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How the Weight Room Saved My Life
Greatist Journeys explore amazing stories from extraordinary people. This guest post was written by Dan Trink, CSCS and Director of Personal Training Operations at Peak Performance in NYC. The opinions expressed herein are his and his alone. To learn more about Dan, follow him on Twitter at @trinkfitness.
“I think I’ve had enough.”
I didn’t jump up from my seat, slam my hands on the table and scream it. I actually just kind of mumbled it under my breath. Little did I know at the time that those five words would be the beginning of an ongoing experience that completely changed my body, my career path, my outlook, and my life. Had I known they were going to be so important, I probably would have said them with a bit more authority.
It was my 28th birthday, and I was five months away from my wedding. My fiancée threw me a wonderful dinner party with all of my favorite foods — baby back ribs, fried chicken, potato wedges, pie. I was 50 pounds overweight. I felt terrible and looked even worse, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I didn’t want to get married looking or feeling like that. So I finished my meal, uttered those five words to myself and started the journey that I am still on to this day.
I made a few changes even though I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The good news is, when you are doing everything wrong, just adjusting a few things is an improvement. I began walking, jogging, cycling, and stair-mastering at my neighborhood gym five times per week. I adjusted my diet so the only ‘sweets’ I allowed myself were two Fig Newtons every night. (Little did I know that my morning box of cereal was terrible for me or that drinking orange juice probably wasn't the best idea, but I would learn soon enough.)
After two months, people started taking notice. By the time of my wedding I had lost 51 pounds. Man, was the guy who fitted me for my tuxedo pissed. My wife and I went on our honeymoon and only got one beach day out of the entire trip. I looked at photos of that day when we got back and thought to myself, “Huh, this still isn’t what I want to look like.”
That’s when things really changed for me. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding nutrition and strength training. I started hitting the weight room. I knew how much protein I was taking in each day. I experimented to devise the optimal post-workout nutrition shake. People who had just casually noticed my weight loss before were blown away by what I was turning my body into now. Co-workers were asking me to take a look at their food logs. Guys who I wouldn’t even look in the eye when I first signed up for the gym were asking me what program I was on. My doctor wanted to know if I was taking steroids. It was awesome.
It was around this same time that I realized I was pretty unhappy at work. As an associate creative director for an advertising agency, I was pulling in a six-figure salary and had reached about the highest level I was going to achieve in my company. But none of that really satisfied me. So I decided to walk away from that career and try to become a personal trainer. My wife was unbelievably supportive. My mother asked if I’d prefer to become a dentist. It was a strange and exciting time.
I was lucky enough to pick up some clients through a few random contacts and started training them in their small building gyms. But I felt pretty isolated and I knew I wasn’t going to grow as a trainer in that type of environment. So I decided to reach out to the best facility in New York City and offered to work there for free. I think I actually offered to come in and sweep the floors if they would just let me hang around the place.
Unbelievably, Joe Dowdell at Peak Performance wrote me back and offered to meet. Joe and I hit it off right away. He advised me on which certifications to get, which seminars to attend, and how to go about being a true professional in this business. At the end of the meeting I sheepishly asked if it would be possible to be part of what he had built at Peak. He told me to show up the next day to shadow him in a training session with one of his MMA fighters. With that I was off and running.
I followed Joe around for months learning how he went about program design and exercise coaching. When I wasn’t at his heels I was in the trainers’ room studying for certification exams. My weekends were spent attending continuing education seminars. I asked the other trainers for advice on everything on how to get clients, how to manage schedules, and what they did to break into the business. I had gotten my chance and wasn’t going to let it slip by.
Eventually, Joe and his staff worked me into the fold and gave me a few clients, and I haven’t looked back since. My goal was to be the busiest trainer at Peak, and within several months I managed to accomplish that. Then when the Director of Training suddenly decided to move to the West Coast, Joe and his management team asked if I would take over that role.
Now, I oversee the training floor and 55 staff and independent trainers. I continue to study and learn everything I can on strength training and nutrition, as that is where my passion still lies. I’ve been published in major fitness magazines and across the web. Thanks to the knowledge I’ve gained and my training partners at Peak, I’m currently in the best shape of my life.
I’d love to say I had some master plan and then made it happen, but as with most things in life, it doesn’t really work that way. Sometimes you just have to put down the spare ribs and take the first step towards something you’re really driven to do.