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Greatness from Within

Real People, Real Fitness

By Jacob Summers

Today, we often find ourselves facing seemingly insurmountable hurdles between us and the American Dream. College tuition costs increase every semester, and student loan debt stays with us a long time. New laws affect us. Our bills seem to keep increasing. Our country is fraught with socioeconomic strife and some very real battles in the streets. It’s more tempting than ever to give up on achieving the dreams we had when we were young and just settle for less. We are handed ever more reasons not to fight back: Politicians tell us they’ll solve our problems for us. Depending on which channel you turn on, you hear that you’re either a victim and there’s nothing you can do, or the problem won’t affect you, so you don’t need to worry.

Life. The times. Excuses.

These are the things to overcome. No one who ever left a mark on the world ever gave into excuses or settled for just fitting in, and they certainly never let life keep them down. Every one of the above-mentioned hurdles will slow you down temporarily, but as General Custer once said, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down that counts, it’s how many times you get back up.”

Bob Gendler powerlifting

Bob Gendler, 32, laptop programmer, powerlifter, and wrestler.
Photo courtesy of Bars and Stripes Fitness

In case you think I’m being preachy and spinning too grand an image, let’s play a game.

What do a couple of IT guys, two personal trainers, an anesthesia resident, a CrossFit coach, a garbage man, a bank teller, a systems engineering lead, a couple of students, a marketing manager, a gym representative, and a cop have in common?

I’ll give you some hints: one of the IT guys wears nothing but a pair of spandex trunks on any given weekend, the other one has a mean swing, and that garbage man could pick up your trash can and toss it, even if you loaded it with bricks.


Running man Glynnis Jones

Photo by Glynnis Jones

Every one of these people works to overcome life’s hurdles and shed any excuses by focusing on a transformation achieved through physical fitness. Their kind of drive rarely stops them or allows them to settle for “good enough,” and every one of them also competes in at least one fitness-related activity. For many, this means great physical sacrifice, as well as spending more of their precious free time away from their families. For everyone, it means a lifestyle change.

I use these wonderful, real people to make a larger point: you can still accomplish real and positive change even if you’re not a professional athlete or don’t have a lot time on your hands. The recipe for it has always been the same: hunger and hard work.

None of these people I mentioned are the best or the brightest in their fields or communities. They’re all intelligent and amazing people, but someone can always beat them. Elijah, a personal trainer, can win a race one day and the next day be beaten by a second or by a minute. Trish, the resident, can always be beaten by one place in CrossFit. I’m a Strongman competitor and I consistently come in no higher than third place at meets, and even then, my numbers could be beaten the next day at a competition across the country.

With that knowledge, it would easy to just admit defeat and give up. But what all these people have going for them, to loosely quote Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is that they are the hardest workers in any given room, and the knowledge that they can be better drives them to be better.

You can be better, too.


Photo by Sportpoint

To effect real change in your life, you must first know where you are. Then you have to know where you want to be and decide how you’re going to get there. Ask yourself how badly you want it. Once you want something badly enough, the work ethic follows. At first, getting out of bed to go work out happens about once a week. Then it’s two or three times a week. Before you know it, you’re going daily.

Fitness is the great equalizer. We aren’t all born with looks, money, family, social status, or great intellects; we have no say as to where in the world we are born. But each of us has a body, and that body can be made to move. The body is the only real estate we carry with us throughout our whole lives. It’s the only thing that we have left when we’ve lost everything else. Parts may have fallen off, withered away, shrunk, or failed. But until the day you die, you have some part of it left to use.

Why wouldn’t you take care of that resource and hone it to be the best it can be? Why wouldn’t you test its limits? Why wouldn’t you want to know what this body—your body—is capable of?

Taking care of your body can and will help improve other areas of your life. Everyone I mentioned before has a day job. Very few people are full-time athletes. But if your job, your personal life, or some misfortune has gotten you down, the endorphins released during exercise can help with your mood. The physical stress of lifting weights can give your mind sword-sharp focus. Getting up and eating right, exercising, planning, changing, adapting, and rounding out your fitness regimen all develop discipline and willpower that will extend to other areas of your life, helping you to make better decisions and stay the course when things get tough.


Almost four years ago, I began my proper fitness journey. I had been to the gym before, but never with a cause. Now, I train every day to compete on weekends, and I take people to my tiny outdoor gym to train for Strongman events. But right now, my day job is at a car dealership.

A man came into the dealership to look for a car. When he stepped out of his car, he could barely walk. I went over to talk with him and learned that he not only had cerebral palsy, but also had had polio earlier in his life. He was hunched over, his legs were wobbly, he could only step two inches at a time, one of his wrists was turned completely backward, and I could barely understand him, but I helped the man, tried to find him the best deal, and drove cars around for him to see. As I did, three things happened: I remembered my sense of a calling to help people and wanted that back desperately; I counted my lucky stars that my wife, Joanna, and I are in good health; and I immediately wished I wasn’t where I was. It’s not that I hate my job. I told my boss going into this that I was here to save up money to open my own full-size gym in a few years. But I desperately want to be there now.


I’m not a doctor. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not someone who has a wonder cure or a miraculous ability to make people better. But what I can do to help improve people’s lives also involves my passion: fitness. Through nutrition, exercise, and supplementation, we can help prevent some diseases, illnesses, and injuries, and we can rehabilitate some as well.

So, how can you take the first step toward transforming yourself by transforming your body? Here are some tips from the people mentioned above.

“My notebook,” says Nora, the CrossFit coach. “I wrote down my starting benchmarks: push-ups in a minute, sit-ups, pull-ups, mile run, and lifts. My goal was to beat them. I also wrote down my measurements and my weight.”

You have to know where you are and where you want to be. You have to track progress to remind yourself that change has actually occurred.

“I got hooked in college,” says Bob, the IT guy and wrestler. “I would schedule gym time in my day just like a class. I made it as important as brushing my teeth.”

Making fitness part of a lifestyle change and being honest with the amount of time it will take to achieve your goals will help keep you going.

Crossfit mud running

Photo by Marco Govel


Making the bed. That sets everything in motion and makes my day productive,” says Elijah, the personal trainer and competitive lifter and runner. “It has to start and end with discipline. It’s not five minutes, or a day, or a week of being consistent; it starts at the beginning of the day, every day.”

Jack, a personal trainer and competitive power lifter, says, “I never wanted to be the dad that comes home and drops into a chair with a remote and a beer. That makes me sick. I’ve always wanted to be active with my kids. My kids keep me motivated because I want to leave some kind of a legacy for them. Picking up heavy stuff and getting into the fighting ring are the best I got to work with.”

Elijah Hassertt ultramarathoner running

Elijah Hassertt, 21, salesman, powerlifter, Crossfit trainer, and ultramarathoner.
Photo courtesy of Bars and Stripes Fitness

Legacy and purpose are great motivators. You can want to be the best for your kids—and to be the best there is, period.

Eddie, garbage man and Strongman, explains what drives him: “My incredible, sometimes consuming competitiveness. I want to be the best (win a national title), and I’m not right now. That’s what motivates me to train.”

Once you get the fitness habit rolling, it becomes a lifestyle.

“Honestly, I just got tired of being a typical weak nerd and decided I’d rather be a strong nerd,” says Bryan, the engineering lead, power lifter, and Strongman. “Once the decision was made and I started seeing progress along those lines, it was self-fulfilling. I have always been a self-starting, driven person. It may take me some time to get there, but once I choose a course of action, it will get done.”

There is no magic pill. There is no one-week cleanse. There isn’t an easy-way-out supplement. Even those who “juice up” still have to eat right, sleep right, and work out right, day in and day out. There are six words I can give you to sum up how to take control of your life and free your mind through fitness:

Work hard. Live free. Stay hungry.

— V —

Thank you, Bob, Brian, Bryan, Eddie, Elijah, Ezrah, Jack, Jason, Joshua, Kelsey, Lindsey, Nora, Sami, Trish, and Vickie for lending your lives’ experiences to make this article a message for hope and encouragement.

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