The long, winding road of a fitness journey

No matter how you shake it up, every athlete’s journey is a long, winding road.

It is never smooth. It has many curves, many bumps and even the occasional roadblock. But you just have to take the right fork in the road to avoid getting stuck.

In the case of fitness journeys, the road never stops. It keeps winding. And you never stop learning.

Last Friday, my third and final AIM II BODYPUMP feedback returned. I didn’t even see it in my inbox until Sunday night, as my wife and I were out of town for a hockey tournament and did not anything work-related to distract us from a fun weekend. Monday morning, I “ripped the band-aid off,” so to speak, and it revealed that while I was close, it wasn’t enough to upskill.

But, we’ll get back to that later. The unofficial start of this journey began in the spring of 2012.

That spring was a very busy time for me. I was planning my wedding, and attending my first AIM II, but little did I know at the time that trip to the outskirts of Washington, D.C., would be a part of a financial abyss I was getting myself into. Struggling at my first AIM II also struck me a little bit mentally, which admittedly contributed to the issue.

At one point in the fall of 2012, I was a whopping $10,000-plus in credit card hell. It was not pretty. My family, while being as supportive as they could be, weren’t very happy. They knew that I knew better, and that as a newlywed, I had to step it up big-time. In addition to that, I had a small drinking problem. There would be nights where my wife and I would go out to clubs or bars on weeknights and I’d show up to work early the next day hung over and not feeling too great. I had to do a lot of soul-searching, and one of the many things that kept me going was BODYPUMP.

The stage and the gym were my sanctuary. While there, debt did not exist. It was just me, the stage, a bar, plates and some amazingly strong participants. Had it not been for the support of my wife, family, Les Mills family and friends, in addition to getting to do the best job in the world a few nights a week, I would’ve had nothing.

The beginning of 2013 started a whole new chapter. I cut some people out of my life who were bad influences. I focused on clearing up my credit card debt, one step at a time, so my wife and I could work our way towards buying a home and starting a family. Alissa had traditionally been very good with money and budgeting, which had never been one of my strong points, so slowly but surely, we got to work in getting my debts cleared up. It wasn’t going to happen overnight, but again, that’s all part of a “journey.”

One thing that remained constant was BODYPUMP and my relationship with the Les Mills values. In 2013, I started to really grow up more as an instructor as an athlete, and enjoyed staring at the partying lifestyle in the rearview mirror as I continued to slowly build my body up and work my way out of the financial abyss that had hounded me mentally. That spring, we learned my mother in law had breast cancer, and that really hit us like a ton of bricks. Cancer had never affected me before, but to this day she is cancer-free after undergoing a double-masectomy. A few days following that operation, my team decided that we would wear some form of pink for breast-cancer awareness at our spring launch, and it was one of the best launches I’ve ever taught.

As 2013 came and went, my debt slowly creeped toward the point where my credit score was nearly good enough to purchase our own home, while my BODYPUMP teaching kept getting better every time I took a stage. The beginning of 2014 launched our house-hunting, and that Memorial Day weekend, we moved into our own home. Two months later, feeling much more grown up as an instructor and a person, I booked my spot at my second AIM II, this time much closer to home in Boston. But a few weeks before that, my plans were, again, nearly derailed on a dreary, rainy Thursday afternoon, when a minivan broadsided my car in North Brewer. Had it not been for me jerking the wheel at the last moment, the van would’ve hit me square on the driver’s side door. My car was totaled, but aside from some terrible headaches for a few days, I was fine. And three weeks later, I was Boston-bound.

You all know the story of my second AIM II. I was much more ready, physically and mentally, and got tons of praise from trainers Kris McLainn and Jerico McDuffie. They said they’d be shocked if I didn’t upskill to Elite. Unlike the first AIM II where you got our outcome at the module, you had a year to send in as many videos as you wanted in attempt to upskill.

I wound up sending in three videos. For those of you keeping score, each submission after the first one is $45. But it was during the submission process that I was officially out of debt in July, and in early August, just a fortnight before ONE LIVE CHICAGO, we found out we were expecting our first child. I practically spit out my coffee when I got a “you’re going to be a Daddy” text from Alissa. I was overcome with an emotion I don’t think I’ve ever felt, not even on a BODYPUMP stage.

Now, back to Monday’s news. The news that I didn’t upskill, yes it did suck a bit. That’s what happens when you work so hard at something for so long and you fall a bit short. It did hurt for a couple hours, but then I taught two classes Monday night. I heard “you’re Elite to us” a lot and got lots of hugs from teammates. Then, after my last class Monday, while soothing tired legs and shoulders in my tub, I thought about this long journey. Being “Elite” is not about a checkmark on a piece of paper. At all. It’s about you and your relationship to yourself, your family, friends, loved ones and fellow Tribe members. It’s about willing to accept feedback and realizing what you have to work on. It’s about overcoming obstacles in your life to grow stronger. It’s about looking at yourself in the mirror and really thinking about what you’ve learned. Les Mills, along with a strong, loving relationship with Alissa, my family and friends, were the constants that got me though my financial hell. And Les Mills was a big part of it. Had it not been for making it through that hell, I may not have been as mentally strong as I was at that AIM II.

If you think this is the end of my journey, you’re wrong. I’ve thought of mine lots of times since opening my feedback Monday morning, and I’d like to think of myself as “Elite,” and I’m not talking about a checkmark on a piece of paper. The love of my life and I are six months away from being parents. I’m one of the leaders on one of New England’s top group fitness teams. I’ll never own another credit card as long as I live (they are evil pieces of plastic, believe me), and my relationship with my family, friends and Tribe family has never been stronger.

Yes, I will do AIM II again someday. I’m not going to give up on my long-term goals. But, in the meantime, the next place in which I want to be “Elite” is as a dad.

Ryan McLaughlin

About Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective with BDN readers about what's happening on the Boston professional sports scene.