Metamorphosis. That is what Russ Hicks has undergone since he walked into Blackbird CrossFit 2 years ago. Admittedly, out of shape, overweight, and fed up. He has put in A LOT of hard work on the gym floor and in the kitchen dialing in his nutrition. In the beginning, he quickly developed friendships with his 6:30am classmates, dubbed The Breakfast Club. This group kept each other accountable, motivated, and supported. They challenged each other by signing up for multiple CrossFit competitions and not cherry-picking tough workouts each week. His consistency and drive has seen him through a tweaked knee. But he never quit! He listened to his coaches and to his body, and safely worked through it until he came out of it stronger and more determined than ever. During COVID quarantine, he even continued the weight loss he experienced in our Partner Nutrition Challenge and dropped an additional 24 pounds! He has taken control of his health and his life and is now experiencing a more confident and capable version of himself! Russ was unanimously voted by the Blackbird Coaches as our October Athlete of the Month. Check out his story below!
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF.
My name is Russ Hicks and I live in Westminster, MD with my wonderful wife of almost 15 years, Michelle. I am 48 years old. I am the Director of Operations and Information Technology for a small business in Westminster where I have been employed for 20 years.
WHAT MADE YOU START CROSSFIT? WHAT HAS KEPT YOU DOING IT? HAS YOUR MOTIVATION CHANGED SINCE YOU FIRST STARTED?
In 2012, I started participating in obstacle course races. In doing research for different races I stumbled across CrossFit. After reading more about CrossFit, I started to try and incorporate some of the workouts while training for obstacle course races. In 2013, I completed the race I had set as my end goal. With no goals on my map I pretty much let my nutrition slide and stopped exercising. A couple of years later I was pushing 280 pounds and in terrible shape.
The wakeup call occurred when Michelle and I went on vacation in the mountains and went for a hike. While hiking I had to take multiple breaks and eventually made it to the top of the mountain exhausted. That’s when I decided things had to change. I changed my nutrition and started watching CrossFit videos online and doing WODs in my basement. Then two friends who are Blackbird members finally talked me in to coming in for a trial class. I attended a trial workout at Blackbird in Sept of 2018. After doing the workout, and meeting the coaches and members, I decided this was the gym and community I wanted to be a part of.
One of the things that has kept me motivated is that I do not want to be a guy in his 50’s and beyond struggling trying to enjoy life. As I get older, I want to have the best quality of life I can have.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED SINCE JOINING BLACKBIRD?
I am stronger physically and mentally than I ever thought I was or could be. Never did I think I could deadlift 400+ pounds or back squat 350 pounds. I think my 1st deadlift at Blackbird was 255 and less than 2 years later I pulled 415. Before Blackbird I did not think that was a possibility at my age.
I am still working on the mental side. There are times I scale workouts and do not challenge myself as much as I should however, I am getting better at pushing myself. I am starting to realize that I am much more capable than I sometimes think I am.
WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST CROSSFIT MOMENT?
My proudest moment so far is an early one. At the foundations class two years ago, we were working on handstand pushup progressions. I had never attempted a HSPU and had never kicked up on a wall before. The class kicked up to do negatives and after a few negatives Coach Matt asked if I had ever done a HSPU. My answer was definitely no. Coach Matt gave me some instructions and I kicked up to the wall and did my first strict HSPU on foundations night.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LIFT, MOVEMENT, OR WOD? LEAST FAVORITE?
I tend to favor strength-based lifts. Back squat, strict shoulder press, bench press, but deadlifts are my favorite. Least favorite would be over head squat but only because they are currently a struggle for me. I have been working more on OHS so hopefully one day they will move up onto my favorite lifts list.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BLACKBIRD OR JUST CROSSFIT IN GENERAL?
The community at Blackbird is amazing. Coaches and members are friendly and encouraging and want to help you succeed in your fitness journey.
WHAT IMPACT HAS CROSSFIT HAD ON YOU IN AND OUT OF THE GYM?
In the gym I continue to gain more confidence in being able to push and challenge myself. Outside of the gym I have more energy and focus on the tasks at hand.
WHAT IS YOUR DIET LIKE? HAS IT CHANGED SINCE STARTING CROSSFIT?
Pretty much everything we eat is cooked at home. I don’t really cut out any types of food, but I do weigh all my food and try to stick to normal portions.
My biggest downfall is beer. Love a good beer. I am the type that if a six pack is sitting there at the beginning of the night it won’t be there at end of the night. To keep on the nutrition track I try to stick with only having beer on the weekend. And even though some people have told me weekends begin on Thursday, I try and stick with Friday and Saturday.
WHAT CROSSFIT GOALS ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING TOWARDS?
My CrossFit goals continually change. Last year my focus was on getting stronger. I had several lifting goals and ended the year hitting each one. This year I am trying to focus on the gymnastic side, working on improving pull-ups, kipping, toes to bar and jumping rope.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT CROSSFITTING WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING TO DO?
I enjoy visiting breweries and sampling different beers. Also, Michelle and I enjoy hiking and being in the outdoors. Recently we spent time in Gettysburg hiking the trails around the battlefields and hit a brewery on the way home.
WHAT IS ONE FUN THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE MAY NOT KNOW YET?
I have always enjoyed cooking so several years ago I decided to learn how to cook. I attended culinary school and earned a Certificate of Culinary Arts.
Cooking is kind of like CrossFit. You can be good at the techniques, but you must continue to learn and practice. There are some days you might “RX” a meal and feel great. There are other days where things don’t go as planned, but you will have another shot to do better next time.
WHAT IS THE ONE TIP YOU’D GIVE SOMEONE CONSIDERING CROSSFIT OR WHO IS NEW TO CROSSFIT?
So difficult to pick one so here are three short tips:
- For the first couple of months concentrate on form. Do not worry about lifting heavy. Take the time to work on form. It feels much better lifting a heavy weight with good form than just muscling it up.
- Don’t be afraid to be last in a WOD. Just because you can scale and finish in the middle of everyone else doesn’t mean you should. If you know going with a little heavier weight or running a longer distance will challenge you, but might make you last in class, that is fine. The only person you are trying to beat is who you were yesterday, so try and push yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to ask others question. Being a new member can be intimidating but there is a lot of knowledge floating around the gym. Don’t be afraid to ask other CrossFitters questions or tips. I am a quiet guy and took me awhile to be able to do this. I wish I would have done it sooner as I have learned a lot from other members.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DO OUTSIDE OF THE GYM THAT IS NOW EASIER BECAUSE OF YOUR INCREASED STRENGTH & FITNESS?
After my first few months at Blackbird I had 4 cords of firewood delivered. In the past, moving and stacking would have been a week or two affair with lots and lots of breaks. It was stacked over two days with only breaking to eat lunch. This spring we had 10 yards of mulch delivered and I knocked the pile out like it was nothing. I even treated it as a WOD seeing how fast I could fill a wheelbarrow and spread the mulch in the yard. Other than yard work things like hiking, running, and biking are easier and more enjoyable.
RESULTS! TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESULTS!!
This year I took part in the Blackbird January partner nutrition challenge. I really enjoyed having someone to help hold me accountable. Over the six-week period I lost 16 pounds. Once the challenge was over the Covid lockdowns happened. I told myself I would not slide backwards and even though I could not go to the gym I kept up with my nutrition and exercise and still checked in with my challenge partner. After the gym reopened, I showed up another 24 pounds lighter! In sticking with the Blackbird Nutrition Program methodology, I continue to see results.
I cannot say enough about how great the community at Blackbird is. When the Covid lockdowns happened and the gym first closed I panicked just a bit. Then virtual classes and online programming started, bringing some normalcy to the situation. And I was able to keep in contact with members of the community with happy hour zoom calls and workouts which brought some laughs and helped the time fly by. It was so exciting when the Birdcage opened and classes resumed and everyone was able to once again workout, laugh and push each other in person.
I am honored to have been chosen for Blackbird Athlete of the Month Oct 2020. I would like to thank Matt, Rebekah and all the Coaches for continually helping me through my fitness journey. I would also like to thank all the Blackbird members for the daily encouragement. Last, I would like to thank the original Blackbird Breakfast Club crew for pushing me the first year to show up every day, never cherry pick workouts, challenge myself in the WODs and lift heavier weights.
Truly thankful to be part of the Blackbird community.