NEW ULM - Using exercise to live a happy, purpose-driven life was the focus of guest speaker Joshua Cox's presentation on Tuesday to more than 100 students of River Bend Area Learning Center.
Cox is a trainer and speaker who overcame childhood obesity to become the 2012 Success Story of the Year for Anytime Fitness. He runs his own fitness classes at home in Santa Rosa, Calif., and he leads groups of runners in four Tough Mudder competitions, which are 12-mile runs littered with obstacles. He also serves as a spokesperson for The Fitness Rebellion, which focuses on changing the traditional conversation about fitness to motivate people to pursue fitness for its own sake instead of trying to look like people on magazine covers.
Cox encouraged students to recognize that everybody struggles with personal problems. He advised letting go of anger over what has happened in their lives to concentrating on improving themselves.
Staff photo by Josh Moniz
Speaker Joshua Cox urged students at River Bend Area Learning Center to focus on physical fitness as a tool for gaining insight into how to accomplish goals in their lives.
He related his story of how he used fitness to better himself. He said he was an extremely obese kid who suffered from constant bullying at school. He also dealt with numerous personal issues from his negative self image, including bulimia and cutting.
He became motivated by a particularly severe bullying incident during his freshman year when older kids duct-taped him to bleachers in a remote park and tortured him by pulling on his fat folds. He was left there stranded for an hour before a homeless man found him and cut him down. He joined a gym after the incident to improve his health.
Even at the gym, he faced constant bullying. He was initially motivated by a desire to become strong enough to extract revenge. But, he said he actually reached the next stage of creating a truly healthy lifestyle when he was able to let go of his anger, forgive the bullies and focus on getting fit.
"It's never acceptable what they did. But, I don't know what kind of difficult things they were going through in their own lives that made they act how they did," said Cox, "Maybe they had a bad home life, or maybe they had an older sibling that bullied them, and this was their way of feeling they like they had some control. You have to come to the realization that each of us are struggling through our own difficulties in life."
After he mastered working out effectively, he quickly lost 40 pounds and found many more people willing to engage in conversation with him. He attributed his newly gained self-confidence - not losing weight - that allowed him to be willing to engage with others.
He said the type of positive-attitude, focused workouts that he advocates save lives by giving people the confidence, motivation and discipline to truly tackle personal challenges.
"This kind of working-out saves lives. It's more than just burning fat," said Cox, "It's about gaining a focus and confidence to deal with the troubles in your life."
He picks workouts as the focus of his lessons because they are the only truly universally understood experience everybody can participate in - even more so than organized sports. Everybody can identify with the times they felt physical exhaustion and can recognize how everybody else can be feeling the same way in a shared workout.
"[Exercising] is the most effective kind of therapy in the world. They can feel a physical manifestation of the [mental] troubles they face in their lives. Many people told me they saw the steps to deal [with their personal issues] after they saw they had accomplished the steps for taking care of their [physical] selves," said Cox.
He concluded the presentation by getting the entire group engaged in a simple squat exercise they could all do at home by themselves. He said he hoped the students would use it as a simple tool to build their ability to focus while pursuing healthier living, which would in turn help build self-confidence.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at email@example.com)