From Fear to Faith
Through Fitness and Fellowship
My story starts in an average household being raised by healthy parents. I seemed to have a pretty normal childhood despite getting into trouble around the neighborhood and/or at school.
I was always very skinny and felt awkward about my body and my looks. I had a lot of insecurities that I masked with making others feel poorly about themselves. So subsequently, I suffered from the distinct feelings that I was different and never quite fit in despite being surrounded by people.
I always had an insatiable appetite for everything. From an early age, I could never get enough of whatever I believed made me feel whole. This was not an issue early in life because that hole that I was always trying to fill was quenched with eating or playing sports. As I grew older though, I began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. This quickly became an issue, and unfortunately, it seemed to feed a dark fatal hole. This darkness took up residence directly in my soul.
Once my addiction was in full force, I no longer felt detached – I felt more a part of the group. My inferiority complex had become stronger causing me to self-medicate with sex, alcohol, and drugs. My drinking and drug use continued to progress through college. I began to cross a threshold into extremely unhealthy living. This included lying, stealing, and failing out of numerous colleges (5 to be precise).
I was an “excuse guy” who never took responsibility for my actions. I did not respect my family, my friends, myself, or God. I grew up in the Catholic faith, but I completely abandoned my relationship with God and the church. I saw them as damning and knew I was screwed. I didn’t want to hear or think about the consequences of my actions here on earth, and I certainly didn’t want to focus on the truths of my hereafter. The more I tortured my body with drugs and alcohol, the skinnier and more out of shape I became.
I have a lot of addiction issues riddled through my family, so being genetically predisposed didn’t help the situation. I was so lost, that suicide seemed like the only viable path. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror anymore due to guilt, shame, and pure pity with how awful I looked. I tried to drink and drug myself to death, but I couldn’t even do that right.
Unfortunately, I kept waking up reliving the same day over and over – it was a live version of Groundhog’s Day. I finally became so sick of being sick and tired, that I reached out to my Mom and Dad. My Dad had been sober for 25 years and remained sober by the grace of God though Alcoholics Anonymous.
At this point in my life the only option I had was to ask Him to help me. My life immediately took a turn for the better. I received answers to so many questions – the questions I spent my whole young adult life searching for. What was wrong with me? Why was I different? Why couldn’t I drink and live my life like others?”
So my new life started, and I began to relate to a new group of individuals that were fighting this disease together. That felt good. At first, my addiction just transformed itself; I started to eat negative foods such as candy and soda. I gained an unhealthy amount of weight, to the point where I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror. I asked God to help me, and I decided to start working out. I had never done this before, because I was always too afraid, and because I was so weak.
What I realized was pride had stopped me from even trying, because I didn’t want others to see how pathetic I was. I continued working out for a while, but I plateaued. I became complacent with my exercising and my relationships. I needed more, and this is where my journey from sad clown to the happy clown started.
I had met my friend Bryan (Klinger) through a church group that was trying to improve our relationships with God, other men, and the parish community. He was a good guy, and I trusted him. So when he told me about this workout group called F3 and asked me to show up on May 13, 2017, I said, “sure.” However, I believed it was going to be a little Bible study group where we did a couple push-ups and read some passages from the Bible. I even told my other buddy I brought, “I plan on going home after this and doing a real workout.” So mind you, I have been working out for a decade now and was in pretty good shape. I pulled into the parking lot at Southview High School and about 40-50 guys were circled up, and my jaw dropped, and I was blown away at the showing. I found out guys had come all the way from Cleveland and Columbus to help launch this program.
When they started with these weird names for jumping jacks, I really questioned what I had gotten myself into. Then they described the reverence and respect paid to the troops. I loved that – I always want to show respect for the troops. So, we get into this beatdown, and I started struggling, and I mean really struggling. There were men there 10-15 years older than me that were not hesitating, and I felt humbled. I wanted to throw-up but held on for the ride. Once they finally finished, I was thinking this is going to catch like wildfire with people like me.
We finished with a prayer at the end of the workout and prayer intentions for other people. This was something bigger than myself. Plus, everybody got this F3 name, and that was cool. I thought I had to name myself, and I said, “Drago” because my whole life people said that I reminded them of the character from Rocky. Then, I was quickly humbled when they told me that I was going to be named by the group. So I stepped into the center and before I even said anything about myself this bald joker the ‘Colonel’ says, “Mickey, call him the short old trainer from Rocky.” Makes sense since I am a 38 year old, 6’6” guy.
Obviously, this guy was trying to be ironic, and I was a little embarrassed, but these were my kind of guys. They are in shape, discuss God, and bust other guy’s balls. I was home. This is what I have been searching for my entire life.
I quickly tried to assimilate by showing up at every workout and getting to know the guys and the process. I was given the book “Freed to Lead” and was inspired even more. I met a couple guys, one named Pixar, and the before mentioned, Colonel. I was told they were the ones, along with my friend Klinger and Brute that started this PAX in Toledo.
We were an immediate success drawing 25-50 people every beatdown and the expansion was on. The addition by division was met with sadness, but Colonel told us to trust the process. We did, and he was right. I have been blessed with so many close brothers that I never had and always wanted. Like so many men have said before, “F3 answered questions I didn’t know I needed to ask.”
I have since participated in numerous GORUCK and other physical challenges. The greatest gift I was granted though, was a new fresh perspective and a change in attitude and outlook. I saw the world a whole new way through these men. They challenged us to think outside ourselves and find ways to make our community a better place. I asked God to open my heart and my mind to opportunities and ideas on how to do this. I was watching a movie that focused on the struggle of kids with cancer which would have normally touched me on a surface level, but it was much deeper through the eyes of F3. I thought, “What can I do to make their lives better?” So I reached out to the PAX, and they said let’s do a toy drive for the kids with cancer during the Christmas season. The charity and generosity was infectious amongst these men. We wrapped and handed out over 150 presents for these kids, and it all happened in under two weeks. F3 has changed me into a person who tries to be better to my M (wife), 2.0’s (kids), and each and every person I deal with.
I am in such better shape physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I wake up every day excited to go into the gloom with my brothers. For the rest of the day I am able to transfer that energy into everything I do. The brothers I have gotten close to will do anything for me, and I will do anything for them. They have no idea how they have helped saved my marriage, my sanity, and even my life. I can never repay what they have done for me.