The following is an excerpt from John Willkom’s new book, Walk-On Warrior_:_
On Monday I would have my first strength and conditioning session with Scott, our head strength coach. Scott stood about 5’8”, was built square to the ground and always wore sweatpants. He had been an All-American boxer at Penn State University and had worked there as a strength coach before arriving at Marquette. The session was scheduled for 6:00 a.m., and none of us knew what to expect. We figured he would put us through a variety of exercises to see how strong we were and set up a program thereafter based on those numbers. I had gone to bed by 10:00 the night before, as first impressions were important, and I wanted to be ready to perform at a high level.
I awoke the next morning to my radio alarm, put on my sweats, and had a good breakfast in my dorm room. It’s hard to explain how excited I was to go work with Scott. We’d heard stories about how tough he was, how hard he pushed guys; that “Marquette Toughness” had come from Scott. His work couldn’t have been more visible than with Dwyane Wade, who had arrived as a skinny, 185-pound kid and left as a 210-pound sculpted machine.
As I made my way to the weight room, I was about 95% excited and 5% fearful about what might go on for the next hour or so. From the very second I walked through the door, I could tell Scott didn’t like me, or anyone else for that matter. In fact, he didn’t say a nice thing to me for the next five months. We started with chin-ups, followed by dips and the legendary leg press. There were pictures in the weight room of guys on the leg press, and they weren’t pretty. In fact, some of the pictures just showed guys sprawled out on the floor, which I would come to learn was a common result of the exercise. For every photo that adorned a team media guide, these were the photos of what made it all come to life. There would be days the rest of the year when I would be walking by the weight room, and I could always tell if someone was on the leg press because I could hear the screams from outside. The exercises we did didn’t have a predetermined number of repetitions. You were expected to do as many reps as you could and then squeeze out a few more with the help of a partner. Sounds easy enough, right?
After a few sets of chins and dips, I was locked in to the leg press ready to go. After about five reps, I had nothing left because he had loaded the thing with an insane amount of weight. I figured I could maybe get one more with my partner’s help. Scott, perched over the leg press like a lion viewing his prey, said, “You need to get twenty to get out.” He didn’t say to try to get one more, or even try for ten, but twenty. At that point, I physically didn’t think I could do it; I simply wasn’t strong enough. I honestly felt like crying because each rep was more painful than anything I had ever done before, and there was a realistic chance that all this weight was going to come crashing down on me because my legs were going to snap. After loud screams and giving everything, I had made it to ten. It was a blessing just to get to double digits, but the reality was that I had ten remaining, and Scott wasn’t budging.
One by one, I was yelling and pushing with every ounce of energy in my body. “Twelve,” he yelled, followed by, “Willkom’s going to waste the rest of my day, da--it!” After number 13, I honestly wanted to quit. My legs were shaking, my face was white, and I thought about how good my life had been before I walked in to meet Scott. Looking around, I could see there was no one to bail me out or make me feel better. There was no predetermined time on a clock that would release me from Scott’s watch. This was between me and the machine. 14. I can’t do it. 15. My legs are going to freaking explode. 16. Just get me the hell out of here. 17. I can’t do it. 18. Just give up. 19. Get tough. 20. After my 20th rep, I thought, “This was the hardest thing I have ever done.” I couldn’t believe it was over, that I had actually finished! As I waggled out of the machine, I tried to take a step, but I crumbled back to the floor like a rag doll. I literally collapsed. My legs were numb, and my head pounded from pushing so hard. I felt like I was going to throw up, which was shocking to me because I had never thrown up from working out, ever.
What you just read, I experienced more than 14 years ago, but the details in my memory are clear as day. During those times of intense training, I took my mind to other places. I thought about passages like Ecclesiastes 9:10, where we read, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” And I tried to keep a perspective on the improvement I hoped to achieve from my efforts. Romans 5:3-4 tells us to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
I wanted to be strong, and I wanted to be a great basketball player. More than anything, though, I wanted to feel that satisfaction at the end of each day from knowing I did my very best.
What is motivating about suffering? Suffering releases us from our preconceived notions of what we’re capable of. It takes us to places of insecurity or doubt and challenges our mental and physical breaking points. When we avoid suffering, we go through life with a fraction of what we’re capable of: talents and abilities hidden deep within the soul. We need to suffer to become our full selves, and God wants both you and the world to experience all of what you have to offer!
I challenge every single one of you to get motivated to suffer. The growth comes in mind, body, and spirit, and ultimately produces a character that will serve everyone you meet for the rest of your life.
Walk-On Warrior is available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2zL66h3