Investing In Apples

When I was a kid, we had a farm full of old apple trees. Most were producing only tough, dry, thick-skinned 'baking' apples, but they looked nice, and our sheep loved them. They were white with flowers in the spring, and their scent of fermentation was sweet as they rotted in late summer.

One spring, a teacher-friend showed up with his chainsaw and 'pruned' the trees back to their trunks. I was devastated. My kid-skin wasn't as thick as the low-grade apples, and I barely held it in. I've spent thirty years trying to replace those trees. To wit, this will be a long post; don't indulge me unless armed with caffeine.

While searching through an old email account on the weekend, I found a message to a client named Mario from 2001. That was over a decade ago, and I'd already been working with clients for five years when Mario was new. Mario attended on Saturday mornings – drove all the way from Sudbury to train with me – and I'd work him out and give him meticulous homework. Working on weekends was fine; I was young and single.

About two years later, I was late for a client appointment. First time ever.  I overslept. When I finally arrived – 15 minutes late – I lied about the reason. He probably didn't believe me, but he let me off the hook. I was late twice more (both times to open the gym) in the next twelve years. I remember them both.

On one stormy morning, I drove straight off the road, and was rescued hours later by my brother-in-law on a snowmobile. The gym opened late that day – at 10am. I wasn't scared of being stranded in the storm; but there were other rides where I was terrified, and not because of road conditions. I was scared because I couldn't make payroll, or rent, or maybe both. Three times, we went without a cheque. We once lived for over a year in overdraft without surfacing for a single day.

Others shouldered some of this risk with me. They were nuts, too, or scared. You already know their stories. Mike, especially, jumped in with both feet when Catalyst was still in its infancy.

When, in 2009, I decided that a good coach didn't make a good business owner, I began investing 8 precious dollars per month in audiobooks. I listened to business texts on my drive, one hour every day, and wrote down what I learned so that I wouldn't miss a lesson. Those virtual notes became – 400 posts linking together the theories that now form the infrastructure of Catalyst.

Nothing – no growth, no change – comes without risk. When you own a business, there's no time off for good behaviour; no seniority; no firm footing. Mostly, I backed into risk with my knuckles clenched tightly, of necessity instead of adventure. I opened a second gym; after Mike joined,  I committed to three other fulltime staff salaries, totalling $120,000, before finding Ty. MANY other risks, once gut-wrenching and now forgotten, filled those gaps.

In 2011, we were approached to deliver a seminar on Ignite in Boston; the deadline pushed us to finish our first book, Enrichment Through Exercise. Just before we left, the would-be host of the seminar killed himself. His wife, Tania Thomas, wanted the seminar to continue in his memory, and Catalyst – me and you – contributed to our first scholarship fund for his kids.

Months later, members of the Catalyst family sponsored Ted and I for a trip to California; he, to compete at the CrossFit Games; me, to tag along and absorb it all. I am shy about accepting charity, but the thought that it would likely be my only chance to attend outweighed my reluctance.

At the end of 2011, I saw fleeting mention of an application process for writers for CrossFit Media. I applied and was eventually accepted (notes on my file, for consideration, included, "Hard worker, a bit too wordy.") I met my deadlines by writing on weekends, and when the Regional Media Director had to back away from the job, I was the only one left to fill the vaccuum.

In January 2012, a new frontier opened. Clay Weldon, brother-in-law of Chris Spealler, read some posts from DontBuyAds and asked for some help advising clients on his new site, I jumped at the chance to write for a larger audience. When he proposed working with a client who was seeking a mentor, I was eager; Clay graciously allowed me to 'try out' as business coach by spending ten hours on Skype with me, working to improve his own business. I recall, clearly, the thought: "It would be pretty amazing if I could do this for three hours every week…." Three months later, Clay quit his job to work at 321Go fulltime. Last week, I spent 18 hours mentoring 321Go clients.

On the CrossFit Media side, with the help of Kate Rose, I submitted regular articles; flew to Toronto; saw my first Regional event since the old Sectionals format. I hoped to return in 2013. Meanwhile, we took another risk, signing Melanie Rose – Kate's little sister – to work both at Catalyst and at a new company, Spark Rehabilitation.

At Clay's encouragement, I wrote and published my second book, Two-Brain Business, which has surprisingly (to me) sold hundreds of copies to other gym owners.

Summer of 2012 brought an invitation to write and manage the Canadian section of the new CrossFit Community page, a well-meant attempt to bring stories of CrossFitters together from around the world. An invitation to gather with the rest of CrossFit Media in December was huge news, and at the same time, I warily accepted an invitation to compete (again) at a powerlifting meet inside a US prison.

In San Francisco, I met Greg Glassman and Tony Budding and everyone you see on the videos. I did short workouts with them. I took pictures with them. Even though under their employ, I was still a bit of a starry-eyed fan. They marveled that I still didn't have a cell phone, even while travelling. The prison seemed more stark than usual after a weekend downtown in San Francisco, but I enjoyed the meet, and wrote a long essay about finding CrossFit inside for the first time.

Clay and I wanted to do a seminar; Ty and I wanted to do another Ignite Certification; serendipitously, CrossFit Proper – an amazing Box, opened by Christian Batillier when he was only 17 – was eager to host both. We booked flights and sold seats to both. Right before I was due to leave, I was working at home on a Wednesday. Tyler sent me an email that said, "Greg Glassman called. Here's his phone number."

I try not to use the f-word in emails to staff. I failed this time.

Greg answered his own phone. He liked my essay on the prison meet, and wanted to talk. I offered to meet him in Corona; he was busy, but we settled on Seattle. Ty and I spent a very successful weekend in Southern California with Clay, and after 48 hours at home, I returned West.

Less than 24 hours after arriving in Seattle, I headed home with a winning lottery ticket.

When you're twelve, and you're writing bad poetry about apple trees, you imagine that someday you'll write a book, maybe. You don't think you'll be shaking hands with a genius in the Four Seasons parking garage with the Harbor in the background. It still seems a bit surreal, but Greg Glassman and I made a deal, and like all of the best deals in my life – with Watson, my first Head Coach; with Tom Young, my homebuilder; with Robin, my date for senior prom – it was done on a handshake, with details to be filled in later.

On Monday morning, I promoted Melanie to GM, and told her to fire me by Friday. Ty got his due; he's now co-owner of IgniteGym, Inc. Charity and Jarrett will have new opportunities, because I'm out of Personal Training after today.

I've been doing this since 1996, before many of our current clients were born. It's not easy to stop. Some clients will be VERY hard to hand over to Melanie's eager hands; not because I don't think they'll have a superior experience, but because I'll just miss them. However, after failing to find 15 minutes to speak to a favourite a few weeks ago – 15 minutes! and I didn't have it – and 30 minutes to train another favourite this week – not one session! – it's the right thing to do. My new position will require a LOT of travel, and I won't ask Family members to rearrange their schedules every week to accommodate me.

I'll train in front of you less, and train with you more. I'll join the groups and be an athlete. I'll still be IN the gym, but no longer OF the gym. Please bring Mel coffee when you see her.The transition has been  seamless – it's already happened, and Mel is so good that few noticed a change at all. One branch was pruned, but the others are heavy with fruit.

Part of my new job with CrossFit Creative will be to learn to write. For real. I'm not good enough, yet, to say 'thanks' in a way that's close to adequate. I'll work on it. I love you all. See you around.