Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Believer In The Work

In my life - outside of family - there are three people who have influenced me the most, whom I can point to as being a true role model for me. One was Paul Oberjuerge, my former editor at The San Bernardino Sun, who gave me my start in journalism and allowed me to cover soccer back in 1998. The other was a trainer I had at my local gym, whom you will hear about soon enough. The third was Bob Bradley, recently deposed U.S. men's national team coach. Why Bob Bradley? Let me tell you why (and I don't think I've ever told this to anyone) ...

The work. Believe in the work.

Anyone who spent any amount of time around Bob Bradley in 2006 heard about the work.

Results weren't important because as long as players put in the work in training, things would take care of themselves. In fact, the only way to have a chance of positive results was through the work the players put in training.

It seemed like a strange concept for me. I mean, wins and losses are pretty objective while the work was rather subjective. Chivas USA had had a miserable 2005 season and they needed a turnaround - and a fast one at that. That meant wins and draws, something they'd had far too little of the year before.

And Bob Bradley was the man entrusted to steer the ship in the right direction. Right off the bat, he tried to change the culture surrounding the club, by bringing in guys like Ante Razov and Jesse Marsch, drafting the likes of Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan and helping them mesh with incumbent stars in Juan Pablo Garcia and Francisco "Paco" Palencia.

How would that team be judged? I knew that it wouldn't be judged by the work. At least, that wasn't my initial reaction.

Around the start of the 2006 season, I had come to a bit of a crossroads in my own life. I'd always struggled with weight. I had been overweight in my youth, got a bit bigger once out of high school but for the latter part of my 20s, I ballooned out of control, tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds.

I didn't have the work in me to do anything but sit around and eat.

But in March 2006 I began meeting with a personal trainer at the local gym. It was an interesting experience. I wasn't around gyms very often those days... or any days before then to be honest. You don't get to three bills by going to the gym, after all. But there I was, not really having much confidence in myself, feeling like it was a lost cause even before I got into the gym, wondering if I should just leave the trainer hanging and bail.

I stuck with him through our initial meeting, though. I weighed in at a whopping 308.6 pounds. Afterward, the trainer asked me what I wanted my goal to be. I told him that I wanted a one in front of my weight. It was pie in the sky, I was fully aware. Later, we went and worked out. I did the elliptical for seven minutes, the exercise bike for eight more and was sore for three days afterward.

But this time I wanted to give it a good try, this weight loss thing. I hadn't ever really been serious about it, but this time I figured may as well. I had two little girls, ages 2 and 6 months, and I didn't want to be the "fat dad" at school. It was already embarrassing enough being around professional athletes looking the way I did. I didn't want to embarrass my daughters once they were old enough to realize such things.

I remember one of the first times I interviewed Bob Bradley, right around the time I'd met the trainer for the first time. I was sweating like crazy - I used to sweat a lot for no reason. I asked him a few questions. He talked about the work that the team was putting in during the preseason.

It seemed like every time I caught Bob Bradley after a training session, he brought up the work. The work was good, the work was getting better, the work, the work, the work... It was hardly ever about wins and losses, mostly always the work.

I started to put in a lot of my own work in at the gym. As the season began, so too did my weight-loss journey. I was doing cardio, working out on the elliptical. I was doing circuits on different machines, working out my legs, arms and keeping my heart rate up. It was slow at first, painful most of the time and, to be honest, enjoyable none of the time, but I had put my faith in the trainer. And I'd paid about $1,000 for 20 sessions, so I also had that to drive me.

Now, my trainer did not want for me to weigh myself very often. He said the best way to get an accurate gauge of my progress was to weigh myself once a month. He had my faith, so I didn't deviate from his intsructions.

It was tough at times to not weigh myself. I was doing all of this stuff, I had changed my eating habits pretty much overnight (out with sodas, fast food, frozen dinners; in with veggies, home-cooked meals and water). I wanted to have some sort of affirmation that I was headed on the right path instead of the trainer's constant praise.

A light went off. Slowly at first, but it began to flicker.

Here I was, putting in the work. What was going to get me where I wanted to get? The work. What would be the most important thing for me to focus on? The work.

The scale would only tell so much. I could see some weight loss after a week and then relax and ease off on the work.

Much like Chivas USA could have gotten excited about a win and may have started to ease up on their own work.

For both of us, things were paying off, right?

Much like wins and losses, my own weight was not the most accurate reflection of myself back then. It was in the work. I had to stay true to the work in the gym, to the work I put in when preparing meals, when avoiding junk food, when avoiding going over my calories.

I understood what Bob Bradley had preached for so long.

The work had become the most important thing in my life.

After one month, I had lost 10 pounds. The second month, I dropped 13 more. For five consecutive months, I lost double-digit pounds. By November, I was down to 250 pounds, the lightest I'd been in years. I may not have looked like it but I felt like a new man.

Bob Bradley left Chivas USA in December 2006 for the U.S. national team. My trainer had departed my gym only a month prior. I was to fend for myself. That winter featured few workouts but also no pounds gained.

The gym was not a part of my life in December, or in January 2007, or in February. By March of that year, I told myself that one of two things would happen - 1) I would go back to the gym, re-dedicate myself to the work and lose the rest of my weight, or 2) I would put it all back on.

Number two was not an option. It just wasn't. I went back to the gym. On my own, I started working out, hitting the elliptical and the weight machines for the most part. Like a cattle prod on my backside, Bob Bradley's words about the work would resurface at the gym.

I weighed myself about once every two weeks. After one stretch that saw me hit the gym for about six out of seven days, I didn't lose a single pound. I had started at 236 and finished at 236. I upped the work. It wasn't good enough and the work became twice as challenging. By October of 2007, I had dropped to 199. By November, I got under 190, probably for the first time since I was in high school.

The work. It worked. Who would have known that such a philosophy would have carried over from the soccer field to a source it was likely never intended to influence?

Me, in June 2005 and at the finish line of the 2010 San Francisco Marathon

Since then, I took up running. I started slowly, running a 5K in June 2008 and a 10K later that year. I ran a half-marathon in April 2009 and ran my first marathon in February 2010. I have run four marathons now and will run marathon number five in March 2012... and hopefully marathons six and seven will follow next year as well.

I'm confident in myself. I am a believer in the work. I'm all about the work I put in when I run. Running a marathon is great but training for it, putting in long runs on weekends and getting my midweek runs - doing the work - is what will get me to the finish line. The work is what counts, not my time.

Thank you Bob Bradley, for instilling the work in me.


Nick said...

Thanks for sharing, Luis. I remember seeing some pictures of you a few years and I thought "okay, he's a little hefty". Now, you've got it all together and are fit for life.... A long life. It's all about "the work".

Dennis Pope said...

Awesome to read and see that Bob could inspire you, even if he was no longer able to do so for his (former) charges.

Congrats on your success, Luis. Keep up the the good "work".

EnEGee said...

Congratulations brother. I've gone through a similar transition and am excited to see others do the same. I do have a personal question for you, and you can e-mail me at if you want. With losing the weight so fast do you have some excess skin? If you do or did what did you do to get rid of it?
Take care,

AlecTheGreen said...

Great writing. Thanks for sharing your story and proving there's a runner in all of us. It's about the journey, not the destination.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations and thank you very much for sharing your story. You look fantastic and I hope your weight is off forever. Accomplishing something like this is very difficult.

For me personally, I have quit smoking "for good" about 5 times. One day I'll lick it.

Anonymous said...

Great job Luis! Bradley has inspired me with his focus and hard work. Thanks for sharing!

Sarah Her-Lee said...

great read! congrats! :)

Paul Poenicke said...

Great story, intertwining your your success and insights into Bradley's coaching. Glad to see your results and to know you will be following the game for us for many years to come. Sounds like Bob learned a bit from another coach in LA who focused on work instead of winning, John Wooden.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful story Luis, thanks for sharing it. I hope Bob Bradley sees it. What inspired me about Bob Bradley was when he hugged and spoke to Ricardo Clark after he took him out of the ghana match at the World Cup. Other coaches would've ignored Clark for the price his mistakes cost the US in that match, but not Bob Bradley. He knew what was more important. I salute you both.

Doug said...

Congratulations Luis. Good to see doing "the work" paid off. I also agree with the Anonymous poster who commented on Bob Bradley's concern for Ricardo Clark after he, correctly, substituted Clark early in the World Cup match vs. Ghana.

Dominghosa said...

You rock, man. Inspirational.

Anonymous said...

Holy cow, Luis. Good job. Applause and acclamation. For me, the hardest part isn't going to the gym or cooking a healthy meal, it's sustaining the work, and I've got tons of respect for you and anyone else who can pull that off so well.