Let me preface this by stating that the Toronto Wolfpack have successfully re-ignited my passion for the game of rugby in their short two-and-a-half-year existence. So, when I was approached in January 2019 about the possibility of playing in a two-game exhibition against a traveling masters rugby team from London, England I thought why the hell not! It’s only been 20 plus years since I laced up the ole boots and this will undoubtedly be for shits and giggles.
Fast forward to May 1, 2019 when my heart sunk as the reality of this two-game exhibition struck hard after reading a magazine article about the South London Silverbacks upcoming tour of Toronto in June. Reality check time! I needed to take this more seriously than the occasional trip to the gym to half ass work on my cardio. This is when I sought the help of the best fitness guru I know, Big Brnz. I had 6 weeks to get into better shape. I didn’t want to be the guy on the pitch weighing in at over 300lbs sucking and gasping for air with each tackle and trip down field.
Bernie extended his hand and graciously agreed to help me prepare. His focus with me was to increase my aerobic activity as I had expressed my concerns regarding cardio and endurance. My first assignment was to work the local high school track where my detailed fitness plan involved a walking warm up, multiple sprints followed by alternating running and walking and ending with another round of sprints. I was dying inside and out during my first attempt at this, but that burn felt oh so good. Fueled by my motivation to succeed I completed the exercise list. I was proud to let Bernie know that I had conquered his challenge. It felt even better to receive that “great job” message back from him.He was equally invested in my training which only pushed my motivation to higher levels. I felt accountable to him. He pushed me as he wanted higher intensity coupled with distance and endurance. That was how I was going to dominate the rugby games in June. His advice on protein, water intake, magnesium and Epsom salt baths were welcomed as I pushed my body to levels I hadn’t achieved in years. I was feeling great about myself till Bernie mentioned the one word that sends shivers down everyone’s spine – Burpees. It was now Burpee time. A lot of swear words were thrown Bernie’s way as I struggled through the 25 – 50 per day I was instructed to complete. The next gem thrown my way was to add shuttle runs on the soccer field during my exercises at the track. With this routine I was seeing vast progress with each week that went by.
In trying to get healthy, I made a conscious decision to eat better. As a gout sufferer I mistakenly learned that the huge kale salad I had for dinner would set me back a week as I was inflicted with a gout attack in my foot. Bernie never batted an eye. He transitioned his work outs for me from running outside to a belly busting daily core workout filled with exercises and movement I had never heard of before like Russian twists, hollow rocks and superman holds. Those combined with the fact that I could only hold the high plank for 27 seconds at time absolutely crushed me. Bernie was there to pick me up and help reignite my motivation. He wasn’t judging me on how long I could hold the high plank. His focus was ensuring that I was at least trying to do the exercises and do them right. He wanted quality as improving my core strength will help me with my ability to run in the long term. It was those core workouts in combination with the high impact and endurance that really fueled my progress.
A proud moment for me came on Victoria Day long weekend. We had two rugby practices on the same day. Sure, I was tired and a little sore, but my gas tank held up as we were put through our paces. I was outlasting others on the field and it was at that point that my confidence skyrocketed. I can do this, I can really do this.
I continued to focus on the workout routine that Bernie has provided me with. It was great to hear compliments from him and others regarding changes they were seeing in not only my body, but my energy levels. I was feeling fantastic heading into the weekend of the exhibition games. I will save you all the details, but I was so proud to pull on that jersey and shock the Silverbacks from South London in both games. I survived. My endurance held up and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The opposing team even awarded me the Master’s Spirit Award. I was a part of history as these two games were the first ever master’s league rugby games played in North America. I truly believe that I would not have been able to play in the games at the level in which I played without the assistance of Bernie getting me into game shape and keeping me motivated to grind through the ups and downs of training.
I want to send a massive thank you to you Bernie for your fitness plan, your patience and your motivating words. I am so happy that you were there step by step with me on this journey as it truly was one hell of a ride!