By Adam Kreek, Olympian gold medalist
Olympic gold medalist and entrepreneur, Adam Kreek is taking a stand during Men’s Health Month this June and is proud to support the DontChangeMuch.ca campaign, a new health movement motivating men to live healthier with easy tips they can act on.
Capsizing in the Bermuda Triangle isn’t something you ever forget. I was in an oar-powered research vessel with three teammates: Markus Pukonen, Jordan Hanssen and Pat Fleming crossing the Atlantic Ocean when a couple of steep, square waves flipped our 29-foot rowboat. It was April 6, 2013 — the day we all came very close to death.
Some say that a near-death experience changes you. I disagree. In my experience, such moments allow us to become a truer version of ourselves, and help us align our deepest purpose with our daily actions.
Facing your greatest fears and coming out alive
In that moment I faced my greatest fear. I was sleeping in the rowboat’s cabin when we overturned in the choppy waters. I’m slightly claustrophobic, and the thought of being trapped in a small, enclosed space filled with water terrified me to the core. Ironically, that’s what was happening right now! Water surged into the cabin though an open hatch. Trapped in a small space that was filling with turbulent water, I didn’t know which way was up. My lungs ached as my burning eyes peered through the salt water, looking for escape. A small pocket of air remained in the upside-down cabin. I took a huge gulp and fought my way to the breaking waves at the surface. I had only one choice — and that was to live.
I learned something important that afternoon. I learned that when the fears of our imagination transform into a real-life experience, they become a gift, even a stroke of good luck. We are given the opportunity to prove to ourselves the magnitude of our capabilities. This gift opens possibility. It clarifies our life purpose—elucidating what is truly important.
Fresh challenges to face as a spouse, father, and businessman
The transcendent effort had nearly cost my life, and I was left with the sting of failure. What could I take away from the experience? How would this experience solidify my purpose in life? It soon became clear that the fresh challenges I faced as a father, husband and businessman were just as formidable as the training I underwent to become an Olympic champion. I was now facing the high-performance pursuits of spouse, parent, and career-builder — hugely ambitious and stressful endeavours. As a result, my mental and physical health fell off the radar.
The brush with death had reminded me of my true purpose. I have a deep desire to maximize positive impact within both the professional world and the community, while simultaneously minimizing the negative impact on our ecosystems. My wife and business partner Rebecca, built Kreekspeak Enterprises Inc. to teach the tools of leadership, teamwork, mental toughness and change management to individuals within organizations. I also partnered with a team to create Greasecycle, a biodiesel production and waste cooking oil recycling start-up on Vancouver Island.
I could not support my life purpose without caring for my physical and mental health. Just like training for the Olympics, my business pursuits have required me to put in the time and log the miles. Airports and hotels became a second home, and I fell into the trap of ordering fast food like burgers and fries. Then, one morning, I woke up and felt like crap. No wonder; I’d been eating like crap, not sleeping and drinking every single night for the past month, building my business and socializing at networking events. My physical and mental health was suffering. I was chubby and depressed. Rebecca suggested a few changes: get more sleep and exercise, drink more water and eat less processed food. It did the trick.
Small changes can lead to big-time benefits in the long haul
- Start by figuring out what’s really important for you. Is it reaching ambitious sales targets? Running around with the kids? Being a great romantic partner? All three? Good health is the arrow in your quiver that will help you achieve these goals.
- What are the impediments you face? Mine were a poorly harnessed stress response, excessive alcohol and refined food, and a lack of sleep. As an athlete, I had learned that the key skill needed to achieve high performances is small, consistent actions, repeated again and again. This strategy will work for you, too.
- What small changes can you make? It’s nice to hit the gym—I do so occasionally—but being active is more important. To get to work, take the bus, ride a bike or walk all the way to the office. When you take phone calls, stand up or walk. I have a carry-on bag without wheels to boost my exercise at airports. We spend too much time sitting, so switch it up. I take my two pre-school kids to daycare in a bike trailer. On the weekends, we go rowing together in a Whitehall Spirit Dory, admiring the underwater kelp forests, and herds of curious seals. We love being out on the water and being active as a family.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional beer, donut, burger or steak, but you need a base of healthy foods to feel great. As a family, we uphold a vegan lifestyle, making smoothies full of frozen fruit, greens, protein and healthy fats to sip at the office throughout the day.
- Create routine. I have a constant, daily ritual that I call “Mastering the First Hour.” I wake up at 5:30AM and meditate for 20 minutes, then make breakfast and eat with the kids. Maybe your daily ritual is waking up to go running. Whatever it is, be consistent.
I can’t emphasize it enough: success doesn’t happen by luck or overnight — it’s the result of small, consistent, daily steps repeated over time. Dream big, but act small. Big goals can end in failure, but rest assured that the journey of striving towards them will bring with it more fulfilment that you could ever imagine. Try one small thing to improve your health. Stick with it. It’s these small changes that will fuel your ability to turn big dreams into reality.
As a Canadian Men’s Health Foundation Champion, I can vouch for their great tips and advice at dontchangemuch.ca to help you kick start your own journey towards health — one step at a time.