If you don’t like something, change it. Easier said than done, right? Wrong, change the way you think about it and you can change the problem.
In this episode, Thor talks to Otis “Hoop” Hooper about his total transformation from “out of shape dad” to an Ironman and an American Ninja Warrior by applying the methodologies of Flawless ExecutionSM to his everyday life.
Whether you are wanting to make a personal, professional or organizational change there are common lessons learned from all types of transformations.
- How to triumph through adversity
- Find your why and the purpose behind it
- Build disciplined execution to accomplish your goals
[Below is a transcript of the episode.]
Joel “Thor” Neeb: Today I’m gonna be talking with Otis Hooper or Hoop, as we know him on our team. Now, I’ve known Hoop for more than 25 years, we went to the Air Force Academy together, experienced an incredible journey as friends. I don’t think I’ve gone more than a week without trading at least a text message with Hooper over the past 25 years and over the past two years. He’s undergone an incredible transformation. Hooper has transformed himself inside and out and it’s pretty remarkable how far he’s come from an out of shape, an unfocused individual in his words to somebody that was able to compete on one of the most elite stages that there is in the Mr. Olympia Physique Competition this past fall. He then went on to complete an Ironman triathlon six months later and then he just came off of the TV show American Ninja Warrior. Not only that, but Hoop is also becoming an actor and he’s got some opportunities to be in some upcoming movies that you’ll be seeing in the near future. So, he’s made a total transformation, we’re gonna talk about, how do you triumph during adversity? How do you have those private victories that need to precede the public victories? As Stephen Covey would say. We’re gonna learn from the example that Hoop provides us.
JN: Today I’m sitting here with Hoop, he’s one of our Afterburner team members and more importantly for me, I’ve known Hoop since 1995, when we went into the Air Force Academy together. We were in the same squadron which means the same vicinity in the same dorm for the first two years and we’ve been lifelong friends ever since. I don’t think there’s been more than a week that’s gone by that we haven’t had a conversation or at least exchanged a text since then, would you agree that Hoop?
Otis Hooper: Oh yeah, definitely.
JN: And you’ve got an amazing story, you were such a powerhouse in your younger days and such an impressive individual.
JN: But what I’m really excited about and how you and I have talked in the past the story is really in the struggle, right? And so you have some pretty impressive things you’re doing right now, you just finished a movie with Gerard Butler that you’re able to participate and you completed an iron man triathlon. Last fall you participated in the Mr. Olympia competition for physique, you are shooting a movie next week with Clint Eastwood, is that right?
OH: That’s right. Yeah.
JN: And you just came off of American Ninja Warrior as well.
OH: [chuckle] It’s been fun year.JN: Yeah so a lot of incredible things coming forward from this year but like I alluded to, that’s not the most interesting part of you. I don’t think people really resonate with the successes of other individuals until they know the full story and you certainly have an incredible story and the story’s really in the struggle, right? That’s the part that’s interesting to folks and that’s the thing that they relate to when they hear this. In other words, everybody goes through the challenges, how do you rise above those challenges to when they find yourself in a better place and where you wanna be, alternately, right? And so today we’re gonna talk about… First of all, I want you to describe where you were at as you’re going through some of these life challenges. You don’t have to go into a ton of detail because it’s personal. But just from your perspective, what would you like to share about the life stage you were in right before you made this big transformation?
The Decision to Change
OH: Well, really the, year that I decided to really start transforming was 2014 and the years prior to that, I was focused mainly on my professional development and my career and there was a moment in time [chuckle], that summer of 2014 that my kids and I had a kind of a moment and we were outside playing, well, we were trying to play, I was trying to play with my kids, I have four boys, so I was trying to keep up with them, they were getting a little bigger. And I realized I just wasn’t able to keep up with them like I used to or that I thought I could. And we were outside jumping on the trampoline and I was just out of breath, I was sweating and I’m… I just wasn’t my old Hoop, the Hoop that you know.
OH: And so I kinda saw it but I didn’t really act on it. And so later on that evening, at around the dinner table, the boys and I were talking about making good decisions in life, good healthy decisions, academic decisions, physical decisions, food decisions. And in front of my plate was a plate of food that looked amazing, it was delicious but it was not healthy and my seven year old said, “Well, dad what about you?” And that was the moment that it got real and they called me out on it and so for me that was the moment that I realized that what I was seeing in the mirror was not what my sons were seeing in the mirror and I had to be honest with myself. And I decided at that moment to start making some changes for my personal life versus my professional life. So I try to apply some of the things I was learning in my professional life to my personal side and I started down this path of transformation.
JN: So, I’m gonna call you out a little bit there too because that’s part of the story that you told me but there’s a lot of people out there that look in the mirror and say “I’m carrying a little extra weight, I’m not as in good a shape as I could be.” And you may or may not go and work out and get in better shape but it doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t affect their overall wellbeing and their sense of self, but, you’ve told me in the past that this was something really important for you to be able to affect, right, not to… Talk a little bit about why this is important for you to have something that you could control and you could change in your life at this time.
OH: Well, so like I alluded to in the summer of 2014, I made that decision to start eating healthier and try to live healthier. And I was, I was getting healthier but the things that I wanted to change on the outside were slowly changing but more importantly nothing else was changing. My surroundings were not changing, my family, nothing really was happening, exciting. And nor was my physical… My body wasn’t changing like I thought it should. And so, I was getting frustrated with not only personally some of the stuff happening in my personal life, but still my professional life wasn’t progressing the way I thought it would. So then in February of 2015, I asked for help. And I realized that the things that I was doing were not effective. And being a pilot, I like to be in control, and I realized that the things that I thought I were in control of, I couldn’t control.
OH: And so the moment that I released control, and I asked for help from somebody who had the knowledge and has been down the path of lessons learned, then it started to… And I asked for help, he did develop a plan for me that was specific to my body and to my goals. I applied that plan to me, and then things started changing. The key to the change though wasn’t just physical. It was mental and what I added to the equation was watching motivational videos in the morning and YouTube videos in the morning that had an inspirational theme. And I found that as I started to watch those videos in the morning, in addition to my physical exercise, everything started to change. So the moment I released control, the more control I started to get.
JN: So we’re gonna share a picture of you for your transformation and people are gonna be amazed by it when… Next to this link they’ll be able to see that. But, they’re not gonna say… They’re gonna say, “Well he wasn’t 350 pounds, he wasn’t 400 pounds, and it’s an amazing transformation and you look incredible on the other side of it.” But talk just a little bit about the… What you were going through at that time, you don’t have to go into detail from a personal level but in terms of what you could control and why was that a challenging place in your life, what did you feel like… How did you feel like you weren’t in control?
Finding Your WHY
OH: Really my ultimate goal was… It started to change, it started to morph. I realized that I wasn’t able to lead my family the way I wanted to lead my family. That’s really the bottom line. And the things that I was doing to try to lead them, and myself, were not effective. And so, then I looked at myself and I said “What can I control?” The only thing I can control is what goes in my mouth, the food that I eat and the liquids that I consume, and the amount of effort that I put out with my hands, and my feet, my body. So I can control the food that goes in and the effort that I exert.
OH: And I’d say, “Well what can I… Okay great, got it. I can control these things, well what can I do to… What platform can I use to actually effect this change?” And I figured, well I can work out. That’s what I can do. I can work out and I can change my diet, so that’s when I reached out and I reached out to my buddy who’s also an Air Force Academy grad who designs diet, and meal plans, workout plans. He gave me a basic plan, for me that fit my goals in my personal life. And from there, I took it to another level, and I followed his checklist, I followed his plan like a checklist. Like I would in an airplane. And then I added the mental piece with the YouTube videos and things. And I never went public with it, the only thing that I wanted to do was just be better, every day. Just very small, incremental changes. And in the gym, what I tried to do was to build on the previous day’s success, or failure. And from there I started feeling better and I started to perform better, but the constant that happened was I gave 100% in the gym so the effort that I exerted and then the discipline to maintain my diet was 100%.
JN: And what I’ve taken away from that story is, you identified what you could control and what you couldn’t control and there’s some areas in your life where you felt like it wasn’t going in the direction you wanted it to and you said, “I can’t control that right now, but I can control my health, and I know I can control what I put in my body and what activities I undertake.” And that’s what’s interesting to me, that you were able to identify that small victory upfront that you could participate in. So that you could have the other victories that we talked about here. Obviously today you’re doing incredible things that you could write an entire book about, but it started with a decision to first control the little things for you and then iterate after that.
OH: That’s right. And I really didn’t realize. It wasn’t that obvious to me what I was doing at the time. What I was doing was doing what felt right. And I knew that those were small things that I could control, and as I look back I realize it just made sense. It just made sense to do that. And so, as I went through the process and lived the process, things started to become clearer for me. Then a challenge was issued about a month and a half into this transformation process. And the challenge was, “You oughta attempt something that scares you a little bit, Hoop.” And that was [chuckle] a men’s physique show, which is like the smaller version of a bodybuilding show. And I told my buddy, I said, “Dude, I am not getting on stage in a bikini.”
OH: “That is not happening.” And he explained to me that they made this new category where you wear swimming trunks, and you kinda just walk on stage, you do a front pose and a back pose, and you walk off stage, 15 seconds. And I said, “Shoot man, I’m almost 40 years old. Why not?” And so when the goal was introduced, about a month and a half in, things started to become more clear for me on why I was doing this. Or not necessarily why, I had an end date. It was a date that I had to actually deliver and it wasn’t just some date way out in space.
OH: So I had an end date, I had a why.
OH: I had a purpose. And an effect that I hadn’t thought about was my kids started to participate with me.
OH: My family started to align with what it is that I was doing. They started eating healthier, they started working out, they joined in with me on the morning runs, and our entire family as a result got healthier.
JN: Success is contagious, right?
OH: Oh, gosh, absolutely. Absolutely.
JN: That’s exciting. And so here’s the things I take away from that, because I relate them directly to the type of work we do at Afterburner, where we’re supporting teams with the same challenge. So let’s think about what you just said. You said, “I first had to find a sense of why, a sense of purpose behind the scenes.” And that’s why I really put you on the spot and forced you to continue answering that why question, because it’s not enough just to look in the mirror and say…
JN: “I got some pounds to lose,” right?
JN: Everybody listening to this video including me could stand up and say, “I should eat more vegetables and I should work out more.” But you really connected that to a deeper sense of purpose into some other struggles that you were going through at that time and to a new version of you and your family and your professional life that you were excited about. A why, right?
JN: You connected that to a strong why. So that’s step number one. Whether it’s an individual change or it’s a transformation that needs to take place within a company or a team, that’s the first thing that needs to occur. And then the other thing I captured from what you said, you said, “I had an end date. I had a time when I had to deliver,” right?
OH: Oh, that’s critical. It’s critical for me.
JN: And so it takes your pipe dreams, it takes your why and your excitement about what could be down the road, and actually creates a sense of urgency around it. ‘Cause any one of us can go sit outside and go stare up at the clouds and think about the mansion we’re gonna live in some day and all the money we’re gonna make and the beautiful spouse and the dream life that we’re gonna have. It’s a totally different thing to have that why and then have a milestone that’s gonna hold you accountable to marching down that path in the near term, right?
OH: Absolutely. The last thing I wanted to do in the summer of 2015 was get on stage and be laughed off stage, or not to look like I put in the effort.
OH: And I needed for me to know that I did everything I could possibly do. I didn’t cheat on one meal, I gave everything I could in the gym. And it’s crazy, but the day before the competition it didn’t matter what happened the day of the competition, because I knew I gave everything I had. So whatever happened the day of, I was happy with, ’cause I was happy with me. And what that translated to for me was… And I look back at this now, I was happy and satisfied and fulfilled with the journey.
JN: Right, which is great news, because Hoop got last place in the competition.
OH: [laughter] That is not true. I won the whole show as a 39-year-old guy, and I beat all these 20-year-old young guys and 30-year-old folks, which is not supposed to happen. So it was just a really cool experience, and it started off this whole thing.
JN: Yeah, so then let’s continue the story. So now you’ve got one victory under your belt and then of course you just sat back and said, “I’m done. And I did what I set out to do. I’m gonna go back to eating hot dogs and hamburgers…
JN: No, what did you say at that point? How’d you iterate?
OH: It felt so great to conclude that period that I wanted to do it again. And I wanted to see… And it stopped becoming, for me it stopped becoming a chore, it started to become something I really actually enjoyed. And I enjoyed the process, I enjoyed aligning my family around a goal. So we as a family this time, my boys said, “Dad you should try to compete on a national level.” [chuckle] So two, three months later I set another goal in September to do another competition. Now, here’s where it went wrong. I applied the exact same approach, the same theory, the same everything to this next goal. And I did almost come in last. But I learned something really important from that. And It’s important to have that end date. But you have to be willing to be flexible in your approach. And be willing to listen to new input. Because not every situation is the same. And I wouldn’t say I was inflexible but I was not open to that. I didn’t realize that I needed to adjust my approach very slightly.
OH: To achieve the same effect. So I had a very different effect, came in last place. It was on a bigger stage but I also took away some great lessons learned from that.
JN: So you failed. And it’s important to talk about how failure is a part of growth. And a lot of times it’s the most important part of growth. In fact, if I think back in my days as a fighter pilot, the times when I had the exponential growth spurts in my capabilities in my professional career are those times right after I failed.
JN: Right after I failed in it and I had a horrible experience. And it’s because those are the easiest ones to gather lessons learned from, if you’re paying attention.
JN: I mean, you can go sit back and lick your wounds and feel sorry for yourself, or you can make the decision to identify the root causes for those failures and then iterate and move forward.
OH: Yeah. So I’ve never shared any of my journey publicly at that point. And so I really thought about the whole mental piece of how I transformed my thinking really. And it gave me some time when I had that loss. I know I gave everything I had but it really gave me an opportunity to reflect on the difference between the very first goal and the second goal that had very different effects but I gave the exact same effort. And that’s where a lot of my learning came from. And it was considered an off season but I continued to train. And I trained based on some of the lessons that I did learn. And I looked at the failure, quote unquote, as an opportunity for me to roll in the 2016 with an amazing opportunity to bring my wife onboard. And so we set some really different goals for 2016 than I had for 2015. And they were more strategic. They did not involve hitting a target. They involved freedom. They involved living in the moment. Those were our goals for the year 2016. But they were some sub-goals that would help us achieve that larger goal. But I had to put the work in.
OH: I had to put the work in to achieve those intended effects. And it was exciting to approach goals differently. And I think that was really important for the kind of year that I had in 2016.
JN: And then your wife joined you, and your family…
JN: Joined in the health.
OH: Yeah. So I kept it going. I just kept it going through Thanksgiving and Christmas and all those fun holidays. And so my wife joined in, and January 1st, she started.
OH: We went to the gym together. And she was getting her doctorate in nursing so she was busy.
OH: We were both busy, with four kids. And she still got it done. That inspired me. And that was the first moment that I actually opened up publicly on social media.
OH: And shared a before and after picture. And that blew me away, with the kind of reaction that I got from everyone. Not only were they inspired, but the words and the comments that people were giving to me was incredibly inspiring and it just charged me up.
OH: So just the success that I was having, it was having effects on other folks. And they said, “Well, gosh, if he could do it, so can I.”
OH: And I was getting every single day, till this day, every single day I get a message from someone that says, “Dude, you’ve inspired me to give it a shot and to try something different. Here’s what I’ve done in the last month and a half.” And it’s pretty cool.
JN: What I take away from that is that once again the success is contagious. But even more exciting, the changes that you’re making for other people. So of course I did a competition on the physique competition, a fitness competition based off of… Our conversations you did it first. You paved the path. Your wife did it. I decided to go try it as well. My wife did it. She did another one a month ago. And it was just a great example of how when you start to succeed, it pushes other people down to go on the same direction. You know that great quote, that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. And that if you’re not happy with the current crowd, then raise the average. Start doing something to succeed individually and it’s gonna pull the rest of the group.
JN: Along with you. And it’s exactly what you did. You got me to become more health conscious and then we had the reciprocal effect on each other because then you took on the Ironman Competition. And, I wanna talk about that again cause that’s a good struggle to talk about.
OH: Oh yeah. Definitely struggled.
JN: Like I said, you have so many accomplishments. I think it’s tougher for people to really relate with. You’re on-stage with Mr Olympia, with the 40 most in-shape people in the world. You are an actor, and doing these amazing things with A-list people from Hollywood. That’s kinda like in outer space for most people. But what they can relate to is the challenge, and where you go from barely-finishing a lap in the pool, to finding the grit and the perseverance to complete an iron man triathlon. So talk a little bit about that journey.
OH: Well let me start with the part that you kinda touched the one that’s inspiring. So as I was inspiring other folks, I realized that the importance of setting a goal and striving to that goal. And then being aware of what’s happening to yourself during the journey. And Joel, you and I have been friends for 20-some years now and I saw you struggle through some really significant personal events for you. And you didn’t just succumb to it, you fought back. And I remember talking to you during that phase and five years later you ran an iron man and completed an iron man in New Zealand. And that is actually what inspired me. To say, “Well gosh if Joel could do it, I could easily do it.”
OH: So, that was the inspiration for me wanting to do something that seemed impossible to me because the year prior 2016, I had reached the pinnacle of exhibition of strength in Mr Olympia. And in 2017 I wanted to do the opposite, I wanted to see if I had the endurance to withstand an Iron Man. And so I called you. And I said, “Hey is it possible, is it possible to train for an iron man. Swim, bike, run. To complete it in less than 17 hours and train for it in five months with no experience whatsoever.” And you said “Yes. You can do it. Yes, you can do it with the mentality that you have.” And that was enough for me. And so I literally googled, beginner iron man training. And I found this website that had a plan, a five-month plan. And the reason it was a five-month plan was because I wanted to do one, I wanted to do the New Zealand one.
OH: I wanted the March, the one that you did two years later, in March of 2017. As things worked out I wasn’t able to pull off the logistics to do the New Zealand one, so I wanted the one that was closest to it. And it was in Houston, in the Woodlands, Texas on April 22nd of 2017 this year.
OH: So, back it up, I started with a date. I backed up five months. This plan was a five-month plan. You told me I could do the plan. I believed you because I watched you go through so many different struggles. And you completed it so it gave me the inspiration to believe that I could too.
JN: And so you’re coming from this big bulky frame and benching 400 lbs. And on the Mr. Olympia stage to the guy who’s going to go run a marathon, bike 70 or 112 miles, and then go for this 2 and something mile swim, right?
OH: As you know it started with a swim, 2.4 miles swim. The time cut-off is 2 hours and 20 minutes. The farthest I’d ever swam in the pool was down the length of the kiddie pool to go get my three year old, ever in life. And then the bike portion is a 112-mile bike. The furthest I’d ever ridden is a Huffy around the neighborhood chasing my kids. And then the run at the end is a marathon, 26.2 miles. And literally the farthest I’ve ever run was a 5K, that’s it, 3.1 miles.
OH: So all the odds were stacked against me. And as big as I was, I’m a 200 pound guy. At that time I had 3% body fat, 200 pounds., so it was all muscle. So I get in the pool and I start swimming and I literally sink to the bottom.
OH: [laughter] And I had that on video, I had that on video. So, I swam 50 yards, which is if you look at an Olympic pool, it’s the short distance, side to side, down and back. And it was ugly. It was not pretty. And I was out of breath and I’ve got it on video to prove it. And I knew that I was in for a serious challenge. But I didn’t know where to start so what I did is just the same way I started with strength training, I just started. I started with what I could do. And I had become comfortable at that point sharing my story on social media. So, I happen to share [chuckle] that video of me swimming down and back 50 yards. And somebody, a coach, a swim coach in Dubai, saw me slapping at the water and offered to put me in his online program for free, to teach me some techniques to learn how to do a freestyle. So, I took him up. I started training. It was on me. It’s all online, anybody could join in. And he basically just taught techniques on how to swim properly. So, in between that I would watch the kids and the swim team swim. I would try to go underwater with my goggles and watch how their doing their strokes and I would try to imitate them.
OH: But what I learned was over time I got better.
OH: And the seconds started coming off of my times. And that was encouraging. So, what I’ve keyed in on on the swim was progress. And I became happier. Progress equals happiness for me at that point. Again, I do things that make me feel good. So, one of the times when I was doing my pushups and situps, I kept that regiment going. So, every morning I wake up and I do 150 push-ups, 150 sit-ups, I listen to my YouTube radios with the inspirational speakers and I heard Tony Robbins say that, “Progress equals happiness.”
OH: And it clicked. That’s what I was doing in the pool.
OH: One second of progress made me so happy. And so, I built on that. I built on the one second, the two seconds, the seconds started coming off. About four and a half months in, I decided to swim the length of the iron man in the pool. And I swam it one hour and 23 minutes, which is crazy.
JN: That’s fast, for not being able to swim at all…
OH: Right, it’s crazy and so the pro swimmers in open water, they swim it in an hour and five minutes, an hour 10 minutes. I’m 10 minutes behind these pros now, in the pool, of course. But it made me feel good and that’s the important part, right? The journey. So, I decided, 10 days later, to do it again. And I shaved off three minutes. So I did it in an hour and 20 minutes. Now, I’m feeling really good. I’m like, “Oh, the swim is nothing.”
OH: I got to swim. And so, meanwhile, of course, I’m training on the bike. I’m training on the run. My knees are getting beat up from these 200 pounds that just jolting on these long runs, but I figured out a way. I got the right shoes. I didn’t have the right equipment at first. And somebody loaned me their bike to ride during the bike course and of course you loaned me your bike, which was inspiring as well. So, every time I was on your bike, the same bike that you completed your iron man on in New Zealand. I thought about you and I thought about the struggles that you went through. And when my legs were getting tired and they were swelling up from just the blood just going constantly. Joel didn’t quit, Thor didn’t quit, neither will hulk. And so I kept it going. And I kept that vision of me finishing, crossing the finish line in your honor. For the bike portion, I kept the vision of crossing the… Finishing the swim in my son’s honor, who had diabetes. And in finishing the run and the remaining piece of the iron man just for everything that I’ve gone through.
JN: So now, there are two times when you contacted me during the preparation for the iron man. The first time, we talked a lot. There are two times that you contacted me that you said, “I don’t know if this is gonna work out.” The first time you called me up and you said, “Nobody really knows the difference between Ironman and a triathlon. I’m just gonna kinda sneak in a triathlon. A small one, a short one and we knew this sprint triathlon and go get that and that’ll count, right?”
OH: Well, that’s ’cause I didn’t know. [laughter]
OH: I didn’t know the difference. I thought that the only length of a triathlon was an Ironman.
OH: I did not realize there were four different distances of a triathlon.
OH: So, I just started training for the hardest one which no one does.
OH: You don’t do that.
JN: Don’t skip the strength of the triathlon.
OH: You don’t skip the sprint that takes only an hour and go right to the iron man that can take up to 17 hours. Well, that’s what I did.
OH: So, I did not know that you could build into it.
JN: Right. And so we had that conversation and you said you wanted to build into it, and I think it’s a really common challenge for folks to say “I wanna de-scope my mission. I wanna reign in at the goal line. I wanna do something that’s a little bit easier.” And it takes the team at that point to… Your sense of why, your sense of purpose, and we had to revisit that in that conversation to really determine whether it made sense. What I liked about your approach is that I think if we were to determine that this was just for saying you did an Ironman, then you would’ve not done one. You would’ve known. It’d be worthwhile to stop at this point and spend more time on other projects, spend more time on family, spend more time on other things that are prioritized. But you said “No, this is important. I wanna be able to tell the story and its part of the… ” I have a significant why built into this that is driving this iron man pursuit, and you said, “I am gonna go after this.” After you had that one bump in the road, where you were doubting it and then you kept going.
OH: Yeah, and one of the things that I kinda touched on earlier, my son Isaiah who is 14 now. Six days into my training, November first, around November, he was diagnosed with type one diabetes and I wanted to show him. It affected him, as a child, it changes the world. He has to inject insulin in his body anytime he consumes carbohydrates for the rest of his life, and he was kinda looking at that as a… He was feeling bad about himself and it changed everything and so what I wanted to do was dedicate my training, specifically the swim to him, and the iron man portion of the swim to him. And I wanted to show him that the things that might scare you, or these big challenges don’t necessarily have to scare you, you can turn around and use them to your advantage.
OH: And so, I decided to keep the same diet that he kept during the training. So, I kept the exact same diet that he did for five months, and it actually turned out to help me during the process.
JN: You’re setting an example for him.
OH: That’s right. That’s right.
JN: I remember that Tony Robbins is who you’re talking about because I’ve heard it exactly. It was on the same videos by the way, if you’re wondering, those are the inspirational videos you can just google, like, motivational videos and I used to think they were cheesy and something that was kind of a crutch for people, but I’ll tell you that the battle that who keeps alluding to before my iron man was stage four cancer. And you can imagine all the challenges that went along with that. And it was so powerful to listen to something inspiring every day and to start my day off when I didn’t feel like getting out of bed with a motivational story and listening to that. I highly recommend doing that, but my point is, Hoop was able to take that experience, and take that challenge, and make a parallel, not only for his family where they keep moving on beyond that bump in the road that he had initially. And then he calls me up the day before the competition, the day before the Ironman, and he says…
JN: What did you say?
OH: Well, I had only trained in a pool, because I trained over the winter. I had never trained in open water. And in the open water, the water… There is no black line underneath.
OH: Underneath the water to follow to keep you going straight.
JN: In a lake.
OH: In a lake.
OH: With 3,000 other people swimming around you.
OH: Nor can you see through the water, left or right. So the water is black, it’s dark. And I called you and I said, “Thor, it is dark in that water man, I can’t see anything”. They give you a practice swim, about 10 minutes, just to get in the water the day before, to feel it out and to kinda get the course. I said, “Dude, I can’t see anything. I’m blind in the water. I’ve never practiced this way” and I was freaking out. That’s what I told you.
JN: Did you know what I said to you?
OH: [chuckle] Of course I do.
OH: It was. [laughter] You said, “I hope you suffer.”
OH: I said, “What?”
JN: In a nice way.
OH: You said, “I hope you suffer.” And you explained to me what you meant by that.
OH: And you explained to me that, someone told you that as well. Before your Ironman and what that meant to you was, at some point during the race, at some point during the race, there’s gonna be an obstacle or a barrier to my progression and I need to embrace the suffer, embrace the pain that comes with that and overcome it. And that point did come.
OH: It came the next day [chuckle] during my iron man. And I’ll never forget our conversation, because you told me, you said, “I hope you suffer, but I know you’ll get through it.” And that was enough for me to push on.
JN: The quote that you’re referring to from Tony Robbins is that, “People only are satisfied by two things in life and really find happiness out of two things in life. One is growth and the other is giving.” And I totally agree with that statement. And I think that growth only occurs when you get outside your comfort zone. And when I was approaching my Ironman triathlon, I had all this people wishing me well and saying, “You’re gonna be great, you’re gonna crush it, you’re gonna be fantastic”. Except for one person.
JN: This individual is an MMA fighter and great guy, went to business school with him and he calls me up and he goes, “I hope you suffer.”
JN: And I said “What?” He goes, “I hope you suffer, I’m so jealous of you. You’re gonna learn so much about yourself through this experience”. And he said, “I hope you find the point where you don’t know if you can continue and go on, because that’s where the growth occurs and that’s what you’re doing this for.” He said, “I trained for two years for that one moment when I’m in a fight and I’m about to be choked out and the daylight is leaving my vision and I have to decide whether or not I’m gonna continue fighting or not. I have to find it within myself. During that moment, he said, “I’m suffering but that’s what I’ve trained for, is that moment that I’m looking to find. The worst thing that could happen to me and you is that you just get through in this iron man triathlon as a breeze, right?” I mean, that’s the easiest thing that you ever did. You finished that, you say, “Well, why did I do all this training?”
JN: “From a little teeny plastic metal, that I get to take home?” This suffering is the story, the story is the struggle. We people wanna hear about the struggle and how you overcame that. So let’s close out on that topic. So you’re in the water, the gun’s gone off. And let me get you guys an idea of what this is like. So your’re in a triathlon, iron man triathlon, your day just started. You have at least, if you’re an average iron man person, 13 to 14 hours to go from the point that you get in the water, that long of a day. And now, when that cannon goes off and people start swimming, you’re with 3,000 of your closest friends swimming as fast as you can, you get kicked in the face by the person in front of you. You slow down a little bit, you kick the person in the face behind you, you speed up again and you bump into somebody in your left, he bumps into somebody on your right. It looks like a washing machine because the water’s so turbulent. All you see is bubbles around you and you can’t slow down or speed up or go left or go right, very claustrophobic. So it’s a very overwhelming scenario, if you’re not used to open water swimming, particularly with 3,000 of your buddies, like you have to endure in an iron man. So, that sets the scene for your swim experience, talk about that a little bit.
OH: So I remember you telling me that story. And I was anticipating that. And I already knew that would be no problem for me.
Triumph Through Adversity
OH: [laughter] Because I’m mentally strong and I’ve trained and I could swim this thing in an hour and 20 minutes. And so the gun went off and I get in the water with the other 3,000 competitors. And literally in the first five minutes, I’m kicked in the head, punched in the head, just because everyone’s in the water at once, just trying to move forward. And I kinda have a panic attack. So people talk about hitting the wall in the marathon. I freaked out internally and my heart was pounding out of my chest. It was racing so fast, I was hyper ventilating. And I could not breathe in the air, let alone with my face in the water. So I decided to tread water. Well I’m treading water while 3,000 people are swimming through me, around me, over top of me and it was not pretty for me. But I needed to slow down, assess the situation and get control of my body.
OH: Because I could not move forward if I did not. So, I treaded water for 19 minutes. And I did my best to avoid the folks and the swimmers that were swimming past me. And in that 19 minutes I panicked, I talked to myself, I thought about quitting. All the range of emotions. And I made a decision, at that point. I’m suffering. Mentally I was suffering. Because I trained for five months, and I did not think that I could finish within the time constraints. And I decided, I went back to what I knew. And what I had practiced in the pool was, focus on progress. One second at a time. One rep at a time. One buoy at a time. And that thought popped into my mind. And I could see the buoy, the first buoy about 100 yards away, and I said, “Well, hod let me just try to get to the buoy.” And so I decided to swim to the buoy. Very slowly. [chuckle] So by the time I got to the first buoy, which was only 100 yards, which I can do in less that two minutes in the pool. It was 34 minutes. And I thought in my mind, “There’s no way in the world I’m gonna be able to finish within the time constraints.” And so, I said, “Well at least I’m gonna swim until the end of the two hours and 20 minute timeline.”
JN: That’s the max amount of time you can swim. If anybody passed that and they’d pull you out of the water. You’re done with the whole day, you don’t finish the iron man.
OH: So I decided, “I’m gonna swim until the maximum time. I am not gonna quit. If I have to tread water for two hours and 20 minutes, that’s what I’m gonna do. But I’m gonna at least try to have forward progress.” And I swam to the second buoy, but during the swim from the second buoy, I decided to pass the second one and get to the third buoy. During that pass, during the point from which I went to the first one and the third buoy, I actually passed somebody. And it told me that I wasn’t the slowest guy. I was actually making progress. And so from that point I actually smiled under water. I remember smiling under water, and feeling like there might be a chance. I might have a chance. And so I started to swim a little faster.
OH: I got a little more efficient, I got my breathing down under control, and I started really picking up the speed. Just like I had practiced, just like I had trained. And I didn’t finish in the time that I was hoping for, but I finished in enough time to qualify me to continue on for the bike. And for me that was a massive victory. And it was an incredible experience to go through that, and to know that I hit my wall in the first five minutes of a 13 hour and 29 minute day. For me. So for me what I really took home from that experience was focus on progress. Don’t worry about the people around you, and how fast or how slow they’re going, or the businesses that are moving faster or slower than you. Or your department that may be progressing at a different rate. Focus on what I can control, and move at the best pace, and the best speed that I can. And before you know it, you’ll turn around at the end of the day and realize how much further you have come than when you started.
JN: Yeah. Love that you connected that theme of training in the pool at the very beginning when you first hopped in and decided to try to train for a triathlon and you’d barely swim a couple of laps, and then you progressed into the ability to complete the entire iron man swim, and then you got a little bit faster. And behavioral scientists call that a growth mentality versus a fixed state mentality. You had a growth mentality, and you said, “If I can just make a little bit of progress, then I’ll be okay.” And even when you’re terrified, and in the water, and in full of anxiety about swimming in open water, in a scenario with 3,000 people around you, just like any human being would, it’s a natural reaction, you are able to overcome that. Because you rely on one, your habit patterns that you established during training and two, this mentality that it’s about growth. And this is not a fixed state, and this is not the way that it’ll always be. There’s a way to overcome this along the way. That’s what’s exciting when I listen to your story.
OH: Absolutely. Absolutely, and just… The past two years, it’s been one event to the next, so everybody always asks me, “What’s next?”
OH: And I think, we’re throwing around some ideas out there, and I’m excited to find out what’s next. I’m not 100% sure what I’m gonna do next, but I know it’s gonna require a challenge for me to continue growing.
OH: And I’m looking forward to it, and we’ll see what happens.
JN: Well that’s exciting. You certainly have accomplished a lot in a short period of time, to go from looking in a mirror, and feeling like you were out of shape and that you needed to change something in your life. And this occurring during a period of time when there are other things that you weren’t happy about and going through some life challenges. And you said, “There’s one thing I can control, and that’s myself.” And you started succeeding in that area, and you scaled that out. And many others. And like we said at the beginning of this podcast, just completed a Mr Olympia competition, did the iron man triathlon within eight months of that Mr Olympia. Very different body types and training that goes into both of those. Competed on The American Ninja Warrior, and then just to be the icing on the cake, you’re shooting movies with Gerard Butler and Clint Eastwood and doing some pretty incredible things. In addition to being a very valued Afterburner team member along the way. Well what an incredible story.
JN: This is one of my favorite ones to share. I’ve known you, Otis, for, gosh. Pushing 25 years now, and you’ve been one of my best friends for a long time. And I’ve seen you go through all these changes, and it’s exciting to see how when somebody gets a sense of why and a purpose behind them, and builds out some discipline to their execution that they can accomplish anything, and that’s what we see with individuals when they apply that mentality, and it’s what we see with teams when they build success upon inspired alignments and discipline execution. I wanna thank you Otis for being a part of the podcast today, and for sharing your very personal story. I know a lot of these things you’re happy about talking about, and exciting, but I know some of these things are part of your life challenges that you don’t owe anybody a story on, and yet you come here and you share those, ’cause you know it can help other people.
OH: Absolutely. I just wanna say thanks for having me, and it’s not something that I started doing two years ago, but I realized the power of sharing my story and more specifically, my struggle. And I just hope that it helps one person out there to take on their own life challenges, whatever they may be.