2021 F3 Toledo Winter Challenge

GOAL: Commit to F3 Toledo and your fellow PAX to live all three F’s. As the name clearly states, this is meant to be a “challenge.” Don’t be intimidated. Embrace the suck with your brothers, get better and earn a badass t-shirt only a select few will ever be able to wear.

DURATION: January 1st through March 31st

COST: $20 or $25 – If you complete the challenge you will earn a custom F3 Toledo long-sleeved shirt ($20) or hoodie sweatshirt ($25) designed by our very own world renowned artist, Pixar. You’re going to want this shirt! For those that do not finish, your money will be donated to Cherry Street Mission on behalf of F3 Toledo.

Payment can be made via PayPal or cash to Jimmy Dean.

***For sizing purposes shirts will be similar in fit and quality to GORUCK t-shirts (Next Level 60/40 blend). These shirts won’t suck!

Submit your shirt size using this form.

REQUIREMENT: Accumulate 55 points over the 13 weeks and you will receive the shirt.

POINTS – (minimum requirements in each F)

  • FIRST F – (30 – point minimum, 29 points from workouts, 1 from Q-ing)
    • 1 Point for showing up to a regularly scheduled workout
    • 1 Point for Q-ing a workout
    • 1 Point for bringing an FNG to a workout. An additional bonus point will be given once your FNG makes his 3rd post (all 3 posts must be within Winter Challenge timeframe).
  • SECOND F – (5 Point Minimum)
    • 1 Point for attending a Coffeeteria after a regular beatdown
    • 1 Point for attending a larger planned social gatherings of 5 or more PAX (i.e. lunches or evening events). Please give fellow PAX 48-hour notice with an event post
  • THIRD F – (5 Point Minimum)
    • 1 Point for attending a Cherry Street event
    • 1 Point for attending a Bible Study
    • 1 Point for donating blood
    • 1 Point for donating clothes
    • 2 Points for donating plasma

You can keep track of your stats/points here all winter long!

Getting Back to the Gloom

F3 Toledo PAX:  

As the state has decided to slowly begin opening things back up from our Stay At Home Order, the Leadership Team feels it’s time for us to open our AO’s again.  It’s not going to be like it was in May 2019, but it will be an opportunity for us to get back to our Mission and gain some momentum.  While the Virtual Workouts have kept us engaged and active, physical proximity can’t be replicated, and it’s time to get back to the gloom!

Many of our AO’s are unavailable for us to use, mainly in Sylvania, so there are going to be some changes in locations.  Pay attention to the calendar events in GroupMe so you know where to go for the beatdown.  It may be a little confusing at first, but we’ll develop a pattern that works given the restraints we are working under.  

All beatdowns must follow these guidelines which are in line with the recommendations of the state order:

  1. All workout groups should be less than 10 PAX.  If more than 10 post, the workout should be split in half and proceed to different areas of the AO. In some cases, a second Q may be necessary. 
  2. Remain separate even for COT.  Should more than one COT group be needed, please host COT at least 100 yards from each other.   
  3. Maintain 6 feet distance at all times between pax, including COT.  
  4. No shared coupons, shared equipment, partner exercises, or Ball of Man. 
  5. If you are sick, or have been around anyone that is sick, do not post in person.
  6. Remember the disclaimer: We are not professionals, this is a free workout, each pax participates at his own risk, modify as needed.   We acknowledge that there is a new risk we all face, COVID-19.  Again, each man assumes his own risk when he posts. 
  7. HC in GroupMe so the Q can plan accordingly (see rule 1) 

Our mission is to plant, grow, and serve small workout groups for men for the invigoration of male community leadership.  We are a leadership organization and we should lead by example. We ask that you take these guidelines seriously.  Public perception is important and critical to the success of our Mission.  We don’t want to be perceived as reckless and risk harming F3’s image in the community. These guidelines are necessary to enable us to stay on Mission and get back to normal as fast as possible.

While the Leadership Team believes it’s safe for us to start ramping back up, we realize that individuals may not feel ready.  Differences of opinion are normal and each PAX needs to decide for himself what he is comfortable with.  Virtual workouts will continue for those that aren’t quite ready to post at an AO.  Please be respectful of everyone’s choice.  There is no perfect answer right now as we are navigating through unprecedented times.  Do what you feel is right and understand not everyone will feel the same way that you do.  

This is the first step.  Hopefully, in the not too distant future, everything will be back to normal.  There’s no replacement for meeting in the early morning and getting the day started with the men of F3 Toledo.  Let’s get moving…SYITG!!

March 2020 Ruck Pre-Blast



Saturday March 7, 2020
-Step off 0500, endex around 0900


Saint Joseph Catholic Church
108 W Broadway St.
Maumee, OH 43537

Park in lot across from the church, on north side of W. Broadway St.


Bongo and Mercy

  • 8 mile ruck with  a beatdown at the halfway point
    • Ruck from Downtown Maumee to Battlefield through SideCut (4 miles)
    • Attend 1 Year Anniversary Convergence Beatdown at the Battlefield
    • Ruck back to start point in Maumee (4 miles)
  • 2nd F at Brew House Coffee Shop in Maumee

*No coupons – straight ruck.

3rd F Component

Collection for Food For Thought
Donation suggestions:

  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Loaves of bread
  • Individual snack size goldfish, pretzels, or other sweet or salty snacks
  • Brown paper lunch bags
Gear List
  • Rucksack
  • Headlamp & Spare Batteries
  • Ruck Reflectors or Equivalent
  • Water Bottle
  • Ruck Weight – recommended 30#.
  • Photo ID
  • Index Card with Emergency contact information
  • Gear for beatdown such as gloves
  • Snacks, electrolytes, caffeine, etc. 

February 2020 Ruck – Backblast

Grand Rapids to Village Idiot Ruck

February 1, 2020

Grand Rapids to Farnsworth Metropark: 0500-0800

Farnsworth Metropark to Village Idiot, Maumee, OH: 0800-1130

Qs: Isosceles, Mercy

PAX: Stark, Whispers, Slurpee, Van Gogh, Red Ryder, Billy Bob, Lonzo, Ponzi, Ticket, Huckleberry, Thai Guy, Flo, Bongo, Otto   

The Ruck

Started at Grand Rapids public library at 0500. 5 PAX (Van Gogh, Isosceles, Mercy, Billy Bob,) rucked approximately 9 miles with 3 60# Sandbag coupons.

The PAX crossed the bridge over the Maumee, and were EH’d by Billy Bob who lives in Grand Rapids, as he was driving to the beatdown and ruck at the Battlefield. Switching the sandbags and flag, the group was making good time. 

Around mile 3, Red Ryder’s shin splints started flaring up, and he chose to turn back. He took a sandbag with him. We didn’t want him to turn around, but he was in pain and it was his call. 

The 5 left pushed forward with the flag and sandbag, stopping once for a bathroom break. There was not much time to do anything else, as the group pushed hard to make the 0800 time hack. It was a good time, and it was a hard time. There was good conversation, as always, but there’s not much more to say other than it was just a hard ruck. The group arrived at the end of Leg 1, right on time with nothing to spare.

At 0800, the rest of the crew met the group at Farnsworth Metropark after most did the normal 1 hour ruck and 1 hour beatdown at the Battlefield. Before starting the 8 miles trek to Maumee, the group did 5 sets of 10 burpees, with rucksacks on.  

We headed out and rucked 1.5 miles to Waterworks park and did 2 rounds of the following PT:

  • 10 ruck curl to press
  • 10 reverse lunges (2 is 1)
  • 10 upright rows
  • 10-20 squats (2 is 1)

We rucked through Waterville and headed to Sidecut metro which was approximately 4 miles away. We traded coupons every 5 minutes and made the guys join new conversations. We made it to Sidecut by 1015. The PAX did a quick relay race of bear crawls and coupon carry.  We crossed the road and started the team evolution.  

The team evolution was to take the following items and create a “cart” that would carry the coupons approximately 1.5 miles.  

  • 2 – 8’ 2”x4”
  • 1 – 4’ 1”x2
  • 1 – 3’x2’ piece of plywood
  • 100’ of 0.25” paracord
  • 1 – tire
  • 1 – 2’ 1”x2”
  • 1 – ratchet strap
  • 1 – axe handle
  • 1 – knife

Time Hack was 15 minutes to build cart.  The PAX did a great job of delegating tasks and working together to make a wheelbarrow type cart that was mobile. After a little trial and error, the cart was moving.  Guys traded off and everyone pitched in. There were a few attempts to just carry the cart, but it was decided that less energy was used pulling the cart and using the wheel.

The final push was up a hill through Isosceles yard…everyone was spent! Walked to St. Joe’s parking lot to hand in our winter/spring workout clothes to Cherry Street Mission and snap a quick photo. 

Finally, we strolled into the Village Idiot for some 2nd F over pizza and beer….man they both tasted amazing! 

What a great group of PAX on this ruck.  The mood was light, the effort was great, and everyone finished strong. It was an honor for Mercy and I to lead this group.  Thank you for making it a solid event. 

2nd F Attendance:

Stark, Huckleberry, Ponzi, 2Pac, Flo, Thai Guy, Mercy, Isosceles, Slurpee, Whispers, Bongo, Otto, Ticket

Story 28

Powerful Layers Accelerate Life

To be honest, I don’t really know where to begin.  I tend to over analyze most situations, and figuring out why F3 means so much to me and others, is one of the things I have thought about a lot. I have said since day one that there are many layers to F3, which is why it is so powerful for myself and so many other men.  Here is my attempt to put my thoughts on paper.  

F3 is fellowship/brotherhood. We attempt to leave no man where we found him. Helping others improve is invigorating. The high impact men that join you in fitness, fellowship, and faith provide an example, motivation, accountability, and so much more. 

F3 brothers provide support, feedback, and accountability. 

F3 helps build leadership skills

F3 is learning how to live 3rd

F3 is a physical outlet

F3 makes you better because there is consistent, intentional, and direct contact with other strong individuals.  Iron sharpens iron is not just a tagline in this group.

F3 is a place where you can explore your faith and spirituality without being judged. 

F3 allows you to get creative; aka you are free to lead however you want

F3 is kinda rogue; it’s definitely not status quo fitness or fellowship

F3 is a way to get outside, get fresh air, and connect with our physical environment 

F3 is competition if that is what you are looking for. It’s also you vs you, no one will call you out for being out of shape or modifying a workout. 

F3 is slowly getting prepared for whatever life throws at you; you never know when it’s going to get tough

F3 is community leadership and giving yourself to a greater cause bigger than yourself.

F3 is a collection of very solid advice and virtues all written down in the Q source material 

F3 is a push that will take you further than you thought possible.  

My F3 story starts with Thai Guy, who EHed me on a Thursday during our first “fishing, fellowship, and faith” church group meeting.  He told me to show up on Saturday and be ready to workout. At first, I thought it was crazy to show up at 6:30am on a Saturday morning.  When I arrived I noticed that a few guys had started at 5:30 am to ruck before the beatdown! I thought to myself, who in the heck would get up at 5:30 am on a weekend to work out for 2 hours. Well, that person is now me.

It is crazy how many layers there are to F3.  Guys come out to a workout thinking they might get physically stronger, but they end up with so much more. I know for me, the first thing I needed to overcome was getting up early and fighting the fatigue following workouts.  But after a while, my body adjusted, and I learned how to embrace the discomfort. The guys within the group made it worth it to keep coming back. Next thing you know, I was signing up for the Frog ruck that started at 3:00 am! While I admit I questioned my decision to join the Frog while doing 50 burpees with a 30 lb. ruck sack at 3:45 in the morning, the guys around me made it worth it.  I knew I was part of a TEAM and the PAX would push me through. That sums up F3, top quality men who continuously push others to come out and get a little better each day in their fitness, fellowship, and faith.

When I first started F3 I thought I was doing pretty well in life (thinking that I was at least keeping up with the so called status quo). Looking back, I realize I was on a slow decline.  It is now clear to me that in order to accelerate, I must work to keep relationships with other men who are virtuous leaders. F3 provides that and more. Thank you to the PAX who haven’t left me where they found me. 

Eric “Isosceles” Puffenberger

December 2019

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Story 27

An Answer to an Unspoken Prayer

F3 was, literally, an answer to an unspoken prayer. Over the last few years, I had lost two men that had been strong mentors in my life. My father-in-law had died unexpectedly, and a good, older male friend of mine had moved a few states away to be with his family. It had created a hole that I sensed needed to be filled. But, I wasn’t sure how. I have many people in my life, but few close friends. I am great at making acquaintances, but making close friends can be a struggle for me. I knew I needed more men of substance in my life for me to grow and be better. 

Exercise was something I enjoyed, but I would get bored with easily. I had tried different programs, but I would lose focus with them quickly and fall off the wagon. Running has always been something that I enjoyed, but, other than that, I was a fish out of water. So, I feel it was more God’s timing and not my workout ethic that had me packing my bag to head to the Y on a random Friday in July. There, I ran into two gentlemen, Hazmat and Tupac (not their given names) in the parking lot. Hazmat, I knew slightly from church. I gave them the “manly” head nod and a “hello” and then spent the next 15 minutes being told about this workout group called F3 that was open to men and free of charge. I told them that I would try and be out on Monday. 

Part of me is still surprised I made it out that Monday. Showing up to random events like that is not in my comfort zone. But, I figured that it would be a bunch of middle aged men, and being a “runner”, I could hold my own. Boy, was I wrong! After meeting men named Q*bert, Stark, and Casper and after rounds of running hills, burpees, and things called Merkins (push-ups), American Hammers (Russian Twists), and Big Boi’s (sit ups), I was trying not to splash my merlot (throw up). At the end of it, I was toasted and stoked. I got my own F3 name (Montoya), and I couldn’t wait to show up again. These were men who I didn’t have to try and be anything around. These men, who didn’t judge me in many of the ways I judge myself, didn’t care about my occupation, my income level, or my education. All they cared about was what they could do to help me be a better man, and they asked me to do the same for them. A core tenant of F3 is to leave no man behind but to leave no man where you found him. 

Throughout my year at F3, I have met men who I call brother, and deeply mean it. I have love and respect for each one of them. The workouts are varied and are only limited by the creativity of the man leading it. I have a great, but busy life. I have a wonderful wife of 14 years, five awesome children. I work as a nurse at an area hospital and am in school. My life is full, and at times, stress filled. But, it doesn’t matter the mood that I am in at the start of the workout, I am always smiling and laughing at the end. It doesn’t matter if I am there every day, or once every other week. I am always welcomed, and people are quick to check in on me if I am out for too long. I am surrounded by examples of high quality husbands, fathers, workers and leaders that push me to be the best version of myself. F3 fills a spot that I didn’t even fully know that I needed filled. These men are a true gift from God.

Ron “Montoya” Stowers

October 2019

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February 2020 Ruck Pre-Blast

Grand Rapids to Maumee Ruck Event

Date: Saturday, February 1, 2020
Startex: 0500, Providence Metro Park, Grand Rapids Ohio.
Endex: Downtown Maumee for pizza and beverages. This is 16 miles, 6 hours. 

Contact Isosceles or Mercy with any questions
Clown Car Info

Meet Up Location:
St. Joe’s Church
Maumee, OH

Departure Time: 0430

If doing other distance options:
Grand Rapids to Farnworth Metropark Trailhead: 8 miles, 3 hours
Drop a car off at Farnsworth Metropark. Clown car rest of way to Providence

Grand Rapids to Waterville: 10 miles, approximately 4.5 hours
Drop a car off in Waterville. Clown car rest of way to Providence

Packing list:
  • 20 pounds minimum ruck weight
  • Reflectors on Ruck
  • Headlamp
  • Extra batteries for Headlamp
  • Index card with emergency contact information and any other pertinent information
  • Full water bladder
  • Nalgene water bottle
  • Cold Weather gear – extra gloves, socks, etc. 2 is 1, 1 is none.
  • Change of clothes for at Village Idiot (optional, can leave in car)
Starting Point

Providence Metropark (East parking lot).
Step off at 5:00 am

Link to Location: https://goo.gl/maps/TQw2xwjHf5t6h3sY9

Shortened Option #1

Stop at Farnsworth Metropark Trailhead.  
Approximately 8 miles from starting point. 
Going to start with brisk pace and make this distance by 8:00 (3 hours)
Link to location: https://goo.gl/maps/xf5nBkdScSQsWaUC6

Shortened Option #2

Stop at Waterville 
Approximately 10 miles from starting point.

Story 26

Double Respect is Earned

I am not quite sure how or even where to begin. I have never been one to keep a diary or a journal. Never given much thought about trying to convey to others the reason why I chose to do something or join a particular group. At 61, I’m really starting to find this Zen state where my experiences and intuition combine. For me, it came down to a couple of things. I’m reliant on my intuition…my gut feeling. Trust my instincts, and then decide. There are so many things I “could do” and I have to decide what “to do”. All of my decisions are really made on my intuition…what seems right at this moment in time, which is how and why I got to this place and F3.

It was a Monday evening, June 13, 2018, a new “AO” location, an early summer storm on the horizon with the distant sound of thunder and the threat of lightning. The Q, Matt “Stark” Yarder, was seriously contemplating calling it for the night before the Beatdown even began. Fortunately for me, in typical F3 fashion, Stark didn’t call it, and I participated in my first F3 workout: “always outside-regardless of weather”… and “IT” began…and I have not looked back since.

At my age, I wasn’t really looking for another group to belong to. I wasn’t necessarily looking to expand my friendships. I wasn’t even looking for an avenue or new venue to workout. I had already retired and had begun the arduous process of slowly winding down on several Boards and organizations that I had been actively involved with for years. I considered myself pretty fit, active and in pretty good shape. I certainly planned to remain active and connected to serving my community. So, why this thing called F3? What was my intuition…my gut telling me?

As Vice Chair of the YMCA Board at the time, there was a fellow Board Member, Jonathan “Bourbon” Burns, who consistently attended our Tuesday morning Board meeting just coming from a workout. I later found out the workouts were Tuesday morning F3 Beatdowns. Bourbon finally explained in detail what F3 was all about. Not yet convinced that this group was legit, I decided to do what most people do today…I Googled F3. Coincidentally, there appeared in the local newspaper, an impressive and very informative feature article all about F3/FiA Toledo. I was satisfied, even curious…but still a bit skeptical. So I decided to check out F3 in Perrysburg! To my amazement and absolutely satisfying my over-skeptical-self, I was very impressed with my first Beatdown (even though the weather threatened to cancel it before it got started). How totally impressed I was with my first Q…Stark! How very thankful and appreciative I was and am with Bourbon…the guy who EH’d me!

It’s not all about Fitness…however?

Even though I thought of myself as pretty fit, reasonably in good shape, weight-height in good proportion and able to hold my own with guys nearly half my age, to be honest, there was always room for improvement. Having been married for 35 years, I didn’t need the “love handles” any longer. I needed to increase my stamina and am always looking for ways to keep one foot out of the grave. So what the heck? Right? The Fitness of F3 looked inviting. The peer pressure and encouragement was an added bonus and certainly has held me accountable. So with all the crazy nicknames for each other, the strange and unusual exercise names for what otherwise are just plan old pushups or jumping jacks, I jumped in totally…and it has been an awesome ride ever since!

Golden sunlight one day, black skies and wind blown rain the next. Freezing cold and snow drift days to sweltering heat, the weather is capricious…typical of northwest Ohio. But, I have tried to make F3 Fitness a routine part of my daily life. The motivation, encouragement, support and accountability…the fraternal bond from men like Thai Guy, Stark, Bourbon, Isosceles, Sipe, Charmin, Klinger, Geppetto, Flo to name just a few, has been an inspirational experience that I didn’t expect, but wholeheartedly welcome and greatly appreciate! Whether we are rucking through the middle of the night, Indian running in sub-zero temperatures or carrying 45 pound “coupons” through an obstacle course, we are there for each other to get the job done and never leaving the “Six” behind…which at times, has been me!

Yes Fitness…but definitely Fellowship!

While F3 absolutely takes its Fitness seriously, Fellowship is paramount to the core – the very foundation of F3. Without Fellowship, there is not the connectivity – the accountability of the Fitness! I was not expecting nor seeking the quality nor quantity of friendships that I have developed through F3. I have formed some of the most amazing friendships with men of F3.

Those that I have come to lean on and depend upon, and celebrate them for being a part of my life! In most cases, these are guys that I would not have normally met…guys that more than likely traveled in different circles. Men that I would ruck through the night with; guys that I would venture on a “survival” trip with; that I would co-chair a major fundraising initiative with; co-Q a Beatdown with, or guys that I would learn how to fish with. One such person is Jay “Thai Guy” Solarik – “Shield Lock”, “Whetstone”, “Blade”, “Turkey Punch”…someone who has become a tremendous personal friend, confidant and support! The men of F3 have truly and significantly made a tremendous impact on my life and continue to have a positive and worthwhile influence.

Add a little Faith and one comes full circle in F3!

Then there is this Faith component…that actually takes on several meanings at the same time. There is the obvious one…a Faith in something bigger than ourselves – something universal…yes God! I have always been “religious” – church going, Roman Catholic, a community centered around the Eucharist, but F3 takes Faith to new heights. It provides an opportunity, an outlet if you will, to put our Faith into practical – relevant experience. To celebrate each other’s differences while sharing, discussing and even healthily debating our religious beliefs. We all come from different levels of Faith, different religious backgrounds and different ideas and concepts of what it is to be faithful. The take-away is that it is the very differences and unique views and interpretations of the Bible, the “What-What”, what Faith means to each of us that actually is the bond and familiarity that we all celebrate and have come to appreciate. A similar Faith in God, in humanity, as good stewards of our environment, to promote, encourage, nurture, and yes, even roll up our sleeves to get the job done! As F3’s mission states; “to build leaders in our community”…we are also building relationships and friendships, building community, building presence, building future, building Faith.

So after 250+ Posts, countless Q’s, membership in The Century Club, a second place finish in Winter Challenge 2019, two FROG Rucks, a number of GORucks, Cherry Street Mission, and of course meeting hundreds of terrific F3 Brothers, I have realized that F3 is exactly what it claims to be! It’s a brotherhood of Fitness, Fellowship and Faith that transcends age, physical ability, economic and social status, educational attainment and religious affiliations. It’s a true fraternity of believers and doers that understands and appreciates that fitness of mind, body and soul makes a better man, friend, husband, father and citizen. Together, we encourage and support each other to make a better community in which we live, work and play.

Even though I wasn’t really looking for “IT”…I am pretty sure and most blessed that I have found “IT”. So at 60, there is a custom of being honored with “Double Respect” within the “Circle of Trust”. While certainly that is an honor and very much appreciated, especially when the average age of F3 Toledo might be like 30-45, it is a moniker that, at least for this 60+, I take seriously. It is more than just an age differential. It is something that should be earned…something that comes with a certain level of responsibility. The lexicon “Virtuous Leader” comes to mind. The moral of this story might be: the more you do, the more you learn. The more you learn from doing, the more trust and ease you’ll have in yourself. The more trust you have with yourself, the easier it’ll become to be a positive influence to others when the time calls for it. At the end of the day, my decision to be a part of F3, net net, was one of the most important and beneficial decisions I have ever made!

So as we meet each other in the gloom, let us dwell on what and how and who impacts our lives the most because of F3, how we are most impacted and how we can best impact each other and our community through F3. Service Above Self…Fitness amongst each other, Fellowship with each other and within our community, and Faith in and because of each other and through God.


Rick “Huckleberry” Thielen 

December, 2019

Check out other #Miracle stories.

Story 25

The Six

The idea of the “Six” in the Count O Rama has been very interesting and enlightening to me ever since a couple of F3 Toledo Pax brought it back from F3 Louisville. The sixth man in the Count O Rama shares a little bit about their F3 journey, including who headlocked them, how they got their F3 nickname, and what F3 means to them. The idea of talking in front of everyone about what this amazing group means to you is amazing. During F3 Toledo’s 2019 Winter Challenge, I believe I was the 6 on more than 50% of the beatdowns that I attended. I felt like I opened up. But, that short couple of minutes is simply not enough to explain how I have been transformed by this group and all of the amazing men that I can now call my friends.

Rewind back to Labor Day of 2017, I had been getting hounded by my brother, Mater, and my co-worker, Mickey, to come out to F3. All summer long, the idea of waking up at 5:00 am and working out simply wasn’t important to me at all. I knew that I was out of shape, and I knew that I needed to do something. But, I was comfortable being in a state of contentment, even if it wasn’t the best me, physically or mentally. 

Mater convinced me to come out on Labor Day because “Hey, it’s a holiday, and we work out an hour later”, so I could get up at 6:00 am instead of 5:00 am. I initially told him I was going to come out just to get him to stop bugging me, fully intending to skip in the morning. Fortunately, I know God had a plan for me, and he wanted me to be a part of this group. 

The night before Labor Day, we were at our neighbor’s house with a couple of other people from the neighborhood, and somehow, F3 came up. One of the people at the house was Rose, and I made the mistake of telling him that I was contemplating going to F3 in the morning. He told me that since I told him I was thinking about going, now I had to show up. I thought, “Great, another person to hound me about F3. I guess I better just go and get it over with and say I tried it.” 

That was my mindset coming into the beatdown, and I fully intended to just quit after trying it. Rose had told me the night before that Monday workouts were always a “Murph”. I knew what the Murph was, and, needless to say, I was not exactly thrilled to be doing it the next morning. I got through maybe half of the workout before time was called to head the mile back to Faith Hill. I was sore for days after this because I was completely out of shape and hadn’t done anything like that ever. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I came out to a few more workouts. But, I never really tried to enter the group or make any friends because I had already had it in my mind that I wasn’t going to continue.

I feel that telling the background to my life story and my complete rock bottom is very integral to elaborating what F3 now means to me. 

Ever since I was in high school, I have suffered with severe depression and anxiety issues. I was always the type of person who would put on a happy face during the day because it wasn’t tough, or manly, or whatever, to be sad or vulnerable and reach out to somebody. Or, so I thought. I kept everything bottled up inside of me for 4 years, and finally my world came crumbling down on top of me in the fall of 2004 when I ventured off to college at Purdue. Having no one I knew within 4 hours of me, on top of feeling crippling depression and anxiety, was too much for me to deal with. Within 4 weeks of school starting, I knew I was never going to make it, and I was either going to kill myself, or I had to get home. 

At the time, I felt like such a failure and a worthless person. But, little did I know that decision to drop out of school, return home, and start life over was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I was finally able to admit to myself, my family, and my friends that I had a problem, and I needed to get help for it, or else I wasn’t going to live very long. Once I came home, I started medication and seeing a doctor regularly. I met my wife a month later, and we began dating 6 months after that. We are now married with 2 beautiful children. 

Roughly three months after both of my kids were born, I had severe relapses back into a state of depression, anxiety and panic. My second child was born in August of 2016. So during the summer of 2017, when Mickey and Mater were hounding me about me joining F3, I was thinking about how I wanted to die, and everyone would be better off without me. I felt worthless and completely lacked any motivation to want to improve myself. That was the state of my mind when I came out on Labor Day 2017, and that continued until December 2017, when I finally committed myself to wanting to be a better man, a better father, and just better myself physically and mentally. I posted 3 times in 12 days when I started, and I fell off the map until 12/27/17. 

I don’t know what it was that sparked my interest in coming back into the group. But when I did, I immediately felt like everyone welcomed me back in with open arms. This was a first for me, anytime I had gone long droughts without seeing someone or doing something with a group, there was always this attitude of “where have you been”, “why are you back now”, etc. But, this was different. Everyone was just so kind and supportive of me. 

When I started back with the group, I began to hear about the GrowRuck that was taking place in April 2018. I was intrigued and decided to sign up. That meant I had 4 months to get myself back into decent shape and also buy a lot of things for this “free” group, haha. In the months leading up to the GrowRuck, I had a lot of text conversations with Colonel. To this day, I can remember the words he told me, the faith that he had in me, but that I had yet to find in myself. Those conversations started to break down the walls that I had put up. They allowed me to start to open up and actually try to fit into the group, instead of just being a person working out with other people. 

By the time GrowRuck came around, I was terrified because I didn’t think I was strong enough, mentally or physically, to be able to complete the event. During the middle of the night, I had severe doubts about myself and those words from Colonel just kept playing on repeat. I thought “if he is so confident in me, there has to be something there that I can use.” I was able to make it to the dawn, and I remember when we walked back into Camp Miakonda I thought the event was over. I began to tear up because I felt good with myself for the first time in a very long time. I was able to push myself mentally and physically, and I performed and pulled my fair share of weight for the team. 

However, we were not done yet. After a break and some personal stories at the amphitheater, it was time for our Platoon to serve our penalty from earlier in the night. We had to carry the other two Platoons rucks around the lake and back to the start. This was horrifying to me, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to do it. About halfway around the lake, one of the three rucks began falling off of me, and I couldn’t get it back to a comfortable position. At that time, Colonel was to my left, and for a brief second, I was about to ask him to take one for me. But, he said something to me at that moment, and I was able to pull it back together. I was able to get the rucks back in place and finish with him and Ollie. I never thought it would be possible to finish with those guys just a couple months earlier. 

That event really opened my eyes to what I can do mentally and physically. When I first started F3, I told Mickey and Mater I never wanted to lead a workout, and I was fully committed to that until the end of the GrowRuck. Once GrowRuck ended and so many kind words I received from a lot of the Pax who knew my doubts, I felt this desire and need to show what I had learned and lead a  beatdown. And lead I did, leading my first beatdown about 2 weeks later in May 2018. 

My commitment to my physical and mental battle through F3 was tested again in June of 2018. After being a continual presence at beatdowns since the beginning of 2018, my family went on vacation to Tucson. I went a week without even thinking of getting up early. At that time, I was still not disciplined enough to go a week off and get back in the routine. Unfortunately after returning from Tucson, I was MIA until September 2018. I participated in Trinity’s Capture the Flag ruck event that September and was MIA again until November 2018. In that time, I had received so many messages from various Pax, seen a lot of people out at grocery stores, or soccer games that really wanted me to come back. That was new to me and I finally knew that I needed to get back out in the gloom with all the guys. I have been going out to F3 religiously since November 2018, and it has been such a help to me. I have gone since January 2018 without really having any depression issues. I have gained so much confidence in myself and gained so much knowledge to live by, both mentally and spiritually, from all of the Pax. I have become more physically fit than I had been since I had Achilles surgery in 2014. At that time, I was in peak running shape and was running a couple half marathons a year. I had just completed my first marathon the prior year. Since Achilles surgery, I was never able to get back into a running routine and just became content with whatever my body was going to become. I feel physically better about myself. I am not at what I would call my goal weight, but I am at least working towards it. That wouldn’t be possible without the help of all of the F3 Toledo Pax.

Needless to say, F3 Toledo has changed my life for the better. Along with returning home from Purdue back in 2004, joining F3 is one of the top 3 decisions I have made in my life. I couldn’t imagine my life without you guys, your push, and your support through whatever life is throwing at me. I no longer feel alone in my life. I now feel like I have several life long friends that truly care about my well being and how I am doing. I truly thank each and every one of you for saving my life in one way or another.

Aaron “Danica” Feller

August 2019

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Story 24

From Lonely, “Sad Clown”
to Clowning with Pals
and Getting Yoked

Illustration by Vince “Pixar” Palko at AdToons

They say most men live lives of quiet desperation. I could relate to that…a ton! 

It was the year 2007, like a frigid dousing of water  slapping me in the face, I sat in my favorite chair in the living room…stunned. 

Where once there were three girls under the age of 6 screaming, laughing and carrying on…there was now nothing. Feeling the cold leather armrest under my hand while I gripped it tightly, “What just happened?” The silence was deafening. Cursing all those days that I wished for silence in the house, I pleaded to an invisible shrink across the room to have it all back. 

This was the first night spent without my family. My wife (ex, now) took our three girls and moved into another house. A clear marker when my life began a slow downturn. Then the questions…“How could a Division I, mentally-tough-Butkus-award-nominee fail at the most important event in this chapter of his life? How could this happen to a two-time captain who led championship teams to victories?” 

Tears welled up in my eyes like someone filling buckets of water under a spigot.

Life after that grew lonely. Fast.

Many of my friends at the time were married. That’s the lie I told people who asked, “why don’t you go out now that you are free?” The reality — I had about a total of two friends who were divorced and available to “hang out.” Kiss your married friends goodbye. Have you ever tried to cajole a married man away from his wife to grab a beer? It’s not easy. And I get it. When I went to school functions, I had a few acquaintances to walk up to. But there were times when I’d be at these same functions feeling isolated and heading for the door as soon as I could because I maxed out time with those few friends.

Did I ever go out with other groups besides these two pals. Yes.

However these two were my homies. The challenge is that our topic of conversations were mainly about the nagging ex-wives. And nothing really productive. Nothing wrong with these guys; I’m still pals with them today. However, I always secretly wanted more friends. More options. More people who were aligned with achieving more out of life. Pushing ourselves to be better and not just slug brews in a bar or golf on weekends. 

My college football buddies for the most part faded with my divorce. Hey, I get it. We didn’t have much in common anymore. 

I remember clearly a few prayers sent up to the heavens. Lord, I’d like to have a couple more friends. Ones that are more aligned with my values. I know there are more fellas in this community with whom I can connect. I recall praying for this several times over the course of the last several years. There has to be a group I can get involved in. I looked on Meetup a couple times. That’s not for me. You never know who will show up at those spots. When I don’t have my children, life is pretty boring. The last thing I wanted was to be that guy who has two friends show up at his funeral several years down the road. 

Fast forward to last year in April. While at work in our production studio at the office, a call came in.

And it was a guy I recognized as a gent who I met back in 2015 at a cross country practice for my daughter. I was kind of hanging out by myself. Never really could make small talk with the other parents. But this guy, he was different. He was go-getter. Personable. A former athlete. We had a few things in common, and we hit it off from the start. 

The name came across my phone as Jared “Bielinski’s friend,” who was a mutual acquaintance of ours. And I didn’t know Jared’s last name. 

I set the phone down. “What the heck does he want?” We always said we’d stay in touch to maybe grab a beer, but I was in the middle of something. Five minutes later, I picked up my phone and listened to an audio recording, “Vince, this is Jared. We met at cross country. I’m not here trying to sell you anything. But I have something you might be interested in.”

Those few sentences changed the course of my life forever. I furiously called him back curious as hell. And after we spoke, I was hooked. We did three or four workouts pre-launch teamed up with the other regulars Bryan (Klinger) and Jason (Brute). 

Early on, the group of 3 invited me to “clown car” to Cleveland at 4am for a workout!!! I politely declined. I also declined the first time Jared (Colonel) asked me to go to grab bagels with him and Bryan. Hey, you gotta break me in slowly. 

The week before our launch, Colonel, myself, and Klinger were in Barry Bagels. Colonel asked Klinger, “Do you think you can really get 8 guys there next week?” 

Klinger replied, “Nothing has changed since you last asked me that 30 minutes ago…Yes!”

Colonel was nervous and anxious that no one would show up. I asked him, “Let’s say only 5 total show up, are we going to stop doing this?”

“No,” he said, “We are doing this!”

“Exactly, then let’s not sweat it. We are good,” I replied.

Then May 13, 2017 hit and everything changed. We had an amazing turnout of 46 guys. Picture a tailgate before a football game with a lot full of cars, but this group of men were all ages and sizes — stretching and warming up. That workout, like the previous pre-launch ones, blasted me. I felt spent, but I felt elated to have gone through a tough one with these new friends. And ever since my health and my outlook on life has drastically changed. 

Ever since that Saturday morning, I’m active in some way shape or form. I’m more health conscious. I no longer look in the mirror in disgust. Exercising with the PAX cures the loneliness of living in my empty house when my children are not with me. My girlfriend helps with that as well. 🙂

If you have ever run a marathon, you understand the feeling of 40,000 people snaking through a city, all with a common goal – cross the finish line! The energy you feel along the way is one of camaraderie. It’s one of pure positive energy that pulls you thru the race by the kind gestures and feedback from other racers along the way.

And that’s kinda the feeling you get with F3. But not really. There’s more. 

Imagine walking into a breakfast joint and half the people in there notice you and call you by your name. 

I used to crave something to do to get out of my house when the girls were with their mother. Since joining F3, there is always something going on. I have lunches with the fellas 1-2 times a week. We have breakfast every weekend. When you walk into one of these settings, everyone knows you and you feel a kinship, a belonging to a tribe that makes you feel great. 

My business is better because I’m always distracted with something going on in F3 instead of sitting around stressing about typical small-business stuff. Plus, this is an amazing networking tool. But in a way that naturally happens…it doesn’t feel forced. Leaving the office to have lunch allows you to meet someone who knows someone who needs what you do. And there are other opportunities to get to know one another. In our 2nd F (fellowship) events and the workouts themselves. Take a workout for example. One morning, I was out on a ruck (special forces style training with a weighted backpack while walking). Modell and I struck up a conversation. We shared what our jobs were. Turns out this meeting had synergistic energy, and we decided to have his people meet with my people. It’s led to some interesting possibilities on the business front. You never know who you are standing next to or what their connections might be until you ask questions about your F3 brother. 

And that brings me to one of the most important reasons I’ve stuck around in this group. 

That important reason for staying the course in F3 is the men. Good quality, trash talking, solid men who are liking to be and do better things. They have taken me in like one of their own. I’ve shared some very personal stuff with several of them, and they always have my back. 

What I appreciate about this group is every time we finish a workout we end in a COT – that’s code for “circle of trust.” We pray for families and individuals big and small. We share things we don’t typically share in a normal setting. This is your time to get things off your chest. And this is something we don’t share outside the circle. 

Let me tell you another aspect of F3 that always amazes me. Picture a brotherhood expanding outside your city limits. One that is nationwide and one day worldwide. I traveled back to my hometown of Stow, Ohio around Memorial Day. My brotherin-law, Bundy, was in town and always up for a workout. We set out to travel north (an hour) to workout with the F3 Cleveland chapter. We showed up and met guys like Mr Kotter, Magoo, Buchanan, and Patton. These guys took us in like their own… provided a wonderful beatdown (exercise) and then invited us for some 2nd F (fellowship) afterwards. We truly felt we were one of their tribe too. And we had only met one time before at our Toledo launch. I’ve worked out in Chicago as well and have realized if you travel, you will always find an AO (area of operation) to start your day off the right way. F3 and its network of fine men make you proud to be one of them. 

We have donated toys to children at Toledo hospital. We have sponsored families at Christmas and raised money for charities. I have a feeling this is just the beginning for this group. 

Bottom line, F3 is about something bigger than you and me. These men have honor, discipline, integrity, leadership, and a thirst to be more — that in turn makes you a better man. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like men I want to be around, because iron sharpens iron. 

Are all my challenges gone and life completely fulfilled? No. However, I’ll tell you that life is a ton easier to navigate when you are surrounded by outstanding men. And you can share your challenges in a non-judgmental arena. I’m grateful for God answering prayers. And I am grateful  for this fine group of men. 

When you join up with us, my goal is to make you feel welcome…that’s part of my role as 2nd F Q (facilitator of our fellowship gatherings). Even deeper than making you feel welcome, I want you to feel essential to our group…just like a guy named Jared (The Colonel) did for me and many other PAX members! 

Expect one more thing working out side-by-side with me in the gloom…“Good stuff, mang!”

Vince “Pixar” Palko

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