Story 19

Facing the Challenge
Not Alone

Illustration by Vince “Pixar” Palko at AdToons

How did I get here?

The alarm is set with a “4” as the first digit and the little dot indicating PM is not illuminated. And surprisingly, I am already up, switching it off before it blurts out to disturb my wife. 

The alarm is set with a “4” as the first digit and the little dot indicating PM is not illuminated. And surprisingly, I am already up, switching it off before it blurts out to disturb my wife. 

The temperature in my closet weather station reads “3 degrees” from the sensor perched outside my window. My dog is looking at me with an expression seeming to say, “Are you really going out there this morning?” The weather app on my phone is advising strict avoidance of outdoor activities at all cost. I give myself a little reassuring chuckle, as I know what is imminent. I know in a few minutes I will be sucking in the frozen air at rates that will tempt my lungs to harden like concrete. I know my eyelids are going to need a small butane torch to unthaw before I can head back home. I know there are a dozen men in a dark parking lot with heavy metal objects, eagerly awaiting a chance to test each other’s breaking point. I can only equate the scene to a terrifying backdrop for a post-apocalyptic Hollywood flick. But here I am, excitedly debating on 4 or 5 layers for this morning’s mysterious task. In fact…I can’t wait! And I think again…How did I get here?

This awkward appreciation for discomfort is not innate in me. In fact, it is quite contradictory to most of my natural survival instincts. I spent most of my years behind the plastic shield of generations of video game consoles. Sure, I rode bikes around the neighborhood, played recreational sports, and did all those things kids do to find their way through adolescence, but I was never interested in pushing my physical limits. Heck it wasn’t until my college years that a friend showed me what a bench press was and my future wife encouraged me to strap on skis and attempt roller skating. Physical exploration of my abilities was a road not meant for me. Yet here I was, 2 pairs of gloves deep, preparing for a battle. 


Fast-forward through a couple years post college. A healthy lifestyle made sense. To the gym we go! I got my ear buds in, music just for me, membership paid. 2 months in and still killing it. 

Feeling good. Routine is setting in. Things come up. I will get there tomorrow. Routine stalling. Hit it hard next week. Membership renewal? Ok, I guess. Feeling guilty I am not using it enough. Mediocre motivation. Nothing to strive for. 

Sound familiar? Looking good in my swimsuit was just not enough for me to keep coming back to the comfort of a climate controlled, immaculately clean, big box gym. But, risk of frostbite, slipping on ice, and slush-soaked socks were not stopping me from lacing up my trail shoes this frigid morn. What is wrong with me now? 

Nine months ago, with my wife by my side, I headed out for one of Toledo’s cultural Spring traditions, the Mud Hens home opener. The city comes out in droves to welcome the change of seasons. For most, including myself, it is more of a chance to shake the cabin fever and be “seen” and less about baseball. And here is where the “emotional headlock” happened. I ran into an acquaintance at one of the rented-out suites filled with ball park dogs, sudsy beverages, and folks more interested in a new connection than what inning we were in. And he tells me about this new “thing” just starting in town. Says I would like it. Calls it F3.

“Huh? You say prayers and do push ups? OK? I will look into it.”

“Where is it?”


“What time? Ha! 7:00 on a Saturday morning?!” “OK?”

So I go home and lie in bed with my wife and type it in…“F 3 N A T I O N . C O M.” It’s all there. Exactly as he told me. I start reading about “smokefests” and “circles of trust” and “circles of  pain.” I read about nicknames and merkins. My wife and I both laugh as we scan through the lexicon of terms used to express the activities of this unique gathering of individuals. She questions my interest, but like always, she supports my endeavors. Plus, I told my acquaintance I will check it out. So I do. 


Nine months ago I knew nothing of cadences. I knew nothing about merkins. I could barely get up for 7:30 AM meetings at work. Now I have to control my urge to Q the next workout to give another member of our PAX the chance to experience this gift. I lay out clothes with a fevered passion the night before. I ask for sandbags from my wife for my Christmas gift so our PAX can carry them on our Tuesday rucks. And here I am excited for what has been promised on our group chat app as “100 % chance of pain in the forecast.” What could make a reasonably sensible man be so damn excited to wake at an hour that could still be considered “night,” just to hit dangerously cold temperatures for 45 mins of burpees and lunges? …Because I wasn’t facing it ALONE. I had warriors, brothers by my side now. They put out the battle cry the night before. I knew they were going to face the challenge in the gloom the next morning, and I wasn’t about to let them face it alone. 

Here’s where the real difference manifests itself from the traditional health routine. The challenge we face together is not the workout. It is how to be a good father. How to be the best husband and raise my M on the pillar she deserves. The challenge is to lead my company and provide mentorship and career advancement for all my employees. The challenge is to make a damn difference in my community. The challenge is to open myself up to my weaknesses and to combat and embrace them. Sure, we are putting in work, battling burpee mountains, squatting until we forgot our own ages in the COT, and feeling the best we have felt physically in our lives. But that is a side effect. I often tell new guys that if they are interested in this group solely for “biceps and abs and to be a hot dad, it’s not for you.” But if you want to live third, expand your leadership to new heights, honor your wife for the angel she is, embrace every moment with your children, and surround yourself with men that will never let you face a jester alone, then welcome to F3. 

As I am writing these thoughts, with my 4-year-old son hanging on my left arm, cuddling me while he eats his cereal, my 6-year-old daughter walks through the kitchen and asks what I am doing. I tell her I am writing a story. She is very into books so I knew where this was going. “What’s it about daddy?” I tell her it is about F3 and ask her what she thinks about it. 

“It makes daddy stronger in a happy way!” 

…I don’t think I can say it better than that.

Matt “Stark” Yarder

P.S. Cooter, thanks for the EH big man. You changed my life.

Check out other #Miracle stories.

1 reply
  1. Mom
    Mom says:

    You have grown by leaps and bounds since you have experienced F3! I too thank that special person for challenging you to see what F3 is all about! You are healthy in mind, body and spirit and I couldn’t want anything more for you! I see how Katie, Amelia and Pierson reap the full benefits of the husband and father you are! As for me your mom, you’ve always been my Matt “Stark” the best son any mom could have! Keep up the good work! I love you!


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