Building a Fitness Team
When we think about a classic weight loss narrative, the quintessential before-and-after photographs may come to mind. In these photos, the transformed individual is almost always pictured alone. But when I think of my before-and-after, I imagine myself surrounded by the supportive team of wellness experts that has gotten me to where I am today. As product design consultant and former CTO, I know that teams really matter. It’s been no different in my path from unhealthy diabetic to a thriving, healthy human.
I recently shared my story with Austin Fit magazine, which inspired me to write more about the people I have worked with. Over the last couple of years, I have finally gotten fit and much of it is because I partnered with the right coaches, trainers, and healers for me. It is because of these individuals (with a hefty dose of my own drive, of course) that I am now in control of my diabetes, fitter than ever, and running a successful new business venture. Hopefully my tale encourages you to seek out your own wellness mentors, whoever they may be.
The Back Story
My wellness journey has its roots in southern Virginia, where I grew up. I had an active childhood, much of it spent climbing trees and running through the woods. My parents, who were raised with limited resources, taught me that it was a punishable offense to leave food on your plate. (High-fat, high-carb Southern comfort food, at that.) Looking back, there is a dotted line from aspects of my youth to my eventual diabetes diagnosis. Yet, my upbringing also gave me the grit that has allowed me to take control of my health.
Fast forward to post-college, when I began working in software and technology. Career-wise, these were exciting years. In terms of my health, it was brutal. I was working 100 hour workweeks on little sleep, no exercise and fueled by queso, brisket and Coca-Cola. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when, in 2005, I was suddenly tired, lethargic, urinating excessively and hungry all the time.
Eventually, I went to my doctor, who quickly diagnosed me as a Type 1 diabetic. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had heard of diabetes, but only knew that it had something to do with blood sugar and eating candy bars when you got shaky. Oh, I had a lot to learn. Since then, there’s been many ups and downs: medications that didn’t work, an ER trip, learning the right foods to eat, re-introducing external insulin with an insulin pump, no carb diets, the Master Cleanse, weight gain…You get the picture.
Through continuous thoughtful experimentation and exploring a multidisciplinary approach, I’ve increased my strength, flexibility, endurance, and speed. I’ve found that if I do the same thing repeatedly my body will find a groove and the activity becomes easy. Constantly changing my routine allows me to constantly find new ways to grow. Boxing has helped me with my speed and stamina, Pilates has helped me with my flexibility and my connected core power, massage, acupuncture, and ART has helped me recover quickly from injury as well as create proper alignment for optimal movement.
Boxing Made Me a Believer
It all started to shift in 2015 when my former colleague John announced “I’m going to train you” after I made a half-hearted statement about getting into shape. Something struck me at that moment and I agreed. We met at Castle Hill Fitness on a Monday morning at 7AM and John introduced me to boxing workouts. That evening, I went to Academy and bought wraps and gloves so I could learn to use the punch mitts and heavy bag.
Right away, I was addicted to boxing and immediately noticed differences in myself. I owe so much of my transformation to John. He was with me every morning for months. While determination is rooted in my DNA, John helped me apply that to fitness. We even started a boxing social club at Castle Hill Fitness. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we were there from 7–8 am, catching mitts, working the heavy bag, and running through circuits.
“In boxing, your conditioning is centered around being able to do something for 3 minutes straight followed by a small window of recovery before doing another round. Douglas started his journey with 3 minutes of lunges and step-ups. I wish I could give you a climactic story of how Douglas has transformed himself, but it is merely through being consistent. He shows up every day and pushes as many reps as possible for 3 minutes.” — John Fitch, Venture Partner Animal Ventures, Entrepreneur & Wildman
Over two years later, boxing still a cornerstone of my weekly routine. For me, it’s an active form of meditation.
Pilates Created the Connection
As I grew more confident and fit, I mixed things up and tried everything from yoga and kickboxing to plyometrics and barre. But, I fell in love with Pilates. (Part of the allure was that Joseph Pilates was a boxer.) I started taking 3–5 classes a week. In addition, I began taking private Pilates sessions with Mandie Pitre, to deepen my practice and develop a better method when attending classes. I attended a special workshop she taught and was intrigued by her slow, intentional style.
“When Douglas enthusiastically entered my Pilates class, he was ready to move and groove, and I saw space for him to learn to connect dynamically through the entire body. I made my focus to challenge him to move in a new way, to move slowly, to repattern his body to create fluid power without tension. I’m proud to have played a role in Douglas’ outstanding transformation from uncoordinated movement to highly intentional, powerful, and artful motion.” -Mandie Pitre, Master Pilates Teacher & Yoga Instructor, Castle Hill Fitness
Mandie turned me into a Pilates fanatic. I started to take all the classes that Castle Hill offers. I began to get a better understanding of each teacher’s style and which approaches resonated with me. I signed up for an advanced series by Lindsay Lark, which taught me more difficult exercises. I enjoyed working on these moves that challenged my strength and stamina.
“I have witnessed Douglas dramatically change his body over the past year. He is stronger, quicker, and healthier. His dedication to the work is inspiring. Every morning I arrive at the studio before 6am, and Douglas is already there warming-up. That is how you change your life!” Lindsay Lark, Pilates Studio Manager, Castle Hill Fitness
Pilates has helped me tap into the deep connections within my body. my core and, most importantly, my breath. I’d always heard about the power of breath and never believed it much. But now, I use Pilates breathwork all the time.
Bodywork Keeps Me Going
I am also firm believer in professional bodywork and stretching. I see Dr. Jessica Tranchina for A.R.T (Active Release Technique), Jingyu Gu for acupuncture, Sonya Emery (a former professional boxer) for boxing massage and psoas release, and Dr. Ben Charlton for chiropractic adjustments. Each of these experts has helped me recover, combat injuries and improve my workouts.
Jessica was recommended to me to address an injury in my heel. I was experiencing some nerve pain whenever I stepped on my foot in a certain way, and it prevented me from jumping rope. After telling her about my foot, she asked about my shoulder, which had been giving me trouble for awhile. My range of motion was impaired, and it was painful to move it in specific ways. In addition to fixing my heel, she addressed my shoulder as well. I now have full range-of-motion in my shoulder; even my Pilates instructors noticed!
“Douglas came to me happy, healthy, strong, motivated, driven, knowledgeable, open-minded, and a student of his journey. The diligent client that he is, he continued his self-care in between our sessions including self-adhesion releases, specific stretches, and guided strength training. Because he participated wholly and completely with his care, his results were, and are, quick and effective.” Dr. Jessica Tranchina, PT, DPT, NASM-CPT, A.R.T provider, CKTP, Primo Rehab
I first met Sonya after complaining to my friend about soreness in my shoulder from boxing. He told me about an ex-Golden Glove champ who trains at Richard Lord’s boxing gym here in Austin. He said that she specializes in mixed-martial arts clients as she deepened her practice by working on herself. She has done amazing stuff for my sore shoulders from boxing as well as psoas releases that help give me more range of motion in my hips. The hips are the secret to a powerful punch!
“Douglas is one of my more inspiring clients! My ring name for him is The Discipliner because he approaches his health with more discipline and balance than many pro athletes, all while managing to run a successful company. His path to health and fitness is his lifelong quest. He is a Warrior.” — Sonya Emery, Massage Therapist
One day after an intense boxing workout I noticed that something didn’t quite feel right in my neck. As the day developed, it got stiffer and stiffer. After icing it, self-massage and a session with Sonya, it began to release. However, there was still a lingering injury. When I tilted my head back even a few degrees, my left arm would go numb. I started researching other practitioners to help me address this issue, and met Jingyu Gu. Jing’s acupuncture, although extremely painful, fixed my problem in one visit. I continue to see him monthly.
“[My treatments] aim at finding out and eradicating the root causes of various chronic diseases, including pains and soft tissue problems. This healing process can take time, patience and courage. In pursuing his own health and healing, Douglas definitely demonstrated all of these qualities.” -Jingyu Gu, PhD & Lic Acu, Wellspring
I also spend a lot of time stretching and doing self-administered treatments. My 1-hour warm-up includes self A.R.T. with a lacrosse ball, wooden stick, and Therabands, Pilates exercises on the spine corrector and ballerina stretches to release my leg muscles. Likewise, I end my workout by following a static stretching routine from Castle Hill’s Ben Himes. I wrap it all up with an infrared sauna session and a Wim Hof cold shower just to make sure I’m ready for my day.
My journey to wellness started from a desire to tighten my diabetes control. It has become so much more than that. I have honestly transformed my body and my mind. Today, I still have difficult days, but I’ve made tremendous progress. I used to dread working out, now I crave sweat. This has impacted other areas of my life as well. I’m convinced that my success in my new company is due to the focus and resilience I gain through intense fitness and rigorous diet.
“Douglas’ fitness journey has been successful due to his consistency, goal setting, metric tracking, openness to challenge, and exploration of variety. He is one of the few people who has almost entirely bridged the gap from general-population to athlete.” — Benjamin Himes, CEO Sharp End Sports, Elite Trainer, Castle Hill Fitness