This conversation started on March 15th, 2018. Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop, Go head wit yo funk.
Joey could you please tell us young you are?
I’m 53 years old, born in 1964, the last year of the baby boomer generation.
What are your feelings about being on this planet for 53 years?
It’s a mixed bag because I didn’t start my adult journey with the tools most people start out with, I made every mistake imaginable, but at the same time I’ve ended up at a place in life where I am so grateful, happy, and content, that I can’t say I’d change a thing.
Getting “old” isn’t bad at all, I joke around with my adult daughters and tell them that after 50 I get to do things like wear a Hawaiian shirt with plaid shorts, order a foo-foo drink at a sports bar, and say mushy sensitive things without a care in the world.
I still giggle every time I get a haircut, when the barber tilts my head down and I’m looking at the black apron, the amount of gray hair contrasted against the apron where my dark hair once was almost invisible makes me realize just how quickly I’m aging.
If you don’t mind, could you please share why you didn’t have the tools most others have access too growing up?
Like many people who grow up in poverty I was raised by a single mother who never remarried. I didn’t have an older sibling (technically my sister is one year older), uncle, cousin, or any other adult model to learn from. My mother did the best she could with what she had considering she didn’t finish high school and also was without family support, but that meant she was often times working more than one minimum wage job and waitress nights for cash “under the table” at a local bar.
The instructions, structure, and life lessons my wife and I have instilled in our own daughters were never a part of my childhood, so I saw life as a crazy adventure, I was very much lost growing up, constantly observing and making my own choices, often times the wrong choice.
Where do you live?
I live in San Diego, my parents moved here from Nebraska when I was still in diapers. Although I can’t technically claim “native” status, I consider myself a San Diego native and absolutely love this city.
Why did your parents leave the heartland for the West Coast?
My mother and father were high school sweethearts, and if I remember the story correctly my father was one year ahead of my mother in school and after graduation he decided to join the Marine Corps, he was an orphan so he didn’t have too many post high school options. I think he took a few odd jobs but eventually opted to join the Marines. Boot Camp for my father was in San Diego, so my parents packed up and drove my sister and I out to San Diego, home to the largest Marine Boot Camp base in the US, it is also the place where I ran my first “Mud Run” (or any type of run for that matter) at the tender age of 40.
What do you do for a living?
I splice together fiber optic cables in manholes and on telephone poles for a large communications company.
They say being a parent is the hardest and the greatest job in the world, can you tell us about that?
I can honestly say that I never truly experienced the hard part because I had an incredible parenting partner in my wife of 27 years, we took on different roles that seemed to compliment the parenting task quite well, it was a natural balance for us. But if I had to pick the “hardest” part of parenting it is was the constant pressure I put on myself, I was so afraid of failing them. Looking back I can’t help but think about how hard it must be for a single mother, like my mother, to raise three children, and especially hard to do so in poverty without the help of a partner or family. The “greatest” part parenting is virtually everything, every second that went by, I never could have imagined the depth of love and pure joy parenting has given me, I love being a father, every stage of my three daughters lives has given me so many wonderful memories and blessings that I could easily fill a book.
Every day was an adventure I looked forward to, I was that crazy dad who took pictures of everything every day, to the point we have more than 250,000 digital images and videos of our lives (many are film photos I had to scan).
It doesn’t sound like you had a silver spoon childhood, what did you learn from that experience that helped shape who you are today?
I have a deep understanding of a lot of the issues that are front and center in politics today because I lived them, things like poverty, crime and violence, welfare (or as they call it today, entitlements), and the plight of Black and Hispanics. My neighborhood was very diverse, but my life was largely influenced by Black culture. I didn’t grow up listening to Rock n’ Roll, instead it was Stevie Wonder, Parliament/Funkadelic, the Commodores, the Gap Band, etc.
I learned that children are incredibly resilient, that the pressures of poverty are largely unnoticed by the individual child but the consequences are still there.
At 53 years old I’ve heard my share of childhood stories from coworkers and new friends, including many who DID grow up with that “silver spoon”, and I’d have to say that although my childhood was void of important and necessary instruction, it was rich in culture, diversity, and tightly bonded friendships that last to today. I’d dare say my childhood was far more fun from a child’s perspective than most childhood stories I’ve heard. We were running the streets from sun up to sun down in pursuit of adventure, endless hours swimming, playing pool, basketball, and making things in the wood shop at our local Boy’s Club. We played football in the street, stick ball, and sat around “basing” on each other, a term that describes the act of making fun of each other, we made fun of each other’s most sensitive and vulnerable insecurities, and learnt to laugh at things that today’s children are protected from and are unable to cope with.
Favorite Parliament/funkadelic song and why?
Oh man that’s a hard one to answer, there are so many, but if I absolutely have to pick one it would be Aquaboogie. Aquaboogie is George Clinton and Bootsy Collins at their best, bringing what was called the p-funk, a kind of psychedelic funk with heavy baseline and oddly placed sounds that make it impossible to sit still. I remember hearing it at my neighbor’s house for first time when I was around 14 years old, and 40 years later it’s still a part of my workout song list and family BBQ’s, my three daughters even know the songs I grew up on and have them in their playlists too.
Basing is not a term I have heard before but I am certainly familiar with the fine art of making fun of each other. Why do you think a generation has lost the skill, humility and vulnerability that comes with that type of humor?
I’ve thought about this question a lot. We as parents have tried to remove the aspects of childhood that we deem harmful and end up removing the very processes that force adaptation and allow children to develop their individual coping mechanisms.
I know the issues have changed and today’s teens are in a new world, but I can’t help but wonder if we’ve done more harm than good in our effort to protect them.
250,000 digital images and videos. Why was it so imperative to document so much of the experience for you?
I have always been a very observant passenger in life, as a boy I would steal film from the grocery store to take pictures of my family and surroundings (something I’m not proud of). I remember the huge Life Magazine photo books at the library that seemed to freeze history and allowed me to experience something without actually being there myself and I wanted to do the same. I love to preserve moments exactly as they are, opting to take candid photos of family, friends and events more so than posed photos.
My adult life has been beyond anything I could have imagined, it has intensified my desire to preserve every moment in time, to tell our story and preserve it for my children so that they too will always be able to pull up a photo and immediately be transported back in time to that moment and remember it exactly as it was, the sounds, the voices, and the joy exactly as it was the day it happened. That is what photos do for me.
I’m going to nerd out with you on the Life magazine reference. I loved those books so much when I was a kid. What was your favorite photograph?
I hate to seem negative but the Vietnam war pictures stick out the most in my head, they just grabbed me as a kid and I’d stare closely at the people and try to imagine what it was like to be them. Around that same time the war ended, I was 12 years old when we had a school assembly where they showed us a black and white slide show of the war and told us that the “boat people” were coming, I remember that term clearly. We were told that Vietnamese refugees would be coming to San Diego and our community was chosen as the first community to receive them after a brief stay in “tent city”, a holding place at Camp Pendleton Marine base nearby. Suddenly I was to meet the very people who I’d seen in those magazines and I was excited. Within days of their arrival I met a boy named Huy Nghiem, we immediately became friends, and are still friends to this day. So perhaps my memory of war images somehow is influenced by my friendship with Huy.
Even though you had a tough childhood you seem to have the optimism and joy of a child at the age of 53? It’s truly beautiful, why do you think you have stayed so young at heart?
I have so much to be thankful for and I have a wife and three daughters who fill me with more joy and love than any man could ever hope for. And it’s because I still see life as an amazing adventure, there’s so much to see and so much to learn and I’m fascinating by every aspect of our existence.
If you thought of this interview as one of your pictures. A chance to preserve a moment in time, to tell your story and preserve it for your children forever, what would you say to them?
At this moment in time I hear the sounds of our dogs Lilly and Ginger barking because my daughter Nikki just came home, and I hear the sound of my wife’s sewing machines embroidering patterns onto blocks of fabric for her next quilt. My mind is occupied by thoughts of my daughter Autumn and preparation for her wedding in 5 weeks, and with my daughter Tiana who is in nursing school to become an RN like her mother. I’m also mindful of the clock because my wife and I have dance lessons in 30 minutes. This is my life, in this moment, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I’ve enjoyed more love and laughter in my 53 years than any man could hope for in a lifetime and I can’t wait for the next 50 years.
Your little girl is getting married in 5 weeks can you tell us what is going through your head as you move towards that magical day?
It’s a new emotion I’ve never felt before, or should I say a mix of emotions that give me a feeling I’ve never felt, it’s a mix of joy, excitement, hope, and the realization that this is it, she has truly begun her own story and will begin anew, and for the first time I really am letting my baby girl go. And you know what, I’m not at all worried. I thought I would be but she’s found her equal, a man who compliments her in so many ways and together they’re an amazingly beautiful force, the world truly is their oyster as the saying goes.
You ran your first “Mud Run” (or any type of run for that matter) at the tender age of 40. What caused that event to happen?
I have a friend and coworker named Fred Quezada who was a Navy search and rescue guy, a great athlete and one hell of a runner who has won his age group for this particular race for the past 20 years or so. Anyway, one morning during our crew meeting he mentioned the Camp Pendleton race and at the time I was just a typical gym rat, I went to the gym for muscles and never considered cardio let alone running, I figured surfing was enough cardio. But I was also aware of the fact I was 40 years old and it might be time to start thinking about heart health and so I decided to join him and I entered my first race ever. I almost died. I knew I wasn’t a runner and wasn’t in running shape but I had no idea just how bad it was, and I hated the fact that so many men beat me. I decided to learn how to run and began running, but like most things it would fade after the excitement wore off and the running injuries started piling up, so I didn’t really get serious until I was about 46 years old (serious by my standards). I’ve still yet to run more than 15 miles in a day or even 100 miles in a month, so in the world of running I still have a way to go, but I’ll get there eventually.
How did you end up getting into the arena of spartan racing?
After running the Camp Pendleton Mud Run for a few years I wanted more. Someone told me about Tough Mudder, they said it was more fun than the mud run because it had real obstacles and was twice as long, so I thought what the heck I’m in. I invited my nephew, Fred, and a few others and off we went, and it didn’t disappoint, I loved the obstacles and the new terrain, however, at that time it wasn’t a competition, you had no idea where you stacked up at the end of day and I didn’t like that, I wanted to compete. I mentioned my experience to someone who told me there’s a similar race called Spartan, that it is a lot like Tough Mudder but is a timed race. I went online and signed up for my first Spartan race in September of 2016, the SoCal Spartan Beast and fell in love, although once again I realized I’m not a runner, but I also realized my years in the gym made the obstacles really easy.
What has Spartan racing given you that being a gym rat didn’t?
The gym is a place of solitude for me, I’m not a part of something, I’m just there to take care of business, get in and get out. Spartan is polar opposite of the gym, I’ve made more friends in the past year than I have in 25 years at the same gym. There’s something special about sharing your struggles, successes and failures with like-minded people who willingly test their bodies in a way most people will never understand.
The venues are always beautiful, your body is suffering and at the same time you’re feeding off of the energy of nature and Spartans around you.
What is your favorite part of spartan racing?
Finishing a race. Not because it’s over, but because it’s the moment I experience everything I love about Spartan, the camaraderie and smiles on muddy faces, the sound of clinging medals, the feeling of accomplishment, and it’s also the time I’m acutely aware of how lucky I am to have my health and am able to do something like this, I try my best to take it all in.
What is your least favorite part of Spartan racing?
Too many inconsistencies in judging and with obstacles, Spartan needs to clean up the sport if they want to become an Olympic event. For example, the burpee penalty is great but only half the people do them, so I’d increase the number of “must complete” obstacles for Elite and Age Group so that there’s fewer chances to cheat. The tire flip, Hercules hoist, and rope climb should be must complete obstacles, I can’t understand why they aren’t. The sled-pull should either be eliminated or they should just get rid of the rope and make the competitors pull it both directions by the chain handle because massive sand dunes are created over time making it impossible to pull, so the judges allow racers to “get it over the mound”. That’s such a cheesy solution.
What do you want to accomplish as a Spartan racer, what are you goals?
I’d love to finish in the top 10 at the Spartan World Championship this year, in my age group of course. I know I’m supposed to say I think I will podium, I understand that mental approach, but I’m a realist, I know that the longer the race goes the less my chances are of winning because I simply am not a runner. Although, I’m confident I could compete with anyone in short races like the Stadium Series, and might make that move next year.
For 2018 I just want to know that I trained hard, raced hard, and gave it everything I have, and if I can honestly say I did those things I’ll be happy with the results good or bad.
What is Spartanbabyboomers?
It’s an Instagram page I created specifically for Spartans born between 1946-1964, the Baby Boomer Generation. There aren’t a lot of us out there but our numbers are growing and we are doing quite well, in fact a few guys have placed in top 10 overall in Age Group this year! I hope that the images of men and women in their 50’s and 60’s crawling under barbwire, climbing ropes, and running up mountains will inspire people of all ages to live a healthy lifestyle and prove that age really is just a number.
First, thank you for creating such an inspiring social platform. What has creating this given you as a human and as an athlete?
Although I’ve only met a few of the Spartan Baby Boomers in person I feel like I know them and consider them my new friends, I guess you can say we’re kindred spirits. So the answer is friendship, that’s what the page has given me as a human. As an athlete I get to see and eventually meet my closest competitors and learn from them, I listen closely to how they train and try to apply some of it to my training. There are some amazing athletes over 50, I never knew it was possible to do things I’m seeing, like you for example, I never thought it possible for a man my age to run 100 miles, in a blizzard no less! You set the bar high and made me realize I’m capable of so much more.
Have you met people in person who have you have highlighted on your page and what has then been like?
Yes, I’ve met a bunch of them, men and women, and each time it feels like I’m greeting someone I’ve known for years. I think it’s because we appreciate it all a little bit more than the younger folks and so we are eager to bond and exchange stories and laugh about our injuries and suffering and triumphs.
Why do you want to inspire baby boomers and people of all ages?
I honestly think the greatest gift of life is our health, it is at the center of everything we hold dear and it’s important for me to show others how wonderful and rewarding a healthy lifestyle can be, and that it is attainable.
Perhaps someone out there will see one of our photos and think to themselves “if that old dude/gal can do it so can I”.
What are your thoughts on ageism and how this society treats and see people as they age?
Society seems to pick and choose where age matters. Unless you’re a corporate executive, getting old can be a serious impediment to employment, there’s a lot of ageism going on in that regard. On one hand a 71-year-old isn’t too old to run the country but 71 is much too old to hire as an engineer, retail manager, or accountant. I think society, or perhaps our culture, doesn’t value the wisdom of our aging population the way others do.
Society seems to pick and choose where age matters. Do you feel like out on the Spartan course you are just an athlete and not an age?
I’m just another athlete, which sounds odd to say since I compete in the Age Group category where we’re all bracketed together by age at the start of the race and then awarded by age, but it still feels like one big group of athletes and I don’t feel any different from any of them.
Health is our greatest gift. What helped you form that simple and beautiful philosophy?
Observation and reflection, I’m always doing both. When I think about the things I enjoy most in life, they’re the same things most people treasure, family, friends, and interacting with the world around us and I can’t think of single human endeavor that isn’t improved or diminished by our health status. A few weeks ago we had a job to do near an elementary school, right next to the playground area. Each day at recess and lunch there would be a loud crescendo of energy as the children were released to the playground. You didn’t have to see or know what they were doing, it was the sound of boundless energy needing to be released through movement and human interaction.
As adults, we sometimes forget how good it feels to not only be able to harness that kind of energy, but also the joy of releasing it as we did as children.
Do you think spartan racing is kind of like being let out from recess from the four walls of society?
Oh yes, big time. The only thing I can compare to the feeling of running a Spartan race is a day of summer surfing when conditions are just right. Both are like a drug, I don’t know what it is but I love it and I need it.
Do you feel like you have wisdom to share? How do you find ways to share it outside this interview of course?
Yes, unfortunately most of the wisdom I have to share is the result of poor choices and mistakes I’ve made, but more and more as I age I’m able to share wisdom gained by thoughtful well planned and well executed decisions, and I have to say it is far more rewarding to do it the right way in most cases. The gift of Irish gab is deeply embedded in my DNA, and after spending some time with my father I quickly realized where it came from, and you don’t have to search far among my friends and coworkers to find someone to validate my affinity to talk.
I love to share my life experiences and knowledge with anyone willing to listen, and according to my wife that includes people who aren’t willing to listen because I’m likely to tell them anyway.
Speaking of wisdom and energy, can we talk about your diet and sleep habits? How do you keep the machine running and moving?
This is where people are going to thing I’m crazy. I’m an early bird, always have been since childhood, as is my oldest daughter. I can honestly say I can’t remember ever sleeping past 5am, and I’ve never owned an alarm clock. I wake up between 2:45-3:15 every day no matter what time I go to sleep, and I’m that person that launches out of bed full of energy.
Of course that means falling asleep between 7-8 pm every night too, it’s rare I’m awake past 9pm.
My diet is evolving, I’m always trying to find the perfect balance between health, fitness, and performance. I was eating “Paleo” for the past 8 years or so and it served me well, every measurable health marker was excellent and I was pretty happy with my training progress. And then last summer I read about the ketogenic diet and read the stories of endurance athletes who have switched from using carbs for fuel to using fat for fuel. The world record 100 mile is held by a keto guy who hardly took in any carbohydrates (Zach Bitter holds the American 100 mile record). Two more endurance records were set by ketogenic athletes, a trans-Atlantic rowing team broke the record by something like 5 days, and last year a husband and wife (FatChanceRow.org) broke the rowing record from San Francisco to Hawaii utilizing the ketogenic diet. So I figured I’d give it a try beginning last October and so far it has been an interesting journey. I track my macros using the MyFitnessPal app and monitor my blood ketones using the keto-mojo blood ketone/glucose monitor. So far I can say my aerobic capacity has improved tremendously, I’m sure I could run a half marathon at a comfortable pace (non competitive) without the need for fuel. However, I’ve yet to see a benefit when I reach into the anaerobic zone, like carrying a Spartan bucket up a double black diamond ski run! I love the way it feels and my health markers are all great so I’ll continue my n=1 experiment for another 6 months and see if I continue to improve. If not I’ll probably cycle between paleo and keto.
The universe has granted you the ability to sit down and talk to 26-year-old Joey Davis, what would you say to your younger self?
I would tell myself not to allow life to get in the way of pursing your dream of becoming a scientist or engineer. My love for science and engineering has been the only constant since childhood, and it’s the only thing I honestly say comes easy to me. I took a few college courses and then “life” got in the way, it seemed too daunting a task to juggle being a husband and father while going to college so I quit. I would tell my 26-year-old self it’s okay to take one or two classes at a time and that it’s even okay to take a semester off, but keep chipping away and you’ll get there.
Had I known how quickly I’d be sitting here at 53 years old, almost twenty years later, and feeling like I have so much energy and time left to do something meaningful, I would have finished college and be in the field I love today.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Hmmmm, I’m trying to find a single common cause of human suffering because in the end that’s the thing I’d like to change but there are so many contributors that it’s hard to answer. For the sake of simplicity I’d say hunger, I’d change the scarcity of food and water, the most basic human need that supplies our bodies and mind with the energy needed to change all other conditions.
If you can look into a crystal ball, what will Joey Davis be doing at age 78?
Spending more time with my wife, daughters, and future grandchildren.
I will be that 78-year-old grandpa who is able to keep up with his grandkids, still surfing, hiking, and perhaps still completing Spartan races. I really don’t see myself ever slowing down.
If you could write your eulogy what would be the first 3 opening sentences say?
Joey crossed life’s final finish line as he did with every race, arms raised and grateful for every second given to him. He attacked all obstacles along the way, failed a few, did his burpees, and got back into the race. And nothing make’s him happier than to be welcomed at the finish by his wife, daughters, family, and friends, because there’s no greater podium in life, so please smile and give him one last congratulatory hug.
Joey Davis Dad, Husband, Warrior.