While a set of progress photos often provides a visual source of inspiration, there’s always more to someone’s story than you can see from a photo. Each journey has its own mixture of excitement, triumph, frustration, and resilience.
Dennis R., a recent national 60day Challenge winner, has a story that’s no exception.
Despite having had success with Life Time’s 60day Challenge transformation program in the past, Dennis, who’s in his early 30s, had his world changed in 2021 when he received a cancer diagnosis that left him with trauma, a skin graft, and more than 50 stitches across his face and neck.
At what felt like rock bottom, Dennis took hold of his health and his future in order to overcome challenge and find himself again.
Dennis shared the wisdom and insights he gained with us to help bring a new perspective to those who are also looking to conquer goals.
Life Time Training | You’ve faced incredible challenges over the past year with two personal cancer diagnoses and the loss of your grandmother. In the throes of recovery, rather than spiral downward into more stress, you decided to take positive action toward your health, which is easier said than done, especially when at that type of crossroad. Can you share about the moment you made the decision to take positive action?
Dennis R. | That moment came four months post-surgery. I was looking at myself in the mirror and saw that I had completely reverted back to the unhealthy weight that I was before my very first 60day Challenge. My nutrition was a mess, I was depressed, my strength was gone, and I could barely turn my head from the surgery.
That watershed moment I had with myself, looking in the mirror and recognizing my unfortunately familiar — but miserable and unhealthy — self, I thought, “this has to stop.” I already knew my next move. I was going to go fight with everything I had to pull myself back out of that hole I found myself in once again.
The solution was simple. I needed to go back to the one place that helped me get out the first time: Life Time Pickerington.
I made an appointment with Andrew McGovern because he was my coach previously, and I knew he would successfully coach me through the comeback I had in mind for myself. We set up a game plan to work together, in conjunction with Gage Corns and Josef Fenton, while participating in the 60day Challenge.
When I decided to do the 60day Challenge again, all I thought to myself was, “That 60 days is going to pass no matter what. Who do I want to be on the other side of that?”
So, I signed up again — without hesitation — and this continued to be my guiding mantra throughout the program.
LTT | Throughout your 60day journey you worked with three different fitness professionals. Can you share what that was like and how that came together for you?
DR | When I first sat down with Andrew McGovern, he intently listened to everything that I was going through. The whole time, I could tell his wheels were turning. I told him I wanted to get back my previous mindset, return to my previous weight, and be able to turn my head again.
Instead of going at it with a standard one-on-one training method, we decided to address my goals from three angles. Andrew would work with me on nutrition, mindset, and behavior change to achieve sustainable, life-lasting results, Gage would be my strength and conditioning trainer. And Josef would help me with my neck therapy and also be my signature group training coach.
This attentiveness was above and beyond. The process we outlined was the key to getting my health and mindset back in the fastest way possible. It was great to get so much information from all three of them because each coach was able to bring something unique to my daily experience. They are some of the most knowledgeable professionals I’ve ever met, and you can tell they really love their work by the time and energy they devote to their clients.
LTT | You’re no stranger to the 60day Challenge, and prior to your cancer diagnoses when you had participated in the program, you had seen success with it. Are there any common threads that you’ve witnessed as non-negotiables for success?
DR | In each challenge, there are definite non-negotiables for success. This applies whether your goal for it is to simply live a healthier lifestyle or if you are trying to win the challenge.
Your first priority must be to determine your goal and identify what your aim is. Deep down, what do you want to get out of the experience? As Andrew would say, “begin with the end in mind.” Once you know that, everything else falls into place.
LTT | Were there any mindset changes you noticed or acquired while participating in the challenges?
DR | Andrew says that the quickest way to the mind is through the body. There is a lot here to consider, but for me, the most important thing is having a growth mindset.
Having a growth mindset includes the acceptance that pain, sacrifices, and failures are all a part of the process to grow physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Embrace the challenge, and your success will be realized in one way or another.
LTT | Can you share what your journey has been like with nutrition?
DR | Maintaining consistently healthy nutrition is my biggest challenge. With each 60day, I have built upon the previously laid foundation to grow and learn what is sustainable for me. What has resonated with me most recently is the simple principle that we are using food to fuel our bodies.
When you start consuming things like processed foods or alcohol, I’ve learned that you are poisoning your body, both physically and mentally. Physically I would put on weight, have uncontrollable cravings, get headaches, and have pain due to consuming those inflammatory foods. Mentally I would get depressed, have brain fog, and be at an inferior operating level than I knew I was capable of.
I remember after a couple of weeks I went to Andrew and told him, “Dude, I feel like my brain is firing on all cylinders now! This is nuts!”
You really have no idea just how unhealthy you are until you get healthy.
LTT | How about with exercise — are there any secrets to success you’ve learned?
DR | When it comes to exercise, discipline is your friend. You have to commit to doing the hard work.
I don’t like relying on motivation because it is fleeting, and it allows for too many exceptions for you to not chase down your goals.
No one is going to save you from yourself. You have to say, “This is what I’m doing.” Full stop. Not, “This is what I’m doing as long as I’m feeling good, and I’m not tired, and it’s sunny outside, etc.”
There is so much power in discipline, although it isn’t easy. When you embrace that mindset, you realize that discipline is freedom. It frees you from everything that stops you from reaching your true potential.
LTT | Do you have a favorite spot or thing to do while you’re in the club?
DR | Without a doubt it is the sauna! That is my happy place.
After a long day, I get in the sauna and let the heat do its work. You get the benefits of muscle recovery and growth, supporting cardiovascular health and mental clarity, and it helps with inflammation — and it’s a great way to warm up in the Ohio winter months.
LTT | What was the biggest thing that surprised you about this most recent 60day journey?
DR | The biggest thing I think that surprised me this time around was how I developed mentally.
There was a moment a couple weeks in where I was not feeling confident in my ability to lose weight, much less win the 60day. Gage likes to tell this story, and you’ll see why.
One day I came in, just looking defeated. I was slouching, having a “woe is me” attitude. Gage brings me into Andrew’s office so we can discuss my presence. After I got done with my little sad speech, Andrew stood up. He wasn’t going to let me do this to myself anymore. He called me on everything that I was saying.
He told me to stand up, fix my posture, and say, “I’m going to win the 60day.” Standing up a little more, I more or less mumbled, “I’m going to win the 60day.” Andrew was like, “No, really say it.”
My second attempt was only mildly less pitiful. Andrew comes over, puts those bear claws he calls hands on my shoulders and yells out, “NO, SAY I’M GOING TO WIN THE 60DAY!” Standing up as straight as I could, fists clenched, and as loud as I could I yelled, “I’M GOING TO WIN THE 60DAY!”
My voice may have cracked, but I meant it. It became this self-fulfilling prophecy. Everything I did after that was me saying to (and believing) myself that “I am going to do this.” And that is exactly what I did.
LTT | Now that you’ve won a 60day, what’s next for you in your health journey? Are there new things you’re doing or goals you’re going after?
DR | I’ve been setting some goals for myself since the 60day ended.
I had a slight back issue that flared up after the competition that Gage and I have been working through. The first step is to get that squared away.
After that, I’m going to work on gaining functional strength and range of motion in my deadlift and squat patterns. We’ve pulled away from certain styles of lifts to work on a variety of imbalances to prevent injuries in the future.
Following that, I’m still tossing some ideas around what I want to accomplish next. Gage and I have been talking about some fitness activities outside of the gym that I might want to get involved in. It’s pretty exciting to think about what you can do instead of what you can’t do.
LTT | What advice would you give to someone who wants to find themselves and their health again, but doesn’t know where to start?
DR | This question, I think, is very important for everyone. We all fall down sometimes. We stop eating healthy. We don’t work out as much. Life happens!
The thing I had to remind myself of when I came back is that I wasn’t starting over again.
I was starting again with all of the experience I’ve gained up until now.
Take an honest look at what happened that contributed to the backwards momentum, and then move forward and make adjustments.
When you don’t know where to start, I would highly recommend talking to one of the coaches at Life Time. They have such a wealth of knowledge when it comes to living a comprehensive healthy lifestyle.
I’ve had trainers from other gyms in the past. No other place can offer what Life Time coaches can. You don’t just get a daily macro to hit and a general set of exercises. They educate you in a way that addresses and treats the whole person. That isn’t something you can find just anywhere.