When you first joined ZUM, what made you want or need to join a gym?
I got into the gym culture in undergrad. Each dorm at Notre Dame has a small gym, and I was lucky enough to be in one run by an avid crossfitter who outfitted the space with incredible equipment. I think because of how great the dorm gym was, most of us just worked out there which created a really tight-knit community. When I came out here after graduation, I found it crazy challenging to make friends; the whole “Seattle Freeze” thing totally kicked-in in high-gear. To make this worse, my first year I didn’t join a gym because I was concerned about the cost (Seattle is expensive compared to the Midwest!). Having lost all my muscle mass (I was 5’10” and weighed 125 pounds) and needing community, it was time for a change. I started researching gyms online and almost all of ZUM’s reviews mentioned community and family which seemed exactly the kind of place I needed. The next week I came in and had lovely visit with one Meghan Dahl and, no joke, within 30 seconds of leaving the gym I texted my mom, “I found the place. It’s done.”
Ha! That’s awesome! I totally remember showing you around too. Needless to say, the feeling was mutual. I thought you’d be a great fit and was really hoping you’d join. Since joining ZUM what has been your greatest accomplishment?
Honestly, it’s been more a of meta-life change. ZUM helped me realize I really have a passion for fitness and overall well-being. It’s led me to investigate ways that I can incorporate that passion into my career long-term. For example, I’m a product manager at Amazon, so is there a way I can go into product for fitness or health and well-being in some way? The resources at ZUM have really allowed me to explore that in a deeper way than I have before.
On a more personal level, having access to trainers who are willing to support you even if you’re not paying to train with them is an amazing perk. If you approach Sierra and say “hey, I’m looking for a way to gain muscle mass, what do you recommend for a hypertrophy program?” she’ll take 10 minutes to show you a few things you can do or talk through the latest research, encourage you to go play, and then check-in a few weeks later to see how things are progressing. It’s so cool that the trainers and other gym staff work to cultivate that sense of community and family. ZUM has really helped me, not only to gain confidence and muscle mass and reach my physical goals, but also to identify future goals.
So inspiring! You’ve really bulked up too since you’ve been here. May I ask how much muscle you’ve put on?
Ha! In the year and a half I’ve been part of ZUM I’ve gone from 125 to 155. I’d like to say it’s all muscle, but maybe it’s just the hair (I haven’t weighed myself since donating it).
Damn! That’s incredible, Tom! I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this next question, but what do you like best about ZUM?
Meghan Dahl. Was that what you were thinking?
Ha! Ah no, that was not it at all! I was thinking the community.
Yeah! I think it’s really cool. I come in at 5am, right? At that time there are traditionally about 4 or 5 of us there when the doors open. It’s been amazing connecting with those guys. There’s Chad who inspires me professionally and has become both a mentor and friend. Dr TJ who’s like flippin Superman. And then Mike, who’s this incredibly happy soul – even at 5am he’s full of energy rivaled only by you. But ya, the idea that I can come in at 5am during the week and have one community and then that weekends (when I’m a little lazier in the mornings) I can come in and have a totally separate but equally fantastic “family” with Brian, Sierra, Liz, you, etc., etc is so cool!
What would you say to someone who is new to ZUM or thinking about joining?
First of all, I’d say join. Then I would say explore. The thing that I loved about my first couple months at ZUM was that I didn’t know what my fitness goals were yet, and I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on so I just tried out different classes to get back into the swing of things and to meet the people. That was when I fell in love with ZUM – that exploration period.
Exploring also had a big impact on me pushing my boundaries. I’ve always been the kind of person that felt a little threatened by the idea of working out in front of people – like they’re going to judge me. I distinctly remember when Joe invited me to go to HardCore. At first I thought, “no way! I’m just going to do my thing off in the corner alone.” After a couple more invites, I went, and it whooped my ass but also helped me break down those barriers and realize I can talk to people in class and gain that confidence and try out boxing or cycling or lifting and other things that I never would have considered before.
Is there a fun fact about you we may not know?
I mean most recently? The hair. That was a lot of hair.
But in my lifetime? I was once almost eaten by Shamu.
Wait, what? Are you serious?!?
Yeah! My mom was the lab manager at the Sea World in Cleveland back when it existed. Growing up, I would go to work with her everyday and once, towards the end of the day, she went to talk to the head whale trainer. Whenever she did that, I got to come along and feed Shamu which basically meant they lifted me up so I was hanging on the glass abutment and I got to throw a fish in his mouth. This particular day, they gave me a little more autonomy than I should have had, and I reached too far and fell into his mouth. My mom’s back was turned, so it was only because the head trainer peered around that they saw my feet sticking out of Shamu’s mouth. Shamu was super well trained so he was literally just chilling there with his mouth completely open but obviously it was a little freaky for my mom and the trainer. I was totally fine – not traumatized at all. That’s probably my most fun story. Can you imagine if I’d been eaten? Obviously, a much sadder tale.
That’s crazy, Tom. Ok, I’m almost afraid to ask more questions now, but what’s your guilty pleasure?
I don’t think I have any…I really like ice cream? But I never eat it, so I’m not really guilty about it. I like wine and vodka too, but I’m a pretty big “moderation” person so don’t feel particularly guilty over those either.
The Lion King. Easy. Always and forever. My top five movies are all Disney. I’m totally still at 10 year-old.
Favorite tv show?
Sherlock – fantastic and mind-bendy.
The West Wing – absolute classic.
Ooooooo, I like all forms of music. If you were to ask me what I listen to on a regular basis:
at the gym – alternative
in the car – 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s – oldies essentially
at work – jazz
at home – whatever strikes me
Oh this is really tough. I’m an avid reader. I love East of Eden by Steinbeck. It’s his most under-appreciated novel. A timeless classic – long, but truly beautiful.
I’m currently reading It by Stephen King but also enjoyed Big Little Lies and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And The Lord of the Rings. I was obsessed when I was a kid.
Favorite movement or exercise?
I love hip thrusts. I also like all forms of squats. Essentially, I love leg day even though my legs look the same as they did when I was 10. I’m not like you, I don’t like burpees. I do them, but I’m not a fan.
Favorite ZUM class?
HardCore. I love HardCore. The diversity in age and fitness-level is incredible and, regardless of either, everyone gets a killer workout. You’ll learn new movements and how to perform them well; I think the coolest part is how form-focused it is.
So before we go, we’ve got to talk about your hair. I realize that’s an odd topic for most of these interviews, but you’re unique – clearly, Mr. Almost Eaten by a Whale. For a while now, you’ve been growing out your hair and it got quite long, but here you are in front of me with no hair! What is up with that? Word on the street is the whole thing was all for charity?
Yeah! I got involved with an organization called St. Baldrick’s Foundation back in college. It’s one of very few foundations that specifically supports pediatric cancer research. They do everything from research to helping connect patients with providers to even providing temporary housing during treatment.
St. Baldrick’s is cool because it has a dual-focus: fundraising and solidarity with cancer patients. The first is obvious, you raise money for their research. The second (solidarity) is fun,. because it basically means shaving bald which anyone could do; you don’t have to donate hair or anything – you simply shave your head in solidarity. I did that 3 times with the Bald and Beautiful campaign at Notre Dame, which is how I got to know St. Baldrick’s and fell in love with their mission. My last year I realized they also partner with Pantene Great Lengths, so people with 8+ inches of hair can donate their hair for wigs when they shave their heads. A couple years back I decided to do both!
My last hair cut was September of 2016…until it all got shaved off on April 1st.
Wow – that’s a long time to go without a haircut, but for such an amazing cause! Not to be too personal, but is there a reason you chose to support pediatric cancer?
I’m lucky enough that I haven’t been personally effected by pediatric cancer, no. My first job in high school was coaching a local swim team. I loved working with kids. Not only did it allow me to be more of a kid, but they have this infinite, boundless amount of joy and love to share that you miss with adults. They’re so open. They don’t try to hide themselves the way we as adults often do. The idea that any kid has to forgo that carefree part of life and adopt more adult tendencies to face the pain and embarrassment of cancer is mind-boggling.
It really hit home last week. I was waiting in line to go into the Basilica on Notre Dame’s campus for Easter Vigil, and randomly started chatting with the guy standing in front of me. Without prompting, he suddenly opened up about losing one of his daughters to cancer at 15. She was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at 14 and was only given a few months to live. For the first 6-months of treatment this guy and his wife tried to shelter Elizabeth by avoiding discussions about prognosis or longevity; they closed off to each other and to her and watched as the entire family was sapped of that joy she’d formerly brought. Then one day, Elizabeth sat him and his wife down and told them she knew they were hiding something from her and it was making her feel powerless, like because she didn’t know her tormentor she couldn’t battle it back. From then on they were totally open with one another and noticed how much happier all of them were as a result. She died a year later but he talked about how much grace and hope and strength she brought to them, even after she was gone. Hearing him talk about how mature she was, almost becoming the parent in that moment; yes, it’s a beautiful thing, but it shouldn’t have to be a thing. No 15 year-old should have to be that mature and that aware of their own mortality. That was powerful.
So after a year and a half my hair is all gone, and I’m freezing! It’s so cold. Long hair is like a scarf and hat combo, and I’ve lost both. What is the weather? It’s too cold for April!
You’re so inspiring, Tom! If people would like to join you in your fundraising, how can they do that?
I did reach my goals, but it would be so awesome for the ZUM community to join in and support the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Here’s the link to my Facebook fundraiser or, if Facebook’s recent data breach has you worried that Cambridge Analytica will see you donated to a good cause, here’s an alternative link on St Baldricks website.
Thanks for the info! Any final thoughts for us, Tom?
ZUM is my home. I’ve been thinking a lot more about moving and getting closer to family, and the biggest obstacle for that right now is ZUM, because I don’t think I could ever find any place better.