and fitness, and just feel good!  After reading this post I realized there are probably many people that have the exact same thoughts and feelings as they begin CrossFit.  I thought it would be good to share so people know they aren’t the only ones with these thoughts.  Thanks to Josh for the heads up on this post!

Excerpt from post

My No. 1 reason against going to CrossFit was fear of that kind of embarrassment again. That fear quickly vanished. Yes, everyone in the class is in much better shape than me, but no one seems to care. I have never felt judged or ridiculed even though I am miles behind most of these folks. They’ve all gone out of their way to be supportive and talk about how tough it was for them at the beginning and how far they’ve come.

The few times I’ve felt embarrassed in CrossFit were all on me. No one else cared. Even my worst moment — attempting to do a clean and jerk I hit myself in the chin with the bar and almost knocked myself out, with the entire room watching me! — was a non-event.

Read full post here.

Super Bowl Snacks

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I’m sure our Paleolithic ancestors would be down for these tasty treats. 

Superbowl is this weekend and you know what that means? FOOD….and the Katy Perry half time show…and I guess football. But mainly FOOD! If you’re a foodie like me, you might enjoy some of these recipes I found on PaleOMG. Check out the Potato Skin recipe below. Click here for more tasty Super Bowl treats from paleOMG!

Ingredients
  • 3 small, round sweet potatoes or yams
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, diced (I used a rotisserie chicken and chopped it up)
  • ¼ small yellow onion, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1-1.5 cups hot sauce (I used Frank’s Hot Sauce) – depending how spicy you want yours. I used 1.5 cups
  • 3 tablespoons blue cheese (not paleo, but a primal option. it will be fine without it)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded raw cheddar cheese (I used Kerrygold cheese- again this is optional)
  • 1 avocado
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • salt, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place sweet potatoes onto a baking sheet. Brush potatoes liberally with melted coconut oil. Use a fork to poke holes in each sweet potato.
  3. Place in oven and bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Check at 45 minutes to see if they are soft when you squeeze them. Then remove from oven.
  4. Let the sweet potatoes cool for about 30 minutes. While the sweet potatoes cool, place 4 pieces of bacon on a rimmed baking sheet and into the oven for 10-15 minutes or until completely cooked. Remove from oven and dice into small pieces. Then preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  5. Once sweet potatoes are cool to touch, cut each one in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the most of the sweet potato with a spoon, leaving a layer above the skin. Place half of the sweet potato mash into a medium bowl. (I ate the other half with breakfast, so keep for leftovers)
  6. Now using the bacon fat that has been left behind from cooking, brush each sweet potato skin with bacon fat (you could also use coconut oil here). Place in the oven, skin-side up, for 5 minutes. Then flip, brush with bacon fat, and place in the oven for 5 more minutes.
  7. While the skins finish baking, in the medium bowl containing half of the sweet potato mash, add chicken, onion, garlic, hot sauce, blue cheese (optional), diced bacon, and salt and pepper. Mix well.
  8. Remove the sweet potato skins from the oven and fill each half with the chicken mixture. Smooth out the top and sprinkle generously with shredded cheese.
  9. Place back in the oven once more for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese begins to slightly bubble. Then let cool for 5 minutes.
  10. Lastly, place avocado, lime, lemon, cumin and salt in a food processor and puree until smooth. Add mixture to a ziploc bag, cut a small hole in the corner of the bag, then decorate the sweet potato skins however you see fit. I made a football. Kind of. You get the point.
  11. Serve right away!

 

Moxie & NorCal Masters

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This weekend, we had 3 teams compete at Moxie Madness Pairs in Santa Clara. Mike/Rikus, DJ/Marko, and John Y/Myself, went up against a field of 60+ teams. For me, it was one of the more fun competitions I’ve been apart of, not only for how well Sweat Shoppers did, but the team camaraderie amongst the 3 teams was super fun! We all stood by each other and cheered each other on until the end! Although there were a ton of highlights, I’ll just speak on a couple for each pair:

Starting with DJ and Marko, a big highlight was the ascending clean event. It started with 50 cleans at 135#, then 35 at 185#, and then max reps at 225#. Going into it, we new DJ would be doing a big chunk of the heaviest weight as Marko’s max is just over 225#, but in true “gamer mode”, Marko was able
to hit a ton! Every time DJ needed a break Marko just hopped in and crushed them surprising not only us, but himself!  They scored best on the last two events taking 14th and 17th while DJ and Marko knocked out 2’s on bar muscle ups for almost the entire final event and crushed the double unders. They showed perfect teamwork in that each stepped in when it was time to showcase their own strength!

John and I also had a solid showing mainly in the comeback form. After a HEAVY clean event Friday night, we climbed our way up from 29th to 12th overall cracking the top 10 in two of the Saturday events. The first had 30in box jumps and shoulder to overheads each relay style while the partner had to hold either a bar in the rack and another while holding ring support. The box jumps seemed to be pretty tough for most folks but we were able to cycle through them pretty quick. Another big highlight was the final workout in which we had to do overhead squats and double unders. John, who traditionally despises both movements, came through and knocked out 15 overhead squats and I believe PR’d on 60+ consecutive double unders!

Mike and Rikus showed the perfect balance of strength and skills. They finished in the top 5 in all but one event and ended up WINNING THE ENTIRE EVENT! In the clean ladder they shared the work evenly and didn’t stop moving…at ALL! Rikus was his typical self, lifting light things very easily and hitting the floor very hard. He literally did 5 minutes of dumbbell snatches unbroken and crushed all the nasty dark-place aspects of the events. Mike, was typically Mike, blowing through the skills work hitting around 60 Bar Muscle Ups by himself and almost all the overhead squats! They were true to their team name, The Ambiguously Awesome Duo!

While were very proud of Mike and Rikus taking first in this event, it was great to see how the hard training paid off for each group and can’t wait for future comps like this. Congrats to Mike and Rikus and the rest of the teams and a special thanks to the spectators who made it out (PT, Jen, Mel, and Sydney)!

———NorCal Master’s Recap—–by Nabil

While it may make for a frustrating weekend of trying to cheer on and coach multiple athletes, having so many athletes competing in different competitions on the same weekend is a testament to not only how popular CrossFit has become, but also the growing number of Sweat Shop athletes that participate in these events!  While the guys were kicking but down in Santa Clara, we also had a group of masters competing in the NorCal Masters at Cranway Pavilion in Richmond.  This is easily the biggest masters event in California and each year has several CrossFit Games athletes (and even CrossFit Games champs).  While I wasn’t able to attend on Sunday, what I witnessed on Saturday once again made me super proud to be a coach at the Sweat Shop!  Not only did our Sweat Shop athletes have several PR’s and matched PR’s on the Clean & Jerk ladder, they all demonstrated great technique during the ladder, which isn’t always the case at CrossFit comps, especially at master’s events.  Throughout the day, Joel, Jen, Chief Banks, and Lones (Jacqueline wasn’t able to compete due to illness) faced workouts that challenged their abilities beyond what they had previously thought possible of themselves.  THIS is one of the key points I want to stress about participating in something like a CrossFit competition.  It’s not about being able to say you are a “competitor”.  It’s about putting yourself in a challenging situation by signing up for an event, preparing the best you can for it, then testing yourself to see what you are capable of, and finally, walking away from it being better for the having gone through the experience.  If this sounds like fun to you, you’re in luck, you live in Northern California, home of more local CrossFit competitions than probably any other area in the country!  Check out some pics from Day 1 at NorCal Masters.

Row Damper

 IMG_7407PT goin’ HAM on Clifford the Rower during tonight’s workout

Members often ask me what they should have the damper setting on the rower set to.  I’ve never really had a detailed answer, other than it’s kind of like gears on a bike, the higher damper has much more resistance, but you get more distance for each stroke.  That being said, I usually recommend the higher damper for the stronger athletes, and to adjust the damper down a bit during longer distances rows (1000+ meters).  Personally, I’ve found that a damper setting of 8 yields the best time for me when doing a 500 meter time trial, but I’m pretty useless for several minutes after.  Scott Frandsen, the Canadian olympic rower that taught the row seminar at our gym a few weeks back said that he NEVER sets the rower above a 5.5.  Keep in mind though that the distances they train at are much longer than what we usually row in CrossFit.  And then there is the author of this post, that says setting the damper high is a no no.  While the post conflicts some of what I tell people, it does contain the most detailed information I’ve come across on damper setting, and since I don’t limit my posts to things that support my theories, I think it’s worthy of posting.  My recomendation is to test out different damper settings at the same distances, then at various distances and find out what is best for you.

Picture it this way: A 10 setting would be a barge. Not very nimble in the water, takes a lot of work to move it. A 4-5 would be a kayak or a boat that was made to race and move through the water. A 1 would be Jesus and you’d basically be walking on water with no resistance.

However, once you get a barge moving, it moves. It takes a lot longer to slow down. You have to keep rowing in a kayak or you’ll start to slow pretty quickly. (Inertia, people!)

On the erg, a higher setting damper requires more work to move the wheel because of resistance. The rower measures that accordingly and the result is you go “farther” in your digital distance. A lower damper setting may take two strokes to equal the distance of one stroke done at a 10 damper, but the load on muscular strength per pull will be less with the lower. And no, in this situation 2 pulls at lower damper does not exactly equal one pull at higher damper.

What happens when you lift heavier weight for high reps? There is a greater chance for form to break down. What happens when form breaks down? Injuries become more prevalent. The same philosophy holds true with the erg. Your lower back may be more susceptible to injury at a higher setting if your form isn’t great. And most of us probably don’t have perfect rowing form.

So the question becomes What damper setting should you use? The answer is: Let the erg tell you!

I’m no expert, and there honestly doesn’t appear to be an expert on damper setting. There are recommendations, however, and I’ll explain those now.

There’s a thing called drag factor that you can measure on your erg. Turn the display on (or reset it) to bring up the main menu. Select the display drag factor option. Row for a little bit, at least 10 strokes going at whatever you consider your normal (not sprint) pace to be. The drag factor will calculate for you.

Read full post here.

Competitions This Weekend!

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For those of you who want to check out some Sweat Shoppers in action, there’s a lot going on this weekend. Starting tonight through Saturday evening we have 3 teams competing in the Moxie Pairs competition at the Santa Clara Convention Center. Against solid competition, teaming up will be Rikus and Michael L (Team: The Ambiguously Awesome Duo), D.J. and Marko (Team: Clean up, Aisle Sweat), and Myself and John Y. (Team: Sweat Shop & The Chipmunks). To follow results or info on attending click here. 

Also, the biggest masters event outside of the Open qualifier’s will be held Saturday-Sunday at the Nor Cal Masters at Cranway Pavillion in Richmond. This one is sure to be a great event with the top Master’s athletes in the area and is only one of the few actual Masters events held. We have Joel F and Jen Marten competing in the 40′s group, Jacqueline, in her first comp ever, will be competing in the 50′s, and finally Lones and Chief Banks will be competing in the 60+. Information on each Sweat Shopper’s heat times and spectating info can be found here.

 

Crush ‘em Team Sweat Shop!

Explanation on Open Scaled Option

Along with the huge changes to the Open/Regionals this year, another big one is having the choice to do a scaled version of the weekly workout. If you’ve been on the fence about the Open and have been worried about being able to perform Open workouts, the Scaled option still allows you still to be apart of the fun.  I know many of you have been asking which to do, so check out this video in which Dave Castro explains the gist of scaling the Open.

My favorite part of the Open is getting together with the entire Sweat Shop community each week throwing down and cheering each other on. Each year we’ve had more participation and fun so let’s keep it going! This scaled option now makes it fun and doable for everyone! Sign up for Team Sweat Shop here.

Featured Athlete: Brianne

brianne_profileIt’s been really fun watching Brianne over the last couple of years go from just coming in once a week on Saturdays, to becoming a competitive CrossFitter.  Even more awesome in my opinion is that she is able to share something she enjoys with her son Braydan!  As a parent, I can only hope to have something, whether it be CrossFit, or something else, that I can participate in alongside my children.

 

Name: Brianne Wong
Age: 25?  35?  40 something….ok, ok…48
Q.  How long have you been doing CrossFit?

A little over 3 years.

Q.  What were you doing for exercise before CrossFit?

For many years I was doing martial arts (showing Mike Lee how to become a Dragon – haha Mike!) but after ending that, i was just running and doing the usual 24 Hour gym type stuff with machines and exercise classes.

Q.  How did you begin training at CrossFit Sweat Shop?

Jason said, “We are going to try something new!”  Then the next thing i knew, we were at the Sweat Shop taking our first trial class.  I had no idea what i was getting into but was willing.  At first i was only going once a week and would never go without Jason (a little too intimidating at first).  Over time, I increased to twice a week, and then to three times a week, and now unlimited!  You can’t stop me from going now…With or without Jason!!

Q.  What has been the most significant benefit/change since you’ve been doing CrossFit?

Strength!  I have gained a lot of strength and definitely improved my overall fitness.  I have improved my body composition and see muscle definition that I’ve never seen before.  I believe i’m in better shape now than i have ever been.  I just wish i had started CrossFit sooner than later.
Q.  What is your favorite exercise or workout?

I’d have to say as much as i suck at snatches, i love to do them. It is one of the worst lifts, if not, the worst lift for me. There’s so much technique involved and every little motion, movement, pull, and set up needs to be spot on for a successful snatch.  You can’t half ass any part of the snatch.  I find that even through all the practice, failed attempts, and just sheer frustration….if i nail one, i’m happy!  Plus there’s no greater feeling than seeing improvements from hard work.
Q.  What is your least favorite exercise or workout?

Any workout with thrusters!  Ali, thrusters are all yours!  LOL…, if only i could do half as many and half as fast as you! (think CrossTown Throwdown!)  Oh and any workout that takes me over 20 minutes to complete is not so fun, BUT one of my goals is to work on becoming more efficient when combining strength and speed.

Q. What is your favorite healthy meal?

A good burger with lots of greens and veggies on the side!
Q.  What is your favorite cheat meal/snack?

I love homemade cookies and i rarely turn down good french fries.
Q.  What do you enjoy most about training at CrossFit Sweat Shop?

I enjoy the hard work and energy by all!  The Sweat Shop is filled with so many amazing athletes and Nabil, James, Rene and Marko are second to none – they lead by example!  I can always find inspiration in everyone.

Q.  Now that you’ve been doing CrossFit, what’s one thing you could never see yourself doing again?  (workout, nutrition, lifestyle, etc.)

I will never go back to a regular gym and step on a treadmill! I’ll also never eat fast food…well, maybe an occasional In/Out Burger.

Q.  What is your proudest exercise related achievement?

I would say completing the Open last year.  Talk about a challenge when you are unsure about your capabilities and wondering if you could even complete each workout with the requirements…  But with a little gut and with a lot of encouragement from Jason, i did it and it was fun!  Definitely a learning and motivating experience.

Q.  What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to try CrossFit?

I would tell them to “just do it, damn it!!” :)  Seriously though, CrossFit is life changing and if they are willing to put in the effort of hard work, patience, commitment, and sweat, while having fun, then they too could see the benefits of CrossFit.

Q.  What is your most sought after exercise goal?

To not let my 13 year old son Braydan become stronger and faster than me..  Well, i guess that’s too late, but i can try to lessen the gap!  I just want to continue improving on everything we do at the Sweat Shop.  There are too many things to work on and too many goals to list, but one immediate goal would be a 150lb back squat, and 85lb snatches during an EMOM.

2015 Open is Upon Us

 

10150803_10203426900983488_1595130380_nThe end of a fun 5 weeks of the 2014 CrossFit Open. 

The 2015 CrossFit Games Open season is just around the corner! The open is a great way to test your fitness and enjoy the camaraderie of your peers. This year there are some changes to the open such as a new scaled option as well as a teen division. Check out the full article for more details. If you have never competed in the open, there is no better time than now. Feel free to talk to Nabil, JB, Marko or myself if you have any questions about the open or are on the fence about registering. To register for the 2015 click here. ***Be sure to put Sweat Shop as your home gym and also join the Sweat Shop Team. We’re looking forward to another great Open Season!

The Open 
February 26 – March 30, 2015

Open registration begins January 15.

15.1: Feb. 26 -March 2
15.2: March 5-9
15.3: March 12-16
15.4: March 19-23
15.5: March 26-30

The Masters Qualifier
April 23-27, 2015

The Regionals

Regional Weekend 2: May 22-24
California Regional | NorCal and SoCal | San Diego, California
East Regional | North East and Canada East | Hartford, Connecticut
Pacific Regional | Australia and Asia | Wollongong, Australia

Tickets to the Regionals will go on sale on March 30, 2015.

The Games

The 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games will be held on July 21-26.

Tickets to the Games will go on sale April 29, 2015.

 

Return of the Website

annonymousThe website is back!  And no, it wasn’t hacked by these guys.  Meanwhile I’ve had time to spray paint a rower red, and order some new shirts and hoodies.  Also, our Monday 7:30pm Open Gym starts this evening, have fun!

Ruslan Nurudinov

This video is so awesome! Ruslan Nurudinov, breaks the clean and jerk world record out of the 105kg weight class (231 lbs). This lift was 239kg……or 525.8 lbs! This video has a rare footage from the side and has pretty sweet slow motion view of the fastest parts of the lifts (hip extension on clean and drive on the jerk). Watch it a couple times and notice how solid his positioning is! As a guide, here are some things to look for:

-How solid his entire midline/spinal position is throughout the entire lift
-How high and back he gets at the top of the clean
-Notice the depth of his hips when the barbell lands on his shoulders in the clean
-On the jerk, notice how his posture is completely upright on the dip
-He gets full extension at the hips before he drives under the bar
-Perfection in the catch!

This sucker is on repeat!

Strategies for Success

kelley_overheadWhile it’s clear to me Kelley is a competitive person, since starting CrossFit just 6 months ago, she’s done a great job of focusing her improvements based on her own abilities, rather than constantly comparing to others.

This time of year there are lots of posts about New Year’s resolutions and how the majority of the population fails at them.  When I first came across this post earlier today I thought that it was just another one of those posts about how CrossFitters are so much better than others when it comes to their commitment to exercise.  After reading the entire post though, I realized it’s purpose is to help those still new to CrossFit, have fun, remain injury free, continue to see results, and stay on track for months and years to come.

The good news is that we don’t follow a commercial gym business plan. The commercial gym plan is to sign as many people up as possible. It doesn’t matter if they show up to workout or not. The membership sales guy at the commercial gym could give a rat’s ass about your fitness or health. His job is to sell gym memberships. As a matter of fact, they know that the majority of the people they sign up will show up once or twice and then call it quits. They know it will be busy around the commercial gym for a month at the beginning of each year. Eventually, all those New Year’s Resolutions are broken. Those same people may try a comeback several times throughout the year, but in the end, the commercial gym owner knows to charge them little, and people will continue to pay regardless of whether they show up or not. For most people, just saying you have a gym membership is actually good enough for them. It’s a genius plan.

Read full post here.

2015 here we go!

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Bri, along with many other Sweatshoppers got after their goals this year. What will you shoot for in 2015?

With the new year comes fresh goals and new possibilities. There is no goal too big! In fact I challenge you to go big with your goals. All to often we play it safe and set safe goals…be audacious! Whether it’s getting your first pull up, mastering the handstand walk, or hitting that clean and jerk PR, the best way to achieve these goals is to have a plan. Write it down, either in your book or on the wall, put a date on it and get to work. Don’t forget to share your goals with your peers so we can hold you accountable as well. If you need help setting some goals feel free to reach out to myself, Nabil, James or Marko, we would love to hear from you!

New Year. New Opportunities.

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I’m sure 2014 was a big year for everyone, as it was quite the memorable year for me. Looking back, it made me realize and appreciate all of the great things I have in my life.

As this is a CrossFit blog, I think it’s fitting to start with CrossFit. Although we highlighted a ton of the accomplishments at the wild and crazy holiday party, we can’t say enough how proud we are of each of you. As a coach, the gym’s success and continual growth has been a true source of fulfillment for me, and I think I speak for the rest of the coaches. If we had the time, we could write at least a page or more on each of your awesome achievements throughout the year. It’s truly impressive how much all of you have improved, whether you’re new to the Sweat Shop or one of our seasoned members. Secondly, our competition teams making top/podium finishes in local competitions, qualifying for regionals and having our first athlete make the Games, not only demonstrates how badass our athletes are but also inspires us as coaches for the future. However, the most special part of the year has been seeing how strong our community continues to become, how many positive relationships have been made, and how already strong relationships continue to grow stronger.

Now, knowing that there is more to life than my time at the gym, I’ll digress a little away from CrossFit…..I swear this will be my last long post!

 

The last 6 years of my life, let’s just say, have been a wild ride! But a fun one! Finishing grad school, scrambling a couple jobs, traveling, and getting married are just to name a few things. For me, the end of 2014 was a reflective time for me on how blessed I have been and has re-affirmed that I am doing what I love. I am in awe of how some of the little decisions I’ve made the past couple years have really turned out for the best and I am ever-thankful for everyone that has been alongside me throughout it all!

I think back to high school, and how I thought I wanted to be a star college running back. When St. Mary’s cut the football program, I was CRUSHED. I had a choice to leave and start anew, but something inside me told me to stay. Sure enough, it was one of the best decisions I made in my life. It allowed me to find deeper passions outside of a sport which I already knew so well. I not only found my love for coaching, teaching, and travel but also my first real job at Velocity and meeting Nabil. The relationships I made during those years really made me who I am and they really made me feel like I could do anything I set my mind to.

It makes me think back to grad school and how I thought for sure, the only way I would be happy in my career would be getting my PhD. The week of my graduation, I got a call from Nabil, who asked if I was interested in coaching with him at this tiny Crossfit gym. That same week, my professor, Derek, asked me if I was interested in teaching some activity classes at St. Mary’s. Initially, I thought, this would derail me from my overall goal. I thought it would take me backwards. But for whatever reason, whether it was enjoying being on my old stomping grounds at St. Mary’s and remembering how much I learned there or visiting Nabil at the sweatshop for the first time and remembering all of the fun memories and all I learned from him, I decided to stay and take what had already been given to me.

The opportunities to coach and teach have been the greatest gift because they have led me to so many great relationships. It is in people that I have found so much enjoyment and it is in those relationships that I have found my true passion.

Since I got into coaching and for each new year I coach, I get more and more excited to see what you all are capable of. I know after a WOD, you may think of me as Dr. Evil rubbing my hands together formulating a concoction of torture, but truly it is in my desire to make you all better and to see it through!

As a teacher, I have met so many great people. There are too many students to name that have really kept me wanting to be back in the classroom. Their desire to learn, even if it’s just the basics, makes me feel that I have something to give them. Which is what I think all teachers want. Teaching also gave me the opportunity to take students to amazing countries like Peru and the D.R. and seeing their lives, as well as mine, enriched. These trips inspired deep change within me. They taught me how important it is to dig deeper to discover the true character of people rather than accepting what you see at face value. My parents and other loved ones told me I could achieve anything, and it hurts to know that many don’t have that. Interacting with the kids on the service trips made me realize how something as small as playing with them and talking about life can spark a huge change in their lives. Or how believing in and encouraging someone can help them believe in themselves. Ultimately, these trips reaffirmed my drive to be that spark for those I come into contact with. They also reaffirmed my belief in the strength found in community and while I am part of several communities, the Sweatshop family represents an essential piece of who I am and I thank you all for giving me an opportunity to practice my passions daily.

Lastly, speaking of family, I could not be happier to have grown my family by one very special person this year. Although Melaney has been by my side for more than 12 years, it is great to finally be able to call her my wife. This was definitely the easiest decision I made last year but certainly the smartest.

A year has passed but a new year awaits and with every new year we are given, it allows us the opportunity to grow. I have been so moved by all the development, progress, surprises, and joy that last year contained that I look forward to the coming year with much excitement.

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