After living in Ashland for 6 months, I was adamant that this small town was not the place for me. Yet, getting a job at Ashland University kept me in Ashland 12 years later. And when I thought my time here was drawing to a close, F3 gave me a reason to stick around.
For those unfamiliar with F3, it is, in its core, a community: A group of men coming together to exercise physically, socially and spiritually, hence the three Fs (Fitness, Fellowship and Faith). When D’Monet and Play D’oh (F3 nicknames of two seasoned F3 Ashland members) invited me to join F3, I had my doubts regarding the cultlike rituals that all F3 chapters follow. However, from the very first post (an F3 term for workout session) back in September of last year, I felt I was welcome. Even after living in Ashland for over 11 years prior to joining F3, I had never felt the sense of community that F3 has given me. Born and raised in North Africa, it has always been hard for me to connect with men my age in the U.S. especially in a small, conservative town. Nevertheless, I appreciate the way all F3 guys welcome newcomers and encourage them to attend more posts. The coffee get-together after each Saturday workout and the various social events throughout the week allow for more opportunities to get to know one another better and connect on deeper levels.
The first pillar of F3 is Fitness. Once you get to taste F3 workouts and survive your first winter, you won’t stop. At least, this is how I feel. I don’t know how I lived the past few years without making physical exercise part of my daily routine. In my teenage years and early twenties, I worked out regularly, but as I started a career and a family, exercise became less and less important. When I occasionally exercised, the workout often lacked any intensity and followed an amateurish approach. In contrast, F3 guided workouts are all peer-led, yet they give you the intensity and guidance you need to delve into your fitness journey. Most of the work we do is internal: “You against you,” taming the self and triumphing over any of your surmountable limitations, be it unhealthiness, fear, social anxiety, fatigue, and the like. In temperatures as low as -4 F, my focus while exercising outdoors is not on being in the freezing cold, but challenging myself to complete the workout to the best of my ability. “Modify as needed” is another F3 fitness principle manifesting the welcoming and nonjudgmental nature of this community. That is, when you are unable to perform an exercise, you modify it to avoid any unwanted outcomes, and there is no shame in that, as we learn from more experienced members. We also learn what is uncompromisable is remaining unbothered by a stagnant state of physical mediocrity and mental complacency.
While I’d like to think of myself as a self-disciplined person as I value the power of intrinsic motivation, F3 has provided me with what I lacked for years: Accountability. When you know you meet 3 or 4 times a week and you have to be on time, rain or shine, cold or heat, you do just that. Accountability also subsumes watching out for one another. When someone misses a few posts, the group makes genuine effort to reach out and make sure the reason for their absence is not a bad one. While the guys challenge themselves and others working out, compassion is always present in all of our interactions. There is, in fact, a caring, gentle dimension to our fellowship. This is tacitly reflected in the way the whole group goes back for “the 6” and make sure no man is left behind. Further, all posts are 45 minutes long, which may seem a short span, yet these posts are intense. I still remember the first 4 or 5 posts I participated in, half through the workout, I would ask myself, “Why the heck am I doing this to myself?” But by the end, I always felt a sense of fulfillment as I stuck with it, challenged myself and won. Yes, winning against oneself, to me, is what the Fitness and Faith pillars are all about. In the past when working out by myself, I would take it easy, quit when things got tough, or even sleep in when it was cold. F3 guides you to learn about yourself, learn what you can do and how much you can achieve if you only push yourself. This attitude of taming the self transcends your struggle with post exercises to permeate other aspects of life. Starting your day with an invigorating F3 “beatdown” will surely fill you with healthful energy and an exciting sense of possibility.
I wish I had known about F3 Ashland when it first started. I feel I wasted a few years of my life doing very minimal physical exercise and dealing with stress and anxiety issues inefficiently and all alone. Regardless, I hope this post reaches some of those who can relate to my pre-F3 situation and hope to embark on a similar fitness journey. If you would like to grow holistically (physically, socially and spiritually), F3 is for you.
Milan (P.S. Milan sides suck and Juve rules)