Story 23

Strength Through Brotherhood

Illustration by Vince “Pixar” Palko at AdToons

My story begins several years before F3 came to Toledo. When my second child was born in 2009, I was 60 pounds overweight and in poor condition physically. I was 30 years old but felt much older than that, like my best years were behind me. I successfully lost about 25 pounds by his first birthday through diet but without any exercise. Three years later, I had regained 15 of those pounds, and so began another round of weight loss, this time with some moderate exercise thrown in. Finally, I was no longer obese – just overweight! Unfortunately I regained some of this weight but not all of it. 

In January 2015, my wife and I decided to separate. It was an amicable separation, and we parted as partners and co-parents in raising our children. This life event pushed me to once again improve my body and to channel some of my stress and emotions. 

For several years, I wanted to run a 5K. I did track and cross country as a child, but I didn’t continue it through high school or as an adult. I did two 5Ks in the previous 2 years, but I was unable to run the entire race, easily becoming winded due to lack of cardio stamina and conditioning. My company was hosting a 5K on the campus and encouraged all the employees to download an app called C25K (couch to 5K) for training. The week before the 5K, I ran 4 miles during a training run. I completed the 5K in May 2015 easily in a little over 27 minutes. One of my friends encouraged me to train for a marathon which sounded crazy to me at the time.

Fast forward 18 months later, and I ran my first marathon, the NYC Marathon, in November 2016. NYC is my hometown and the excitement and energy during the race was incredible. I injured myself during my training and didn’t complete all of it. A combination of determination, Ibuprofen, and divine intervention propelled me and my strained calf muscle to finish the marathon in just under 5 hours. It was one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment in my life. Additionally, I lost another 35 pounds during this time, and I was finally at a normal weight and BMI for the first time as an adult. 

However, my physical transformation was nowhere close to being complete. I lost a lot of muscle in addition to fat during my weight loss and running. I was looking for something to take my conditioning to the next level. I began seeing a personal trainer at my company’s gym to start lifting weights. I was also doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) classes there as well. 

Then, I received the very unfortunate news in March 2017 that I was being laid off. My employer provided the inspiration and kick start to my running 2 years earlier, and the support I received really encouraged me, especially whenever I hit a roadblock in my training. I became depressed and started to lose focus, especially after I reinjured my leg and couldn’t run for a couple of months. Then a friend introduced me to a new exercise group starting in Toledo, F3. 

The first F3 workout in Toledo was Saturday, May 13, 2017. Several men drove from 2 hours away in Cleveland to lead our first workout. These guys were intense! Full of energy and brotherhood, I was in awe of their determination and fun leading the workout. It astounded me that they would drive 4 hours round trip, leaving home before 5 AM, to help us workout. I completed the workout excited and drained physically. I had a lot of work to do to keep up with many of the men there. Afterwards, we had fellowship at a local restaurant. The bonds the Cleveland men shared reminded me of my fraternity days in college which were the best of my life. 

During the summer, I looked forward to those Saturday morning workouts. They kept me distracted from being unemployed as I continued my job search. Some of the men I already knew from church or work. Many new friendships were made. Several job interviews were outside the Toledo area, and I knew I would miss my new F3 brothers if I took one of these opportunities and moved away. Luckily, I found another job in the area and began working there at the end of July. 

F3 grew tremendously that summer and fall. The single Saturday morning workout grew to six in the Sylvania suburb of Toledo. Workouts began in another suburb, Perrysburg, and in downtown Toledo as well. I would split my week between my running and my F3 workouts. I gained confidence in many workouts that previously intimidated me. As the weeks progressed, I could feel myself getting stronger, both physically and with the quality of my new friendships and connections. 

Then winter came. Winters in Toledo can be cold and brutal. The previous 2 winters were mild, but the Arctic cold came in early December. For my first cold weather workout, I didn’t dress appropriately, and one of my F3 brothers lent me his gloves as my hands were numb. It happened again a couple of weeks later. The men gave me tips on how to dress and prepare myself for the cold. 

Soon, I was looking forward to my outdoor workouts, and I began running in very cold temperatures as well. Previously I would not run below 20 degrees F. One morning I ran 4 miles in -4 degrees F temperature and got a thrill from the challenge of conquering the cold. While other people were spending the winter hibernating indoors, I was still able to enjoy being outside, thanks to the tips taught to me by my F3 brothers. 

My first accomplishment of 2018 was doing an unassisted pull-up. For some of the strongest men in our group, they could do ten or more pull-ups during a workout. For me, however, pull-ups were always something I can never do – not even a single one. During one of our cold weather workouts in the snow, I managed three consecutive pull-ups. For me, always one with thin arms, this was a major achievement. 

I achieved a lot before F3, but this special group of men helped me during a low time in my life and helped me reach another level of physical strength that I previously thought was unattainable.

Less than a year into my F3 journey, I can’t wait to see how far this group can take me.

Tom “Bagels” Russell

Check out other #Miracle stories.

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