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Saved My Life

It was just a little over three years ago that my colleague Greg McBrayer (F3 Play-D’oh) invited me to join a small group of men who were working out a couple of times a week at Ashland University’s field house. I was feeling flabby and not sleeping well, so I decided to take him up on his offer.

It wasn’t my first experience working out. I had actually started a few years earlier working with a personal trainer and going to the gym 2 or 3 times a week. Then at some point my trainer told me that I didn’t need him anymore. I kept going, but looking back I never pushed myself all that hard. I thought I was in okay shape, but not for what I was about to do. Those workouts were much harder than anything I’d done before. I found out that I couldn’t run a quarter-mile without stopping, and could do maybe two pull-ups. For the first few months I was sore all the time.

It turns out that Greg was part of F3, although none of us apart from him knew what that was. He explained that it was basically what we were doing already—a group of men working out together, taking turns leading the workout. One thing, though: F3 required that all workouts had to be outside.

That sounded like a deal breaker and not only to me. This is Ohio, where below-zero temperatures are not at all uncommon during the winter. We were supposed to work out during the freezing cold, the rain, and the snow?

For some crazy reason we went along with it. That summer, early on a Saturday morning, a few of us traveled to Columbus to join a Q (getting used to the terminology was—and still is—a challenge for me). At the end we all received our F3 nicknames. Each of us took turns standing in the middle of a circle and saying a few things about ourselves, so the others could get ideas. I mentioned that I was a big Star Wars fan, and Greg immediately chimed in, “Who’s the lamest Star Wars character?” That’s how I came to be called JarJar. Turns out Greg had that nickname planned all along.

Three years later, exercise has become a way of life for me. I attend three F3 workouts a week, plus a few of us hit the university’s gym a couple of days a week to lift weights. I can’t emphasize enough the value of working out with others. These men, whom I’ve come to regard as brothers, have pushed me harder than I’ve ever pushed myself. At the same time, they do it in a gentle and encouraging way; our motto is “modify as needed”—if there’s an exercise you simply can’t do, then do something else instead. We all work to make better men of ourselves and one another.

My involvement with F3 has been especially good for my mental health. Middle-aged men often say they have no friends. I have a bunch of them today, and I’m as close to them as I have been to any friends I’ve ever had.

And let me add that, at age 55, I’m in the best physical condition of my life. Growing up I was always kind of a skinny, wimpy kid. In my 30s I was flabbier, but still wimpy. Not today. I know it’s vain, but I love going to the pool or the beach, knowing that I look better than most of the guys half my age.

Back in 2019, only a couple of months after I started, I told some colleagues that Greg, by inviting me to work out with him, had probably saved my life. I meant it then, and I mean it now. Thanks, brother.


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