veteran

82 : Athlete & Vet Transition w/ Greg Jones, Former Midshipman, Host of Authentic Athletes Podcast

Greg Jones is a Veteran of the United States Navy and a graduate of the United States Naval Academy where he played wide receiver for the Midshipman.  Greg now host’s the Authentic Athletes Podcast where he interviews professional and college athletes with the goal of providing fun, motivating and educational experiences for listeners based on the life lessons learned by his interviewees.  I came across Greg's podcast on Instagram and was immediately blown away by the guests he has had on the show.  As I dug a little deeper into Greg's story and mission, I realized we are fighting the same fight when it comes to the athlete and veteran transition, both of which he has experienced first-hand.  If you are a fan of this podcast, I have no doubt you will also find value in Authentic Athletes.

Every kid who grows up playing football in the backyard dreams of one day scoring a touchdown either for, or against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.  Greg lived out this childhood dream by scoring on a 52 yard reception, and this is where we start the interview; Greg takes us through the play and what set him loose in the secondary to reel in a money ball from QB Rickey Dobbs.  You can watch the play in the video below, and if that doesn't get you jacked up on life, I don't know what the hell will.

Greg was recruited as a quarterback out of high school, but having played multiple sports, coaches viewed him as a well rounded athlete, capable of playing any role on the field.  This versatility came into play in football after being moved to running back and then to wide-out and then again in his military career.  These translatable skills that athletes forge through their sports serve as the foundation for the Authentic Athletes Podcast.

Highlights of the Fighting Irish vs the Midshipmen of Navy 23 - 21 Navy.

Greg's touchdown can be seen at 1:05!

During our discussion, we talk in depth about Greg's transition to life after football and eventually his transition to civilian life.  When it came to life after football, having the title of Naval Officer and First Lieutenant aboard a Minesweeper eased his transition.  However, when football season rolled around, Greg coped with missing the game by calling up his teammates and reminiscing. After serving in the military Greg followed his entrepreneurial spirit to the start-up world.  This transition came a little earlier than anticipated because of a back injury that proved to be very difficult for Greg, especially in terms of having to now sell himself and be a self promoter.  As Greg eventually found out, this struggle is not uncommon.  He would frequently receive calls from his buddies who were looking for advice as some of them began to leave the Navy. This is where the idea for the Authentic Athletes Podcast came from.   Despite all the valuable lessons and leadership training the military provides, resources for the transition to civilian life are lacking.  Greg is now providing that outlet to ease the struggle for others.  Here is a link to all of Greg's interviews to date: PODCAST EPISODES. Some of his previous guests include:

013: KEN NIUMATALOLO

Navy Football Head Coach

014: SHANNON MACMILLAN

National Soccer Hall of Fame - Class of 2016; U.S. Women's National Soccer Team

016: JEFF MONKEN

Army Football Head Coach

019: LANDON DONOVAN

6-Time MLS Cup Champion; 4-Time US Soccer Athlete of the Year; US Men's National Team - World Cup '02, '06, '10

020: SHAWNE MERRIMAN

3-Time NFL All-Pro

021: TROY CALHOUN 

Air Force Football Head Coach

Greg was able to stay relatively injury free throughout his career and we discuss strategies for longevity in sports and football in particular.  Along these lines, we finish this episode by discussing our thoughts on health & safety and the future of football.  Greg believes the state of safety in football and the future of the game is ultimately on the player.  

Injured or not, at some point the game ends for everyone.  I have no doubt Greg's podcast will teach you how apply the tools you learned on the field or on the court to succeed in the next phase of your life - whatever that may be.

WHERE CAN YOU FIND OUT MORE ABOUT AUTHENTIC ATHLETES?

WEBSITE | itunes | soundcloudINSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER

WHERE CAN YOU FOLLOW GREG JONES?

FACEBOOKINSTAGRAM TWITTER | LINKEDIN

Download Episode 82 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

79 : Identifying/Mitigating Risk & A Veteran's Transition After Roadside Bomb, Ryan Miller

Ryan Miller medically retired as a Captain from the US Army in 2012 due to severe wounds he received in Iraq, which ultimately led to the amputation of his left leg.  After becoming dependent on opiate painkillers throughout his recovery he now advocates for cannabis use.  Ryan graduated with a degree in Nuclear Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point and earned a masters degree in both business administration and public policy from Harvard.  I met Ryan while in Pittsburgh at the World Medical Cannabis Convention and Expo for my interview with Eben Britton.  I felt an immediate connection to Ryan when I walked up to him at the C.A.M.O. booth and he began to educate me on the many benefits that cannabis and hemp have to offer to the world.  It wasn't until later on in our conversation that I found out the he was wearing a prosthetic leg under his jeans.

Ryan grew up in Staten Island, NY and defined himself as a football player at Stuyvesant High School, which he described as a school full of overachievers.  As a fellow fullback/linebacker, Ryan was never afraid of a little contact. During this episode, Ryan takes us through some moments of his high school glory days including a play where he suffered a compression sprain of his spine and forced him out of the remainder of that game.  Besides that injury, Ryan stayed relatively healthy and surgery-free until the wounds he suffered on the battlefield during his military career.

"All your live's have just changed dramatically, That said, we have to lab, we have to execute."

In addition to his influential uncle, Ryan decided to attend The United States Military Academy at West Point as a way to further differentiate himself from his high school classmates who were going on to Harvard, Yale, etc.  Ryan started at West Point in the Fall of 2001 and one of my favorite parts of this interview was when he described what the atmosphere was like on campus on 9/11.  Ryan's high school football team practiced on a field that was literally in the shadows of the World Trade Center, so seeing the planes crash into the buildings obviously hit home hard.  Ryan had just gotten back from the pharmacy and made his bed for AMI (morning inspection). While walking to class, he heard someone say something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Ryan's initial thoughts were that it must have been a small plane.  When he got to class one of his teachers had the tv on, and told the class "all your live's have just changed dramatically. That said, we have to lab, we have to execute. Ryan says that sense of normalcy around campus was everywhere.

“He (Professor) was almost planting the seed...Hey we just went on convoy and lost the most beloved member of the platoon, we have to go back out there and execute tomorrow."

I eventually asked Ryan how he ended up going into Infantry after majoring in nuclear engineering.  His answer was interesting in that he said it was quasi peer pressure at West Point.  I believe the dynamics of this peer pressure is similar to the pressures that exist in sports which serve as the foundation of the culture of toughness.  Although addressing the influence of peer pressure on his decision, Ryan doesn't regret his decision at all. 

Ryan was in southern Baghdad, on a high profile mission reassessing the most recently cleared section of the city on October 18th 2007.   He was in a Stryker unit, which is an armored personnel carrier.  These vehicles are really cool and I included a series of videos below to explain their varying capabilities. At that time in southern Baghdad the biggest threat were houses that were rigged to explode.  However, it was a roadside bomb that hit the Stryker unit, which led to Ryan's injuries (severe damage to left leg, shrapnel wounds to the organs in his torso).  Ryan goes into detail in these moments, and nothing I write in this post will give that story justice, so make sure to give this episode a listen!

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Juan Valdes)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Juan Valdes)

According to Ryan, in 2007 the best place to have a traumatic injury was Baghdad Iraq because it had the highest survival rate.  Despite the severe wounds to his left leg, he was able to salvage his limb for 3 years after the accident and worked with a future podcast guest, Johnny Owens in the process. We discuss what went into the decision to amputate and you might be surprised to learn that it wasn't anything he lost sleep over. This was because of the lack of functionality Ryan had with his limb and he remembers other people with prosthetics running circles around him.  Prior to his injury, Ryan weighed 230 pounds and was running  a sub 12 minute 2 mile.  Like our man Chris Norton, Ryan advises wounded veterans and injured athletes to not compare yourself to who you were in the past. Ryan also recommends finding a group that challenges you in your recovery and beyond.  

These pieces of advice came from Ryan's struggles throughout his recovery, particularly while in grad school at Harvard where the degradation of his performance was most glaring for him.  Based on Ryan's academic credentials, its safe to assume that he was an absolute rock start in school, especially after graduating near the top of his class at West Point.  However, while at Harvard, Ryan remembers struggling academically, which he believes might have had something to do with the traumatic brain injuries on the battlefield and the opiate use while rehabbing to save his leg.  Lacking a peer group after his injury and physically being in a lot of pain led to a lack of social interaction that could have been beneficial in his recovery.

Although most people assume Ryan used cannabis to get off pain killers, it was actually the rehab done at The Center for The Intrepid that did it.  Despite being strongly against marijuana in high school, he tried it recreationally while in grad school and noticed the positive affects it had on his mood and restless leg syndrome.  Eventually Ryan moved out to California and began advocating for Cannabis to help other veterans kick their addictions to pain killers because he believes that has a lot to do with the high suicide rates among veterans.  Check out some of the organizations listed below that Ryan is involved with.

Lastly, Ryan lives his definition of toughness day in and day out.  To Ryan, toughness is being vulnerable enough to see all sides of an issue and take a stand for what you know is right after educating yourself on the topic at hand. Marijuana and cannabis as a whole have been demonized for decades and by listening to Ryan, a West Point and Harvard graduate, we get a different perspective that has the power to cultivate a new image they may have a positive affect in the world of sports.

WHERE CAN YOU learn more about Ryan's organizations?

Field - Website

Warrior Rising - Website | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

C.A.M.O. - Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

WHERE CAN YOU FIND Ryan Miller?

email : ryan@fieldapp.co | Linkedin

Download Episode 79 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

54 : What is Toughness? Bill Anthes, Green Beret, Founder of Between the Ears

Bill Anthes is a Green Beret, Co-Owner of CrossFit Motown, a 2015 inductee into Montclair State University's Athletics Hall of Fame for his superior performance on the soccer field, and Founder of "Between the Ears."  The name Between the Ears draws it's inspiration from a quote stated by CrossFit founder, Greg Glassman, when he said "the greatest adaptation to CrossFit takes place between the ears."  That adaptation being mental toughness and specifically referring to the power of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations.  We talk a lot about the athlete transition on this podcast which is often compared to a soldiers shift back to civilian life. The creation of Between the Ears has been a part of Bill's difficult transition to civilian life (which we discuss in the interview) and it is intended to provide voluntary opportunities for people to put themselves in controlled, yet uncomfortable situations that foster personal growth as a team.  I have always prided myself on being mentally tough, so you could say I was pretty confident going into my first Between the Ears (004) Evolution.  From now through the remainder of this post, I will refer the Between the Ears as "BTE."

Evolution - any process of formation or growth; development. You can find the word "Evolution" written 64 times in the BTE waiver.  As most people do, I didn't actually read the waiver before I signed my life away so I missed all the signs that foreshadowed the most important personal transformation I have ever experienced.  Although most BTE evolutions are unique from one another, I will not reveal the specifics of BTE 004 to maintain its purity for future classes. Bill and I discuss the power of going into something completely blind of what lies ahead. However, I will say that if you are proud of your Tough Mudder headband collection or your Spartan Race medals, the feeling of accomplishment I felt after doing BTE 004 made everything else I'd done before that pale in comparison.  And guess what? I quit. I cried.  I tapped out. I didn't even finish.

I thought long and hard after making the decision to pull myself out of the BTE 004 Evolution and honestly it was the best learning experience I've ever encountered.  Below are my thoughts on my personal evolution, which I sent to Bill after taking a few days to soak-in my thoughts and emotions (READ CAPTIONS): 

Hi Bill,

Honestly, I haven't been able to stop thinking about last weekend.  The poem, the idea of engaging aggressively in its relation to "toughness", the added weight of the extra baggage we carry around with us, and obviously my decision to pull myself out of the evolution. When I was reading this email on Monday I had to fight back the tears once again (I obviously don't win this fight often). Although I am a crier, I have never been so powerfully impacted by an experience like I was by Between The Ears 004.

The idea of toughness has been something that I have been obsessed with for most of my life.  I always wanted people to think I was "tough."  Toughness to me used to mean playing injured, lifting the heaviest weight, hitting home runs and scoring touchdowns.  Despite my effort to prove this definition of toughness, I felt I was never tough enough.  In the process I played an entire week's worth of football with a bleeding brain and nearly killed myself.  I tried to be tough to an extent that almost killed me and I still felt that my efforts weren't enough. Therefore I continued to push myself to extreme limits for what is now 9 years striving to be what I thought was "tough." It took awhile, but my knee was eventually impacted by this mindset as well. The same knee that was begging me not to take another step, when my brain was telling it "you're a sissy."

"In my experience, we rarely learn the deepest and most powerful lessons by examining the surface. We need to go to the deepest depths, not to find the answers, but to ask the questions. The answers, as we find out, are not always what we may want them to be. At the surface, potentially we answer these questions completely opposite of what the true answer really is."  -Bill Anthes

"In my experience, we rarely learn the deepest and most powerful lessons by examining the surface. We need to go to the deepest depths, not to find the answers, but to ask the questions. The answers, as we find out, are not always what we may want them to be. At the surface, potentially we answer these questions completely opposite of what the true answer really is."

-Bill Anthes

I have been asking myself a lot of questions in reflecting about the decisions I made during the evolution.  It was seriously a life-changing experience for me.  Going into this you told us to think about our "why."  My why was to prove that although my body can't do what it used to or what I want it to do athletically (because of my knee), I still have the same mind and determination that I have always had. Looking back on it now, that why is exactly what has destroyed my body and tormented my self-worth for as long as I can remember. At the surface, I really did answer my question completely opposite to what the true answer turned out to be or what I wanted it to be.

"When we strip away the armor, the muscle, the ego, the defenses and are left exposed, we do not always love what we see...and that is ok. The 'toughness' piece is deciding to engage. Committing to the first step towards improving and taking it, aggressively. This is a decision that you can make, because you always have a choice, no matter what".  - Bill Anthes

"When we strip away the armor, the muscle, the ego, the defenses and are left exposed, we do not always love what we see...and that is ok. The 'toughness' piece is deciding to engage. Committing to the first step towards improving and taking it, aggressively. This is a decision that you can make, because you always have a choice, no matter what".

- Bill Anthes

 I'll never forget when you had us stop and you told us that we were getting lazy with our movements and were just going through the motions feeling bad for ourselves. I took that to heart because I did find myself just trying to "survive" (can't think of a better word) out there. That's not tough. Anyone can do that and most people do. Like you said when we first began, toughness is deciding to engage, committing to the first step toward improving and taking it AGGRESSIVELY and we always have that choice. Toughness wasn't playing with a separated shoulder or concussion. Toughness was deciding to make my commitment to the football team and taking every step and every rep aggressively and with a purpose.  I was and I am tough.   The best thing about toughness is that we are in control.  I can't thank you enough for providing me with an experience to evolve. 

I'm not sure what was harder, coming up to you and trying to get the words out that I couldn't go any further or seeing everyone as they finally arrived at the end. The old thoughts of doubt in myself started creeping in. Did I really earn this patch? Coin? Backpack? Breakfast sandwich? Or did I cop out by not sticking with the group. I wasn't the only one who was feeling like shit. Did I take the easy way out by having K (Bill's wife) pick me up, so I didn't have to watch the group do the work I should've be doing? Honestly, for the first time I don't think so. My knee was hurting worse than ever before and I actually listened to what my body was telling me. Was it the answer or the outcome I wanted? Not even close. Was it the best lesson I ever learned. 100%. No one looked at me differently or down to me because I didn't finish with the group. That's because toughness is the decision to engage and taking every step toward improving aggressively. I literally couldn't take an aggressive step. 

Sincerely, 

Kevin

BTE Class 004

BTE Class 004

Choosing to continue on the journey with a bum knee would not have been making an aggressive step towards improving. I have already proven I can do that, time and time again.  I've also proved those decisions have never led to anything positive, I just didn't want to believe it.  My hope is that this episode shows athletes that playing injured isn't tough.  It doesn't lead to the glory, the girls or the accolades that Hollywood and ESPN portrays it to be.  YOU control if you are tough or not.  Did you dog-it on the play to the other side of the field?  Did you slow down before the finish line on that sprint? Did you put your head down after the opposing team ran the kickoff back for 6? If the answer is no, then you ARE tough and no coach, teacher, parent, teammate, classmate or anyone can take that away from you.

WHERE CAN YOU FIND BILL?

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | EMAIL : bill@btwntheears.com

Download Episode 54 : iTunes | Stitcher