11 Ways Loving Someone With Autism Can Make You A Better Human Being

My oldest son, Jackson, turns 11 this week. Another year passes and I wonder, “Where on earth did these 11 years go?”

And I can’t write really anything about my son in good conscience without crediting his mother, Megan, for how she’s raised him. He’s always been a wonderful little boy but I guess I have to get more comfortable saying, “He’s a wonderful big boy.”

Jackson was diagnosed with autism around 3 years of age. It would be foolish of me to look at his attributes and mislead you by saying that anyone with autism or on the autism spectrum is exactly like him. The adage within the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) community is that: When you’ve met someone with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. The degrees are very different and no two individuals with autism will be identical.

That aside, to my fellow parents of children or adults with autism, you will probably understand and nod your head in agreement with much of what you’ll read below.

Specifically, in Jackson’s case, he is high functioning, he has low verbal skills and is most challenged by reading and reading comprehension. He has no mental retardation.

Like many people, I had no clear knowledge of ASD before Jackson was diagnosed with it. Most of what I knew at that point had been reasonably demonstrated by Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man.

In tribute to my big boy, here are 11 ways that loving someone with autism can make you a better human being.

    1. You Learn Tolerance. It’s easy to attempt to put things into nice pretty boxes in life. This is black, this is white, this is straight, this is crooked. With autism, it’s never really that easy. Things go left when you think they should go right. Things falls apart when they seem so well put together. Once upon a time, I would have been one of those people who would carelessly use the term “retarded” to describe something that was “silly”, “dumb” or “unorthodox.” How wrong I was. When you love someone with autism you learn how sensitive and inflammatory of a word “retarded” can be. It makes it seem that something is “less than” which is far from the truth. The term within the autism community is more accurately put “Different Not Less.” Different is accurate but if Jackson has taught me nothing else, it’s that in no way, shape or form is he less of anything. He is more than I’ll ever be. And while I was fortunate to be raised by parents who taught me to be tolerant of all religions, all sexual preferences and all cultures and creeds, Jackson taught me how to be tolerant of all people in general. We all have our respective battles, neurotypical or not, and those battles deserve their place and their recognition.
    2. You Learn Patience. My mother will be the first to tell you that I do not have patience in spades. Maybe that was credit to being an only child and basically getting what I wanted when I wanted it. I remember vividly my mother saying “Patience is a virtue.” It would take me decades of life to understand this. While I do believe I exhibit far more patience at this stage of life, I credit the last 11 years with Jackson heavily for helping me with that. Jackson is almost oblivious to time. So, what might be a rush and a push to get things done on my time schedule, Jackson could care less. As I’ve been known to say: It’s Jackson’s world, we’re just passing through. There are certain things that Jax does efficiently but he mostly is a very laid back and chill personality. It’s forced me to ease up a lot and let him do things at his pace. When you love someone with autism, you learn to breathe differently, take a step back and let things happen of their own accord and not always forcing them. Patience is also something that would come in handy with the next attribute.
    3. You Gain A Different Meaning Of Progress. One of our first clues that Jackson had challenges which needed diagnosis was when we realized he wasn’t speaking as early as other children. Once the diagnosis came into play, it all made sense. At 11 years of age, most of Jackson’s speech comes from “scripting.” In other words, if he hears a line from a song or from a movie, he’ll repeat it. Sometimes, he’ll repeat it over and over again (this is often referred to as “looping.”) While I cannot speak for his mother in this regard, I will tell you that in all of his life, I have only ever heard Jackson speak a full sentence that was not directly from a movie, video or song one time. That sentence went like this: “Dad?” “Yes, Jax?” “Can I have a drink of water?” My heart jumped. I almost started crying. “Buddy, of course you can. You can have anything you like if you speak like that.” It may sound silly to some people. Jackson might have been 9 or 10 when that happened. I’m sure most people wish their three year old wouldn’t talk as much as they do. Not me. The thought of holding a conversation with Jackson gets me all emotional. It just doesn’t happen. Most of his responses are monosyllabic in nature. You ask a close-ended question, you get a short one or two word response. That’s how it works. When you love someone with autism, you learn that progress means  different things to different people. This has been a tremendously valuable lesson to learn as I have owned RevFit. You celebrate the little things. You give them proper importance. They all count.
    4. You Gain A Different Meaning Of Happiness. I am blessed in this regard. I have not one, but two sons, who I can say exude happiness. As Jackson was my first born, he taught me that happiness can often come just from being lost in yourself. Sometimes, Jackson will just start giggling for no reason. He may not be watching anything on TV or the computer. He may not be playing on his iPad. He just starts giggling. It makes me wonder “What’s going through that mind of his?” And of course, I have to ask “What’s so funny, Jax?” I never get a response to that. He usually just giggles some more. I’m okay with that. When you love someone with autism, you learn that entertainment and happiness don’t have to come from an obvious place. It can simply exist. I’ll reference this in a point later in this post but if autism has done nothing else, it has almost insulated Jackson from the opinions and feedback of others. So, if he’s going to be happy, nothing will stand in his way. I’d say that sounds like a really magical place to be.
    5. You’re Reminded Of The Power Of Song. Jackson takes after his Dad. I was never much of an athlete but I have always been deeply connected to music. Jackson has almost no athletic prowess but music is something he has always been drawn to. Despite his mother’s appropriate attempts to get him involved in different sports, he just never really had the interest. But Jackson has always loved singing. So, the big shift happened when, at the encouragement of many of us in the family, Megan got Jackson enrolled in piano and voice lessons. It was a game changer. When you love someone with autism, you learn that there tends to be an area where your loved one really thrives. For Jackson, music has been one of those pivotal areas. I don’t want to say much more about that but I will encourage you to read this post I made last year that highlights it better than anything. Grab your tissue and turn up the volume.
    6. You’re Reminded Of The Joy Of Dance. We started taking Jackson to the movies pretty regularly around the age of 5. Even back then, he had this interesting little thing he would do. He would watch the entire movie and then when the movie would end and the end credits would roll, he would burst out of his seat and start dancing. Here we are all these years later and it’s not changed a bit (well, his dance moves have.) When we take him to any of the handful of animated movies that come out in a given year, he’ll bolt out of his seat and start dancing all the way through the end credits. Sometimes, he’ll stay right in front of his seat and sometimes he’ll march all the way down to the front of the screen and dance to his little heart’s content. The dancing won’t stop until the credits end. At first, it was a little bit alarming. I didn’t want him to attract unwanted attention. As time went on, you saw his whole body light up when he would do it. Jackson could care less if you’re watching him. He’ll dance until he’s good and ready to stop. When you love someone with autism, you find that certain things give them endless amounts of joy. For Jax, his choreography during the movie’s end credits certainly qualify. Even when we ultimately buy the DVD of the same movie, the same thing applies in the living room. Jackson will dance away in front of the TV until the movie resets itself to the menu screen.
    7. You Learn To Communicate Better. When you have a child who speaks as little as Jackson does, communication takes on a whole new meaning. You have to learn to read between the lines. When he’s sad or angry, we don’t always know the true reason. He obviously can’t find the words to express it. This is where the monosyllabic responses or otherwise short responses become a challenge. Sometimes, we just have to get him calmed down and assume it’s all nothing serious. When you love someone with autism, you learn that communication can come from many different places. Sometimes, all you have to work with is facial expressions. Where speech fails the relationship, we have to step outside of conventional dialogue and probe deeper to get a problem solved.
    8. You Learn The Importance Of Independence. Jackson has always been uniquely self-sufficient. He learned early on how to get what he wanted using as few words as possible since they likely weren’t going to form anyway. As a result, much of his strength as an individual comes from what he is able to do without the help of others. While this can be somewhat frustrating when you take into consideration the things a parent might teach you that you can work on together, it has actually helped him form more of his own identity. When you love someone with autism, you learn that not everything that constitutes progress happens as part of a parent-child team. Jackson tends to do most of his great work in play or in his respective growth with activities that require only his own input. The drawback of course is not appreciating the value of having the help of others. The advantage is learning the skills you need to advance all by yourself.
    9. You Savor Every Word. As I mentioned a few moments ago with regard to communication, Jackson can go spans of time in complete silence. He might be engaged in a task that has his full attention or he hasn’t found the need to communicate in an audible fashion. But for me, any word that comes out of his mouth is a welcome one. If you’re reading this, chances are you are neurotypical and not on the spectrum. It’s amazing how many words we waste that never really communicate what we want effectively to begin with. When you love someone with autism, whether you love someone with high verbal skills, low or none at all you’re keenly aware of this. But those of you included in that statement like myself, know that every word is a gift.
    10. You Understand The Importance Of Touch. If you ask Jackson to give someone a hug, he generally will. He’s a loving guy. But he won’t initiate that interaction. Many times, when he goes towards someone’s arms (even a family member), he’ll turn himself around so that his back is turned to them and he’s not embracing in return. So, it’s always especially sweet when he does initiate the point of contact. Sometimes, we’ll be at a restaurant and he’ll just lay his head into my arm or my lap, pull my arm around him and just want to cuddle. I’ll stroke his hair, rub his back or what not just to give him the affection he may need at that time. Much like a weighted blanket can be a comfort for many individuals on the spectrum, Jackson won’t always ask for the contact but you can tell it’s what he needs at that moment. When you love someone with autism, you learn their limits and their individual needs for affection and attention. Sometimes, it’s just the warmth of an embrace that they need at that time to make them feel safe.
    11. You Learn That The Outside World Means (Almost) Nothing. I reference this in the post I linked to earlier but Jackson, in his world, is nearly oblivious to outside influence. I don’t think that he notices or cares to notice what others are doing around him. If someone were making fun of him (which I shudder to think about), I’m not even sure it would register. He’s made almost a cocoon of indifference around himself. I think about what my own life would be like if I had not a care in the world about what others thought about me: How would I behave differently? What would my actions be? Could I accomplish more if I was immune to the opinions of others? Jackson tends to live within that mindset. He just acts. It’s his world, his rules, his playbook. There is rarely an act of deceit or malice. Nearly everything comes from a place of innocence and curiosity. If there were any attribute of his that I would wish never diminishes, it might be this one. If I could impress upon him that it is such a gift to not be discouraged by the criticism of others or to be held back by someone’s interpretation of what he can and can’t do, I might be inclined to do so. Granted, sometimes we need the feedback of others to help us on to the next great place in life. When you love someone with autism, you learn that their world matters. Their control over that world matters. Every routine, every schedule, every habit plays into their ability to function within that world. It doesn’t mean that there can’t be deviations (this is life and life is not predictable.) But it means that sometimes, the influence of the outside world is the least likely thing to help us be our greatest selves.

To my son, Jackson, everything I write about you, I write in the hopes that someday you might read it. That someday, you might understand it. Until that day comes, know that all of us in your family love you through and through. You are more than just a special boy. You are happiness to the nth degree. You are a wonderful big brother. Sebastian is so lucky to have you, as we all are. You have made me want to work harder every day to be the Dad you deserve to have. I don’t always get it right but you teach me more and more all the time that it’s worth the effort in trying. Some day, maybe I will have tipped the scales more in balance by giving you all that you have given me. Happy Birthday, my handsome boy. Dad loves you.


Revolutionary You! #167-BONUS-Julie Tussey, Jeani Patek and Jason Leenaarts: Jason Coaches Jeani on The Julie Tussey Show

In this week’s bonus episode, I partner up with my friend and online client, Julie Tussey to cross-promote on both of our podcasts. We are joined by Julie’s assistant, Jeani (pronounced Gina) and we air an online client consultation. Like Julie, Jeani is looking to succeed with her weight loss goals and she was kind enough to give me a great deal of information before we hit record on this episode. What you’ll hear is a snapshot of some of the work I try to do in helping clients reach their goals. To learn more about Julie, check out www.blogtalkradio.com/thejulietusseyshow To learn more about your host, visit www.jasonleenaarts.com and www.revfittherapy.com You can also like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/revolutionaryou Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.

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Revolutionary You! #166-Amanda Thebe: The “Mary Poppins” of Menopause

Amanda Thebe is a fellow trainer and the host of the excellent Fit & Chips podcast. She remains focused on the challenges and support of women going through peri-menopause and menopause, helping them survive this phase of life with their sanity and bodies intact. She has an amazing sense of humor and passion for what she does through and through. In this episode, we talk about many of those challenges and what Amanda has learned in her work so far to help more women succeed with their health and diet. To learn more about her work, check out http://www.fitnchips.com To learn more about your host, check out http://www.jasonleenaarts.com and http://www.revfittherapy.com You can also like our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/revolutionaryou Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.

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If I Don’t Do This, Then I’m Not Going To Get Anywhere In Life

Anthony has been turning heads at RevFit since he began. Initially, very quiet and soft-spoken, when I say that he has seen a significant transformation in a very short time I don’t say it lightly.

He started training with me in July of 2018 and to credit his weight loss and the increases in strength that he has seen, it has all been incredibly inspirational.

Many trainers will come back to the question of “What’s your Why?” And it’s not that you can’t see good things happen with your body just from putting the work in but when you have that deep, burning Why and you have it solved, your obstacles in life tend to be less dramatic and less of a distraction. For Anthony, once he knew what he wanted, there wasn’t going to be anything that stood in his way.

It’s probably better that you hear it directly from him.

JASON: Anthony, I remember well first calling your house to find out if we would be a good fit to work together. Your mom had heard about me through some mutual friends who happen to train here as well and she gave me a call to see if I would be able to help you reach your goals. The goal, initially, was to get you in physical shape to get started in the police academy. Can you provide some context for how your interest in that field began?

ANTHONY: When I was a little kid, like 5-7  years of age, my grandmother and I would watch the TV show, “Cops” together. When the theme song “Bad Boys” would play , I recall I would jump on the coffee table and dance to it. So even at a young age I admired police officers. Then, when I went to high school there was a program called the “Police Explorers” that taught me a lot about the career field. Being a part of that group for three years taught me that being a police officer is not all about driving fast and putting bad people in jail. It’s about helping the community and making a difference. So, that’s what I want to do. I want to help people. I want to make a difference.

JASON: You have lost a substantial amount of weight within a fairly short time frame. I wouldn’t be lying if I said you have a lot of clients watching you for inspiration and cheering you on. Can you tell me about what your diet was like before you started training with me and what it looks like now in comparison?

ANTHONY: My diet (before we met) was what ever I wanted. I ate everything. It didn’t help that my grandmother cooked “Southern style” big, hearty meals everyday. Now, I just eat significantly less food. I’ve started buying food from a health restaurant where they have meal plans. They provide 5 meals a week and I eat around that. Every meal is 300-500 calories.

JASON: Within the health and wellness community, myself and many of my fellow trainers feel that one of the biggest determining factors to a person’s success is finding their “Why.” In other words, what is that deeply rooted motivation that keeps you pushing forward when there are so many things in life that can pull you in an opposing direction. I can tell you, firsthand, many people struggle with this. How have you been able to maintain that focus in the time you’ve been with me and not lose sight of your goals?

ANTHONY: One thing I feel that has kept me focused on my goal is the insane amount of support from family, friends and all the people that keep commenting on your posts about me. I may not “Like” or comment back on them but I do read every single one and it makes me feel great. It makes me want to see just how much more I can do. 

JASON: There have been some very welcome, and not totally unexpected, consequences of your weight loss. It wasn’t long before your whole mood and morale shifted. You began to wear your clothes differently, your hair was cut and styled differently, and you began to open up more from a conversational standpoint. Can you describe that shift?

ANTHONY: When I started losing weight, I started feeling better about myself and wanted to make myself look even better so I started taking better care of myself. When I started taking better care of myself, it built a lot more confidence in me and allowed me to finally ask out my current girlfriend so I guess everything in my life has shifted for the better since we started working together.

JASON: I remember training you one day and you had what I would call a pivotal admission. You were about to start an exercise and you said to me: “I know where I am in life right now and I know where I want to be and the only thing standing in my way is this.” At which point you grabbed your midsection to emphasize the weight you were looking to lose. I believe it takes a very bold person to admit these things and work towards them. Can you tell me more about how your mindset affects you and gives you an advantage in getting where you want to be?

ANTHONY: I guess my mindset is just a realistic one. I know that I need to do these things in order to do what I want to do in life. And if I don’t do this, then I’m not going to get anywhere in life. 

JASON: There was another scenario that I replay in my head with you. You were looking up at our progress board and you saw the numbers that people have achieved with their weight loss. Our two bests to date have been Don and Chris who have each seen personal bests of 86 lbs down. I remember you asked “Those two people lost 86 lbs?” And I replied “Yeah, they sure did.” Your response to that was “Well, you better make room for 100 lbs down because that’s what I’m going for.” I absolutely love that attitude. Would you share some insight for the readers about why you want to shoot for that goal?

ANTHONY: At that point, I did not know what I wanted exactly. I still don’t honestly. I just know that I want to be able to compete with others in the police academy and pass. I’ll figure out what I ultimately want to weigh when I can feel good and confident with my body weight. 

JASON: Anthony, I cannot overstate the change that has occurred in you to date. You have been a remarkable client and it has been an immense honor to work with you so far. I cannot wait to see where the journey continues because I, for one, am going to be one of your biggest fans to see you graduate from the police academy. I wanted to sincerely thank you for all of your hard work as I know our story together has more chapters to write.

(As of the writing of this post, Anthony has lost 51 lbs since July.)

“We Make Great People Greater”



Revolutionary You! #165-BONUS-Mike Doehla: The Good Guys Can Win

If you’re in the fitness industry, you’d be hard pressed to not notice the rise of Mike Doehla and Stronger U. For anyone outside of that circle, I hope this serves as a great introduction to what Mike and his team are up to. Having met him in 2018 at The Fitness Summit as well as many of his colleagues, it was a huge honor to have him come on the show so I could have him share some of the knowledge that has helped Stronger U become what it is today. To learn more about his organization, check out www.strongeru.com and to follow Mike directly, check out his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mike.doehla To learn more about your host, visit www.jasonleenaarts.com and www.revfittherapy.com You can also like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/revolutionaryou Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.

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Revolutionary You! #164-Nikki Naab-Levy and Meghan Ramos: “Push It Real Good”

Hot off the heels of her first episode with me (#147), Nikki Naab-Levy returns with her partner in crime Meghan Ramos to introduce their new program together “Push It Real Good.” This program takes both the strength aspect and mobility aspect of doing a proper push-up and deconstructs the movement so you can perform push-ups in a pain free manner and make them one of your fundamental movements. Having seen an advance copy, I can tell you this is a great resource to have. You can pre-order the program now with a special code “realgood” that will be valid until January 24. Act now so you can get access to it. You can purchase the program and learn more about Nikki at http://www.naablevy.com and to learn more about Meghan’s work and connect with her on social media, check out http://www.ironandspice.com To learn more about your host, check out http://www.jasonleenaarts.com and http://www.revfittherapy.com You can also like our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/revolutionaryou Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.

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I Am Worth It

As I did with last week’s post about Hugh, I wanted to continue kicking off the year with another client highlight article. Tatsyana has seen a huge transformation in her physique in her time with me. It has rarely been an easy road but she has shown that when she’s focused, there’s little that stands in her way.

JASON: Can you paint a picture of what was happening in your life at the time we met? For those who don’t know, you had won some sessions to train with me at a special needs raffle. You had been sitting on the certificate for a while before we met in person through some mutual friends.

TATSYANA: A year before we met, I had won your sessions. I was at least 85 lbs overweight and felt ashamed of myself. I never thought a gym setting would be a good fit for me because I would be too embarrassed within that atmosphere.

JASON: Before you started training here and after you had committed to getting started, you got serious about your weight loss and had already dropped significant weight before training began. What changes did you make that weren’t already in place?

TATSYANA: When I met you, the personalities clicked. You have a son with autism and I was able to see you interact with him, which was fantastic. I had been fostering children with developmental disabilities for 24 years at that point. I remember we were trying to set up our initial consultation and session time and you mentioned the book you wrote. I bought it and decided to jump in 100%. I got aggressive with my diet so I wouldn’t look “as bad” once I walked into your gym. That worked for about the first 25 lbs before I hit a plateau.

JASON: Many people don’t know this (because you don’t let on about it) that you had some pre-existing injuries that affected your ability to train to full capacity. Can you talk about those injuries and how they affect your daily life?

TATSYANA: I have five brothers and five sons so that has caused me to be pretty tough! Besides, do people really want to hear you are in pain? I’ve learned to live with my chronic pain. I have degenerative discs in my spine and my neck and back are a mess. You have helped me immensely in building those muscles around those problem areas. In doing so, the surgeon hasn’t had to cut me open again. Thank God!

JASON: You dropped a lot of weight in a fairly short amount of time once you got on a consistent routine with us. What kept you so focused?

TATSYANA: You have helped me stay focused. I am a “pleaser”, so it’s important to me to put the time into myself when I see what you put into all of us clients! In your gym, people are incredibly happy and supportive. I need people like that to motivate me and help me feel worthy. I get this between the four walls at RevFit.

JASON: One thing I’ve always admired about you is your ability to take on a great deal of responsibility in caring for others. It’s easy to see how the attention you give to others forces you to put your own health on the backburner. What have you learned about yourself throughout this process?

TATSYANA: I believe we are on this earth to serve each other. I’m learning from you and others in the gym that it’s okay to serve myself from time to time. Ask me that same question five years from now and the answer may be different. I still see a lot of dysfunction in myself!

JASON: You’re back on a consistent routine and focused again on your weight loss and getting to your ultimate goal weight. More often than not, life gets in the way of our well-designed plans and keeps us from getting where we want to be within a reasonable time frame. For a while you were basically holding steady and floating within the same handful of pounds. What shifted your mindset to get things rolling in the right direction again?

TATSYANA: At one point recently I was up 20 lbs from my previous low. It’s important to realize I am not a failure and that I need to be patient and forgiving of myself. You certainly are. I feel with my own self worth comes a level of accountability. If I can get all of that working in harmony, I would be happier and leaner.

JASON: Tatsyana, I wanted to thank you for not only the time and effort you’ve put into yourself but for how supportive you have remained of not only me but the other clients here as well. Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration.

TATSYANA: It’s a mutual feeling! Thank you for building me up and having the understanding and patience to work with me. Being at RevFit is worth a million bucks and I am learning that I am worth the time and money I invest in being there.

(As of this picture, Tatsyana is down 56lbs.)

“We Make Great People Greater”




Revolutionary You! #163-BONUS-Christian Finn: Introducing MX4

Christian Finn makes his third appearance after two stellar episodes prior to this (#58 and #103) and we chat about his brand new training program MX4. Christian aimed to design a program that not only helps you build muscle but does so in a joint-friendly way without the presence of the “Big Lifts” in the mix. To learn more about Christian’s work and to purchase a copy of MX4 for yourself, visit http://www.muscleevo.net To learn more about your host, check out http://www.jasonleenaarts.com and http://www.revfittherapy.com You can also like our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/revolutionaryou Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.

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Revolutionary You! #162-James Fell: The Holy Sh!t Moment

I’m kicking off 2019 in big fashion with James Fell. He has bylines in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, TIME magazine and many other publications. His blog, BodyForWife.com, has millions of readers and he is the author of two books: The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen In An Instant (St. Martin’s Press, 2019) and Lose It Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Random House Canada, 2014.) You can pre-order The Holy Sh!t Moment by following this link www.bodyforwife.com/books To learn more about your host, check out www.jasonleenaarts.com and www.revfittherapy.com You can also like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/revolutionaryou Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.

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There Is No Plan B

In the spring of last year, I wrote an article about my client, Hugh (a.k.a Mr. Grit.) For more background than what you’ll read below, I would encourage you to read that article as well.

As we say goodbye to 2018, I wanted to highlight Hugh once again. If you’ve been following me on social media, you may have been seeing the steady progress he’s been making with his traplift. Rather than tell a similar story as before (albeit evolved), I went straight to the source this time and asked Hugh more pointed questions to get a better understanding of how he has accomplished what he’s done so far.

JASON: Hugh, even though I’ve written an article previously about you, a lot has happened with your training since then. For frame of reference, can you state your age and what was going on with your health prior to you starting here?

HUGH: I’m 76 years old.  I’ll be 77 come June of 2019.   Over the last few years, I had two strokes.  The last stroke was in 2016.  After 2-3 weeks of therapy, I returned to work and working out at home. During my workout, I felt a slight pain towards my left shoulder, so I had it checked at the Cleveland Clinic.  The finding was: I needed a quadruple bypass and aortic valve replacement (a.k.a The Widow Maker.) The surgery was done at the end of March and I was home by early April 2017. After a couple of follow-up visits, I was cleared to do some exercise.  That is when my daughter, Kellie, challenged me to come see you…her treat.

JASON:  After your surgery, I’m certain the rehabilitation process must have been
trying. I can imagine many people in your shoes would have been less inclined to push their needle forward. For someone as driven as you are, 
what kept you motivated to regain your strength and mobility?

HUGH: I can’t imagine myself not being able to do the things I want to do. I feel there is more that I have and want to do and I will need strength: physical, mental and spiritual to accomplish these goals. To me, there is no Plan B!  You do what you think is best for the condition.  Just like exercise, if I can’t perform a specific exercise, you will suggest another exercise that works the same set of muscles. That is not a Plan B, just a different path to the original goal.

JASON: Something I mentioned in the previous article was how your body, and
specifically your right side, had been the major limiting factor in your ability to make more linear progress where appropriate. I tend to be more forgiving of those things because I know sometimes the body has a mind of it’s own. You were far less forgiving about it and seemed bound and determined to fight through that. How do you think you have benefited from 
that approach?

HUGH: In establishing a goal, one must take a brutally candid look at themselves and identify what is possible and what things will be an impediment to your success. I knew my right side would be an impediment, so I make that impediment a part of my goals.  For instance, when my right arm starts shaking during a bench press, I tell it to “Stop” and  “Get up there” with my left arm. Or, I’ll do another couple of reps correctly.  That is why I am so focused on technique.  Technique forces me to focus on everything being proper.  The little voice in my head keeps reminding me of my goals.  Everyone has that little voice, you just have to listen to it.  My right side is coming along nicely but to me it’s not completely there yet.  I’ll keep working!

JASON:  As we have seen your traplift increase over time, I remember when your
first goal was just pulling 300 lbs from the floor. Once you had that weight completed, the linear progress was really spectacular. At any point, did you feel like you were hitting your physical limit? If so, what was your 
thought process to overcome that?

HUGH: I think you and I had a conversation about failure being a goal as it relates to lifting a certain weight.  You mentioned the aggregate weight was just as important as lifting a personal record.  I thought about how what you said made sense and it is true. But I felt that I didn’t know what was doable until that weight conquered me and I was on the floor. So, I told my little voice to stop looking for reasons to fail and pick up the weight!

JASON: We were recently having a progress check-in and were talking about your
sticking points. For those who don’t train here, they may not know that sometimes we will attempt a personal record two weeks in a row to see if it’s in the tank. If there are two missed attempts, I will normally transition a client to lower weight and more reps to get the patterns and confidence back in place. In your case, you were game to keep pushing. Around the 365-370 mark, you were in a place where it seemed the weight
wasn’t going to move. Lo and behold, you got the next personal record. I remember this conversation vividly, as it was just a handful of weeks ago. You said “I want to hit 400 lbs by the end of the year. Do you think that’s possible?” I always like to be conservative with my projections and, knowing where you got stuck, I didn’t see it being a possibility. I recall telling you that I didn’t think it was a realistic goal but perhaps by January you would hit it. This is definitely one case of me happily admitting I was very wrong and you proved that to me! Tell me about your 
mindset as the number kept scaling closer and closer to that 400 lbs.

HUGH:  I was thinking about hitting 400 lbs from the moment I knew 390 lbs was doable.  After all, getting to 300 lbs was my initial goal. Then, getting past 365-370 was a big deal for me because it said to me “You can do it”.  The whole weight thing above 300 lbs was just incremental so it was a freebie for me. My mindset going to 400 lbs was pretty simple.  I convinced myself that it was only 5 lbs more than the 395 I had lifted the week before. My nephew, Raymond, got word of my working out from my daughter Shannon and said he would donate $10 per pound to St. Jude’s Hospital if I made the lift. Now, St. Jude’s has $4000 more to spend on the children.

JASON:  Right before you hit that big number, I remember another conversation with
you leading up to it. I asked you “Hugh, what’s the plan? After you hit 400, are you going for 405. 410?” Your response: “500.” You didn’t even hesitate! I have to tell you, it’s the rare person who shoots for these ambitious goals and doesn’t flinch as they set their sights. In other words, I consider you an exception and not a rule. Have you always
approached life this way? How has this tactic served you over your life?

HUGH: I have always been fortunate in my life to have great people around me.  My wife, of 51 years, Betty, has always believed in me and supported me.  That is a P.R. beyond belief! Now, I draw strength from my six children. Seeing how they watch each other and care for each other makes me proud. My Mom and Dad were always there to encourage me to try things even when I fail. People in business gave me a chance to go higher in the company when it seemed I didn’t stand a chance to excel. That is something for which I’ll always be grateful. My philosophy is: There is no Plan B. Anything is possible, expect it.

JASON: This article will be released as we are on the cusp of a new year. This is
the time when people reset their goals and attempt new ones. You obviously have no fear of aiming high and reaching high. What advice would you give to others who want to see similar success paths that you have seen since you’ve been here?

HUGH: I would advise the client to have a clear goal of what he/she wishes to accomplish here. Then, share that goal with you so he/she can get a realistic assessment of the time it will take to accomplish that goal and would the client be willing to put in the work to achieve the goal. It helps that you, as the trainer, have made the commitment to measuring their progress, monitoring their effort and mixing up exercises to make it new and fun as well as having those periodic check-ins to discuss their progress. I would advise the client to stay involved in the process of achieving his/her goal and not just falling into the “routine” of  simply exercising. This is a journey to a healthier lifestyle, not just a period of times, once or twice a week.

JASON:  Hugh, I want to thank you again for your candor and honesty. You have
remained an inspiration to many and it has been a sincere honor working 
with you and learning from you.

HUGH: Thank you for your help. The same goes to your staff, Mike and Luke, as well.

“We Make Great People Greater”