Friday, June 26, 2015

Making changes, facing loss, all leads to embracing the Unknown

"The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time".

Mark Twain

Its been a while, I know. Things have been, well, difficult as well as eye opening. Last I wrote, I was talking about change, the need for change, the importance of recognizing when you need to make it, and to run towards it with open arms, and an open mind. I took my own advice on that one, parting ways with my long time coach, Jennifer Garrison; whom I must say, is an absolutely wonderful coach and friend. I owe her more than I can say, I am certain that I would have never made it this far in the sport without her coaching and her guidance. I'm thankful for an amazing 8 years together, and for her constant source of inspiration and friendship.

As of June 1st, I started working with Cody Burkhart from Athlete's Cell. This connection was made possible by long time friend and mentor, Brian MacKenzie. Brian, recognizing what I needed to compete at the highest level possible, immediately suggested Cody, and I was honored that he was as excited to work with me as I am with him. Its been a humbling but invigorating 3 plus weeks; discovering what I was missing, physically, mentally and emotionally.From dissecting small things that I may have been ignoring that created larger problems, tight muscles, muscles that should be carrying the majority of the workload not doing so, to getting me to embrace the unknown, which at times, has been humbling and painful, only to realize how I alive I felt in the moments that immediately followed. Those moments have helped me block out the negative talk from friends and family who suggested, just a couple of months ago, that I hang up my racing shoes. Cody has helped me focus that anger, that lack of confidence into positive energy that is designed to get me to improve. He doesn't see me at the end of anything, rather, at the beginning of a new way of training and racing. More importantly, a new way of living. All of it coming from a place that I fell in love with 5 years ago - Crossfit, and Crossfit Endurance. Permeated throughout Cody's coaching style are MacKenzie's words and philosophy, one that resonates deeply with me. Because I have seen it work, time and again. So I embrace each day's training adventure, knowing its one step closer to perfecting my craft. The constant pursuit of my passion.

However, life, as well as death, happens, and often it comes without warning. On Father's Day, my family suffered another terrible loss, the passing of my Uncle, Dominic Procida. He was my mom's oldest brother, and last living relative of her immediate family. And as I walked into my aunt's house on Sunday, I couldn't help but feel my mom's sadness, not just at her brother's passing, but at the fact that she now stands alone, the youngest of 3, and the one left to carry on their memories. In less than a year, she lost both her brothers, and this week, her pain grew as we attended my uncle's services. But she was reminded by so many of us, that his memory, their memory, lives on in all of us.

My uncle Dom was the coolest guy I knew. Growing up, he was the sharpest dressed, always drove a new Cadillac, hair, his hair, always perfectly groomed. When I was young, he even made smoking look cool. He never said much, but you knew when he walked in a room. Because he owned the room. He was the guy everyone would come to, to say hello. He didn't have to move, simply sitting at a table at a party, at the bar in his house, wherever he was, he was known as a man of respect. He saw everything. It was somewhat unnerving as a kid to be with him, thinking you got away with something, certain there was no way he could see it, only to find out at the end of the night, as you said goodbye, he would whisper in your ear, your transgression. He was tough, especially tough on me, as I was the first nephew he had, and I was the oldest in my family. He expected much of me, and reminded me of that. Not in a negative, nagging way, he could say everything in a look. When I went off to college, he would wait for me to come home on break to grill me on what I was studying, why, what I planned after college (this was my freshman year!) was I dating, were sports interfering with my studies, etc. This could go on for hours. And at night's end, he would slip me some money, not letting my parents see, and told me to take out the prettiest girl at school and treat her right. As I became successful in my career, he would remind me always of the need to be humble, to never let on too much, to keep working hard, to love what I do, and to never, ever let up. He was like another father to me, and that's what made seeing him these last 3 years so difficult. I was ashamed that I didn't spend more time with him, as his Parkinson's got worse, rendering him to a wheel chair, needing 24 hour care, and in the last few months, losing the ability to speak. For a man who chose his words carefully, that pained all of us to see. We knew he had much to say, so much more wisdom to impart, and I ached for his questions again. The man I saw these last 3 years wasn't the man I knew; that man was somewhere inside him, fighting to get out. To say just to all of us, just one more time, protect one another, don't ever take shit from anyone, if you think your boss is full of shit, let them know and walk out, speak your mind, and be prepared for the consequences of that, but if you believe it, if you know in your heart its right, then don't just say it, scream it, let everyone know.

My uncle was infamous for not taking shit from anyone, and I do mean anyone. This was a man who came to this country with nothing, including a lack of understanding of the English language. And he went on to own his own business, then run a business of over 500 employees, working for his brother in law. He inspired us to do more, because he was able to do much with very little. After his services yesterday, I called my mom in the evening, just to check on her. She told me he would have been proud to see what I have done for the family, how I carried on his legacy of looking sharp, acting sharp, and being humble. And then she let out a secret she had been keeping for years, one that brings tears to my eyes as I write this - he believed in me more than he ever said. He was so stern with me because he believed that I was capable of greatness, and that I should not let anyone tell me different. It pained him to see me unhappy at work or losing confidence in my abilities. It hurt him even more that he couldn't take me aside and tell me these things in these last few years. He told my mom, on more than one occasion, that he was certain I was capable of so much more than I was doing. Hearing those words last night turned on a light inside me. I immediately recognized that flame, that need to do more. To reach higher. To get my ass back on that road less traveled and stay on it with conviction. To not conform to what anyone tells me is "normal" or "age appropriate" or any of the bullshit that we get fed daily to keep us in our place. To be the man I am, someone who doesn't mince words, who calls bullshit when I see it, to speak with confidence on topics that I know, and to defer on ones I don't, and most importantly, to never let someone tell me I can't do something. Not that I needed more of a spark to tell those who constantly try to tear me down, or wear me down to conform to their nonsensical ways, or those who told me to quit racing to, in my best impression of my uncle - go fuck yourself. Yes, that was one of his favorite phrases. And I realized last night why. Because its the most honest way to tell someone to mind their own business. To relay the message that you are just fine, thank you. That you know what you are doing, and when you don't, they won't be the ones you'll be asking for help.

So gentle readers, I toast my uncle this night, with this post, and with a shot of whiskey, Jack Daniels, his favorite, and a promise to embrace my unknown, and more importantly, to stick to my beliefs, starting with believing in myself. I encourage all of you to do the same. I was so very lucky to have him in my life. And now you have his most important saying - believe in yourself and your ability to be more, and ability to do more, and never, ever, I mean not ever, let anyone tell you different. That's their insecurity, their shit. Artfully tell them to F off, and go on your way.Yeah, easier said than done, but life is short and worth living. So don't wait for it to come to you.

Stay strong,