We are very excited to begin bringing you some really great reads on mindset, attitude, goals, and overall self improvement. Stay tuned as this introduction is going to get us rolling in an awesome sequence on how to Toe The Line and why it is such an important tool.
From Zero to Hero to Zero
“The starting point of all achievement is DESIRE. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat.”
Above is a quote from Napoleon Hill’s landmark bestseller Think And Grow Rich. This book has sold over 100 million copies and changed countless lives. We strongly recommend giving this book a read as it goes along with and builds upon a lot of the attitude and mindset strategies that this blog is going to tackle and teach.
Now, to introduce myself, I am Ryan Cogan. I am one of the partners here at RedLine Gear but my journey with discovering how the Toe The Line mindset could change my life started about 3 years before I met our founder Matt O’Keefe. I am going to tell you my Toe The Line story of how I got to where I am today.I was not an athlete in high school and knew nothing about fitness, nutrition, or mental toughness. I am not 100% certain of what got me rolling toward a more fit and healthy lifestyle but I am going to assume it had something to do with girls. My 17 year old soft 200lb 6ft tall build was not doing it for me anymore... So started hours and days of research about bodybuilding and nutrition. My improvement was slow and my efforts were unfocused in the beginning because my goals were not potent enough for me to visualize. I needed something more than, “I want to have a big strong fit build.” “What do I want to do with this physique that I am quickly learning will be a lot of work to attain?” Luckily the answer came to me by surprise or accidentally. I do not recall my first interaction with the Navy but it grabbed me hook line and sinker. My DESIRE to be one of the most elite warriors in the world came over me quickly and with extreme vigor. It was the first time in my life that I really dedicated myself to something I wanted. In the early days, something about knowing that MY hard work had moved me closer to this really lofty goal that I had for myself became addictive. I dove in and started educating myself with what it took to earn a contract to go to BUD/S training and hopefully make it through the gruelling 6 months long training course the Navy uses to construct one of the world's most elite fighting forces. I only use hopefully looking back now, but when I caught the SEAL bug there was no doubt in my mind that I would do whatever it took to make it to and through BUD/S.
My desire was deep and I visualized myself fighting for my country as part of this elite group every day. The addition of this deeply seeded desire took my training from unorganized to very strict and focused. I recorded every rep and every single thing I ate so that I had a record to look back on and keep track of my progress. The importance of all of these strategies will be laid out for you in detail in the sequence of articles to follow this one.
Every SEAL candidate has to pass the PST (physical screening test), which consists of swimming, running, and max effort calisthenics. The competition for SEAL contracts in 2011 was strong and you had to score well above the minimums if you wanted a chance at a SEAL contract. I needed to be capable of a 9 min 500m swim, 100 push ups in 2min, 20 pull ups in 2min, 100 sit ups in 2min, and a 9min 1.5 mile run, all within a short period of time and with little rest.
So began my training. At the beginning, I didn’t even know how to swim. I could tread water but multiple laps were impossible. I didn’t have a coach and this was very clearly my biggest hole in the early days. The other tests were much more intuitive and easier to improve at with a clearly thought out and recorded training program. A 2 mile run was hard to finish in the beginning and pull ups, well, those were something I had never trained before and my body let me know it the first time I got up on the pull up bar and was only able to knock out a couple of ugly reps. I was way behind where I needed to be and this did nothing but motivate me because my DESIRE had gone from being potent to being an infatuation. My DESIRE hadn't only changed how I spent my days. It changed how I thought and felt everyday. Over time, each day became meticulously scheduled and planned with my long term goal being the number one priority. This step, the planning and studying, never felt like work. It was a necessary step on my way to success and it always felt like a privilege because a good plan combined with hard work will inevitably result in improvements and gains toward your DESIRE.
I mentioned above that my training regimen became very strict and focused. That is not to say that I was doing everything correctly right out of the gate. Nor should anyone expect to when they set off on a new endeavor. The first few months of training were a lot of feeling out my own body and learning how to move efficiently. Don’t forget that I was not an athlete in school and learned almost everything on my own through reading and watching some very useful video content from SEALSWCC.com. Maybe I could have gone a different route on this journey and looked for more help along the way but the self confidence I created through trying, failing, reassessing, and eventually triumphing will stick with me for the rest of my life.
After a few months of trying, and reassessing new strategies that I was learning, I felt confident in my plan and the direction I was headed. It was very clear that I had a long way to go. For a while, the swim portion of my training was just to acquire the skill and ability in the water necessary for completing 500m without stopping, at which time my swim training would fall more in line with how I trained for the other legs of the PST.
Almost all of my training in the beginning except for swimming followed a linear progression model where training sessions were basically equal to testing sessions. I was testing that I had increased my capacity and was capable of more volume on a weekly basis. This was a great way for me to get started and make huge gains in the beginning. And huge gains I did make. The reward of accomplishing these small weekly goals became addictive and super motivating. Because my goal was so potent and I wasn’t taking any short cuts for the fear that any of those could leave me the 1% not ready that it would take for me to fail BUD/S, the hard work that went into these weekly accomplishments was not easy but was easily justifiable.
For an example of a linear progression, we will take my running from start to finish. The PST goal was 1.5 miles in 9mins. BUD/S would require a lot more running capacity than 1.5 miles so I actually had to focus on a few different distances. My training runs were a few mid distance runs, 1 sprint interval session, and 1 long distance run. The total weekly distance in the beginning was around 5 miles. So, lets say at this point my mid distance run was 1.5 miles and my long run was 3 miles. I would set a goal time say 11mins for the 1.5 mile run and 24mins for the 3 mile run. Not fast times but these runs would still be constantly retested over the longer 2 yearish term I had set for myself to be ready for the PST. Once I achieved the time I had set for myself on any given distance, I would up the distance on that run and add some volume into my training. This was actually very easy to do with running since I had a detailed log of all of my training runs and was taking the necessary steps to be stronger and faster than I was the previous week. Of course not every week resulted in an improvement but many of them did. Desire is a powerful thing and because I was able to Toe The Line every week moving myself closer and closer to my desire, milestones and landmarks, times and distances, that I would have thought unfathomable 6 months ago were merely stepping stones that more often than not got run over on the way to success. You will clearly understand how this correlates to Toe The Line when you come back for more in the next few weeks.
About one year into my training, my capacity had increased dramatically. I was getting very close to my push up, pull up ,and sit up goals. My swimming training was now being done in a linear progression style very similar to my running. I was running about 20 miles per week and was abruptly knocked down by my first over training injury. I was diagnosed with runner's knee which is basically just a sore spot under the kneecap that can be caused by tight quads pulling your patella too tightly into the joint resulting in some very painful inflammation. I couldn’t train. I was in a brace, and after a year of every day being focused toward this potent desire of being the best, the stress and anxiousness that I was not able to continue to improve really tore at me. I began researching recovery and mobility and quickly realized how important this was going to be toward achieving my goal. From that point forward, I dedicated at least one hour of every day to mobility, and self massage.
Getting runner's knee, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, was a huge hurdle. At first I was really disappointed that all of my training had led me to this point where I went from training hard 6 days a week to not being able to do anything. I Toed The Line and at some point, I crossed the line and got rejected. My body said no more UNLESS you make some changes. I can safely say that if I never suffered this setback, but still achieved all my PST goals and eventually got to BUD/S, I would have been unsuccessful in achieving my end goal of being a Navy SEAL. My body would have been wound up and the intensity of BUD/S almost certainly would have caused something to break or fail which depending on the severity could have ended my journey immediately. The rejection of going too far outside my capacity for training volume was integral in structuring the correct plan to achieve my goal.
About 6 months after recovering from runner’s knee, I had my PST scores either at or very close to optimal scores for receiving a contract. With 18 months of trying, failing, and accomplishing new milestones in my training, I was confident that I could continue to improve these numbers while also shifting my goals toward increasing my capacity for the longer distances and grueling multiple day long mental toughness tests that make up some of the roughest days at BUD/S.
Another 8 months went by and I felt ready. In just over 24 months I had gone from not being able to achieve passing scores on the PST to putting out scores that would have put me in the 97th percentile of candidates applying for a SEAL contract. Getting through my first mock PST with these scores was and still is one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever felt. It was finally time to enlist and really see what I was made of.
Long Story short, I attempted to enlist in the Navy and was disqualified for all military service because of an injury I suffered when I was 12 that had not affected me for years. The reply from my recruiter was as simple as, “sorry kid there is nothing you can do in the armed services right now without a waiver and that waiver will completely disqualify you for all special warfare training.” My mind was made up immediately and I decided that I would not pursue a normal enlisted military career. My journey was over my goal literally vanished in a split second. This was obviously devastating. At 20 years old, this was the greatest let down of my life. The feeling that I had wasted the last 2 years of my life was impossible to overcome. I had dropped out of college after 1 semester to work a part time job and focus on my last leg of training. I felt lost and hopeless but that feeling only lasted a short while.
The Bounce Back
Then I discovered CrossFit. My love for CrossFit came on so quickly because it gave me a chance to use what I had worked on for the past two years and now I could compete against other like minded individuals in an upbeat and supportive atmosphere. One thing about training to be a Navy SEAL was that it wasn’t easy to find like minded people to train with so it definitely got lonely.
I was pumping gas at a full service gas station so paying for a CrossFit membership was way outside of the realm of possibility for me. I needed it though. I was going to do whatever it took to get into a CrossFit gym. This was my new DESIRE. So, I started reaching out to local gyms offering to do anything in exchange for a membership. Dave Picardy the owner of North Shore CrossFit was one of the very few who got back to me and to my delight was willing to let me clean the bathrooms of his gym in exchange for a membership. After cleaning the bathrooms in the gym and training at North Shore Crossfit for a few months, Dave put out a notice that they were looking to hire apprentice coaches. After years of teaching and coaching myself up from a fluffy 200lb boy who couldn’t run 2 miles without stopping to a lean mean man who could compete on the PST with some of the most qualified SEAL candidates in the country, I believed I had the knowledge to be a great CrossFit coach with some expert training from Dave. Dave agreed and brought me into his internship program.
I eventually started taking on 1 on 1 clients and bringing them in on my own! I had my own classes that I coached every day and I was really becoming a leader in the community at North Shore CrossFit. I felt like I had made it and while the let down of not being able to at least try to be a part of the SEAL Teams will likely never completely go away, it had been substantially numbed.
All of my hard work and failures had led me to this point where I couldn’t imagine being happier doing anything else. Then, completely unexpectedly, I got offered the opportunity to work with Matt O’Keefe on a project he was working on. His words to me went something like this, “Hey I am starting this apparel thing and I want someone who knows CrossFit to be involved. I can’t pay you but I would love if you would help me build this into what I know it can be.”
I knew Matt well. We had been training and getting better at CrossFit together for a long time and I had learned enough about him to know that working alongside him and being on the ground floor of any project he was working on was too good of an opportunity to pass up. So, I began doing everything Matt asked and spending as much time with him as I possibly could. This was when I really began to learn what Toe The Line was and how life changing of a tool it could be. RedLine eventually got to a point where I had to choose between that and coaching. I chose RedLine. While I still miss helping people achieve their goals, working with Matt and on RedLine Gear has put me into countless situations and given me opportunities that I never could have imagined as possibilities. Four years into RedLine Gear I have made hundreds of connections in the industry, interacted with thousands of people, and grown a tremendous amount. We have sold millions of dollars worth of apparel to people all over the world and because of my commitment to Matt in the early stages of the company, he has made me a partner in the business.
That is the end of my story so far. At a very young age I was lucky to have uncovered a vigorous desire to be something that i wasn’t yet. That desire led me down a path of extensive learning and growth which brought many important lessons but none more so than Toe The Line. We all have limits but it is our duty as humans to push those limits and treat any failures or setbacks as opportunities to learn and continue in a new, similar, or same direction with a new strategy toward creating a more successful and prosperous life for ourselves and our families. No two situations are alike but if you Toe The Line you will improve and get closer to your desires. I can’t wait to share more about Toe The Line with you in our upcoming articles.