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Mountain or Mole Hill…It’s Up to You

As I near the intersection of the residential street I am walking down, I can feel myself start to sweat already.  The temperature is about 90 degrees and the sun is beating down with the humidity at about 90%…welcome to south Florida.  🌞 Honestly though, I don’t mind, wearing a light pair of shorts and a sleeveless Shirt, the heat actually feels good with the light breeze of salty air.  The low hum of traffic in the distance is a constant presence, but in this little section of town, it is fairly quiet, just the sound of mocking birds, blue jays and other birds and animals 🐦 the light wind in the branches; it’s honestly very peaceful.  I’ve now walked from one end of the street to the other, and I know my path is clear.  I don’t have a cane with me, I am using my ears, listening for the way sound bounces around objects to navigate.  Reaching down, I stretch out my legs and back, and then reach up, stretching my shoulders and arms.  I’m a little sore from training the day before, 🏋️‍♂️ but it feels good, it feels like progress.  I have several big tournaments coming up, and I need to be ready.  Taking out my phone, I pull open the timer app…I’m ready.

The timer on my phone signals, and I start jogging.  As I take my first few strides, I give my legs a moment to loosen up, but quickly pick up the pace as my stride opens and my muscles warm up completely.  I jog with my back up straight and shoulders back.  Using the balls of my feet as the contact point, I pick up speed as I keep a slight flex in my knees and hips to absorb the shock of the impact.  Most people are taught to run with their heel striking the ground first, and they naturally lean forward when running.  As a trainer, I know this to be wrong, and I feel a slight elation as I run smoothly and pain free in a proper stance.  I really enjoy when I can teach people how to do this correctly.  My balance shifts back and forth slightly as I feel the shallow V-shaped incline of the flat gutter that I am running in alongside the street.  Every time I feel that little angle, I shift my weight ever so slightly to keep my self on a straight path right down the middle of my makeshift running lane.  I start to move faster and faster as I blow down the street, slowing only a little when I hear the sound shifting oddly in front of me, but picking it up again when I realize it was just the low hanging branch halfway down the street.  🌿 Step and stride, step and stride, my body finds a rhythm that is just short of a sprint as I near the end of my path.  I can hear some traffic up ahead, so I know that I’m nearing the intersection I started at.  One final push for speed, and then I begin to stride down, and finally walk until I feel the curb rise up on my left side.  I made it to the end.  Breathing heavily, I wait for the timer to signal my next exercise, which will be high knee steps.  I pull in air and feel the muscles in my calves tight with fatigue, the sweat running off my arms and back, and the slight burn in my lungs.  I have only a few seconds, then it signals.  High stepping in place, I work my core and foot speed, until the timer signals again.  Turning around, I wait for the time.  A couple of seconds later, and a beep from my phone in my pocket sounds, and I start my sprint to the other intersection again…only 14 more rounds to go for today.🥵

There are so many barriers that we run into in life that make things more difficult.  I could blame my blindness, the heat, traffic, schedule, and any other number of things.  None of these are false or invalid, they all make the task more difficult, and I want to recognize this fact.  Obstacles are real things that really do make the task more challenging, and there is no shortage of them.  The question is this though, will you allow them to prevent your success?  🤔 I think that the difference between people who are successful and those who are not, is not the fact the people who are successful had an easier time of it, and those who are not all had larger obstacles.  I believe that those who are successful saw those obstacles as molehills, and those who are not saw them as mountains.  Author M.E. Kerr is quoted as saying, “Obstacles are challenges for winners and excuses for losers.”  Everyone will face barriers, so which one is it for you, challenge or excuse?  🖊 Write down a goal, big or small, and then write down what has prevented you from accomplishing it, all the excuses you can come up with.  Then write next to each excuse, “Challenge.”  Let’s turn those mountains back into the molehills that they are.  It will not be easy. It will take work, but only you can determine your own success.  “You can have results or excuses, but you can’t have both…” Anonymous. ✌️

Breathing Life Into The Dream

The antithetical feelings I got between the excitement from the email I read this morning and the gut punch text message I had received three weeks ago are still making my head spin a little.  When I read that text message, I felt so defeated, so beaten down, I just had an overwhelming sensation of no way out from under a heavy burden.   Rarely in my life have I ever dealt with this low a point, I’ve been blessed with an ever-optimistic spirit, sometimes nauseatingly optimistic, but this just seemed so unfair, it felt like just too much, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  In order to give you a true scope of why just one text message put me so hard on my heels, let me give you a snapshot of our family dynamics for the past several years…I promise, it won’t take all that long. J

Six years ago, after graduating from Western Michigan University, my wife and I set our sights southward, packed up the little ones, and headed to the “sunshine state” for the stronger fitness industry and better weather.  I picked up a job as a Personal Trainer with 24 Hour Fitness, and I have been working for them for the past 6 years (six years today, actually.)  I promoted five times from a level 1 Trainer, all the way up to Assistant Fitness Manager.  I was given the Anthem Award from 24 Hour Fitness, was featured in their Magazine as an exemplary Personal Trainer and Paralympic Athlete, and more times than I remember was the top in sales for my club.  I felt that my direction was clear as I began developing more of my management skills, and I was told by a panel of higher ups that I was ready to move into the next position when one became available.  Things seemed good, I was enjoying my work, seeing lives change, and there was little ambiguity about where I was going in life.  What I didn’t realize was that I had just hit the apex of the roller-coaster and was about to start the drop.

Being a full-time Personal Trainer presents some unique challenges that really started to wear on my family and me.  As a Personal Trainer, the flexibility of setting my own hours was great!  However, I had to match my schedule to that of my clients.  Some people could only workout in the morning, others only at night, some only on Saturday, some just on federally recognized holidays, some only when their cat was feeling well…you get the idea.  If they didn’t train, I didn’t get paid, so it was a tricky balancing act to make it work.  Now that I was in management, I had to fill in around those appointments with management duties.  Some days I worked up to 16 hours.   This began to take a toll on my training regiment as an athlete, and on my marriage, and I found myself getting sporadic sleep and not enough time with my kids.  I interviewed for a full management position a couple of times and wasn’t given the job.  I was dealing with a lot of accessibility issues with the computer system, and tried hard to get accommodations for that, but they were slow in coming and that made my job difficult.  That may have been the reason I wasn’t promoted, I don’t know. In the end we realized though that the next promotion would still have been a lot of hours for not much better pay, so I’m glad that didn’t happen anyway.  Since I knew I didn’t have any hope of moving up in this company, my wife and I started to look for other career options for me.

My wife, Leanne, along with all of her responsibilities of homeschooling our children and keeping up our home, took on the role of secretary and began putting out applications for me to various jobs.  For months on end, she perused the job ads online, filled out applications, instructed me to write cover letters, etc.  She was awesome!  Despite all that work, we found ourselves at one closed door after another.  We received many rejection letters, if we got any response at all.  It was very disheartening, but we kept praying and waiting for God’s plan to be revealed.

About six months ago, I got the news that my company, 24 Hour Fitness, was packing up shop and moving across town to a new location.  So now, not only was I working long hours, but instead of a 12-minute walk to and from work, I tacked on an hour and a half bus ride each way.  Needless to say, I was feeling a crunch, my long days had just become longer, often leaving before the kids were even awake, and sometimes getting home after they were asleep.  This needed to change, and quickly…I was starting to wonder how far this roller-coaster drop was going to go, the ground was coming up fast.

I moved with the company, did my best to make it work for about three months, and was stumbling along, when I found a glimmer of light.  I found out that another fitness company was moving into the building that my company had just vacated.  I wasn’t super interested in a lateral move, but anything to relieve the pressure from my over burdened schedule.  Setting up an interview with them, I was told that they wanted to bring me on, and having worked in that location for so long, they had already had many people asking if I would be training there.  This was it!  Not only was this better because of the location, but it turns out that the pay structure of this new company would put me in a position where I would have less management duties, more pay, and steadier hours.  I was stoked!  They said that they would be ready to bring me on board at the end of March.  Doing my touch-down celebration dance, I began marking off the days on my calendar, making preparations, closing accounts, informing my clients, and generally doing the work to make a clean break…but then I got the text. And I braced for impact.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, because I’m sure that you were preparing to make this transition, but we are going to have to wait a few more months to bring you on, our membership base is just not high enough to support another trainer at this time.”  Insert gut punch here.  I tried telling them that I would not be coming in cold, but that I would be bringing business with me; however, they had made their decision to wait.  Not only was I mentally prepared to make this move, but several of my clients who had followed me over to the new location, were now trying to decide what to do, since they had planned on, and were looking forward to, working out closer to home again as well.  I was losing business fast, had no alternative options, and was stuck in a position that was going nowhere, and was no longer paying the bills…all in all, I’ve been better, you know what I mean?

I’m not one for despair, but that was a rough day.  I was down like I’ve rarely been in the past.  My wife and I prayed just as we had been for the past several months for a door to open, for something to come along, for something to release the pressure valve…then, the next day, it came to me, just like that.

I’m not a huge movie buff, but you know the scene from the Grinch movie were the narrator says “And then, the Grinch got an idea.  The Grinch got an awful, wonderful idea.” And then you see the big grin slowly spread across the Grinch’s face?  Well, my idea wasn’t exactly “awful,” but I wish I had a life narrator at that moment. 😊 For the last several months, I had been supplementing our income with various Public Speaking events, and small workshops with various organizations.  I was finding it to be a major enjoyment, but just wasn’t finding the time to build it like I wanted.  My speaking and training were both such a passion of mine, but I was working so many hours with training that I couldn’t do much speaking, and the thought was that when I picked up my speaking career, I would need to cut way back on the training.  These two passions of mine seemed to be pushing against each other in a sense.  Then I thought, do these two things really need to be in opposition?  Why not do them both together?  Why not let them feed and support one another?  Why should I continue to work for someone else’s project?  Why should I continue to allow the dozens of ideas in my head about how to serve a greater population with fitness, speaking, training, and more, to just lie dormant?  Why could I not go out on my own, do some independent training, and have more time to work my own career? Why not form my own company that put all of this together!?

Today, on my last official day with 24 Hour Fitness, I received an email from Sun Biz, stating my company, ReVision Training LLC, was formed effective April 3, 2019.  The mission of this company is to provide training for both body and mind in a spiritually safe environment.  An organization that is the conglomerate of my love for fitness, faith, perseverance, motivation, learning, and growth.  We will be branching off into many avenues, not much information I can provide on that yet, but suffice it to say, I have an extensive business plan that I believe will impact so many lives for the better.  ReVision Training LLC is a dream of mine that I truly have had for years, but only through the circumstances of the past year or more have I had the opportunity and the determination to take those dreams and do my best to breathe life into them.

Doors have been opening left and right since making this decision.  I have told a handful of people some of my business ideas, and everything that I have heard has been positive and inspired.  This whole situation is such a powerful testament again to the many blessings I have been given in my life, and my hope is that it is a reminder to you as well, that even when things seem dark, or heavy, or like the roller-coaster drop will never end, there is a plan that is being unfolded in your life, and it’s critical to trust in what God is doing.  I’m so excited about my new company and looking forward to amplifying the lives of those around me, and maybe now, even on a larger scale.  I know the roller-coaster ride is just starting, but the track has swung up again, and is rocketing off into a distant route of ups and downs, loops and turns, and is sure to be a fast and exciting ride.

Perception – We All Know Someone Who is Blind, Whether They Realize It Or Not

As I stood at the bus stop this morning waiting to head into work, the light breeze and balmy air were a contrast to the harsh noise of the traffic as it consistently bombarded my senses, the loud ebb and flow of noise, the hot draft of engine heat, the smell of exhaust.  I knew there were several people waiting at the stop with me because of the multiple layers of perfume, sweat, and other cosmetics I could smell.  Everyone was quiet at the bus shelter as we waited, and I wondered briefly if I again would be approached by any evangelistic groups asking if they could pray for my vision to be healed, this particular stop is a popular one and I usually get a chance to talk with them twice a week or so.  I hoped they would, I enjoy the conversations and challenging their perceptions about God’s plan for my life.  The bus rolled to a stop, and the distinct hiss of the air breaks releasing let me know it was time to find the front door of the bus.  This is more challenging than most might think, as the rumble of the idling diesel engine that seems to be the trademark of every city bus ever known makes any echo location nearly impossible.  I stuck out my left hand while using my cane with the right and walked along the bus, drawing my hand along the dirty exterior until I found the back edge of the door that was slid back to allow entrance.  I knew the people waiting at the stop with me were observing my actions, and I wondered briefly for the millionth time what they may be thinking.  Stepping up onto the bus, the noise again prevented me from knowing easily whether or not another patron entered the bus before me and is attempting to produce fare…there was, and they were, but with a light touch from my cane and a murmured apology, I set my stance and waited my turn.  As the person in front of me moved on, the driver got my attention by saying,

“Good morning, I won’t forget about you this time, you need the stop before 411 right?”  This particular driver had dropped me off at the wrong stop a few days earlier.  I gave a little smile to assure her that all was well and said,

“Yes, thank you, and I appreciate it.”  After searching the top of the fare box for a moment to find the slot for my bus pass, I slid it in and waited for the machine to spit the pass back out.  I keep the thin card in the same place in my wallet, always facing the same direction, so that I can easily insert it the correct way without taking much extra time.  Putting my pass away again, I turned and made my way back toward the seats.  I always check to the left side first, as it is more likely the driver will see me there, and not forget to drop me off at the correct spot.  As I approached the first seat, looking for the familiar feel and sound of my fiberglass cane connecting with the metal edge of the bus seat, I instead found a soft muffled contact, irregularly spaced and uneven…a pair of knees.  A person was sitting in the first seat, and maybe was asleep, wearing headphones, doesn’t know what to say to the scary blind guy accosting them…not really sure.  Ultimately, they didn’t say a word as I searched around for another seat.  Muttering an apology, I turned to the other side of the bus searching for an empty seat.  Finding another set of legs I assumed were attached to a person, a slight spike of irritation cut through me as I turn further into the bus and finally found the second and third seat open with a familiar sharp clack of sound from my cane.  Sitting down and swinging my back pack to my lap, I thought about how frustrating it is when people take the front seats and somewhere along the way lose there tongues in the process.  I mean, how difficult is it to say, “seats taken” or “there’s a seat to my left.”    How rude can you be honestly?  As if this transition is not tough enough already, and this is the first of four such transfers for the day, and only a sampling of the work and energy it takes to function somewhat smoothly for the rest of my regular daily activities.

Perception…this is again the word that comes into my mind.  I sit and think about how much that word has floated to the surface this morning.  It’s a word that seems powerful to me, but maybe misunderstood.  I wonder about how perception shapes my day, how the people around me have a perception of me and my abilities, or lack there of, based off my blindness.  I have perceptions of them based off their behaviors as well, their lack of communication, the perfumes and colones they might, or might not, wear.  But how much power does that really have?  It would seem like a lot, truthfully, because perception affects behavior, and behavior affects reality.

Behavior affects reality…this is another thought that strikes me.  How often do I let my perception effect my behavior, and thus my reality?  Like I had just done?  My perception of the people in the front seats was that they were obviously selfish and inattentive to those around them, and so my and their reality became a silent bus ride at best, as opposed to the edifying conversation that it may have been had my perception been different.  Maybe these people were reading a book, and were caught up in some homework, or maybe they had just woken up from a long night of taking care of a sick family member.  It could be a hundred other possibilities outside of those.  So what does that mean?  Ultimately, it means that my perception of the situation can, and probably is not completely correct.  There is a good chance that I really am not seeing the situation in its truest form, that there are facts that I am missing.  Just like the people watching me find the door to the bus, they don’t understand all the intricacies of what I am doing, and likely perceive that I am lost, or confused, or flat out incapable.  So if my perception can, and likely is not completely accurate, it follows that I should be careful to not allow my behavior to fully run off my perceptions.  Though I perceived these people as being rude and self-centered, I may have chosen to alter my behavior, and change the reality of the situation.  Perception, ultimately doesn’t have any real control of reality, my behaviors do.

Now, this isn’t to say that peoples perceptions don’t shape reality, because they do, as I said, perception affects behavior, and behavior affects reality.  If I go for a job interview, and the job I am applying for is one I am well qualified for, and I interview well, but the employer perceives that even with my qualifications and great interviewing skills, as a person who is blind, I wouldn’t fit the job well, then his or her perceptions have affected their behavior i.e. they didn’t hire me, which has affected my reality.  Even with this understanding, I decided then and there that behavior trumps any and all perception eventually.  Interview enough times, connect and impress the employer enough, and I have the ability to change my reality through my behavior.  Perception is the possible blueprint you currently have, behavior in the end is the brick with which you are building, and the house is the reality.  If you have faulty blueprints, you can place those bricks in the wrong place, and the house will be drafty, cold, and unstable.  Alter the blueprint based off of someone else’s design, or flat out refuse to follow the blueprints you have, favoring the building techniques that you’ve been told are superior, and you can end up with a cozy solid home.

I want to finish with this, one of my favorite stories, the Tortoise and the Hare.  This is such a great story, solid principles of life, the steady winning the race.  Think though about it in this context.  It wasn’t the hare’s arrogance or skill that lost him the race, but it was his perception.  He perceived that he was superior in speed, and the race was all but won before it even started, and he allowed this perception to effect his behavior.  Any wise runner, or wise person for that matter, would tell you that taking a nap during a race…not exactly the model for success.  His perception created foolish behavior, that affected his reality.  Meanwhile, my good friend the tortoise, didn’t allow his perception of the situation to affect his behavior. Knowing he was woefully outmatched,  he still did what he always does, he kept moving, and in the end was victorious.  I challenge you today to look at your perceptions of your situation, some reality that you have wanted to change.  How is your perception of your reality affecting your behavior?  What behavior will change your reality?  Write down one reality that you want to alter, then write down a behavior that you can change to affect that reality…then start building that cozy strong house.  Do you avoid going to the gym because you believe you will look foolish, that you don’t know what you are doing and that makes you self conscious?  Do you hold off on telling that co-worker that you are offended by their jokes because you are worried about how they or others may think you are prudish or self-righteous?  A common reality that we all seek is that of success in the things that we value.  If you are a person that values health, fitness, honor, honesty, integrity, an/or any other, don’t allow your own, or other people’s perceptions to prevent your desired reality.  A true champion doesn’t allow disruption of the behaviors that they know will shape and chisel out the dream that they have dreamed up…be that true Champion.
Continue reading “Perception – We All Know Someone Who is Blind, Whether They Realize It Or Not”

The Journey Begins

As I was finishing with the cool down stretches with my client, I prepared myself for the question that I knew was coming.  It had been a long day of training, putting my clients through rigorous workouts, checking their form, redoing measurements, encouraging and pushing for the better performance that I knew was in each and everyone of them.  I was tired, hungry, and digging deep to keep my energy up as the day rolled on.  Tom was lying on the stretch table while I stretched one of his very strong and very tight legs.  I had his heel propped up on one shoulder as I leaned my weight into the stretch, pushing his hamstrings into somewhat of a reasonable length.  Tom is a big guy, not in the sense of being overweight, though that is still kind of true, he is just big all around.  An old retired Vietnam veteran, he was nicknamed “half ton” because while in his time of service as a machine gunner, he once held up the back end of a jeep with his bare hands while a flat tire was being changed.  Needless to say, I had to put some effort into making sure he got an adequate stretch.

“So…” he began, and I knew my time had come…again.  It was a question he had asked me only about 50 times now in the past year or so of working together.  I tried pushing harder on his leg, hoping to stall him, but no such luck.

“How’s that speech coming?”  There it was. 

I grinned, “Been working on it like crazy, almost done with it.” 

He laughed. “That’s what you said last month, and the month before that.” 

I protested, with feigned indignity, that it takes time to put together such a magnificent piece of art such as I was constructing.  He laughed again as I finished the stretch and pulled him up to a sitting position on the stretch table.  Getting his bearings, he paused for a second before looking straight at  me and saying something that stopped me cold.

“You know, it’s selfish of you not to share your story with the world…people need to hear what you have to say.”

Several years prior, I was honored with the privilege of doing some of the scriptural reading at my sister’s wedding ceremony.  Still having some usable vision at the time, I remember stepping up to the podium, pulling out my glasses from my tuxedo pocket, taking out my magnifier, and without hesitation, gazing out into the crowd and confidently reciting my lines with ease and passion.  My grandmother would later be quoted saying, “I think he missed his calling.”  A few years even before that, I was asked to be the keynote speaker for a Sports education camp for Visually Impaired youth, a camp that I both participated in and later volunteered at.  My first real public presentation, and I received three separate rounds of applause at the end of the speech.  The wife of one of my friend’s said that she had no idea that I could deliver a speech like that…frankly, neither did I, I just enjoyed talking to groups and trying to deliver a message to them.  It wasn’t anything I really had on my radar as a profession, or even as a hobby.  My ever-supportive wife had been telling me for years that I had a gift for speaking and I should use it.  I would just shrug, not necessarily disagreeing with her, but thinking to myself, what do I really have to share?  Sure, I’ve done some pretty cool things in my short life, traveled to some amazing places, met some really incredible people. Picture of Christ The Redeemer statue against a blue sky with white clouds I have walked the Great Wall of China and stood under the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro Brazil.  I have white water rafted in the mountains of West Virginia, and rode a ferry boat from Denmark to Sweden.  I’ve been to the White House three times, met two U.S. Presidents, and competed in three Paralympic Games.  I’ve been to over fourteen countries, and nearly half of the states make my list for places where I have not just travel, but events where I stayed and did some exploring.  Add on places that I have skipped through just traveling to another destination and you could easily double those numbers.  I owned a home, raised kids, cultivated a wonderful marriage, and have had more blessings than I could even count, all of it because of or despite the fact that I am blind.

How would any of that help others though?  These were all things that I cherish and feel privileged to have been blessed with, but for those around me struggling with real life stuff, this is just a big list of things that someone else did, of no big consequence to the average day, so I thought.  Luckily for me, God, my wife Leanne…and Tom, are not to be brushed aside so easily, and one more thing happened that really made it click into place.

As I was walking home from work one day, I heard the oddest sound.  About forty feet ahead of me, a double  thump sounded off as a truck jumped the curb on the sidewalk and a truck stopped, blocking the walkway.  Out of the truck stepped a young man who walked back toward me as I trailed my cane along the edge of the curb, wondering what in the world this vehicle was doing.

“Hey,” the guy said, “I’m sorry, I know you’re leaving, I just wanted to say something to you real quick.”

“Okay, what’s up?’” I said.

“You don’t know me, we’ve never met before, but I’ve been watching you at work for the last six months.”  Alright, that’s a creepy start, but I was at least paying attention. He continued, “I just wanted to tell you before I left to go back home to Colorado, you have really changed my life.  Just watching what you do has inspired me to go home and fix some things in my life, and I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate everything you do.” I was a little taken aback.  I have had people say to me in passing how inspiring they thought I was, or how amazing they thought it was that I was out and about on my own.  Normally a polite smile and a word of thanks and how I’m just blessed like that is my normal response.  This was different though, This young man put his truck into park…illegally, but that’s beside the point… he climbed out of his truck and sought me out personally to explain to me what had happened, and it wasn’t just a little inspiration, it was a fundamental change in him.  After shaking his hand, thanking him and telling him that I would be praying for him, I walked on home, pensive and unsure, but excited at the same time.  Here was a person that I had affected at the root level, and I hadn’t even met the guy.  I felt good, like I had scratched an itch that I had been reaching for for some time.  And what I came to realize, was that my job as a Personal Trainer was not my calling, but a manifestation of my true passion… fitness was an avenue, but helping people grow, helping people better themselves, to give back even a small portion of the abundance of joy and life that I have been given, that was the core of it.  So as you read this, please recognize two things for me.  The first is that though I don’t feel worthy to be the person that may bring you to a better awareness of yourself and improve your life, I do feel that God has equipped me and called me to pour everything I have into attempting just that.  And the second thing, know that I care, I am genuine and have no reservations in saying that I care about you, and want nothing more than to see you succeed.  Follow me if you would, and my prayer is that through the many blessings that God has given me, I may bless you in return.  I am Tyler Merren, and I’m seeking the true champion within myself…and within you.