“My Road To Greatness” by: William Santiago

My name is William Santiago, I am eighteen years old, and this is my first year of college at New York City College of Technology. As a beginning college student, I can reflect on the first phase of my life that has led to me becoming who I am. However, what makes me who I am? When it comes to what makes me who I am, the number one thing that I believe that makes me the man that I am would be my commitment to working out. Exercise is something that has changed my perception on everyday life. It has helped me to evolve and grow into the man that I am today. I consider the path that I have paved myself through working out to be my self-proclaimed “road to greatness”. This “Road to Greatness” as I like to call it, is a vision of a path that I have laid out for myself. It is a vision of thoughts becoming things. This very vision came about as I experienced many different things while working out starting from the very beginning where I was not really into working out and my road to greatness did not exist. I was just a sophomore in High School, who had athletic potential. It was after I had an epiphany that my “Road to Greatness” began. With time, consistently working out eventually became a personal drug of mine, enabled me the ability to overcome adversity and allowed me to set out for personal goals and seize each and every one of them.

You can say that I was just physically active. I was just above average in the sports that I chose to partake in. I would play both football and basketball whenever the opportunity presented itself. Even though I was average at both sports, I enjoyed playing them thoroughly. However, a point in time came where I really wanted to be physically inclined with something. I did not want to be just physically active; I wanted to be the best that I could possibly be. I had the desire to be great at something, I just did not know what that something could be. One day I actually looked at myself in the mirror from head to toe. Then thoughts of people always calling me “skinny” or “flaco” popped in my head. I stood staring at myself for about 5 minutes or so, and then said to myself “I’m tired of being skinny”. After that day, I vowed to myself that I would work out every day to change my physical appearance, thus began my road to greatness.

My journey began around early 2014. For Christmas, my Aunt Mille bought me a pull-up bar since I told her that I wanted to start working out. While I might not have been the best handy man at the time, I read the installation manual, assembled the pull-up bar, and then, installed it inside my kitchen doorframe. Now that it was ready, all that was left to do was to test it out. The pullup bar has various grips from wide, standard, narrow, and neutral. Therefore, I decided to try a standard grip. When I did, I found that I had a hard time getting myself up to do just one simple pullup. I stopped for a second since calluses were forming on my hands and were hurting quite it bit and sat down for a few. While sitting down I thought to myself, “How the hell am I supposed to do a pull-up without it hurting my hands?” Since I could not think of an answer, I took the logical approach and decided to look it up on YouTube. After I did so, I went to my pull-up bar again to attempt the same pull-up except with a more efficient grip that I saw on YouTube. When I did so I still struggled to do one pull-up, however I found that calluses were not forming on my hands as much as when I did pull-ups the first time. For about a few weeks, I tried to do at least three pull-ups every day, and within a short span of time, it became easy for me to do pull-ups.

Around the time when I could safely say that I mastered pull-ups, the second semester of my junior year of high school began. I was given the opportunity to do weight training in my gym class. Once I saw that I had a chance to be able to exercise every day at school and not be limited to only my pull-up bar, I signed up for it immediately. I discovered the school weight room to be the ideal place for my evolution into who I wanted to become. It is where I grew exponentially and learned most of the things that I know about exercise.

The weight room that I used in my High School would not be ones ideal commercial gym to workout in. It was about the size of a big classroom. It had a white board with a bunch of different graffiti’s that were written on it with permanent marker. It smelled like dirty metal, B.O, and sweat if you did not open the windows. It had sets of dumbbells ranging from 5lbs being the lightest to 55lbs being the heaviest. It contained about eight Olympic barbells and sets of weighted plates ranging from 2 ½lbs to 45lbs to utilize on them. It also had one power rack everyone used. There were two types of machines used for the back. One of the machines were broken. That machine was the machine press that was used for the chest. There were multiple benches in the gym, two individual flat benches, one flat bench to do bench press on, an incline to do inclined press, and a decline to do decline press. The weight room had one gym seat that the weight-training teacher would always sit on, as well as more broken equipment. This equipment was a broken preacher curl beach, a broken easy curl bar, and about four safety clamps. Lastly, there was an oddly placed bathroom at the end of the room located to your left hand side where the benches were that had a dirty toilet that did not work, and a shower that did not work with a dead cockroach inside of it.

As you may be able to tell, it really was not ones ideal commercial gym, yet for me it was the best gym I have ever been to, although it would not qualify to be one. It was in this very gym my vision of my “Road to Greatness” came about. In order to achieve greatness, you need tools. All of the weights that became available to me in the weight room I used as my essential tools to carve my own road. Through the many trials and tribulations that I had endured in this weight room alone, along with the many triumphs, I find that this is where the idea of my “Road to Greatness” had first originated. This is where I decided to make small things become very big things, and where most of my physical evolution took place.

The first few months of my training were not very great. It was what I like to call “the learning faze”. It was now that my nervous system was learning various new motor patterns with each workout that I did. I did not know what I was really doing, so just like what I did when I was trying to learn how to do pull ups efficiently, I returned to YouTube for workout tips. On YouTube there are many different YouTube fitness related channels, however, I was not sure as to which one I should rely on as a good source to follow in order to ensure that I make the most efficient gains I can possibly make. Therefore, like most people who do not know much about fitness I looked for the best-looking person in terms of physique to rely on since they would probably know what to do. However, at the time, what I did not know was that on YouTube they are quite a few people who claim to be natural, yet use performance-enhancing drugs to make easy gains and give off a fake persona to easily fooled people. Additionally, I did not know that genetics play a large role in how efficiently you can build muscle, as well as the result of what they will look like. I ended up watching generic videos on how to do certain workouts, and eventually I knew a decent amount when it came to lifting weight, but my technique in terms of executing the workouts themselves, among other things was not on par just yet.

At first, I was quite conservative as to how much I would try to lift, even though the people who were actually working out in the weight room, instead of being couch potatoes like the majority of the class who signed up for weight training, lifted sub-maximal loads that looked heavy. Although they seemed to struggle with the weight and would just move it, instead of control it. On top of that, their form was mediocre. I was no guru at the time, but I had watched enough YouTube fitness related videos to know the difference between doing alternating bicep curls and looking like you are doing a throwback to 2004 when Lean Back was a hit. After some time being above the influence of heavy lifting, I gave into trying to challenge myself with lifting some serious weight. It all started with the Flat Bench Press since it was said to be the king of upper body exercises, and since almost, if not all stereotypical meat-head would ask you “how much you bench bro?” I thought that being able to bench some heavy weight would give me some credibility. The first time I actually tried to flat bench, I had a hard time just benching the bar itself. At the time, I did not know it was due to my nervous system learning the correct motor patterns in order to perform the workout efficiently. I thought it was because of the frail arms that I had at the time. Once my body had developed a better understanding of how to do the workout, my bench went from just the bar, to being able to bench 135lbs. For me it was a big deal. For the first time ever, I actually felt strong. It gave me the sensation that I could do anything I set my mind to; it also made me feel like I was the man. Of course, as I have heard many people say before that, “You have to get hurt in order to learn to never make the same mistake again.” That is exactly what happened one day while benching.

Around the end of my junior year, on a Monday, which for most “gym rats” or regular weight lifters is chest day, it was the one day I always benched. I did my warm up, slapped on some 45lb plates on the barbell so that it weighed 135lbs, and started to do my thing. I had no spotter since I always used weight that I could handle and since I was already used to benching 135lbs all the time, I saw no need in having one. During this point in time, I had developed a bench press technique that had my hands gripping the barbell relatively wide, so wide that the ends of my hands were located right near where the barbell itself rested on the bench. After finishing the second set, I racked the weight, in the process; a small portion of my skin was caught in between the 135lbs that I was benching and the bench itself. It pinched my skin hard enough to cause eternal bleeding, and it hurt so much that I almost passed out. The weight-training teacher immediately took me to the nurse to make sure I was all right. Luckily a few minutes after feeling groggy, I cleared up and felt better, although the side of my left hand was killing me, it was bearable. You could say I got off lucky there. Ever since that day, I never benched so wide again, and ended up narrowing my grip by a few inches.

As some time passed, I began to incorporate more heavy compound movements, those movements being the Barbell Squat and the Deadlift. The Squat is known to be the king of lower body movements and known to get rid of those chicken legs that one may have. The deadlift is also known to be a great lower body workout, yet involves much more back activation and stabilization than leg power. The Squat is a workout where you carry the load over your base of support, Squat down as low as possible, then get back up to a normal vertical stance. The deadlift on the other hand is a workout where you pick up weight right off of the floor, stand up with the weight in your hands, then put the weight back down, hence the name “Deadlift”. These exercises sound relatively simple in retrospect, however, the execution of both exercises are much easier said than done. Both the Squat and Deadlift require a certain amount of flexibility within one’s joints in order to properly execute each exercise, as well as be taxing on one’s central nervous system due to the integration of the various muscle groups being exercised. Both exercises will expose any imbalances that you may have in your body, and aid you in building immense lower body strength, posterior chain strength, grip strength, and mental toughness.

I began deadlifting before I began squatting because I did not want to stunt my growth by barring any load over my base of support and causing spinal compression, although I was done growing in terms of height once I turned 16. The process of learning these movements was relatively similar to that of when I began bench pressing. I trained my body to efficiently perform the movements before proceeding onward to much heavier loads. Around the beginning portion of my senior year, I once again made weight training my go to gym class, as this was the case for the rest of my High School Career. During my senior year, exercise truly found a stronghold within my heart, for it helped me get through many hardships I had endured during my senior year, the main one being breaking up with my psycho girlfriend that I was with for almost two years. During the “recovery phase” of breaking up with her for the last time, I found working out being my safe haven. Exercise was my escape from all of the stresses of the SAT, college hunting, applying for financial aid, working at McDonald’s, and trying to keep my overall GPA as high as possible. I used working out as my personal drug. I would go into the weight room every week, five times a week, lift some heavy ass weight in order to release all of my anger and frustration, and get out. With each day I got to work out, I found myself turning exercise from a mere hobby, to an addiction of mine. I found myself watching YouTube videos on working out to be not just for workout tips any more, but for my personal entertainment. During last winter, since I was on Christmas break and did not have access to the weight room, I would run about a mile or so in the snow, then I would go to a jungle gym near a baseball field around where I live and do all kinds of calisthenics just so I could get to work out.

I also found that with my physique drastically improving due my consistent exercise that everyone I knew began complementing me on how strong I was looking. There were girls coming to the weight room to check me out as I exercised, as well as flirt with me. I began making more friends with people who lifted in the same weight room in the other schools in my high school campus during class periods that I did not have class. Due to working out causing this entire chain reaction of things to fall in place around me, I found my confidence was through the roof. I was at a point in my life where I was pretty satisfied with myself in terms of what I was becoming, yet, at the same time I really was not due to the fact that I found myself heart broken. Although working out was my escape from everything, it did not provide me an escape from my ex-girlfriend, for I had to bare seeing her every day I exercised. The relationship we had, although no longer together was still strong. Strong enough to have me continue to go back to her every time I felt the need of some sort of love and affection, even though I still had other girls talking to me.

A point in time came where she had “moved on” to another. However, this other, so happened to be a person who was known to be one of the strongest guys in my school. I had nothing against him, yet the fact that he ended up going out with my ex gave me a very disgusting feeling of jealousy on the inside. I realized that it was not my place to be jealous. I broke up with her, and she found another. Once this happened I found myself in a deep depression. Even while exercising, I found myself to be a pitiful, pathetic excuse of a man. I was no longer the person that I wanted to be. Exercise gave me that sense of assurance that I never had, however, it just could not heal a heart that was longing for love. Yet, during this difficult time, I met my current girlfriend on Facebook. While our initial connection was only over social media, the feeling that I had when I talked to her compared to that of girls that I had talked with before, during, or after my workouts was completely different. She seemed to be a genuine girl, although I knew there would be a chance that I could be getting cat fished. After the first day I met my current girlfriend, I asked my weight room teacher if he could let me stay in the weight room by myself. He told me that he was not allowed to do such a thing, yet allowed me to do so anyway. From about 11:35 to 2:00 o clock I stood inside the weight room just thinking, reminiscing, contemplating, and plotting multiple thoughts. I found myself in the same exact position that I once was when I made the decision to begin working out. I asked myself, “What kind of man do you want to become Will?” “Do you think that if you keep up this weak state of mind going that you will continue to make progress not only in the weight room but in your life?” At this point, I stopped thinking and began to take action. I no longer found any interest in longing for love, yet allowed love to find me. After a month, my ex-girlfriend broke up with that person and began trying to get me back. She would tell me how she just did not feel the same with him as she did with me. She began to flirt with me more than the other girls at my weight room did and would get extremely jealous when they did. I was even able to get her to dye her hair a color I found that suited her very well. Yet, although a piece of my heart longed for her, I found myself in love with only weights, and falling in love with my current girlfriend. She soon knew the love that I once had for her was fading away, so her efforts eventually came to an abrupt halt. She had lost that piece of my heart that was longing for her in the midst of many careless actions that I found out that she had partaken in, all of the leading on she had put me through, and all of the headaches that I had to put up with due to all of her nonsensical crap. A point came where I found that same love that my heart longed for went to loving the weights. I used that desire to love to be able to Overhead Press 135lbs, Bench Press 185lbs, Squat 225lbs, and Deadlift 365lbs. It was at this point that I knew that nothing and I mean nothing would stop me from achieving my goals. I had developed a fire inside of me that was not just a flame; it was an inferno so massive that it could burn down a village. This fire consisted of a few things… love, sweat, and tears.

Since I am no longer in High School, I no longer have access to the weight room that was in my High School. I decided to join a gym where I can continue to exercise and strive for success. I have some personal strength goals for the distant future, those goals being to Bench Press 225lbs for reps, being able to Squat 315lbs, and to be able to Deadlift 425lbs. I also have long-term strength goals in mind that may come sooner than later with the amount of effort I constantly put into lifting weights. In addition, I would like to compete in a power lifting event someday. Other goals of mine include helping those who wish to get into exercising, whether it be just to look better, to get stronger, or to train for a specific sport. I would like to spread the knowledge that I have acquired on exercising to the majority of people to help society.

I find exercise is more than just exercise, I find that it has to become a lifestyle choice that one integrates into their everyday routine. Exercise—including lifting weights and doing pull-ups or dips—has helped me grow into the man that I am today. Put another way, I would have become a different person without the exercise. Exercising has become a part of my lifestyle and the more I do it, the more I learn about my body’s physiology and myself as a person. It has given me the sense of accomplishment for it was once a dream of mine to be where I am now. As I stated previously, I was tired of being skinny. The reflection that I saw of myself was not the ideal sight that I wanted for myself. The sight I wanted to see was the greatness that I see of myself now, as well as the greatness that I have envisioned for myself through these thoughts of mine becoming things. These very thoughts becoming things are the dreams of mine that I wish to become a reality. Working out so happens to be one of these main thoughts for it is something that I think about every day on the hour. I am always looking for a way that I can better myself. I continue to look for ways to get stronger. Because of working out, I want to be the best I can be in every aspect. By being more organized, more personable, and more studious, I continue to find ways to expand my horizons and improve myself.

At this moment in time, as I look towards my future, I am not sure what is awaiting me, but what I do know is that it will be greatness. I do not say this to sound arrogant, I say this because of the confidence that I have. I say this because I will not allow all of the hard work and effort I have put into consistently pushing my body further and beyond its own limitations to be in vein. I will not stop until I know have reached the end and have attained nothing but greatness. Even when I reach the end, I will continue to seek greatness, for this how I will leave behind my legacy. The mindset that I have is similar to that of a soldier on the battlefield. They will not stop until they know that their mission is complete, with one day hoping they will leave behind a legacy for other soldiers to be in awed. Once I have reached the end of my road, I would like be able to inspire others to achieve their own greatness. Until then, I will continue to walk along my own road to greatness.

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