Category Archives: Family

The ‘Dad Bod’ Myth

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist” – Keyser Soze – The Usual Suspects

So lately there has been a lot of chatter around the ‘Dad Bod’ and how it is actually more attractive than a lean physique.  This all started from a Blog post (the pesky bloggers ;-} ) by a student at Clemson University, Mackenzie Pearson, who was commenting on the interests of her roommate when it came to the male physique.  To give credit where credit is due, you can read her post here.  Since this was posted back in March of 2015, I have seen it covered by MSN, The Today Show, Health, GQ, ABC, CBS and CNN.   Ms. Pearson should give a clinic on how to pick a topic to go viral.

But Seriously??  This is a thing?!?!?

Pearson defines the Dad Bod as a ‘nice balance between a beer gut and working out’ – I call it a medical tragedy waiting to happen.

AAAARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Where do I even begin?   It is especially troubling to me that the men she is describing in the blog are not even dads.  They are young men who should be in their prime.  I can confidently say that the majority of the people that I see on my Facebook feed look considerable different now than they did in high school/college.  I know I do.  They call it your physical prime for a reason.

Dear Frat Boy – Your ‘Dad Bod’ is trying to kill you!!  Literally.

Now I am not at a single % body fat, I enjoy my wine and beer but I also know that I cannot allow myself to have any excuse to carry extra weight around, especially around my mid-section.  You see, that fat that is around your middle is known as Visceral Fat – and it is the most dangerous to carry around with you.  It actually directly increases your chance at developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and even sleep apnea.  How?  According to WebMD, here’s how:

  • Abdominal fat breaks down easily into fatty acids that are processed by the Liver and your muscles. Neither of which likes the material it is breaking down.
  • When the liver breaks down the fatty acids, your LDL levels (the bad Cholesterol) spikes.
  • When your LDL levels spike, insulin becomes less effective – causing blood sugar levels to spike (read: increased chance of developing diabetes)
  • Hormones released during the processing of the fatty acids also create constriction of the vasculature system – leading to heart disease and potentially stroke.
  • Even the sheer weight and volume of the fat can push against your diaphragm and result in difficulty breathing and if severe enough, sleep apnea.

Now ladies, I have a specific message for all of you.  Do not let us get away with this excuse for not taking care of ourselves.  This is not about getting to the point where we will be staring in the next installment of Magic Mike but we should want to be around for as long as possible.  Besides, who said all dads were soft and pudgy?  Last I checked, Hugh Jackman, Jean Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Bradley Cooper, Daniel Craig, Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Gossling and even Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson are all dads.  If we are talking about their examples of ‘Dad Bod’ – then I am all in.

I think my sister in law put it best “This is just an excuse for Frat Boys to party on the weekends”

Happy Father’s Day and I will see you on the road!!

Snow Leopard Pants – a must have for the fashion forward Road Warrior

By  now I am sure you are wondering “Has Andrew lost his mind?”

No, I am not switching my focus from fitness on the road to fashion (Dear God how bad would I be at that!?!?) but I do have to tell you about the saga that has become ‘The Snow Leopard Pants’.

A few weeks ago while in Reagan International Airport, I saw pretty much the most hideous pants I have ever seen.  They were so bad that I was among SEVERAL travelers who felt it necessary to take a picture of said pants.  All I could comment about them was:

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Little did I know how true that statement was.  You see, as soon as I posted them to my Instagram (road_warrior_fit) my wife went on a crusade to find a pair.  She canvassed social media looking anyone who knew where you could acquire these pants.  It took one of her friends a whopping 5 minutes to find them, and in my size too.  Evidently there is an app for that.  So I am now the proud owner of my very own snow leopard pants!!

Well since this all played out on social media, what followed the acquisition of these pants was a public outcry for the debut of the pants.  People did not want to just see them, they wanted to see them on me and in public.  Well there was only one way I was going to let that happen

DATE NIGHT!!!!!

If I was going to be seen in public with these pants on, it was going to be right by her side.  So a date was set for the debut of the Snow Leopard Pants, sushi and Pitch Perfect 2 was on the agenda.

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Now as I mentioned, it takes a special kind of confidence to wear pants like these.  The kind of confidence that only comes by becoming part of the joke.  So I went into costume planning mode.  Please notice the choice of the word costume.  This was not an outfit, this was a costume.  So I grabbed my Star Wars shoes (yes, I actually do own a pair), the Jersey Shore sunglasses and the one size too small Chewbacca t-shirt from my son.  If was going out in those pants, it was going to be epic.

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I thought I would be the laughing stock of my town but it turned out that if you laugh first, others tend to laugh with you instead of at you.

And my wife and I had a blast…….. because of the pants.

We were actively scanning for those who were noticing us (Ok, me.  Ok, my pants) AND THERE WERE PLENTY!!

The #SnowLeopardPants hash tag was born.

People were actively looking to join us out and about to see the pants in person.

I was getting stopped by folks to talk about the pants.  The local high schoolers actually liked them, took pictures with them and tweeted them out.  The legend of the #SnowLeopardPants was born.

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The best part was my wife and I did not stop laughing the entire night.  It was the most fun we have had in a very long time……and we have fun together.  For that reason alone, I highly recommend snow leopard pants for all Road Warriors.  I keep myself in shape for nights like this.  I wasn’t conscious of any body issue (and I have a few) or anything else except the ridiculous outfit and the attention it was getting.  It was a therapeutic night for us both.

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It was a great reminder to slow down and notice what is around you.  I work hard when I am on the road so I can ease up a bit when I am home but if I hadn’t of slowed down and pulled my head out of my iPhone that evening at DCA, we would not have had such a wonderful evening and the legend of the #SnowLeopardPants would have never been born.

Since that night, as I run into people around town, the topic of the #SnowLeopardPants continues to come up.  People loved seeing the saga unfold on social media.  Evidently we were a trending topic among the 40-something parental set of North Texas.  The other bonus was that anyone who actually clicked on the link to see the pants from Neiman Marcus have continued to see them come up in their Google and Facebook ads because evidently Neiman Marcus pays a lot for Facebook ads.  If you would like to experience the gift that keeps on giving or to purchase your own Snow Leopard Pants, just click below and watch fun start.

So work hard but slow down and enjoy the world around you and maybe you will see me on the road.  I’ll be the one in the Snow Leopard Pants.

Travel like a 2 year old!!

All across America today, families are getting ready to hit the road for the Memorial Day weekend.  According to AAA, this unofficial start of summer will see more than 36 Million people on the roads.  For most this means drive through, gas station and convenience store food that is overloaded with salt, sugar and preservatives.  But it doesn’t have to be, you can travel different!!

You can travel like a 2 year old.

If you are a parent, I want you to think back to when you had a toddler.  If you are not a parent, I want you to think about any parent you have ever seen traveling with a toddler.  When you are traveling with a toddler, you bring everything but the kitchen sink to keep them occupied and happy.  You sling a bag over your shoulder that has a capacity the rivals anything Mary Poppins or Hermione Grainger were ever seen carrying.  Toys, extra socks, towels, books and………….A SNACK BAG!!

Why is it when we get older we stop carrying a snack bag?

Now I am not advocating that you pack a Tupperware full of Goldfish and Fruit Snacks but packing for your health is a smart idea for everyone, not just the little ones.  A snack bag is one of the key things that I bring with me on every trip, every trip.

So what do I pack?

  • “Granola” Bars – I personally prefer the Kind and Clif varieties but pack whatever works for you. Just be sure to watch the calorie and ingredient lists, some bars are nothing more than well marketed candy bars.
  • Nuts – You can get single serving packs of Almonds in all kinds of flavors or you can just pack your own small servings.
  • Jerky – Great way to get protein in the bag that won’t spoil
  • Peanut Butter – There are several brands of peanut and almond butter that is sold in individual servings. Great with a piece of fruit from those dreaded conveniences stores.
  • Shakeology – I take the individual packets so when I am pressed for time and looking for something more substantial than a snack that I am not a the mercy of the drive through or the airport concession.

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Now my list is focused on what will make it through TSA at the airport.  If you are heading out in the car, this list expands exponentially with the simple addition of an insulated lunch box or small cooler.

So get out there and enjoy the holiday weekend but remember to pack that snack bag!

See you on the road!!

Lessons from The 21 Day Fix Extreme

Fitness has become a big part of my family.  I have a passion for keeping people from letting a life lived on the road kill them slowly.  My wife has a passion for helping people live their best, healthiest life possible regardless of travel requirements (you can read her story here).  After surviving breast cancer, she dedicated herself to getting healthy and feeling like herself again.  One of the great joys I have is being able to work out with my wife and this past month we went on a fitness journey together by completing the 21 Day Fit Extreme program.

For those of you not familiar, 21 Day Fit Extreme is a short term, highly focused plan around fitness and diet – particularly portion control…..and it works.  Here is your chance to get a free preview of the lessons I took away from the program

It is more fun when you are doing it with others

I cannot stress how important accountability is in fitness.  Even when we were both traveling, my wife and I were checking in with each other to see how our diet was holding up.  Did you get your workout in today?  Is your attitude staying positive even when it gets difficult?  Are you eating enough?  Have you had all of your water today?  Having someone on the journey with you makes it all the more tolerable.  Get yourself a partner, or an accountability group, or an online community….heck – comment to me below and I am in with you.

Discipline = Results

I have been roughly the same weight and size for the last year or so.  Now I do watch my diet and work out regularly but I will not be on the cover of Men’s Health any time soon.  However, in the 21 days I was on the program, I lost 11 lbs and 4 inches off of my overall body.  I completely attribute this to the discipline around the diet.    Focused nutrition, attention to portion control and timing of meals made all of the difference.  It is one thing to watch what you eat, it is completely different to have real discipline around your diet.  Tie that to daily workouts and I literally watched the pounds and inches fall off.

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Specific eating plans are hard to follow on the road

I am not going to lie about this one, sticking to an eating plan that is very specific on your Protein/Vegetables/Carb ratios and portions is really difficult – especially when you are not doing the prep/cooking yourself.  So give yourself some slack but stick to the principles of the plan.  I was front loading my carbs for the day in the mornings and focusing on protein recovery in the afternoons and early evenings.  I made sure my portion control was in line (you have complete control over that no matter where you are at) and I also did not lose my mind if I wasn’t able to have a healthy fat on any given day.

‘Extreme’ is just a word

When I was first informed I was going to be participating in this adventure (yes, I was informed by my lovely wife that ‘we’ were doing this), I was not overly thrilled with us going to the ‘Extreme’ version.  I am not trying to downplay the results this program can deliver but it is not exactly like you will end up on a 600 calorie a day diet plan.  The diet is more than manageable and the exercises are challenging but modifiable for all fitness levels.  My point here is don’t be scared or put off by marketing efforts.

Don’t let results become ‘short term’ results

When we were done with the 21 days, I did what most Americans would do – I immediately had a BBQ with my kids and ate all of the items I shouldn’t.  An eleven pound weight loss quickly became an eight pound weight loss (see the before/after pic below).  Make sure that the principles that you put in place – stay in place.  Focus on the big picture disciplines – portion control, nutrient balance and timing of meals.  Keep the discipline around your diet and keep the results.

before - after 21dfx

So there you have it, my 5 takeaways from 21Day Fit Extreme.  Thanks goes to Autumn Calabrese for putting together a great program and for my wife for putting up with me through the 3 weeks.   Let me know about your results!!

See you on the road.

How being fit nearly killed me – but ultimately saved my life

I know it is hard to imagine but I literally almost died because of my fitness – not because I was morbidly obese or a couch potato but because I was too fit for one part of my body’s own good.  It’s true and 3 years ago my body showed me exactly how much I could take before it gave out, literally.

To tell the story adequately, we need to jump in the time machine and head all the way back to 2009.  I was an overweight dad who had decided to take up karate with my kids.  Now if you know me at all, I am not big on doing things half way.  I am either going to do it or not.  There is very little room for ‘in between’ in my psyche.  I was going to earn my Black Belt in American Karate, period.  I am sure if I am being honest my desire was in no small way spurred on by the fact that my eldest son was in training for his Junior Black Belt at the time and there was no way I was letting him earn it without me being on his heels.

After one particularly ‘hard’ session back when I was an intermediate belt, I found myself completely drained and every joint from my lower back down was in pain.  It was then that I took a long hard look in the mirror – they are everywhere in our Dojo – and realized that I had become only a reflection of the physical man I used to be.  To top it off, I was watching my son train harder than he ever had as he prepared for his black belt test and was quickly coming to realize, there was no way I was going to make it through a Black Belt test if I stayed in the shape I was….and that shape was soft and round.  I knew I had to make some major changes if I was going to ‘survive’ my black belt test and I was determined to do so.    Cue the Rocky Theme music now!!

I set myself on a path to not let my traveling lifestyle be an excuse for being out of shape.  I started watching what I ate for the first time ever (God I miss Fish & Chips).  I became disciplined about working out.  I incorporated weightlifting, running, HIIT cardio and kickboxing all back into my routine.  Eventually the weight started to come off and I started to feel good again.  When all was said and done, I dropped about 30 lbs.  Three years later I felt good, I felt strong, I felt ready.

I felt like I was ready for the next big hurdle, my black belt test.

In order for you to get a feel for what I was facing, let me describe to you the way a Black Belt test works.  It is a two day affair where Day One is the ‘easy’ day physically.  You are required to do all of your Katas (think choreographed shadow boxing fights) at least 3 times, including at least one Black Belt level kata.  Along with that you have to break 5 boards in under 2 minutes using a variety of techniques and finish it all off with a verbal presentation on why you are deserving of the rank of Black Belt.  No problem.  Easy peasy – we got this day.

Day two is ‘slightly more intense’ to put it mildly.  It was by far the hardest day of my life physically.  It starts with self-defense techniques of your own design.  Now these are not demonstrations, they are self-defenses.  It is the closest you will ever come to being attacked without actually being attacked.  You job is to prove the techniques work in most dire of circumstances….and it is your attackers job to simulate the most dire of circumstances.  Once those are done, you do them again….over and over and over again.  Follow that up by a ‘quick round’ of grappling (mine lasted nearly 5 minutes) and then we get to the actual sparring portion of the test, fifteen 2-minute rounds with a black belt or black belt candidate with 30-seconds of rest between rounds.  Oh yeah, and if your round is not considered to be at a Black Belt level, you get another until you have amassed 15 Black Belt level rounds.  But wait!!  There’s more!!  Not only are you sparring a fresh opponent every round, but at the end you get to do multiples (meaning you are sparring more than one opponent at the same time)!!

Now do you know why they don’t let Beginner and Intermediate Belt ranks watch Black Belt tests!?!?

So on a hot July night in 2012 I bowed on the mat for the second half of my test and everyone was in a jovial mood.  I think we all thought it was more of a formality than a physical test at this point.  If you have done the work to that point, you have already earned the belt, you just needed to show it and I was prepared to do so.  Up first were the self-defenses.  I picked my attacker (where this sadistic tradition came from I do not know) and of course picked the biggest guy in the room.  Go big or go home.  Bring on the 6’ 4” – 230 lbs-er!!

The first attack was a Rear Bear Grab from behind (think big hug from behind that traps your arms by your sides).  My body moved just like it should, muscle memory kicking in and taking over for the brain, I escaped and countered in a flash.  I helped my attacker back up from the ground, fixed my Gi and then I felt it.  Something was not right and I knew it immediately.

My heart was racing and I could not bring it back down.

“That was normal right?”  After all, adrenaline had just flushed through my system as a 6’ 4” – 230 lbs man had just attacked me from behind and was continuing to do so from all kinds of angles with all kinds of weapons.  “It’s normal to have your heart racing.  It’s what your body needs.  Blood to activate muscles.  This is normal.”  – the mantra kept running through my head.

After about 20 minutes of continuous attacks, it was time for grappling.  Evidently since this is one of my passions, they decided to add it to my test….all I had to do was to get out of one person’s guard and submit him.  However the ‘one person’ was the one person in the dojo that was the most superior grappler.  Easy enough.  The key to grappling is to relax and slow things down so when you need to explode, you can.  For the entire 5 minute session, I was trying to concentrate on bringing my heart rate down and just couldn’t do it.

“It’s just the adrenaline.  It has to be.”

I finally submit “Thor” – (seriously, when The Avengers came out he did an appearance at the Dallas premier as the Norse God) and get a reprieve long enough to gear up for sparring.  Now I don’t tell anyone but I know I am off my game and even used the restroom as an excuse to buy an extra 3-minutes to get it back together.   Below is a picture of me and my “corner man” in the break.  Nothing is wrong is it?  Heck, I am even smiling knowing what is about to come.

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“Let’s get ready to rumble!!!!!!!”

It is finally the time we have all been waiting for, the sparring section of the test, the part where everyone fades and struggles.  The part I was determined to shine through and not fall off like so many have before me.  I think my wife described it best.  I started off sparring at about a 7 out of 10 for me.  I did not have a lot of the flash I normally did but I was effective.  By round 7 I had degraded to a 5 out of 10.  By round 10 I was about a 3 out of 10 and by round 15 I was “drunk boxing”.  In fact, in my last round my sparring partner (same guy who was attacking me earlier ironically) did not punch or kick me once and I still fell down 3 times.  I was literally dying at that point and did not know it.

After that round, things got real bad, real fast.

This is where my body started to give out.  I had been training hard for this so it was used to being abused so it took a long time to break.  I would routinely push my heart rate to the 180 – 200 BPM range in order to train anaerobically.  It was ready for a lot but it was not ready for what I had just done.  After my sixteenth round, I passed out on the mat.  Immediately the group knew something was wrong and 911 was called.  I was taken to the local hospital where for a short time I came to and was responsive but not quite entirely there.  The cognitive tests they were conducting were not going like they would hope and then it happened.

 I crashed, literally.

My body literally shut down in just about every way you could imagine. To top it off, my eldest son was there witnessing the whole thing.  I was in trouble and thank God the medical professionals who were present brought me back.

If you want to find an upside, at least my wife and I got to experience what it is like to fly in LifeFlite Helicopter.  She will have to tell you about that experience because I do not remember it (I do have the picture to remind me though – so there’s that).

When we got to hospital #2, they immediately were concerned about aneurisms and/or stroke.  After all, I had just been repeatedly kicked in the head by some top level black belts and was slurring all of my words before I lost consciousness.  Because of that, they decided to keep me in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator until they could learn more.  I spent 36 hours that way and my corner man snapped the picture below to document the process.

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I was dying and because there was not an obvious cause (like obesity, heart disease, etc.), the doctors were struggling to come up with a diagnosis.  After nearly 2-days of doctors, neurologists, internists and other specialists, they had determined only that I did not have an aneurism.  Fortunately, that was enough to bring me out of the coma and pull the tube (Dear God that sucked).  This is also when friends stopped planning on how to support Joy once I was gone.  I only wish I was kidding about that last statement.

At this point, the medical focus turned from my brain to my heart.  I was blessed to have an amazing medical team including the head of cardiology at Baylor Medical Center on my team.  Eventually they identified the issue as Atrial Flutter.  Now granted, it took 3 days and at least 5 doctors to get to this diagnosis but at least we got there.  It all stemmed back to the first attack in my self-defenses and the elevated heart rate.  My heart stopped beating like it should and never actually allowed for the lungs to oxygenate my blood.  I basically suffocated myself through excursion.  Think about that for a second….because I was fit, my body could handle the lack of oxygen in the short term but not for the 90 minutes plus I put it through.  And because I was fit, my medical team had a hard time identifying why I was there to begin with.  Because I was fit, I nearly died and the medical profession had no clue why.  It is easy to diagnose someone who is obviously morbidly obese – someone who is physically capable, not so much.

Fortunately for me, they were able to surgically repair the defect and I no longer have any restrictions on training.  However the fact that my fitness got in the way of a diagnosis has never left me.  I cannot tell you how many times Doctors and Nurses commented on the fact that they do not get many “healthy” people in the ICU unless it is a function of acute trauma.  The fact that I could take punishment and push my body to the brink got me through that mess but the fact that it also confused the heck out of my medical staff was incredibly frustrating.

More relevantly, I travel for a living and train for fun.  I was routinely getting my heart rate up above 200 bpm in hotel gyms, conference rooms, lobbies and anywhere else I could manage a training session while I traveled.  Being fit meant I could make it through short term sessions (truth being told, I had felt the experience of an elevated heart rate before and had stopped my workouts before any serious damage was done.  Not very often but it had happened).  God blessed me by keeping me safe in those remote training sessions and putting the right people around me when I did crash out.

My fitness allowed me to push through the pain.  Push through the shortness of breath.  Push through the brink of death.  I am quite sure it ultimately saved my life.

The 100 Day Burppe Challenge (Alternative Title “What the hell was I thinking!?!?”)

I want you to think back to the beginning of the year, all the way to January 1st.  That was the day it all started, the 100 Day Burpee Challenge.  It started off innocently enough, we were cleaning up dinner after a day of parades, football and food and I suddenly realized I really had not officially declared any resolutions for 2015.  The thought of doing 1 burpee a day more than the day before suddenly jumped to mind and I was immediately in.

Now this is not a new challenge for me and I certainly do not claim that it was an original thought.  Truth be told, I have done this challenge for at least the last 3 years but this year I had to be different, this year I had to throw the gauntlet down, this year I had to make it public for the world to share.  WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING!?!?

One thing changed the dynamic completely this year – The public proclamation, nay challenge, to the entire Facebook world that not only was I going to do this this year, I was brining you all along with me.  I was suddenly the self-proclaimed leader of the #100dayburpeechallenge, hash tag and all.  I was going to document the entire 100 days and get the Facebook world healthier in the process.

See the challenge here 

So as you can see in the video above, it starts off easy.  Heck, I didn’t even bother to change clothes banging the first burpee out in my jeans in the middle of my kitchen.  With one simply video, the challenge was on and people were clamoring to get in.  I had people from all over the country messaging me and responding to my post pledging their allegiance to the cause.  We were one big happy family of sweaty craziness.  But it wasn’t long before I realized this was going to be harder than I thought and harder than previous year.  I was in for a real challenge myself.

Posting everyday on something is HARD!! –

I like to create original messages and not just rehash the same thing every day (‘Did it” of ‘Crushed it’ can only be posted so many times).  So in the beginning there were videos, pics, time lapse and witty banter.  I think I am good for about 30 days, after that I faded fast.  Still did the burpees but you would never know it from following my social media feeds.  At the end, I barely acknowledged that April 10th (day 100) had arrived and that I had indeed completed the challenge.

There are those on Facebook who enjoy watching a challenge but want nothing to do with the challenge –

I think one of my favorite side conversations that happened during the challenge was the creation of the #100daySLURPEEchallenge.  A group of very creative friends created this group pretty much as soon as the #100dayburpeechallenge started.  Fortunately for their waistlines and blood sugar level, their dedication to the cause did not last nearly as long as those attempting the burpee challenge.

People at the gym look at you funny when you do things ‘unconventionally’ –

One of my favorite spots to take pictures and/or videos for the burpee challenge was my home gym at our HOA.  I loved some of the reactions I would get when I would have to do multiple takes of the same video.  They would never approach me and I am sure they thought they were not being noticed but their reactions were a hilarious mix of ‘What is that fool doing?’ ‘Oh, hell no.’ and ‘Why would he do that?’   I just wish I had them on video.

There is not always a convenient place to do Burpees –

This was the most shocking of revelations to me.  One of the reasons I do this every year is because you can do burpees everywhere…….except in hotels with really low ceilings.  Sure, I could go outside and get them in but when you are traveling to Chicago and the outdoor air temp is negative bazillion with the wind chill, you have a better chance of finding me doing burpees outside on Hoth.  So I consistently found myself doing burpees with tuck jumps in order not to crack my head on the ceiling like in the photo below.

Ceiling Height

This thing gets real on about Day 31 –

In the beginning I was getting comments daily from challengers.  Some of my favorites were the pictures and videos of everyone’s kids doing burpees with them and even in stores while they made Christmas returns.  After about the first month, the challenge really starts to get moving and challengers started falling like snow in the Midwest in January.  I even had challengers who set their own rewards at the end of the 100 day challenge, to my knowledge, not one of them actually made it through.  Not even the one whose ‘reward’ was to get on the mat and spar with me.  He in particular has gone noticeably silent.

When it is all said and done – the results are worth it!!

100 burpees in one sitting is no joke.  In order to complete it, you have to be in pretty decent shape.  You also have the mental toughness to commit to a goal and push through to reach it.  If you were one of the ones who made it all the way through, congratulations!  You deserve a treat – perhaps a SLURPEE!  For the rest of you, I look forward to doing it all again next year.

See you on the road.

What Harlem taught me about diversity

This past spring break we put together a tour of two cities that ended up being what I call the “Freedom is not Free” vacation.  We started in DC, touring the monuments, government buildings and museums.  If you have not been to the Holocaust Museum, you must!!  Unbelievably humbling, sad, infuriating and empowering all in the same breath.  The room of shoes literally takes your breath away.

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In NYC, we had the unique opportunity to stay with a dear friend of ours in her brownstone in New York City, specifically, in Harlem.   Harlem is a vibrant part of the City with enough character to go around the whole island but we all know the reputation that precedes it; poverty, drugs, crime and racial inequality.  .  I took the picture below on the last morning of our stay in NYC.

NYC Window

Those buildings you see across the way?  Those are the projects, literally.  I was expecting it to be a culture clash for my kids and one that I worried they would be afraid of.  The fact that it wasn’t was beyond surprising.

It was rewarding.

We arrived in New York via train on Thursday evening.  Harlen was our conductor on the train and a New York native.  He had taken an interest in my boys and was determined to show them everything they could see from the train itself including Freedom Tower, the Empire State and of course, Lady Liberty herself.  As a Harlem native, Harlen set the bar of expectation high in my boys heads (imagine how rough that had to have been, being Harlen from Harlem.  And you thought YOU were teased for your name in grade school!!).  Once we pulled in to Penn Station we immediately pinged out for UBER.  The driver’s response to our destination was a hesitant “That’s interesting” and not nearly with the same enthusiasm as Harlen.

My boys really did not have any clue as to what to expect from Harlem.

My boys really did not have any clue as to what to expect, no real preconceived notions of what ‘Harlem’ was supposed to be about.  On the drive from Penn Station to North Harlem, we passed the USS Intrepid, saw the multiple Trump buildings along Riverside Drive and passed right in front of the iconic Apollo Theatre.  We were in the heart of Harlem, A Train and all.

Our home back in Texas is on a very ethnically diverse street.  If you walk four houses in either direction of our quiet suburban home you can find families that originally called Columbia, Pakistan, Germany, Korea, Ecuador, Japan, Turkey and Chechnya their home.   However the diversity and more importantly, the community, my boys were able to witness in Harlem was something on a different level.  We were able to meet the home owner who with his partner hosts aid workers from around the globe in ‘The People’s Brownstone’.  We heard tales of Dotty, the Mayor of W 131st Street who is up in everyone’s business– my greatest regret of the trip was we were not able to make her acquaintance.  There were families, kids, mothers, neighbors and mailmen all in the neighborhood and yes, everyone was in everyone’s business.  It was neighborhood, a real neighborhood.

My favorite encounter was on our first full day in the city.  We left ‘The People’s Brownstone’ early in the morning and headed over to the subway.  We were no more than 10 steps away from the front door when 2 gentlemen and a woman from the neighborhood questioned where we came from.  Repeatedly.

Neighbor #1: “Did you just come from that door?”

Me: “Yep”

Neighbor #1: “The one with the plants on the stoop?”

Me: “Yep”

Neighbor #2: “That one right there with the red door?”

Me: “Yes, sir.”

Neighbor #3: “That’s where that One Lady lives!”

Neighbor #1: “Oh, OK then.”

We were in a neighborhood where the white family stuck out like a sore thumb but ‘That Lady’ was our friend and host and everyone in the neighborhood knew ‘That Lady’.  They knew that she was in the business of helping the most downtrodden across the globe.  They knew that she and the owners of the house hosted visitors of all nationalities, ethnicities and communities regularly.  You see, even though Harlem is incredibly ‘diverse’ it is also monochromatic for the most part.  We definitely stood out and neighbors were watching out for neighbors.  It was refreshingly awesome.

As someone who travels the country regularly, I have the benefit of literally seeing all types and sizes.  I see diversity if for no other reason than the number of time zones I touch in a week but too many of us do not.  We live with those ‘like us’.  We work with those ‘like us’.  We church with those’ like us’.  We need to take time to be with those who are not ‘like us’.   A special shout goes out to all those in Harlem who welcomed us with open arms so that my family and I could introduce ourselves the NYC and did not shun those not like them but reached out to meet and learn about those ‘not like them’.  I cannot wait to go back and visit again.

The Family Vacation

There is nothing more rewarding about being on the road than being able to bring your family with you.  A couple of weeks ago it was spring break in Texas and we decided this year we would make the most of all of those miles & points.

Radio City Music Hall

Over seven days my family and I took planes, trains, UBERs, Metros, subways and did a lot of walking through both Washington, D.C. and NYC.  There is also no better way to see how neurotic you have become about traveling than by traveling with a group of people who don’t travel every week.  Evidently I travel a bit “differently”.

I am a creature of habit

There is nowhere this is more apparent than in a hotel room.  I am the kind of traveler who unpacks the same way, as soon as I get in the hotel room, EVERY TIME!!  I do exactly the opposite as soon as I wake up on the last day of my residency at said hotel.  To say that my 13 and 15 year old do not follow the same dedication to order would be unwarranted to say the least.  We were lucky just to find all of their clothes let alone actually have any of them actually reside in a drawer, on a hanger or even in the suitcase that brought them to the destination.  Makes you wonder what the lost and found at a Disney resort must look like!!

Working out while traveling with family is hard!!

And this is from someone whose spouse is dedicated to fitness and health as well.  Over the course of the 7 days, I got a grand total of one real workout in (granted, we did average walking over 5 miles a day in these wonderful cities).  When I am on the road alone, I have no problem working out late at night or delaying dinner until after a run.  It is a must attend event for me, I have recently even found a way to make this happen on The Dreaded Day Trip but for some strange reason, my family actually likes to eat on a regular schedule.  Eating at a normal meal time?  Huh, who would have figured?  Might have to try that sometime.

When traveling with the family, throw the rules out the window

I have a few rules around when I travel.  They are the core of my routine when it comes to staying fit while on the road and you can read all about it here With the exception of ‘See Fruit – Eat Fruit’, I gladly broke every single rule I have made for myself on this trip.  One thing I realized is that the rules are selfish when you are traveling with family.  They are (purposefully) self-centered because when you are on the road alone or for work, you can afford to be self-centered.  In fact I can make a strong argument that YOU SHOULD BE SELF CENTERED ON THESE TRIPS!!  When you are on the road with family though, it is time to be others-centered.  We had a couple of great meals that normally would not be RoadWarriorFit approved.  New York pizza slices, sandwiches from chains you can have anywhere, even burgers and fries at The Harlem Shake.  For example, let your child drink the melted ice cream and caramel sauce with a straw!!

Legal Seafood

Some rules are universal

I am fortunate that my boys are finally of an age where they actually will trust me when I say ‘Trust Me – you will want to try this’.  We had several great meals on this trip that we could not have had at home (New York City pizza, late night at The Harlem Shake, lobster rolls at Luke’s Lobster in DC) but the one that won hands down was brunch at The Red Rooster in Harlem

Red Rooster

OH MY GOD…you have to try this place.  Martin Samuelson has completely outdone himself with this new Harlem mainstay.  My point here though is not to give you a glowing restaurant recommendation but rather that the experience was the important part.  I got to share a phenomenal brunch with the most important people in my life.  It was an experience we could not have had at home (and the chocolate French Toast is to die for).

The biggest lesson learned on the trip? 

Traveling with others is better than traveling alone.  Even though I was not able to enter or exit a room in less than 2 minutes or get a work out in every day or avoided all fried food, the experiences and memories we were able to develop as a family were worth it all.  I saw my boys marvel at the NYC skyline, I saw them humbled by the National Mall and astonished at the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Yeah, it was a good trip.  Now it is back to the grind and following a bunch of rules.  See you on the road.

The power of the #hashtag

Over the past two weeks, I have had a couple of travel experiences that have been less than optimal to say the least.  It eventually happens to all of us.  A room isn’t ready, a flight is oversold, a car smells like smoke…you get the point.  The interesting part of these deficiencies is both of them involved my accommodations, both involved me posting on social media about the deficiencies and both were from service providers that I used to be employed by.  Most importantly, both resulted in great stories of how service providers are utilizing social media to ensure that they are providing superior service.

The first of the deficiencies occurred as my family and I were traveling for Spring Break back east.  I had found a great deal on a 2-bedroom suite with Oakwood, a company that provides Corporate Housing and is the absolute leader in the space.  Having spent 6 years with this group, I know the quality standards they have and the systems in place to ensure these standards are lived up to.  You can imagine my surprise when after checking in, I found a pretty major defect that was very evident (see below).

Oakwood Arlington

Now my son was too young to remember living in Oakwood Apartments but in fact he has lived in 4 different Oakwood buildings across 2 different states.

Howard Ruby

He was less than impressed with the portrait of Howard Ruby, one of the founders and owner of Oakwood Worldwide, on the wall of the lobby but I know that Howard is not willing to put his name on anything other than the best.  In this particular case, they had come up short.

The day after I posted on Facebook about my experience at Oakwood, the Community Manager was calling my cell phone and sending me emails in an attempt to rectify the situation.  My family and I headed out that morning to do some site seeing and by the time we returned that evening, we did not have a new cushion on the couch, WE HAD A NEW COUCH AND LOVE SEAT!!   They identified an issue, worked to rectify it and followed-up with me to ensure that I was satisfied.

Great customer service!!

Fast forward 2 weeks and I find myself in Atlanta, arriving at my hotel at a very late hour only to find that my room has been given to someone else and there are no longer any rooms available with Marriott.  Now this is the company that I went to work for after leaving Oakwood and I am an extremely loyal Marriott Rewards member.  I am also not afraid to post on social media in order to get a response.  The way these two organizations responded is telling of their social media savvy and customer service.

With Marriott I used a different medium, Twitter.  After getting bounced late at night, I sent the following tweet:

Marriott Tweet

Upon seeing the tweet, Marriott customer service representatives contacted me directly asking for details and explained to me that there is actually a policy in place with Marriott that if they ever have to walk an Elite Guest, they will not only pay for the room at an alternative brand but also cut the Elite Guest a check for their inconvenience.  The General Manager of the hotel is scheduled to reach out to me and I am sure that Marriott will be conscious of when/where I go next.

In both of these cases, these service providers were actively monitoring their on-line presence, discovered a deficiency and remedied the deficiency.  I never expect a provider to be perfect but I do expect them to remedy when a deficiency is brought to their attention.  This was executed flawlessly by both Oakwood and Marriott, thank you both.

There are also several lessons here for the savvy traveler:

Loyalty and relationships matter

If I had not been known by Oakwood or had been an Elite Member at Marriott, I am sure my experience would have been different. Organizations reward your loyalty so pick a brand/hotel/location that best fits your needs and make yourself known.

Reach out when there is a deficiency

I could have easily just lived with the tear (I actually had intended to – the facebook post was more for my former comrades in arms than to raise any type of stink). Top notch providers of any service want to provide superior service but no one is perfect.

Be nice

There is a time for a more direct approach but social media is almost never the medium for that (and way too many people use it for just that purpose).

Follow-up

In both of these cases I made sure to post on the same medium how wonderful the group was for rectifying the situation. If we all shared at least 3 compliments for every criticism the world would be a much better place.

Monitor your hash tags

If you are a business owner or a business influencer, I cannot stress enough that in today’s world, you have to monitor the hash tags relevant to your business. For decades business have been surveying guests to get a pulse on their performance, now people readily share with the world how you are doing.  Are you paying attention?

How about you?  What stories of phenomenal customer service do you have?

Looking forward to hearing them and we will see you on the road!!

Because you can do anything if you believe it!!

I have been spending a lot of time around wrestlers recently.   After years of training in martial arts, my eldest has joined the high school wrestling team and is loving every moment of it.  It is the perfect sport for him to be quite frank.   His individual performance directly helps a team goal.  All he has to do is be better than the person on the mat opposing him.  Take care of your business and the team benefits.  Where my son is the center of my attention, some of the other wrestlers really captured me.

Autistic, Down Syndrome, Dwarfism, underdeveloped legs and partially function arms

DSC_0011

Those are just a few of the challenges I have seen kids walk on to the mat with.   Kids who live their lives at a ‘disadvantage’ to all of those ‘regular’ kids, stepping on to a foam covered battle field to see who can best who over the next 6 minutes.  The kid on the right above could not straighten his left arm or expand his left hand but he battled every step of the way.  And you know what??

More times than not, I have seen them win!!

I absolutely love it.  These boys becoming men adapt their wrestling style to make the most of what they have rather than what they don’t.  In just the last 7 days, I watched a sophomore who was born with Dwarfism perform ankle picks to perfection.  His lack of height was his advantage because no one could get low enough to stop his shot.

I have watched in awe as a boy whose knees were nearly locked in place immediately drop to his hands and move with the agility and quickness of a spider monkey.  Then once he was able to get his opponent to the mat, completely smother them with his upper body strength.  You see, his legs have very little muscle tone but his upper body is ripped.  Once he got you down, he kept you down.

I have witnessed autistic teens who struggled to sit in the stands before their next match walk onto the mat and not only win the match but win the whole tournament (see below).

DSC_0764

You could literally see the switch turn on in his head as his feet hit the mat.  This was familiar ground.  In his mind, this was where he wanted and was meant to be.  And it was beautiful to watch.

Just as powerful as watching these young men compete was watching those around them.

Their Teammates – All of these boys were from different schools but all of their teammates supported them unconditionally.  When they walked on the mat, their entire teams stopped whatever they were doing an paid attention.  It was must watch viewing and everyone was centered.  These boys were more than a ‘part’ of the team, they were the center of it.

The Spectators – It did not take long for the spectators to notice (heck, I obviously did).  When you have 7-14 mats running all at one time, it is easy to lose track of who is where.  When these young men were on the mat, everyone knew and everyone cheered and clapped.  Regardless of the match outcome.

The Opponents – There was no taking it easy on these guys.  They were there to win and expected their opponent to show up to do the same.  The boys they faced gave them everything they could handle.  Just what they deserved

But this shouldn’t be a surprise!!

Wrestling has always supported being your best.  The training is grueling to put it mildly.  Bodies are broken and rebuilt and those who are the best wrestlers are the ones who are the strongest mentally, not necessarily physically.  So what can we take from these boy’s example?

  • Focus on what you do have not what you don’t.
  • It is not about what the other guy can do, it is about what you can do.
  • Believe it and you can do it.
  • If someone is willing to put themselves out there, support them unconditionally.

These boys focused on their strengths and capabilities, not their limitations.  The people around them supported them unconditionally and they proved successful.  More on all of those points later but I want to leave you with the following video.  It is the NCAA Wrestling championship round from 2011 at 125 lbs.   Pay particular attention to Anthony Robles, the wrestler from Arizona State then ask yourself where you may be getting in your own way.  Remember, it is never about what you can’t do and always about what you CAN do.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5W4RZq1NRg

See you on the road!