BADASS RYAN YOCH – “All the other events in this decade pale in comparison to seeing Elsie Mae for the first time.”

This badass conversation started on February 16th, 2019. Five minutes at a time.

Ryan how young are you?

I had breakfast with my 79 year young dad this week. He changed his life at age 50, physically, mentally and spiritually. He now does Yoga, walks with a group 5-6 miles, works out with weights and eats totally clean. If you met him, you would think he’s in his 50’s. My dad embraces life and enjoys meeting new people everyday. He doesn’t have a lot of money, but he is very wealthy in friendships and purpose for life. We both discussed this question and agreed that our mindset determines our age. Curiosity, enthusiasm, purpose, faith, friendships and love all keep us in a “young” frame of mind. Scott, you and I both know this is true.

How young am I? 55 in calendar years with a 20-year-olds zest for life and adventure.

How often do you sit down with your dad and chat about life?

About once every two weeks my dad and I will have breakfast. Our relationship has improved dramatically over the past 20 years. I walked away from a successful career in the Army to go into the family business. After 6 years, our relationship had totally fallen apart and I had to leave the company to pursue a different career. Now we both respect each other and have repaired the hurt we caused in the past. Now retired, my dad is very focused on health, nutrition and physical activity. I consider it a true blessing to have the relationship we now have as friends. 

What has your life been like since turning 50 years old?

This has been an unbelievably great decade. A few months before my 50th, I ran the 2013 Boston Marathon with my son Jon. It was both our first and I worked my ass off to qualify. It was of course the year of the bombing. Jon and I both have good enough times to qualify again for Boston. (we have done 3 together) We got done and my wife and daughter in law both were ready to do some sight seeing. At the time of the bombing, we were on a train back to our hotel. Had we stayed, we would have been very close to the first blast. 

After that event, I had this desire to do something that gave back and helped people. So, I signed up for EMT classes at a local Junior College and became licensed in December 2013. I was 50 years old and at least 20 years older than the next oldest student. It was incredible training and I built a lot of great friendships.

Side note, everyone should hug EMT’s and Paramedics. A lot of these folks work for crazy low pay saving lives. 

After getting licensed as an EMT, I started doing drive alongs with an ambulance service in East St. Louis, IL. East St. Louis tops the list of Most Dangerous Cities in America. Side note, I have a full time job in the Corporate World working for a really great company. The EMT gig was on my own time, nights and weekends. Anyway, after a couple months of training on the ambulance I began seeing a lot of the same type of chronic illnesses which were caused by lifestyle issues primarily diabetes, cardiac and pulmonary illnesses. I had an epiphany to look at doing something that could help people BEFORE they had to call 911.

I decided to pivot and become certified as a Personal Trainer. It should be said that working on an ambulance in East St. Louis was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I saw poverty and love, hardship and resiliency, ruthlessness and humility. Before we judge anyone…walk a mile with them in their world. It changed me. 

During this time, I also finally gave up drinking for good and started my adventure of sobriety on January 1, 2015. 

I have been working the 12 Steps ever since. Too many incredible experiences to write down for this question. I love your post about being an addict. That is me as well. Moving forward, at 52. I became a Personal Trainer and got hired at our local YMCA. You know how you feel when you do a job that isn’t work? That’s how I feel helping people as a Personal Trainer. 

In the next couple years, I went on to get certified as a Health Coach and Distance Running Coach. I have been blessed to see my client athletes improve their health, lose weight, reduce or eliminate medications, compete fitness challenges they never dreamed. At the end of the day, I have also grown through these experiences. 

All along this journey of my 50’s my wife and I have grown closer, traveled more, and are working on celebrating our 33rd anniversary this year. Ilonka is my rock, soulmate, and best friend. We are Ying and Yang and it works. Remember meeting us in Montana? Next weekend, we will be in Las Vegas for the Red Rock Canyon 1/2 Marathon. Ilonka is doing it with some girlfriends and I will be going to be support on the course. (and run at least a marathon) In my 50’s I have become a better runner and overall stronger. I keep busy running ultra’s and you got me into more crazy Spartan events. 

This year will be a focus on ultras. Currently have 2 x 50 milers, 1x100K, 1x100M and a marathon planned for 2019. This will bring my total Marathon/Ultra count to 77. I freaking love running in the woods and mountains. I truly feel like a little kid and also love experiencing these events with an amazing tribe of people. You included.

On January 28, 2019 the coolest of cool things happened with the birth of our first grandchild, Elsie Mae. All the other events in this decade paled in comparison to seeing that little baby for the first time. Watching the love flow from my son and daughter in law on that beautiful child was incredible joy.

Needless to say, Elsie never seeing her Grandpa drunk is also priceless. Life is so good.

The Butterfly Effect is a small change in one state that can result in large difference in a later state. You seem to be living this theory. Bombs go off at marathon you become an EMT. You become an EMT you see people suffering, you want to help before they have to call 911. Why do you think your life has taken this path? What has changed? How have you changed to make yourself available to this?

Good question, I have always been wired to serve others and have found a true joy in this purpose. I do think there is a spiritual component to this path. God has opened up a lot of doors in my life to serve others, some I have taken and others closed. Becoming a little older and wiser has helped me temper my EGO and accept who I am and work harder in not having to “conform” to what is the norm. I like to surround myself now with people who challenge the status quo in a positive way, no more “joy suckers.”  

No doubt, becoming sober has been one of the most remarkable events in making myself available to serve others. This was a total spiritual experience and has rocked my world over the past 4 years making me much more available to live my true purpose. Through the whole EMT to PT journey, I knew that I was on the right path. Maybe there will be more to this story, I’ll just have to be available and keep the doors open. 

I still have to continue with my corporate job, but having a “part time” job that feeds my soul helps me actually perform better all around. I have this new approach to life, while most people unfortunately hate what they are doing for a living, find your passion and do it 10-20% of the time. 

You don’t have to necessarily quit your day job (unless you have the financials means) to positively change your life. 

Fear keeps so many of us from finding our true calling, even on a part-time basis.

What are your thoughts on fear and what is your relationship with it right now?

Looking at my life, there is no doubt that the limitations I put on myself was due to fear. Fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of not being included, and even fear of success. Why not just lead a life of mediocrity? It’s a lot easier and you don’t cause any waves. What a terrible way to live? My relationship with fear has matured and I now call it my “shadow self.” This is not my true person, however, it is still a part of me. I now recognize and appreciate my “shadow self” and actually internally communicate, argue and deal with it’s attempts to limit my life. 

The writings of Parker Palmer have been very helpful in understanding Shadow Work and how to embrace this other part of me. For the first half of my life, there was so much fear in making sure I made enough money, health of my kids, hitting revenue goals, and just putting on the right “face” in the corporate world. In expanding this thought, I love how Richard Rohr writes in his book “Falling Upward – the spirituality of the two halves of life.”  

He says, “…the task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and answer the first essential questions:

“What makes me significant?  How can I support myself? and Who will go with me? 

The task of the second half of life is quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver. 

As Mary Oliver puts it, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 

That’s how I embrace my fear now. I don’t let it control my decisions or actions. I actually laugh more about when I am “fearful” about a situation realizing it’s only my other “shadow self” and just keep on filling my “container” with much love and positive relationships.  

You know I have to ask this. You are going to run another 100 miler. Where is it?  Why are you doing it?

StageCoach will be my 3rd 100 miler. I love these events. Growing up, my favorite book was, “My Side of the Mountain.”  Running in the woods makes me feel like a kid and connects me spiritually to both God, Nature and my fellow runners. This past weekend’s 60k race was a great event for a number of reasons. I ran the first 1/2 marathon distance with one of my best friends that was overcoming prostate cancer (he had his prostate taken out a month ago and is now in remission so far). I also had the chance to run with a former Army soldier who opened up about his numerous suicide attempts and how running had saved his life. He now works for the VA helping to save other former veterans. It rained and stormed on us throughout the day. The trails were ankle deep in water…priceless. 

It’s hard to explain to a non-runner that the beauty of these crazy events is in the suffering with a great tribe of people, life altering experiences and challenges. Scott, I know you get what I am saying.

I do get it. The trail is a place where people open up, vulnerably, honestly and with unbridled rawness like your friend admitting his suicide attempts. What has suffering taught you?

Suffering – the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship.

What has this taught me?  Wow, I have been meditating on this question for a while. As we age, all of us will all endure pain, distress or hardship. My question is, do I grow or die from these experiences?  Being “brought to my knees” daily by “life happening” is the only way I know to find hope, faith and love in my life today. Now, don’t get me wrong Scott, there are days I would rather not even get of bed than deal with the corporate crap of my job. However, I have learned that a lot of my “suffering” has been caused by my own ego, insecurity and selfishness. It’s rather embarrassing to admit this at 56, but it’s the truth. 

Also, without the amazing people in AA, I would not have learned the true meaning and how to try working on practicing humility daily. I am still an experiment of one working on one day at time. I heard the story of a wise man that said he only grows if he “suffers one humiliation” daily. I can see his point, but not sure I’m ready for that abuse. Suffering has also taught me what it feels to be alive and that we are not alone. I truly believe we were meant to share our suffering in community and not isolation. That being said, I am a true believer of sharing in the presence of others, if possible. Yes, social media has great benefits, but does not replace the physical presence of other people.

What are your feelings on aging in a society that worships the young?

Every day, I see examples of people in their 50’s to 80’s aging young. I love being 55. Many of my clients are my kid’s ages, 25 and 30. I enjoy building relationships with them and getting to know their worldview. 

When I was in my 20’s, I had an amazing Uncle Ray and Aunt Mildred.  At the time, they were probably in their 50’s. They were some of the most youthful people I knew always full of life and enthusiasm in their older years. Attitude, dress, lifestyle and love for each other. Once I asked my Uncle Ray, “how is it you and your wife stay so young?”  He didn’t miss a beat and answered, “Ryan, we always surround ourselves with friends younger than us!”  Words of wisdom that my wife and I are practicing today. Not necessarily in age, younger thinking and youthful acting. Not childish, but childlike. Curious, enthusiastic and love! Great words of wisdom that I have tried to live ever since.

I love the idea of aging young. What does a typical day in the life of Ryan aging young look like? 

So, I have the benefit of working from home which keeps me away from the “joy suckers” in an office environment. I usually have at least one personal training client in the evening which provides a “purpose” for my day. My corporate job pays the bills and allows me to do my adventures. 

If I would have saved more, and had my kid’s pay their college, I’d be doing the Health Coach/Personal Training full time. I try to laugh a lot during the day and keep a servant leader attitude towards my work colleagues and management. It’s actually been a lot of fun helping my work colleagues on their own personal health and fitness journeys. I have an amazing wife of 33 years who is still my best friend and soulmate. As we get older, we find our friends get younger and younger. My days are very full with my full time job, part time job, working out, walking dogs, spending time with Ilonka (wife) and reading. 

I’m frequently asked, when am I going to slow down? It’s probably a little ADD, but I enjoy having a day that contains many experiences. I find both my purpose and relevance in the people I meet and am able to show some kindness and help on their journeys. Again, we don’t suffer alone!

“I love being 55”.  Can you please tell us why you love being 55?

Some people find their true purpose early in life. Mine came later by the time I was in my early 50’s. As mentioned earlier, breaking the bond of alcohol has opened my eyes to how much of an egocentric life I had been living. (this is still a work in progress) In addition, acceptance of who I am and the fact that it’s OK is very liberating. Recently, I went through counseling for the first time in my life. My approach was simply to see how I could improve on areas of my life. I looked at the experience as meeting with a life coach. Of course, I met this incredible counselor who is also very fitness and nutrition focused. She recommended I read the book, “I ain’t much, baby-but I’m all I’ve got.” by Jess Lair, Ph.D.  Great book written by a former advertising executive from MN. (no kidding) This book was written in the late 60’s and still resonates so much today.  

I love what Jess says in the beginning of the book, 

“If we concentrate on accepting ourselves, change will happen. It will take care of itself. Self-acceptance is so hard to get you can’t do it a day at a time. I’ve (Jess) found that I need to run my life five minutes at a time.”  

That’s why being 55 is so great for me, I have the time to slow down and take life 5 minutes at a time. I’m just not important as I used to think I was. Accepting who I am, and Serving with Love my wife, kid’s, granddaughter, friends and fellow human beings is now my purpose. I am also blessed that I took care of myself in my 30’s so my health is still good in my 50’s. My focus as a personal trainer is now on guys 50+ who are trying to get stronger after decades of a sedentary life. What a challenge and blessing it is to help these clients.

You broke the bonds of alcohol. You opened your eyes to how egocentric you had been living. This resonates deeply. If you are willing to share. Why did you stop drinking on January 1st 2015?

Real simple answer, my son Jon and I are part of the same social running group in St. Louis called the Wolfpack. After one event that involved a run followed by a meet up at a bar, a friend called me and said that he and my son had a great time drinking together and Jon was, “just like his old man.” After that telephone call, every emotion of watching my parents divorce, mother die of alcoholism, almost losing my marriage and all the close calls of my drinking came flooding through my mind. I could not be an example of that lifestyle to my children any longer. Jon was 27 at the time and does not have the drinking problem I do, however, no way in Hell could I continue drinking any longer. 

Haven’t had a drink in over 4.5 years. 

Ryan Yoch, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Trainer, Runner, Acceptor of who he is.

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