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The Journey to Bear Crawling 31.07 Miles

At a certain point in our life, or maybe even at multiple points, we find ourselves wondering what it would be like if we achieved everything we desired. The thought lifts our spirits, makes us feel good for a couple of minutes, and then we put our heads back down only to fall into the same patterns as before. Ultimately, getting us nowhere closer to the things we want in life.

We All Start Somewhere 

Growing up, my dream was to be a professional baseball player. My parents were divorced, and when most kids were hanging out on weekends, I was in a batting cage in a different state, learning how to cope with the difficulties of life. What I didn’t know at the time, but fully understand now, was that these hours in the cage wouldn't go towards a major league field, but they would go towards molding a mindset that would achieve something that's never been done before. 

Fast forward 10 years, I signed to play college baseball at Franklin Pierce University, a division 2 powerhouse in the Northeast-10 conference. If you take a look at my college numbers, you would probably think everything went to plan. I filled a starting role 4 years in a row, was a team captain for three of those years, and made a regional championship almost every single year. 

What most people don’t know, and what I’m not scared to admit, is that being GIVEN those things was the worst thing that could have happened to me. I say given, because those accolades weren’t earned. I lived a lifestyle where I hid my worst fears and backed it up with a poor work ethic. Achieving what I achieved only allowed me to keep running from the reality of my life. I spent most of my days drinking, getting in trouble, and almost failing out of classes. All of these things were a mask. They were a mask to myself and the people around me, because I was scared for what people would think if I tried… and failed

What would happen if I actually put in the work, skipped those parties, and still didn’t win a starting job?

What would happen if I admitted I cared about being smart, studied, and still failed exams? 

Now, I'm telling you this background for two reasons.

  1. To show you that there is immense strength in being vulnerable. Vulnerability and authenticity is the only way to work towards what you want in life. 

  2. The person you used to be, currently are, or will be, is not stuck in cement. You can change. It doesn't matter where you start from. 

2020 was a year most people will never forget. A global pandemic shuts down everything, we're all forced to stay at home, and for the first time in our lives we have the obligation to do nothing. Now, when you ask people about the shutdown they’ll say one of two things - I took the time to rest or, I took the time to get my life in order. 

Being in the middle of my collegiate senior season, and then having it get canceled 14 games in, I had all the time in the world to think about those four years I just summarized into three paragraphs above. I couldn’t look myself in the face, I was unhappy with how I looked physically, and it was at that moment I decided to stop lying to myself. I decided I was going to go on the pursuit of my potential regardless of what anyone said - because I knew no matter what anyone thought of me, if I kept living the way I was, I would be the only person that was unhappy at the end of my life. I had to do it for myself. 

Deciding to Bear Crawl an Ultra Marathon (31.07 Miles) 

After 5 years of not working out and doing everything but living a healthy lifestyle, you think it would make sense to ease my way back into fitness. I decided that wasn't the move. The funny thing about those years is there was never a day that went by where I felt confident in the things I was doing. My potential was always lurking, and I knew if I wanted to bring it out, I had to commit to something I never thought I could achieve. 

Becoming the first person to bear crawl an ultra marathon sounded like the perfect place to start. 

Now, I’ll get into the lessons this bear crawl journey brought me, but I first want to start with the lesson I wish I could go back and tell my younger self. 

If you want to become someone you never thought you could have been, you have to commit to something you never thought you could have done. 

The Preparation 

I gave myself a 16 month window to train to bear crawl an ultra marathon. Now if you run marathons, do Ironmans, or even run ultra marathons, your prep probably isn’t 16 months for a reason. It’s way too long. My goal was to have a world record by the age of 23, and 16 months was the longest I could give myself before the clock struck and I turned 24. Looking back, 16 months was perfect. Perfect because it was a little bit more than I needed physically, but it was exactly what I needed mentally. I had to learn how to believe in myself again. 

That leads me to my first lesson. 

1. No amount of training is good unless you're forging a belief in yourself. 

I could go into copious amounts of detail about my training, how difficult it was, and how long it took me every single day. There's no true words I can put onto paper to help you understand what it feels like to bear crawl for up to 10 hours a day. There's no words that can help you understand the level of repetition it took to be able to bear crawl a mile comfortably, let alone 31. However, that doesn't mean I can't share the most important lessons from training with you, and that's exactly what I intend to do. 

2. Pride comes from building it, not so much from achieving it. 

Most of us rush away from the process of building something. When I was training I was always wishing the days were over. Looking back, the moments where I spent hours alone at the field is what fuels the pride I have for what I accomplished. Take some time to enjoy the moments that suck, that's where your pride will come from.

3. You can do anything, but you can't do everything. 

I had to make a lot of sacrifices during training including shutting the doors of my first business. I wanted to take on the world and I thought I was capable of anything. The truth is, I am capable of anything, I just couldn't do everything all at once. Slow down, focus on one step at a time - it's true, Rome wasn't built in a day. 

4. People don’t need to see your vision. It’s your job to make them see it. 

I faced a lot of judgment when I decided to go from nobody to somebody. People thought I was out of my mind, they went against everything I said. It’s completely normal to be criticized when you sign up for something abnormal, that's part of the gig. Don’t take it personally, just know it's your vision to bring to life, not theirs. 

5. Take time away when you need it.

The last thing I'll do is sit here and lie to you. I won’t tell you I didn't miss a day for almost 500 days - I missed plenty. Several days where I went home early after having mental breakdowns on the field. Several days where I didn’t even show up because I was so worn out mentally. I took the time when I needed it because I knew it was the decision to show up again tomorrow that would ultimately matter. Pause, but don’t quit. 

6. One. More. Day.

There was one day in training where I almost quit. It was in the middle of a two month block where I was bear crawling a minimum of four hours a day, and up to 10 hours a day. At the end of a training session I told my trainer, “I don’t know if I have anything left. I don’t think I can do it anymore.” The words he spoke back to me forever changed my life. He looked at me and said “Can you show up one more day?” 

Ask yourself, are you truly done? Or can you show up one more day? Most likely, you can. So forget tomorrow, forget the next day, just go one more day. 

Two World Records in One Day

After 16 long months the day finally came. I toed the line in Prospect Park located in Brooklyn, New York, with the plan to bear crawl 31.07 miles finishing in famous Central Park. To cut the story short, I collected my first world record completing the fastest bear crawl marathon in an official time of 18 hours and 44 minutes. Roughly 5 hours later I collected my second world record, becoming the first person to bear crawl an ultra marathon (31.07 miles) in 23 hours and 26 minutes. The crazy kid in college was right, he did everything he said he was going to do. 

Bear crawling was still an eye turner for even the wild and reckless streets of New York City, but what everyone else saw that night was nothing compared to what was actually going on in that crew of 12 people. It was 24 hours full of pain, laughs, tears, and a million other emotions. It took me two days to be able to stand on my own and for two weeks I lost all of the feeling in my fingers and couldn’t squeeze my hands closed tight enough to even open a door. But, throughout it all, there are very important lessons I learned during that grueling 24 hours pursuit.

1. You can’t do it alone. 

I never could have crossed that finish line in world record time if my teammates didn’t do everything in their power to get me what I needed. From people taking their warm layers off to make sure I stayed warm, hand feeding me because I couldn't hold food with the gloves and tape on my fingers, and even just putting a hand on my back when I thought there was nothing left to give. Life is going to present you with some trying times, it's inevitable. Make sure you have the people you love closest to you and let them help you through. It may sound “tougher” to go alone, but what you’ll truly remember is the bonds built during the ever so powerful shared struggle. Lean on people, and let people lean on you. 

2. Life has no finish line. 

When I was a young kid my grandfather left me a note, and he finished the note off with words that I now hold higher than any others. He told me to always play the game of baseball “hard but fair” and to “never stop hustling.” During training, I always told myself that my life would be significantly better when I achieved what I set out for –I thought, magically,  I would be happy. What I realized on that car ride home back from Central Park, now the holder of two world records and the only human to bear crawl 31 miles, was that my life was exactly the same. What I failed to realize during training is that the hustle is what made me happy. It was the balancing of all the things that made me happy, not the end product. I already had everything I needed, most importantly, I already had my hustle. 

If you get anything from my story, my goal is that it would be this:

No accomplishment is going to bring you what you think it will. It won’t make the world sunshine and rainbows. It’s those things that are already in your life, those things that are already there, that’s going to bring you the happiness. Become less obsessed with the outcome of your goals and more obsessed with the process of achieving them. 

With all of that said and two world records to my name, I hope you decide to chase the thing that you think is impossible. I never thought I was capable of it, but here I am writing this article about a story that only happened because of one small decision. If you’re reading this, go out and achieve it. 

Never Stop Hustling.

For what it’s worth... it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again. - F. Scott Fitzgerald 

All photos courtesy of Manny Gayyean

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