Gamma's February Member of the Month - Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien
44 years old
Born in Brooklyn, NY.  After moving out of NY in 1994, I've lived in Maryland and North Carolina before moving to Pennsylvania in 2006.

I've been married for 11 years to my wonderful wife Rachelle.  We have three kids who you may have seen at the Box causing a ruckus!  Our son Riley is 8, and the girls (Meghan and Casey) are 7 and 4 respectively.  We also just got a puppy.  He's a Boxer, Beagle, Lab mix.  His name is Otis and he's a mere 8 weeks old!  We live in Hummelstown in the same development as some other CrossFitters (Rost's, Leblanc's, Galea's)

We moved to PA when I was offered a job with Hershey Entertainment & Resorts as the Food & Beverage Director for the Entertainment Complex (Hersheypark & GIANT Center).  I've continued to work for HERCO the past 8 years but have been lucky enough to also work at some of their other properties (Hershey Country Club and most recently the Hershey Lodge).

Prior to joining CrossFit I estimate I owned a gym membership for a total of 10 months out of the past 22 years!   Most of my work career has included jobs where I've been on my feet a lot.  It gave me enough aerobic exercise that I maintained a high metabolism, was able to stay in decent shape, and felt OK.  However right around the time I hit 40 I could tell I was adding a few pounds a year and generally didn't feel as healthy as I used to.  I knew I needed to do something about it but I wasn't making it a priority and I HATE dieting.  I tried a few different "at home" programs (P90X and Insanity).  They helped a little but in both cases they have a "finishing line".  I needed something that sustained and the thought of just redoing those programs seemed horribly boring and uninspiring.   After the 2013 Christmas holidays I stepped on a scale and was horrified to discover that I weighed 225 lbs.  It was the most I had ever weighed in my life and based on my lifestyle and habits meant I was looking at weighing 250 around the time I hit 50.  Something needed to change.

I met Keri Jenkins in January of 2014 through a friend at work.  I had heard of CrossFit but didn't know much about it.  I did know that my buddies Ty and Tom raved about it and got great results.  Like a lot of people I was pretty uninformed about what I thought CrossFit was.  I was hesitant to join at first since I wasn't necessarily looking to get into weightlifting.  I just wanted something that would help me lose weight and feel better.  That was it.  Pretty simple goals.  Keri talked me into giving it a try.  She was there the first morning I showed up for a 6 AM class.  Carmen was coaching the class.  I was immediately struck by how supportive they both were and how they took the time to walk me through what we were doing and what to focus on fundamentally to establish good technique.  I actually felt guilty since I felt like I was monopolizing their time and taking it away from others in the class.  What I now know is this is the norm for the coaches at Gamma.  The newcomer is always welcome and will be supported no matter their skill level.  Anyway, Coach Carmen absolutely destroyed me that morning (and I was doing what would amount to be a Scaled "C" workout that day - so much for my thought of being in "decent shape"!).  I couldn't walk a flight of steps without grasping a handrail for about 5 days!  Despite this, I was hooked on the format and feel of the place.  Everyone was amazingly kind and welcoming.  The variation in the workouts kept me engaged with no threat of boredom.  I never would've guessed I'd enjoy weightlifting as much as I do.  I'd literally had no formal weight training in my entire life before walking into Gamma.  After two weeks there was a Saturday Academy class that helped teach the fundamentals of the core lifts.  It took away all the intimidation a newcomer would feel about not lifting a lot of weight or looking foolish.  I can truly say I've felt 100% supported during the life of my membership which is one of the ways I feel CrossFit is different from other gyms.  I don't have a personal trainer.  I have classmates and coaches who all help drive me and keep me motivated.  They walk me through the finer details of all the lifts and movements so I understand how to get better and stronger.  As for my original goals, I managed to lose 20 pounds this past year, which would put me at the weight I weighed roughly 7 years ago.  While I wouldn't mind losing 5 more pounds the number on the scale no longer means much to me.  I definitely feel fitter and stronger.  If that results in me gaining 5 more pounds so be it.  It will be "healthy weight".  Speaking of weight, I was able to improve my max deadlift by 50 pounds and my power cleans (my favorite lift) by 35 in approximately 8 months. In the coming year my strength goal is to be able to Push Press my weight (205).  It's going to require a significant gain on my part but should also keep me motivated not to put on any unnecessary pounds.  For movements. I'd like to be able to claim I can do handstand push-ups so that will keep me busy for a while.  I'd also like to complete a Spartan Run.  That gives me a strength, movement and activity goal that will push me further than my original "lose weight and feel better" mantra!

For the newcomers, the best advice I can give is to listen to your coaches and don't get caught up in the weight existing members are throwing around.  Technique is integral to both personal safety and elevating performance.  You might feel that certain fundamentals are too uncomfortable now and that you'll incorporate them later.  Bad idea.  Get used to the right way of doing it because changing a bad habit is tougher and a little discomfort now is better than an injury later.  Don't worry if you're last to finish WOD's or you feel like you're struggling more than anyone else.  We've all been there.  It'll make your gains more meaningful because you'll easily notice your progress.  Once you've fine tuned your form and are comfortable with fundamentals consider doing something that really tests your fitness and your confidence.  For me, it was participating in the Barbells for Boobs Fundraiser last October.  30 Clean and Jerk repetitions at 135 pounds for time ("Grace").  I had never participated in anything like that and wasn't even sure if I could complete the competition.  It was a struggle and my time was nothing to brag about, but I finished it and the feeling of accomplishment was incredible.  Pushing myself beyond my own comfort level gave me confidence that I still tap into when it's a grueling WOD or the RX weight seems really intimidating.  I can't wait until I have the opportunity to take on Grace again because now I'll go into it knowing I can handle it.  Moral of the story: Don't be afraid to test your limits but make sure you're fundamentally sound before doing so.

Last thing I'd like to add is a big thank you to all of our Coaches and their families.  Over the past year I've dropped in at 2-3 other CrossFit Gyms in different parts of the country.  I enjoyed the experience but I also observed some things none of us should take for granted.  First, our Box is clean.  Our members respect it and do a good job of cleaning up after themselves but clearly there's some maintenance that's occurring when we're all not around.  Thank you for taking the time to keep Gamma squeaky clean.  Second, our owners made a significant investment in equipment and it's being  maintained exceptionally well.  Over Christmas I visited a Box that opened within a week of when Gamma did.  It looked 10 years older.  The bars were rusted.  The kettlebells were all chipped.  The weights didn't match.  It didn't make them any lighter but it's nice to work out with equipment that's been cared for.  Lastly, our programming is top notch.  We maintain a consistent strength/WOD format.  When we deviate it's typically very creative and incredibly cardio intensive.  Above all, we start on time.  Imagine how disruptive it would be if people strolled in 5-10 minutes late every day.  Trust me, it happens.  Just not at our Box.  Our coaches have created an awesome environment at Gamma that takes a lot of time and energy on their part.  Thank you for this.  It truly makes Gamma unique and enjoyable.

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