Madison Nights: The Fitness Ballad of Cole Sager

Sean (00:00):

Hi everybody. Welcome to another edition of Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland. On this episode I talk with six-time CrossFit Games competitor and all-around nice guy Cole Sager. What’s the difference between a good athlete and a great one? An amazing coach. The same goes for great business owners. If you’re ready to level up your business book, a free call with a certified Two-Brain mentor at Cole Sager has been to the CrossFit Games six times in his career. He’s finished in the top 10 overall three times. His best career finished was fifth in 2018 and he also received the Spirit of the Games award in 2017. We talk about his time playing division one college football at the University of Washington, his knack for coming up with big performances when his back is against the wall and why his dad decided to name him after a fictional character portrayed by Tom Cruise. Thanks for listening everyone. Cole, thank you so much for taking the time to do this today. How are you doing?

Cole (01:05):

I’m doing really, really good, you know, especially with all things considered, you know, I know that definitely people who are much worse off than I am. I’ve been very fortunate to be relatively unaffected by things. So just getting the chance to just keep doing my thing.

Sean (01:20):

So how has your training been affected by this whole coronavirus thing?

Cole (01:24):

Yeah. You know, it’s, I am actually still able to do about 90% of what I would normally do. For people who don’t know, I train out of my garage anyways just about full time. And I would say about 90% of my training is done in the garage. The only reason why we would go outside the garage is, one social interaction. That’s kind of on a pause. So, you know, typically if you know, the same four walls start to get a little too familiar, we’ll get outside of the garage and we’ll go see people.

Cole (01:59):

But you know, now that CrossFit gyms are closed down, or just any gyms are closed down, obviously not doing that. But the other reason why we would get outside of the garage is if there was a movement that I just don’t have access to in the garage, you are limited on space. For most of the time, for me that means head space. I don’t have the space to do bar muscle-ups, so if bar muscle-ups are something that I gotta do, I gotta go to a gym to do that. So, but between bar muscle-ups and let’s see, yoke carries. There’s not really many things that I have to go do. I have, like I said, I have mostly everything that I need in the garage, which is really nice.

Sean (02:34):

How do you make sure that your fitness is where it needs to be in case we’ve, it looks like we’re gonna have the Games, but assuming that that happens, how do you make sure that you’re ready to go when you don’t have access to everything you need?

Cole (02:49):

Yeah, that’s actually something that you have to, you know, when the whole coronavirus outbreak occurred, between me and Ben Bergeron, who’s my coach, we sat down and we kind of asked ourselves like, what’s our trajectory look like? What’s the runway to the rest of the season look like and how can we be best prepared for any circumstance that we come to. We were planning on doing multiple more sanctioned events. I did Wodapalooza, but we were going to do several more or at least a couple more. And so when that was taken off the table, I was like, OK, great. Let’s reset. How can we change our training perspective and prepare for, let’s just say just the Games and let’s just assume that the Games are going to happen. And so we kinda took a step back and said, OK, well, where are our weaknesses?

Cole (03:41):

What are our strengths? We do SWOT analysis all the time, multiple times throughout the year, strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And we’re always looking at like, OK, what are some areas that we need to work on? And so that’s what we reset. As soon as we found out that most seasons for most sports were either being postponed or paused, it was like best case scenario, we’re competed in August. Another scenario, they postpone it and then worst case scenario they have to cancel it. And it was like, OK, where can we start building a base now? Cause we have a pretty long trajectory. If we think about this, when the coronavirus outbreak occurred, it was right around the same time the Open would have been or right in the middle of the Open. Yeah. when the Open used to be in March.

Cole (04:27):

So if you think about that, that’s a really long runway and trajectory from then to the Games. A lot of time to prepare. So, that’s essentially what we’ve done is how can we take and build out a cycle from what would be the Open, you know, when we used to have the Open in March to the Games. And that’s kind of how we’ve looked at it so far.

Sean (04:49):

I’m curious as to why your parents decided to name you after a fictional character, Cole Trickle.

Cole (04:53):

That’s really good. That’s really funny. Well, Days of Thunder is an epic movie. Just a classic. My parents actually, I think the name that they were planning on naming me or at least talking about was Cain, is I think what they were planning on possibly naming me. And I think Days of Thunder came out to two to four months or something like that before I was born.

Cole (05:29):

So if you can just think of it like my dad loves racing, loves racing. He was into sprint cars and he had a sprint car at one point in time. And he always raced go-karts like I think from like maybe 12 years old or something like that. Growing up he’s racing go carts. And so he loved racing. So you come out with the Days of Thunder movie and it’s all about NASCAR and racing, you know, I know that his blood is just boiling. The way the story goes that I’ve been told is they were planning on naming me Cain. He walked into the delivery room after I was born and he said, Nope, his name is Cole. And I think it was just so much inspired by his just enthusiasm for that movie. And I can’t tell you how many times we’ve watched that movie. On repeat when we were children, I loved it.

Sean (06:16):

Other than Talladega Night, it’s probably the best NASCAR movie ever made, honestly. You often refer to yourself as a small town kid. What kind of values do you pick up growing up in that environment?

Cole (06:32):

Oh man, I love, you know, I think sometimes small towns get a bad rap, just because they’re, you know, I guess a little bit sheltered from some of the outside world. But at the same time, like I picked up on such good values and morals of just like kindness, caring for each other, community. And I think that’s something that why I was so attracted to the CrossFit community to begin with is because growing up I realized how important looking out for each other was. And that was just coming from a small town where everybody knew everybody. People would say hi to each other on the street and, you know, ask you how you’re doing and see if they can, you know, help or do anything for you, you know. So, you know, I think the most important thing I picked up from being in a small town and probably why I talk about it, why I will identify as a small town kid, is because it paints a clear picture of some of the things I’ve learned and that’s caring about other people, you know, and not saying that, you know, big city folk don’t do that. Right. But it’s just a little bit easier to get, you know, form that connection in a small town.

Sean (07:44):

Yeah. So growing up, I know you wanted to play in the NFL. When did your obsession with football begin?

Cole (07:51):

Oh, that’s actually a really good question. I played a lot of different sports when I was growing up. I mean I dabbled in just about everything up until about, I would say I was almost 11 years old when I started playing football. Most of my friends had been playing football for years before I had even considered it. But my older brother started playing first and that’s when I was like, Oh yeah, this could be really cool. Tossed on some shoulder pads and a helmet, hit somebody and was hooked. I was like, this is amazing.

Cole (08:24):

I was a pretty high strung kid. Like I said, I dabbled in everything and it was because I just didn’t want to sit still. I was super active, just wanted to move, move, move, move, run around and do this. I tried BMX, rollerblading, you know, just all the, all the, you know, fringe, extreme sports that I could kind of thing. I think when I first hit somebody and made contact and then realized that there’s also skill to it, I was like, Oh, this is a cool sport. Yeah. So about, about 11 years old is when I really was hooked.

Sean (08:55):

Well, it worked out for you go to being, you know, you were a really good high school player. I gotta give you props 162 yards rushing four touchdowns and one interception in a playoff game. So yeah, pretty, pretty impressive. But then you go from that to having to now walk on at the University of Washington. So what was it like for you when you go from, I’m pretty much a superstar to, for lack of a better term, cannon fodder.

Cole (09:17):

Yeah. Yeah. You know, that’s actually, it was 100% expected. It was not outside of my expectations. And I think that, you know, one of the things that I did notice in a small town, and this is kinda what I referred to is sometimes small towns can get a bad rap is because small towns have a way of kind of being like a magnet. They pull you back to it, or the they’re like a vacuum and can sometimes can suck you in and keep you there. And if you’re outspoken about your dreams of getting outside the small town, there’s skeptics who had the same things and jus in their circumstances of life, they didn’t get out. And so I got a lot of, that’s awesome. Like keep dreaming, but it’s unlikely that it’s going to happen, you know.

Cole (10:08):

So I had that a lot. So that my expectations weren’t blown out of proportion. I was what I would consider a running back in high school, but I was technically listed as a fullback. And the reason why it was because a lot of through growing up and playing sports, certain people just have influence and they’ve been around longer and the coaches know them better, can trust them. And so for whatever reason I was actually—not only that, I was also one of the bigger of the skill players on the running back. So I just weighed more. So that also played into it. So I got to put at fullback and that was kind of like huh. Like I expected to be running back my senior year.

Cole (10:56):

I figured that, you know, I was talented enough, but it wasn’t going the way that I wanted. And so just like continuing to be conditioned that way of having people telling me, Oh, it’s unlikely, you know, having that circumstance, like it’s just not going the way that I wanted. It started to paint a picture of like, OK, this is actually going to be a tough journey. You got to buckle down and get ready to do this. So I was actually talking, I went on, my junior year, after my junior year on that summer before my senior year, I went on a scouting, my own little scouting trip and I went to a bunch of different football camps in the area. I brought game film, resume statistics. I brought everything with me in nice little like manila envelopes that like I packaged it really well, you know, and I went to all the major schools in the Northwest that I could, I went to their camps and just trying to be seen.

Cole (11:51):

Eventually started talking to some about like some possible scholarship, maybe being seen. Just all of that also depended on how I performed for my senior year. So after my senior year, things were going good. I was having some communication with some of the coaches at UDub. But that year they had their 0 and 12 season and all of their coaching staff was fired after that season. And a new coaching staff was brought in. Well, that year, we had the smallest recruiting class in UDub history at 12 guys. And so anyone who has already signed, they were kept on. Anyone else was like, it was all just completely nullified and they were just going to focus on building out a new program kind of thing. That means that I had no contact at UDuB anymore. And that was, I was born and raised in the Northwest, born and raised in Washington.

Cole (12:41):

So I was a dog my whole life, you know, like everybody in my family. So that’s, that’s why like UDuB was the goal. And that’s also where I walked on. And so not having a contact at UDub anymore, it was just like this is, I mean, this is kinda what you expected. It wasn’t going to be easy, so you gotta figure out a way to get down there. I signed myself out of class my senior year. I had just turned 18, so I could do that now. So I was like, I signed myself out of class and I drove down to UDuB and I sat in the UDub football office for four hours until the running back coach would come out and see me and handed him the same concept that I took around to the camps.

Cole (13:27):

I had a DVD with my highlight reel stat sheet and everything. And I sat there and sat there until he would see me and then I called him once a week for four weeks until like I got the answer that I wanted pretty much. I was just extremely persistent, just beat down the door. So, that was kind of the journey of walking on just knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy. And I think that set up the rest of my career as a walk on. It’s like, you’re going to have to work for this.

Sean (13:56):

And then after your freshman year, you earned the scout specialties player of the year award for your hard work. What did earning that mean to you after that season?

Cole (14:05):

It was actually a really big deal for me because one of the things that was said when they said, OK, you can come play, but we don’t have scholarships to give out. We’re not doing that. So you can either, you can come, you can walk on and try to earn your scholarship or you can go somewhere else. It was pretty just pretty cut and dry. But the coach did say he was like, if you, if you come and earn a spot, you will earn your scholarship. You just have to earn a starting spot on one of the teams, whether it be a special team or offense, defense, whatever. And so having that, getting that reward at the end of the year was almost like the hard work does pay off if you really put the work in and you really want it and you put, you throw your whole self at it, like you can, it will pay off and you can get what you want, but you have to give everything. Yeah.

Sean (15:05):

So when you look back on your time playing for the Huskies, I know you were in some big time environments, but one of the things that stand out the most to you about that experience?

Cole (15:14):

I think you just kind of talked about it just like being some of the big, big environments. I remember my freshman year, the first time I walked out onto the field, it was bigger than I expected. We practiced on the game field in the main stadium. So it wasn’t like it was an unfamiliar spot for me. But, I think I would liken it to the same way that if you, if you went to the StubHub center right now and you walked out into the tennis stadium, what would it feel like? It would probably feel like a tennis stadium, kind of a small, you know, just whatever. But when you walk out on game night and you come out of the tunnel and they start spraying out the smoke and the band is playing and the crowd is cheering and you run out there, you can feel the thunder of people’s applause in your chest.

Cole (16:04):

It is so incredible. And I wish—I’ve said this so many times, I wish that more people could experience that kind of thing in life because it’s like it is electrifying and just thunderous in your soul and it will just like pop you away. It was, that’s the first time getting to experience that at UDuB was absolutely incredible.

Sean (16:25):

How do you go from division one football into CrossFit?

Sean (16:28):

Oh, you know, that’s actually a really tough thing to do for a lot of people. Because you go from some of the biggest stages in the world. Honestly. I mean, I was talking about it. I played, you know, I played in Louisiana and I played in Nebraska. Those are 110,000 people stadiums like so, you know, so and not to mention like UDuB is considered one of the prettiest college football settings on Earth.

Cole (16:58):

Like it’s a beautiful setting. So going from that to CrossFit was really, really difficult for me, especially with the dream of like I want to play in the NFL and like I’m not so idealistic that I didn’t realize or just expect that it would be a really hard journey to get into the NFL. I knew that, I mean it was the same way that going from high school to college was, but just going to be even harder, you know? But, but again, same concept, if you throw your whole self at it, like you can make something happen. So I was willing to do that. But it was after having a conversation with a friend who really encouraged me to try CrossFit, well actually he didn’t even encourage me to try CrossFit. It was like 100% you’re going to stop playing football and you’re going to go compete in the CrossFit Games.

Cole (17:49):

There was no like, Hey, come do a CrossFit workout with me. I had decided to do CrossFit and go to the CrossFit Games before I had even done a CrossFit workout. I was like, I’m going to be a Games athlete and I’m going to compete to win the Games. And I hadn’t even done my first workout. So like it was and the reason why the transition happened, and I think that the reason why, the most important aspect of it is having a purpose behind what you do. And I talk about that all the time, but it was the reason why I wanted to go to the NFL was to build a platform to impact people’s lives in a positive way, to be a light, to be a beacon of hope for people who maybe who have given up on their dreams and had people, you know, maybe tell them that it’s not going to happen.

Cole (18:34):

And be that voice of reason in people’s lives with like if you work for it and if you care and if you give of yourself and like you can make those dreams come true. And that’s really why I wanted to play in the NFL because I had NFL players all throughout my childhood influence me in that way. And I just, that was an impact to my soul so much that I wanted to be that voice. And essentially what it came down to for me is when I was getting to the end of college and have a friend influenced me to start doing CrossFit or to start competing in CrossFit. He said, just look at the community, look at the people who are in this space. You can achieve the same thing. Just go look at the community.

Cole (19:19):

And that’s when I did, he sent me a video of Dan Bailey and Rich Froning, and you may have heard this story, but you know, it was just a video of them just talking. They were talking about the community, about being a positive influence, talking about their faith. And, after watching that video, I was like, wait, these guys are like, one, they’re ripped, two, they’re the leaders of this community at this point. They’re there like some of the best athletes and they’re talking about being good people for the community. Like, that’s really cool. That’s something that I have a lot of interest in like, and so that’s when I told him, OK, like send me another video. Like what else do you got? And that’s when he started sending me footage of the CrossFit Games. And in my head I had painted this picture of when my older brother had done CrossFit, when I was in high school.

Cole (20:10):

He was talking about like doing like push-ups and pull-ups with bands and different things like that. And I was like, I don’t have any interest in doing that. Like I do bench press, I squat heavy. I’d be like, I’m a football player, I move stuff. And so I just had this big ego surrounding it. And after my friend sent me some footage of CrossFit Games, so old CrossFit Games footage, I was like, Oh my gosh, these guys are so cool. This is awesome. I definitely want to do this now. So, that was a transition, but the biggest part going from college football, like, and like, don’t get me wrong, it is really easy to get caught up in like, Oh, look how much success I’ve had. I can’t go to a small community. It’s like, no way I’m better than that.

Cole (21:00):

Took my heart was how much the community cared about people, how close they were. And it was like, I want to be a voice of reason or a voice of hope in a community that cares about growth, a community that really wants to grow and challenge themselves. And when I started to see that I was like, this could be a really, really cool place. So yeah, let’s do this. Let’s go compete at the CrossFit Games.

Sean (21:27):

Well you get to Regionals like just a couple months after you got yourself into a gym and started working out. So how were you able to get so good so fast?

Cole (21:34):

You know, I kind of alluded to it early on in this interview, even playing sports as a young kid, that is one of the biggest things because I know plenty of football players who all they did is they played football.

Cole (21:48):

They could not come into CrossFit, they wouldn’t have enough body awareness to master some of the things that we have to be able to do. Whether it be from body weight to gymnastic stuff to moving a barbell efficiently. Like they just don’t have the motor patterns built up within them. They can develop it. Absolutely. So I’m not saying that, like you can absolutely develop it. And there’ve been plenty of athletes who are great CrossFit Games competitors who didn’t play a lot of sports, but they got really good at CrossFit. But I think for me to excel so quickly was because I had exposure to a lot of different sports. And then not to mention having my college football background, people look at us like, Oh, you played football. But in reality, what I did for four years was trained for four years.

Cole (22:38):

I mean, most of our time in college football was spent training. 75% of our season is spent in the weight room, not on the field. So, not to mention I was also, and I think this is one of the things that was the most important for my success as an athlete in CrossFit was the fact that I was a walk on and I had to earn it because essentially the route that I took was I have to show up at 6:00 AM and do the team workouts to the best of my absolute ability. But I also have to show up at 2:00 PM when classes are over and I have to get my own workout and I have to go above and beyond what all the other athletes are doing. Because if I don’t, I’m not going to get better than them.

Cole (23:20):

Like I’m, these guys are like, I’m telling you, like college football players are natural freaks. Like they’re incredible athletically. And it was like I’ve seen some of the most athletic individuals that you can see on this earth, like it’s they’re specimens. So seeing that and being aware of that, it’s like I have to put in the extra work. Well, that started to develop a foundation for the work that I would have to do as a CrossFit athlete. Train multiple times a day, do multiple different modalities within a training session and different things like that. So having that base in college really helped me excel once I started doing CrossFit.

Sean (24:02):

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Cole (24:55):

I actually was a little disappointed with 13. Yeah, to be quite honest. I knew, I had a deep feeling that I could at least place in the top five, and wouldn’t have been surprised if I made it in the top three, not because of, I wasn’t so full of myself, but it was more so like I am just one of those persons like I will shoot for the stars, like shoot for the stars and you land on the moon. Like, OK, like, like great, perfect. But I’m going to shoot for the stars. I’m going to go out to the, I’m going to find the farthest star I’m going to shoot for it, you know, so it was like, this is actually, this is one of the things that was just echoed over and over and over and over at UDuB, but find a way to find a way.

Cole (25:46):

And that principle was something that I was really taking in my start to CrossFit and those first few months it was just like, you know what, just find a way, find a way to find a way and just make it happen. So going into Regionals, I was very like also like realistic that, you know, like you could end up in 13 place, you could have been dead last. Like, you know, that’s going to be totally fine. You’re gonna learn something from it. And that was one of the things that I was OK with this, cause I know that it’s something that I can learn from, but part of me was shooting for getting to the Games that year, like six months into CrossFit. Like, that doesn’t mean anything to me, but my effort and ability and willingness to find a way to do it, that’s what mattered to me.

Cole (26:38):

And so, yeah. So I mean, absolutely 13th was great, but yeah, like secretly wanted to be on the podium.

Sean (26:43):

How did your training change after that?

Cole (26:45):

It began with a lot of questions, a lot of trying to seek answers from people. You know, I had just started, well once you perform like that so quickly, you get people in the community like, Oh wow, like this kid could be pretty good. And so that opened up some doors to start asking some other people, actually, Mo was actually a CrossFit Games athlete, back in 2012 and 13. And she’s from my hometown. So I had actually reached out to her and she was gracious enough to kind of take me under her wing for a little bit and just show me and teach me some things and say like, yeah, this is some of the things that I would probably focus on if I was you.

Cole (27:38):

And I was still living in Seattle, so I didn’t get a lot of time to, you know, like we didn’t train together or anything really. But I’d come up on the weekends and I would try to get as much knowledge and information as I could. I mean, I think I watched every single YouTube video on CrossFit, you know, and listened to every coach’s or read every coach’s like, you know, forum or blog or video or anything that I could just to glean some information. It was about gaining knowledge for me.

Sean (28:13):

So one year later, you’re at the Northwest Regional again and you win it. So what did that do for your confidence?

Cole (28:21):

That was a big confidence booster. But it was more so it was more so, like something that, how would I say, like it was just proving that again, the work would pay off and that you were meant to be here. Like what you set out to do, like don’t count yourself out. It is really, really easy to start doubting yourself. It is really easy to do that, especially when you’ve had, you know, maybe a childhood full of some voices that were maybe full of doubt or just saying that you couldn’t, it’s easy to let those creep in and it’s even easier to let that your voice become that voice. And that’s something that I practice a lot of drowning out those voices or my own voice of self doubt.

Cole (29:16):

And so in that year of prepping for another year of CrossFit, it was essentially just like, Nope. Like you’re just going to do the work. You’re going to expose yourself to as many things that challenge you as much and as often as possible. And you’re just going to prove to yourself that you can do it. But the only way that you can prove that to yourself is by challenging yourself in ways that you would be challenged at the CrossFit Games or at Regionals. So I’m doing every single regional workout you can think of from the past. One of the things that I gleaned really early on was if you want to know the future of CrossFit, just look at its past, like you can kind of build off of it from that standpoint. And really quickly, you can see the development of that.

Cole (30:00):

Even back in 2014, you could see that, Oh, OK. Like we’re all getting fitter. They’re just going to continue to build off of the past because they have to because we’re getting fitter and we’re doing this better. So learning that. And then also that year, I befriended just a wonderful human being, Rory Zambard. We ran into each other. I was actually, there’s a mountain, just outside of Seattle called Mount Sai. It is super steep. It’s I think 4,000 feet elevation gain in four miles. Like, it’s just a super steep hill that people actually will use to train to climb Mount Rainier. And we were out doing, uh, my wife and I were out doing a run, and we ran into Rory and I had kind of been thinking like, man, I really could use a training partner, somebody who knows what they’re doing.

Cole (30:55):

And we just happened to run into each other. And she was like, Oh my gosh, like you are doing so good. Like I’ve just kind of seen some things that you’ve been doing. And, you know, I was wondering if we would ever be able to cross paths down here in Seattle. If you ever want to come join me for a workout. I’d love that. And she had just gotten back from, actually she was preparing for the 2013 Games at that point. And so you fast forward like six months. We finally connect, we start working out together a little bit. And that’s when we started training together for you know, probably six months before the 2014 Regionals. And that was super helpful. Obviously she was on level one staff. She had a ton of information and knowledge. She had connections to people who had even more knowledge. And so having that was extremely, extremely, valuable.

Sean (31:44):

I’m guessing I know the answer to this, but what were your expectations going into the Games in 2014?

Cole (31:50):

Actually the expectations in 2014 were go see what you got. I am an individual who takes a long game approach. I don’t look at things and say this is going to happen instantly and, or just like the conditioning of life that I’ve had as a young kid growing up, but it was anything that I set out to do never really came like that. It was like everything I had to work for and it came slower than I expected and that was fine. So the 2014, it was like, go give everything you got. Take some risks. They might pay off, take a chance, go do your thing, see where you end up, see how it pays off. And again, it was just very much a learning experience, but at the same time, everything that I was doing, it was like if you take this risk and it pays off, it could actually put you in a really good position. In 2014 a lot of that didn’t pay off. But again, a great learning experience and not upset with the performance there.

Cole (33:02):

I think I took 17th that year and that’s great. That’s awesome. I’m at the CrossFit Games. But I was definitely hungry for more. I was definitely thirsty for more.

Sean (33:12):

So what did you learn from that experience then?

Cole (33:15):

That I had to be a little bit more of a mature athlete. You know, I think that you can go out and just be a reckless individual and this is something that I really should have understood because this is the same way as football. I mean, I’ve been playing sports my whole life. It’s the same way in all sports. There are phenomenal athletes who are reckless in their behavior and they miss a lot of assignments. They’re not lined up in the right spot. And because of that they miss plays or they have plays made on them that otherwise shouldn’t have been and they should have been prepared for. Same way goes in CrossFit.

Cole (33:51):

If you are prepared physically, which is also something that was a learning experience, you have to be prepared physically. You have to know how to capitalize on your fitness and this as much strategy as it is being physically prepared. And the strategy just wasn’t there back in 2014 and the understanding of how to be strategic with my fitness, because I was a football player, we went for 20 seconds maximum and then we got a minute rest. I was like, all I gotta do is go hard for 20 seconds. You can’t do that in CrossFit. You know, maybe I think the only reason why I excel at it is maybe Grace. Grace is the only workout that you can go as hard as you can for just like until you die and hope that you outrun the other competitors.

Cole (34:43):

And that’s actually, that was the first workout that I ever did, was Grace. And I think it was because, Oh, I only have to do 30 of those. Great. Yeah, I’ll just go hard for 30, you know? CrossFit isn’t that way. It’s way more strategic than that.

Sean (35:01):

The West regional. I think it was 2016 is one of the moments that I think of when I think about you. You needed a huge performance in the final event to get into the Games and then you go out and you win the event. How did you deal with the pressure that, I’m guessing you must have been facing going into that final bit?

Cole (35:18):

Yeah. Yeah. You know, that was fast forward two years from 2014 and a lot had changed and all of a sudden I had become a reoccurring athlete at the CrossFit Games.

Cole (35:28):

There was the expectation sponsors had just start to really come on the scene for CrossFit athletes around that time too. So I was looked at as this up and coming athlete. And so because of that, some brands were willing to, you know, take a chance and sponsor me as an athlete and that starts to add a little different layer of pressure. But at the end of the day, like I said, I look at everything from a long long term approach, a long game approach. One of the things that people don’t know is I had just left my full time job a few months before the 2016 Regionals. So when I got into, and 2015, I was in a similar position going into the final event in 2015, but it didn’t have the same pressure. And it was because I was essentially just proving that I was meant to be at the CrossFit Games in 2015.

Cole (36:27):

I also didn’t have all of the sponsorship pressure that I did in 2016 and I also still had a full time job in 2015 so like there’s backup plans, right? But not in 2016. So we get into that final event and we’re like, I was currently down by the largest largest deficit that anybody had overcome at the time. And, I didn’t know that though. I didn’t know that, I wasn’t aware of that at the time. All I knew was I had to go out and give everything I had and that is either going to be enough or it’s not, and then you’re going to have to own the consequences of how you prepared that season. And this is going to be a wake up call dude either way, but you got to wake up now and you gotta go and make something happen.

Cole (37:25):

So I definitely could feel some of the pressures of all of that, but at the end of the day, it was like, look, you set out to do this for one very specific reason. So go do what you gotta do. We will handle it on the back end, however you need to handle it. Like life’s going to go on, you’re going to be fine and you’re going to keep competing. So just go do your thing. But from here on out, go give your absolute best because what you’ve been giving earlier this season, and the reason why I keep saying earlier this season is because your preparation is essentially what allows you to perform at the level you do, you’re going to have to own up to the consequences of whatever the outcome is. Just an absolute miracle. I stepped on the floor and I took care of business and it’s one of my favorite combinations, thrusters and rope climbs. So that was great. But there was a lot of things that had to align. Like, if you go back and you do the math of what person had to fall off to what place and had to struggle at what time. And like you add all that up like divine intervention, cause I don’t know how that happened.

Sean (38:39):

You were on this upward trajectory where if you took a seventh at the Games and then you took fifth, but then in 2017 you fall out of the top 10, but you won the Spirit of the Games awards. So what did that mean to you?

Cole (38:53):

Yeah, the Spirit of the Games award has probably been the greatest accomplishment, if you will, or just award I guess, that I’ve received in sports. And the reason why is because it was like winning an award for character. Something that is far more important to me than any sports accomplishment. It’s the perspective that I keep on sports. I am doing this because I want to grow as a human being. I want to grow as a person. I also want to be a good example for people for younger generations or people who are struggling in life. I want to be a voice of hope. And so to receive that award was very, very humbling. It was like, you know, keep focusing on being a good person because that matters way, way more than any sports accomplishment that you can achieve.

Sean (39:50):

Why is having a positive impact on people such a big deal to you?

Cole (39:55):

I think it’s so much so a combination of having people, friends when I was younger, doubt me quite a bit. And again, not because they were malicious, it wasn’t that, it was just what their reality painted was like you have very ambitious dreams, young man, like probably not going to happen. You know, so having a combination of that and then also growing up I had and saw a lot of people give up on their dreams. And it was something that just kind of broke my heart. And, you know, I don’t know if it’s a personality thing or maybe there’s something that made me just aware of it when I was younger. But seeing that and seeing just the, you can almost kind of see it in people’s eyes when they give up on something you can, like, you don’t want to see like, just a little bit of life leave them.

Cole (40:52):

And I am a very, a man full of faith. I’m a very faithful man. And with that, I think that something that has developed in me is the value of people’s soul. I believe that one of the most important things on earth are the souls of men, the souls of people. You know, you can achieve all the things you want. You can get all the possessions you want, but at the end of the day, like if you are just empty and your heart is just a wreck, like what good is life? You know? And, I just saw that with a lot of people. I saw that with a lot of friends who maybe just didn’t have the privileges that I had growing up or the parents that I had who were so supportive and loving, and saw them slowly one by one, give up on themselves, give up on their dreams.

Cole (41:45):

And saw that with a lot of adults and realizing that a lot of the reason why adults would tell me that my dreams are probably not gonna happen is because they had something bad happen to them and they gave up on themselves. And having some mentors, a few mentors or just even some athletes and like I kind of mentioned before some professional athletes who were a voice of hope in my own life, just having that is something I was like, you know what, like I’m going to choose to devote my life to being that person for other people because it, I don’t know, it just really, it really hit something and really plucked something in my heart that I just don’t want to see people go through life that way, you know? So, yeah.

Sean (42:30):

We are under this crazy new kind of season structure before everything happened with the coronavirus. What’s it like as an athlete trying to navigate your way through this new structure?

Cole (42:41):

I, you know, for me it’s pretty simple. I’ve referred to it a lot. But I look at things on a longterm perspective, and just that gives a sense of patience. It’s like, you know, and then the other sort of thing is a lot of this is outside of our control. I can’t whine and complain about anything because at the end of the day, I am still very fortunate with where with where I’m at. And so zero complaints, and then at the same time I am truly, I truly believe that if we come together as a community, as people, as a world, we can really make a difference. And so it’s essentially like I have put my focus on where can I do my part and how can I just kind of keep doing and staying focused on my path while supporting other people. And being a helping hand. And so I don’t really have the extra bandwidth to spend worrying about other things and where the season’s going and what’s going to happen to it because I think it’s more important to be focused on how can we get past this as a society.

Sean (43:52):

Yeah. In 2019, the Games, I think were a learning experience for everybody given the cuts and everything that happened. And you were barely on the outside looking in when it came to the final 10. So what did you learn about what it takes to be successful at the Games under this new structure?

Cole (44:08):

Yeah, that was actually one of the things that really hit home after the 2019 season was you used to be able to get by with having, for lack of a better way to put it, like a throwaway event event that you just didn’t perform too well. You don’t have that luxury anymore, in my opinion. I believe that the way that our sport is going, it means that you have to capitalize on every opportunity that you have from the beginning. Because if you don’t and you find yourself in the back of the pack, you’re going to get cut. And here’s a good example. In 2016 we talked about 2016 Regionals. Well, let’s talk about 2016 Games. I was in dead last at one point in time after the second event, I took dead last in an event. And so because of that, had it been the second cut or even the first cut, I would have been cut from the field that year.

Cole (45:09):

But you fast forward through the rest of the weekend. That was my best place, best placement at any CrossFit Games to date. And essentially my point being, you can’t have those anymore. You can’t can’t afford to have that. You have to set the bar, set the standard from the beginning that you belong in the top 10 or the top 20 or whatever the cut is going to be and you have to get there and then stay there. And yes, it pays to win, but it doesn’t pay to win until later in the weekend now. If the point structure is the way that it is, it doesn’t pay to win until the end, but what it does pay is to capitalize on where you’re at, or getting into and making those first few cuts.

Sean (45:48):

When your competitive career is eventually behind you, are you OK with people remembering you for how nice you were as opposed to how fit you were?

Cole (46:01):

Absolutely. Absolutely. When you think of, and I think that goes back to winning the Spirit of the Games award, you know, if people remain remember me for my character or just my personality or just being a good guy, that means way more to me than my physical accomplishments. I think that my physical accomplishments are not an end. They’re a means to an end. So, you know, whatever I get from competing, I will use to the best of my ability to continue to be a voice of hope, to be kind to people. That’s one of the things that that really touches my heart is can I get to the very top? Because there you can just love on more people. You can be kind to more people. And maybe give some attention to some of the people who otherwise wouldn’t ever get attention.

Cole (46:56):

And that changed the perspective and the trajectory of their life. Like how cool would that be if more leaders looked at the forgotten and said like you matter too. You know. And that’s something that really means something to me and is a really, is a driving force and it’s why I can lock myself in a garage in kind of a lonely place for, you know, and just beat myself down day after day after day after day because that kind of thing matters to me.

Sean (47:26):

Cole, it is always a pleasure to speak with you, man. I really appreciate you taking the to do this and best of luck with everything and I hope to see you compete in Aromas at some point this summer.

Cole (47:35):

Yeah. Yeah, me too. Me too. I’m really looking forward to it. Thank you so much for your time.

Sean (47:40):

Big thanks to Cole Sager for joining me today. If you want to follow him on social media, he is on Instagram, you can find him @colesager35. Thank you for listening to Two-Brain Radio. Make sure to subscribe and join me every Wednesday for inspiring stories from the fitness community and interviews with your favorite athletes and coaches. Miss an episode? Don’t worry cause you can find them all in our archives at I’m Sean Woodland and we’ll see you next time.

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