For the August 2009 Transformation Spotlight of the Month I've selected forum member Sole (Tim). This is an incredibly inspirational story about a man who allowed his life to disintegrate in just about every imaginable way, and then found the strength and courage to fight back from the edge of the abyss. It's a story about taking responsibility for your mistakes and then doing something about it. With hard work, perseverance and dedication Tim was able to completely turn his life around. If you are feeling down and like there is no hope left, then I want you to read this interview and get fired up. You can change. PROGRESS PHOTOGRAPHS (sorry, no "before" shots were taken): Winter 2006 (soft after a bulk) Summer 2007 (too skinny after a cut) May 2009 May 2009 July 2009 July 2009 more pictures after the interview... Why did you decide to make a transformation? Allow me to paint a picture of my life circa 2003: A recent college graduate, I somehow managed to land an entry-level position at the top local firm in my field. Looking back this was quite the remarkable event, since I was neither professionally nor mentally ready for such responsibility. I drank heavily almost daily (many times while at the office), smoked cigarettes, and abused a variety of substances on the weekends. Even worse, despite recognizing how unsustainable my lifestyle was, I had little motivation to change. I was making money and having fun, and when you’re 23 years old, you can use that justification to convince yourself that you’re happy. I was not. Beginning in high school my life had become a cycle of partying and depression. I had become a pro at covering up my mental health issues and substance-dependent lifestyle, and did everything possible to portray myself as a “normal” member of society. It was a facade that I maintained for years. I met the love of my life – my future wife – during my senior year of college. Jane (not her real name) and I shared a class, and by the end of that year we were spending much time together. Yet despite growing, for the first time ever, very strong feelings for another person, my substance abuse and alcoholism only intensified. I lied. I swindled. I caused many other people pain and got caught up in situations that should have ended my life or sent me to prison. My depression also began to overwhelm me – I realized that one day my drinking and substance abuse would likely kill me – and I didn’t care. I first stumbled across JSF during the great “Fark.com pilgrimage” that took place in January of 2004. Sitting there, 22 years old and pushing 215 pounds of pure lard, I was amazed to learn that John had been in my shoes only a year earlier. His “before” physique looked nearly identical to my physique at the time: he had been overweight, with more than 20 percent body fat; he had smoked; and he simply looked unhealthy…just. like. me. It was a wake-up call. I thought to myself, “If I can look half as good as this guy in 12 months, then I will do everything in my power to get in shape.” John’s story was motivating as hell (still is), so I immediately got going. I joined JSF only three days after the official launch of the forums – on January 24, 2004 – which was technically the “start” of my transformation. However, since I was still abusing alcohol, other substances and not sticking to a nutrition plan, my true start date didn’t occur until three months later: July 5, 2004. After a particularly long day and night of partying – one that left me with no memory of a good 12-hour stretch – I woke up feeling worse than ever. As I sat in my bedroom that morning, suffering the kind of headache only massive alcohol and drug overconsumption can provide, I began to reflect on the life I was living. Looking over at Jane – the picture of perfection who was still asleep next to me – I realized that I was killing not only myself, but also the person who meant everything to me. Jane, for the first time, gave me a reason to live, and I was terrified about the prospect of hurting or losing her. That morning, instead of beginning my a.m. ritual of lighting a Marlboro, I woke up Jane and began confessing many secrets that I had locked away during the year we had been dating. Call it my “rock bottom,” or my “moment of clarity,” but whatever it was, it was clear that at that moment, I had to make a choice between life and death. I chose life and came clean. Jane left, and didn’t return my calls for six months. July 5, 2004 will forever be one of the most, if not the most, important days of my life. I did not pick up a cigarette after Jane left. I did not pick up a bottle. Rather, I fell to the ground and sobbed as I processed the enormity of my decision. I promised myself that never again would a cigarette or bottle touch my lips. That never again would an illicit substance enter my body. And from that point forward, I would lead an honest and transparent life – no matter what. On July 5, 2004, which I now consider my personal “independence day,” I quit my addictions cold turkey. And I’ve now been clean for more than five years. Despite my reclusive behavior over the next six months, I began to turn my life around. I saw a therapist weekly (maxing-out my credit card in the process), and dedicated myself wholeheartedly to fitness. Something about the regular pattern of proper nutrition, the grinding work of pushing the weights and the burning of my lungs from intense cardio helped heal me. I trained alone, rarely speaking to anyone at the gym, and spent much of my “between sets” time thinking about the person I wanted to be, and how I would redeem myself to Jane should I ever be fortunate enough to have the opportunity. By the winter of 2004 I had lost more than 40 pounds. I had visible muscles and, for the first time, a positive outlook on life. Looking back, I could not have made this metamorphosis without fitness being a part of my life. You probably are starting to get the sense that I’m the “all-or-nothing” type, and fitness was a perfect outlet for my aggression and energy as I focused on recovery. Today, fitness remains one of the key “pillars” of my life. I won’t bore you with the details of the next five years, ‘cause I’ve already rambled much too long. Since those early days I’ve turned my life around, and now wake up each day feeling truly blessed. Here are the cliffnotes of where I’m at now: · Professionally, I’ve been fortunate to experience success in my career and have advanced to where I can comfortably provide for my household and finance our future. · I’m also able to contribute to the local non-profit and business community. I sit on the Board of Directors of a large local nonprofit and contribute my time to other nonprofits and civic committees and task forces. · Fitness-wise, I’ve excelled in the gym and in the sports I pursue. I currently sit at about 185 pounds (though I don’t really jump on the scale much anymore) with body fat somewhere in the 6- to 8-percent range. My “PRs” include: 315 x 2 on barbell bench; 400+ on box squats; clean BB rows at 225; and deads at 400 (before I gave ‘em up). I’m nearing the sub-45 minute 10K mark and continue to progress with my skiing (got down with the inverts and 30 footers last season, for the fellow snow-riders out there), mountaineering, climbing and other sports. · Most importantly, Jane and I recently celebrated our one-year marriage anniversary, and I continue to be hopelessly in love with her. We bought our first home in October, and have great relationships with our friends and family. As I re-read what I’ve wrote, it is still difficult for me to think about the person I once was. I share my story not because I am looking for congratulatory words or recognition; rather, perhaps by contributing my story I’m somehow repaying the community that has given much to me. But enough sappy stuff…let’s talk training! What sort of planning did you do before you started? During my initial fat-loss phase, which took place from January to December 2004, I followed the standard JSF protocol of the time: the Harris Benedict BMR to calculate calories, including a 500-calorie deficit; six small meals spaced evenly throughout the day; a macro split of 40/40/20 (protein/carbs/fat); and a post-training insulin spike. Pretty basic, and it worked well. Nowadays, I still create a plan before embarking on a cut or bulk, although admittedly, after 5 years of training I’m a little looser with my training protocols. For example, if I’m really feeling a particular exercise in the gym, I might go “off plan” and throw down eight sets or more. Or if I feel like training calves with back or something, I just go for it. Nutrition stays on point, of course. I’m currently doing a slow bulk/maintenance program for a bit while I enjoy my summer sports. I will probably get more formal in the very near future and start another dedicated lean bulk. Program recommendations, anyone? What were your initial goals? My initial goal was to look good…and that’s still one of my goals. By December of 2004 I had lost more than 40 pounds and was down to what I thought was 10-percent body fat (probably more like 12 to 14 percent, though). It felt great, but in hindsight I was too skinny! Since then, I’ve focused on building muscle without turning into a human refrigerator. It’s fun pushing big squat numbers and all, but there’s nothing advantageous about being a 250-pound skier or rock climber. My gym goals often clash with my sports goals, and it’s a constant challenge trying to hit the right balance. What was your diet and supplement intake like? Funny. I don’t remember being so precise when I first began, but looking back at my files it seems I began logging my meals the very first week I joined JSF (late January 04, when I was still a drinker/smoker/total loser). Here are some highlights (lowlights?) from a spreadsheet labeled “Diet – Week One.” · Monday: One pack tuna; Honey Comb cereal (as in, that’s all I ate all day) · Tuesday AND Wednesday: Lots of beer and cigarettes · Thursday: Spaghetti and meat sauce (for all three meals apparently…at the time I probably considered this to be “healthy”) · Friday: My notes simply read “whisky day” · Saturday: “Beer and vodka” · Sunday: Listed, in order: cookies, coffee and cigarettes (must have been breakfast); pizza and beer (lunch); cake and “other shit food” Anyway, once my real transformation began three months later, my diet followed a fairly straightforward 40/40/20 split. I still eat many of the same foods today, but currently only eat carbs around my workouts and consume significantly more fruits and veggies. Here’s a typical week of groceries for Jane and me. Most of this we buy, but we do grow some of the produce in our backyard, which rules. · Produce: apples, bananas, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, grapefruit, spinach, swiss chard, kale, broccoli, green beans, artichokes, tomatoes, peppers · Meat: naturally raised chicken breasts, 93-percent lean ground beef (or turkey), salmon, top sirloin, flank steak; also try to throw in some “exotics” each week, such as lamb, sea bass, etc. · Dairy: only eggs for me · Other: yams, oats, natty PB, coffee…all about keeping it simple! For the past two years I’ve spent a great deal of time determining how carbs affect me. Carb control is key to my nutrition, so I cycle carbs while cutting (following Scivation’s Cut Diet protocol), and when doing a lean bulk I only eat carbs before and after training (currently 40 grams pre-workout and 80 post). All my carbs come from either yams or oats. And while I did the PWO insulin spike thing before, I’ve fully switched to low GI carbs pre- and post-workout, which works well for me. If I get after a serious bulk in the near future I will likely add carbs to my breakfast meal. On days off, including cardio-only days, I don’t consume any carbs other than veggies and fruits. On the flip side, when I’m looking at a big outdoor weekend – one where I’m planning to backpack or ski or something – I eat plenty of carbs, especially the night before. Initially my supplement intake was spotty, although I did manage to stay consistent with daily vitamins and fish oil. I don’t really consider whey protein to be a supplement at this point – more of a nutritional necessity. Here’s what I currently take: · Multi-vitamin · Fish oil (Primaforce Essential FA) · Glucosamine & chondroitin (Primaforce Elastamin) · Scivation Xtend (BCAAs and other goodies) · Scivation Vasocharge (pre-workout) · Scivation Whey · Creatine What was your training like? My original training consisted of a typical body part split with morning LISS or HIIT cardio. Funny thing is, my current training isn’t much different! Here are a few of the many, many programs that I’ve tried over the years: · Westside for Skinny Bastards · SGX (RIP, Chris) · Power/hypertrophy splits · Waterbury’s Total Body Training, Big Boy Basics and Quattro Dynamo (seemed to be on a Waterbury kick for a while!) · Harbinger Hypertrophy · Scivation’s Tri-Phase Training · And more What obstacles did you encounter, and how did you overcome them? All of ‘em! I’m kidding, of course, but similar to anyone who has pursued fitness for years, I’ve had my fair share of obstacles and set-backs and continually face challenges. Challenges are part of the game! As I type this, my right elbow is tender from ongoing inflammation issues and my knees ache from overuse (hiking, running and leg training all in the past few days). And I’m just now recovering from a lower back strain that kept me away from compound lifts for several weeks. I don’t let the injuries get me down, though. I simply give my body time to recuperate and try to identify the specific problem, so I can strengthen whatever is weak. Sticking to a nutrition plan has never been an issue for me. As I said I’m an all-or-nothing type person, so when I start a nutrition program I follow it. Plus, given everything I now have going on and the intense demand for my time, it’s actually easier to follow a set plan. Much more efficient than hodge-podging meals throughout the day. I cook and package all my food in advance, so that I can easily grab my meals each morning before running out the door. (I do carry a large man bag all day to accommodate my meals…I just can’t do the duffle or mini-cooler thing!) As I previously mentioned, my biggest ongoing challenge is conflicting goals – there’s just too much I want to do! For example, I’ve done a bit of cycling this summer and can already feel myself getting addicted…but I don’t want to look like Lance Armstrong anytime soon. And since I’m heavily into outdoor sports year-round, I do not have an “off-season” when I can bulk up to double-digit body fat. How did JSF and the JSF Forums help you? JSF and its members have been instrumental in my progress. After all, JSF was the impetus of my transformation. And although I don’t have much time to interact anymore, I still read every Daily Update, browse the forums and reply when people post in my journal. Most importantly I would like to thank John. Your story inspired me to change not only my physique but also helped me improve my outlook on life, and for that I am forever grateful. What advice would you offer to others? My biggest, and only, piece of advice: quit making excuses. I have little patience for excuses – whether in the gym, at work, or from friends. Your life – the decisions you make – are up to you. Take responsibility. Look for solutions. Have some guts, dammit. You’re stronger than your excuses. What are your future plans? I’ve dedicated myself to a lifetime of fitness, and here are some of my goals: · I want to add another 5 to 10 pounds of lean mass to my frame while still maintaining single-digit body fat. My ideal physique would be roughly 195 lbs at six-percent body fat. (I’m nearly 6’ 2”, so this wouldn’t quite be shaved-gorilla status.) Muscular and full, yet balanced and classic is the physique I’m going for. · Lifting-wise, I want to break the PRs I set during my last strength cycle, and continue breaking PRs for many years. I’m not obsessed with poundages, though, because looking like Dave Tate ain’t where I want to be. · I want to continue to improve my general overall fitness through cardio training, core and balance work and cross-training, and hope to maintain that fitness for life. Little side-story here: At my previous gym, there was an older guy who trained nearly every day. He was quiet, stuck to himself, and I always thought that he was in great shape for someone in his 60’s. After a year or so of observing “Paul,” I struck up a casual conversation and asked him about his training, which included weights. You can imagine my disbelief when Paul mentioned that he was 83 years old! Basically, I want to be like Paul. · And I have a ton of sport-specific goals. I won’t bore you with the details. Okay… maybe just a few: I want to run a sub-40 10K; I want to cleanly land a (true) 30+ foot drop while skiing and improve my ski mountaineering tick list; I want to climb Denali; I want to… Any closing thoughts? Anyone still reading? Ha! Just that I’m grateful to be featured as the August TSM. I was blown away to be asked, ‘cause I still have a long way to go. And I want to reiterate my appreciation for John and everything he has done with JSF. Every member of this site owes you many thanks, John. Oh, and stop by my journal sometime! Thanks for sharing your incredible story with us, Tim. Congratulations!