“My husband committed suicide 3 years ago,” She said.
It was January 2017 at Bair Knuckle Strength, in Fort Washington, PA and as I sat on a bench next to Sarah, across from this woman, who had been through life’s meat grinder, I felt like I’d been hit with a thunderbolt.
She was in her 60’s and has; rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes with an insulin pump, a shoulder replacement, spinal stenosis, 2 kids who had no intentions of having kids of their own due to their mental health battles and she was getting ready for a knee replacement in a couple months.
“I saw your website, which really spoke to me and I decided to come in for a Free Trial with your trainer, Sarah,” she said.
“However, I was unable to make the times on the schedule work for me and since the last time I was here, my body has been very uncooperative, ravaged with pain and coming to see you was hard. When you sent that email a week ago, I wanted to know if you could help me, as I saw your testimonial about the woman just like me that you helped regain mobility and strength.”
“I decided this was something important that I needed in my life, no matter the cost and that’s why I reached out to you again.”
After I had asked what her motivation was for strength training, I looked at this woman, who had the courage to come in and tell me her story. I wanted to cry.
However, something came over me and I asked if it was ok to share part of my story with her, something I hadn’t shared unprompted until this very moment.
“Yes, of course,” she said.
I looked at her and at Sarah, who was with us…
“Roughly 10 years ago, my brother committed suicide,” I said aloud.
‘Tony Bair, #61, CB South Titans, 2005’
“I found my purpose in a gift my brother left me. 6 kettlebells of various sizes, which I refused to sell and rather, decided to learn how to use. The work I do is a direct result of learning to use exercise as medicine, which has helped me begin healing; physically from past injuries, emotionally from trauma and spiritually as a human.”
She looked at me and nothing really needed to be said after that…
How the hell could I continue to keep this darkness inside, knowing that someone else could hear this story and have the courage to reach out, talk to someone and get some help?
I felt like a coward for not sharing sooner, especially knowing there might be a person who I’ll never get to meet, because they didn’t believe there was any other way.
Enter the darkness, 1989
Along with our parents getting divorced; my brother, sister and I were physically and emotionally abused as kids, which created a lot of trauma and ‘scars’.
‘John, Tony and Holly Bair as Kids’
I was diagnosed with severe depression at age 8, from a therapist who saw me after my parents split.
I didn’t talk about the divorce.
Any of it.
This caused me tremendous pain, not just at home, but in life, which we all know is tough.
I’ve lost friends, jobs, girlfriends and bits of my life to these ‘scars’.
The truth is, people can’t understand mental health issues if they don’t experience them first hand.
It’s hard for them to relate to something that they can’t see.
Sometimes people think you’re faking or just ‘blue’ and thus, it creates a divide.
When in reality, it’s a chemical imbalance that you have to manage.
I’ll be the first to admit, that kids sometimes could use a good spank on the butt and a little tough love.
I certainly earned my fair share.
However, what I’m talking about was not tough love.
It was abuse.
Getting hit in the face, hard, leaving a print. Given a bloody nose. Thumbprints from choking. Being pulled across the carpet by a foot. Being told you’re too fat, without the support to do anything about it. Never really feeling good enough. Yelling, anger, violence, angst, sadness, fear and trepidation among others, occurred enough to leave trauma.
Was it all this bad?
No, certainly not.
I have many good memories!
Family vacations, birthday parties and holidays had many joyous memories.
You’re not responsible for your childhood programming, only what you do with it as an adult
Certain moments shape you, and the course of how you deal with things socially and emotionally is set in motion at a young age.These moments can create triggers around certain days of the year, phrases, songs, tones of voice etc., that cause emotional responses, which can be intense. They are anchored deep in the nervous system, from how you interpreted them as a youngster.
We all have 2 main drivers.
Pain and Pleasure.
Meaning, the emotions that literally shape all our decisions comes down to 2 main parts, to avoid pain or to gain pleasure. When you have trauma that causes enough pain, you begin to think and feel as if everything is painful, driving your responses in a sub-conscious fashion until you become afraid and uncertain of anything or anyone.
You’re conditioned to feel pain and not pleasure, which can cause you to respond in a way that is not congruent with who you are, or want to be, as an adult.
You end up avoiding the pain of all joy, giving you a false sense of pleasure, for not having to deal with the pain and it’s a pattern that cannot serve you.
As a youngster, I learned to suppress my emotions so as not to cause a disturbance, or bring attention to myself, which could have gotten me in trouble.
I was afraid of abuse.
Change the Pattern
Finally, at 16 years old, I had a physical altercation with my abuser that ended in my favor.
’16 years old, 256lbs and over 25% Bodyfat’
Having performed strength training with my football team, I had the courage and power to not only stand up for myself and win, but to end all further physical attacks for the rest of my life.
From that moment, a switch flipped in me, and I would never again accept someone using brute force to dictate anything to me.
My football team went 45-0, we won 3 state championships, never lost and gave me a foundation to build on.
Physical strength, emotional wellness, team work, work ethic, attention to detail, discipline and many other characteristics were cultivated during this period, coming back to serve me later in this story.
Just not quite yet…
However, the scars remained or deepened throughout the rest of high school and into my brief stint at college which ended, after a year and a half, with a medical leave due to depression. An episode so bad I had gone from 235+ lbs. to 179lbs in about 3 or 4 months, and after I came home, was put on an anti-depressant called Effexor and started therapy, again.
At 20, as when I was 8, I didn’t ‘get it.’
So, I stopped therapy after starting to feel better, and kept taking the anti-depressants.
Working odds and ends jobs, I fell in with a bad crowd and at 21, had no real foreseeable future with a bad attitude.
I had no identity or purpose, a rudderless ship.
My brain chemistry was jacked up and my physical health sucked.
I had been smoking some pot since 19, but, I started doing cocaine, took pills like valium and oxycontin, smoked weed laced with stuff and some other dumb shit.
Sometimes I snorted, other times smoked and really got to a bad place with things.
For 5 years, between 20 and 25, I was in a haze.
Partly due to the zombie like effect of the anti-depressants and the rest due to the Darwin award I chasing.
I was also arrested 2 times for misdemeanor marijuana possession during that time.
‘In a Haze’
Now, I’ve rarely, if ever, let what happened next escape my mind, however…. it’s time to get it out…
I even stooped so low as to take a gun, that I had gotten from a drug dealer I owed money to, out into the streets to ‘make/take some money.’
As my conscious (what little was left) snapped me back – I went home without doing irreparable harm.
A Motherfucking gun?!?!?!
I was the epitome of deadbeat. A liability to society. A fucking scumbag.
That’s how far I had fallen and was on the cusp of going down the road you don’t come back from.
October 7th, 2007
My brother and I were working at night tossing newspapers to make money.
He sat in the back, rolled them up, while I drove and tossed them into the driveways.
At the time, it was cool. We got to make some money and work unconventionally.
However, as brothers often do, we got into a tussle that morning when we got back.
I ended up with some bruises and cuts, so did Tony.
He stormed off and walked home, a couple mile trip.
We didn’t talk the rest of the day.
October 8th, 2007
“Please sit-down ma’am,” said the detective.
My mother refused.
“Ma’am……. Your son is deceased.”
‘What if I had done this, or that, or said something different?’ ….
Absolutely the most gut wrenching, heart breaking, mind-fuck imaginable…
Tony had taken his own Life.
Late November 2007
Faced with 2 choices, The Dark Road or the Other Road, I chose the other.
Voluntarily I asked for help and my family was worried about my health.
My cousin found a place that could help me with therapy and with the anti-depressants.
I had my intake and was again re-diagnosed with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
I saw my therapist and got to work.
I was so unable to cope; however, I knew one thing; I was going to get off the damn anti-depressants and deal with all my demons, one by one.
She agreed to help me on one condition…. I replace the anti-depressants with a healthy outlet.
The one place my mind went to, was the one time in my life where I felt strong, powerful and in control; to football and training for it.
I told her I wanted to go to the gym and work out my shit under some iron. She loved the idea.
‘Tony’s Kettlebells – His Gift to me’
Over several months, I stepped off the pharma drugs, upped my therapy to 2 x a week for about a year and got serious about the gym. There, I discovered I had an outlet again but was still having a hard time with my depression.
I had stopped taking drugs and everything else while resetting my body chemistry with the weight room, and was using marijuana medicinally in place of anti-depressants.
I had done research and discovered that medical practitioners were treating soldiers and veterans suffering from depression and PTSD with small doses of marijuana.
It acts as a stimulant for your brain, helping with focus and clarity.
My therapist didn’t hate the idea and knew it was better than the alternatives.
The gym was going good, I had a job, wasn’t on anti-depressants and started to feel better.
October 29th, 2008
James ‘Jimbo’ Kling, was my cousin and at a young age was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.
He and my brother were my best friends.
Jimbo loved his Phillies and had told me from the beginning of the playoffs, “You watch John, they will win it all.”
I shook my head, but I didn’t believe him. This was Philadelphia after all.
That night, Jimbo watched as his beloved Philadelphia Phillies Won their 1st World Series Championship since 1980, and the only one in our lifetime.
‘John and Jimbo after State Championship, 1999’
October 30th, 2008
<Phone rings> My sister’s number
<I’m at work>
<Phone rings> 3 more times
I know something is wrong.
<phone rings 1 last time> I pick up and it’s my cousin Katy, Jimbo’s sister.
“Jimmy is gone.”
I screamed, hung up the phone, left work and cried on the walk home.
I couldn’t believe my best friends in the whole world were gone within a year of each other.
‘My Boys; Tony, Me and Jim – They are my pillars of Strength, they hold me up’
I did not fall off the wagon, however, I was completely knocked flat again by the passing of my cousin.
The only consistent thing I did, was go to the gym, which had me feeling a bit better.
And I had started playing with the kettlebells my brother had left me.
Something inside said, ‘What about training others?’
I talked to my therapist and she was all for it and so, signed up for a certification home study course.
Passed the certification and got first business card with the company name: Bair Knuckle Strength, a little play on words I thought was clever.
I was still in search of some more education that was substantial, practical and usable.
I saw a trainer in the gym using kettlebells and asked if he could show me some stuff.
Holidays 2009 and New Year 2010, January
I Asked for some personal training sessions with the kettlebell trainer and was lucky to receive them.
First session using Kettlebells and I get destroyed by a 25lb bell, like, ass kicked!
Curious, Intrigued and told about the RKC, Russian Kettlebell Certification, I researched it, fell in love with the idea and signed up in February, for the course in September.
Lots of time to train and a long way to go.
Go to cert.
Learn a ton.
Eyes are wide open, what the hell?
‘RKC, September 2010’
After 6 weeks supplemental training, I receive my cert, PASS!
I started to realize how much better I was feeling and how powerful it was learning to move properly.
I was healing physically and emotionally.
I wanted everyone to feel this way, or have the option to and so decided to really consider training full time.
Nobody was teaching this at the time.
I Signed up for the Functional Movement Certification and started training some buddies on the side.
Take Functional Movement Cert, pass it and now can really start individualizing people’s programs.
Results instantly get better all around.
One day, I am approached by owner of gym and told I am not allowed to train anyone in the facility for money.
I inform him I am not taking money, only helping friends and he asks, ‘Would you like to make money? You’re really good at this!”
April 2011 – September 2013
Start as a full-time trainer
Taking every opportunity to learn from the best while still working for others.
I meet; Pavel Tsatsouline, Dan John, Brett Jones, Steve Maxwell, Som Sikdar and Pat Flynn, among MANY others during this time.
People who were the BEST in their field, doing what I wanted to do.
In the beginning of September 2013, I moved on from working for others because I realized, I wasn’t ever going to be able to see my vision through while working on someone else’s vision.
And in October 2013 Bair Knuckle Strength LLC is officially formed.
I get to work on building a business from the ground up with the help of many mentors.
‘BKS is Founded in October 2013’
October 2013 – Current
Going on our 4th year in existence, with 6 + years professional experience and 20 years’ experience with strength training, it’s become a reality.
Strength saved my life.
Physical and Emotional Strength.
The importance of physical health, proper nutrition and what that does to balance your mental health cannot be understated.
It has allowed me to dig even deeper now into my emotional well-being, hacking away at limiting beliefs and unnecessary neuro-associations to negative triggers from my past.
Things that have been holding me back from my own greatness.
10 years ago today on October 8th, 2007
My brother, Anthony Joseph Bair
Took his own life
And I easily could have followed.
Had I not found what was already in front of me, I would be gone.
It doesn’t have to take a tragedy or 2, as in my case, for you to open your eyes and see what is right in front of you.
I fell back on what I enjoyed, the thing that had given me so much and ran with it.
You too have something, a passion, that you really enjoy and you can make it your life’s work.
Especially now, in the best period in history for entrepreneurship.
Yes, things are uncertain, scary and downright crazy sometimes, however, you can make the most of every moment.
Make the decision, live with passion and do what sets your heart on fire, NOW, don’t wait another minute!
And so, through all this emotional work, I have signed up for and will be training towards becoming a life coach with the Robbins-Madanes Training System, developed by Tony Robbins and Cloe Madanes, 2 of the most sought after people in world for emotional well-being.
Now I can put together the mind-body connection, not only for myself, but for my clients.
The physical and mental work together, and the stronger I work the emotions, the stronger I get physically and vice versa.
COMING OUT OF THE DARKNESS
To commemorate my brother and cousin, along with acknowledging my darkness, I decided to get a full sleeve tattoo to recreate what I felt like I was experiencing these past 15 years, which was living in hell.
When I saw the ‘Gates of Hell’ sculpture by Auguste Rodin, in Philadelphia, I knew that was it.
The visualization I needed to create a reminder of all I’d been through.
So, here is to standing at the Gates of Hell, walking through it, coming out of the Darkness on the other side and closing the chapter.
‘At the Gates of Hell’
I will never forget; however, I will no longer will be defined by my darkness.
I have hope.
I have a visual reminder.
I have forgiven.
I have grown.
I have purpose.
I have so much I want to give.
This is me, today. Not perfectly ripped or ready for the cover of Men’s Health Magazine, but with stretch marks, emotional scars, more than 10 percent bodyfat, closer to 200lbs than 100lbs and backing into my mid-thirties.
‘And I’m better today, then I ever have been.’
This article is not ‘woe is me’, rather, my attempt to show a picture of hope.
That you can grow from pain and live with purpose.
What can you do if you feel like you’re alone and that no one gets ‘it’?
Call me at 215-917-7388 and I’ll be there, with Love…