This Man Used to Smoke Two Packs a Day—Now He’s Crushing CrossFit Competitions
Photograph courtesy of Tyrone Hollie
Tyrone Hollie was at risk for a heart attack. Here’s how he turned his life around
By now, you know just how bad smoking is for your health. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 cancer deaths can be attributed to the habit. Pair it with with heavy drinking and you’ve got a recipe for disaster‚ one that 52-year-old Tyrone Hollie knows all too well.
Four years ago, Hollie realized his health was hanging by a thread. He averaged about six beers and two packs of cigarettes a day, regularly downed a Mountain Dew and Snickers bar or donut for lunch, and tipped the scale at 205 pounds.
On top of that, he could barely make it up three flights of stairs, battled constant stress due to his demanding sales job, and his marriage was starting to fall apart. Then, his doctor told him that if his life continued as it was, he’d likely suffer a heart attack.
He didn’t recognize who he was anymore.
“One day in 2012, I got out of the shower, looked at myself in the mirror, and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what are you doing?’” Hollie says. At 48 years old, he knew he had act quickly before it was too late.
Both his daughter and chiropractor at the time were into CrossFit, and were constantly telling him he should give it a try. It was easy for Hollie to make excuses—he worked too late, he had bad shoulders, his knees were too weak. When he finally emailed South Mountain CrossFit in Allentown, Pennsylvania, about joining their beginner’s class, he was told they could work around these things. He took the plunge and signed up.
Check out the history behind one of CrossFit’s most insane workouts:
Hollie knew CrossFit would be hard, but he didn’t didn’t realize just how much his first class would take out of him.
“I was on the rower and then had to do one push press, three burpees, three deadlifts, and increase each by one rep every time,” he says. “If it hadn’t been for the amount of sweat in my eyes that prevented me from being able to see, I would have walked out.”
But the moment he thought about leaving, he heard his trainer say to him, “You got this, 10 more seconds!” That was all the motivation he needed to finish. And when he was done, he was leaning over his knees with barely enough energy to high-five his trainer and daughter, who was taking the class with him.
“I was breathing way harder than I was thinking I should be, and I could see my heart beating through my shirt,” Hollie says. “I thought, ‘There’s no way in hell I can keep smoking and be able to do CrossFit.’”
From that day forward, he never touched another cigarette or bottle of beer.
Some people start slowly with just one or two CrossFit workouts a week, but Hollie decided to jump right in five days a week. Six months in, he was able to fill up nearly two garbage bags with clothes that didn’t fit anymore.
“The pant legs got a little tighter as the squats increased, and I heard a few comments about my arms as time progressed and thought, ‘Well, they are bigger than they use to be,'” he says. (Here are the six secrets to transforming your legs.)
Once he realized how much his diet was affecting his performance in the gym, Hollie also started to zero in on his food choices. Most of what he ate was processed and loaded with sugar, which didn’t provide him with long lasting energy, so he started to eat more chicken, carrots, and green beans for lunch and dinner. His go-to candy bars and soda became a thing of the past.
A year into his journey, Hollie signed up for the CrossFit Open, which is the first stage of the CrossFit Games, or the largest CrossFit competition of the year. With just one year of experience under his belt, Hollie made the top 200, placing 198th. He also qualified for the Masters division of regionals and finished 167th. The following year, he did even better, qualifying for regionals at 146th and finishing at 120th. This year, Hollie ended up at 120th again.
Four years after his wake-up call, Hollie weighs in at 170 pounds—most of it pure muscle—and his progress is evident. Now, he can work out harder for longer, and lift way more than he used to. Some of his favorite exercises include handstand pushups and 300-pound deadlifts. (Want to pack on serious muscle without stepping foot in the gym? Check out Metashred Extreme from Men’s Health, a series of high-intensity metabolic exercises designed to help you shred your entire body.)
“My shoulders are different, my legs are different, my arms are different, my mindset is different. It’s been a total transformation,” he says.
Hollie’s journey hasn’t been without its challenges, though. He has hit both mental and physical walls, not progressing as much as he wanted to during those times.
“I was stuck getting past 200 pounds at a clean or clean and jerk,” he says. “One little change, like adding weights, and it’s an entire different strategy and workout. But I guess that’s also what has kept me coming back to CrossFit. And this past year, I’ve been working through my own mental game in the sport of CrossFit as a Masters athlete.”
Hollie continues to work through the challenges, though. Because he has gone four years without a drink or cigarette, he wants to keep his momentum going. The endless support of his coaches and fellow CrossFitters is a major help, too. “Each week, I could barely see through the sweat, but I could hear everyone yelling, ‘One more!'” Hollie says.
Even when he’s tempted by a whiff of cigarette smoke, CrossFit keeps him accountable.
“I think to myself, ‘If you get on the rower after one of those, it won’t be good,’” he says.
South Mountain isn’t the only place Hollie has found progress in. While running has always been hard for him, CrossFit has greatly improved his stamina. The man who could barely make it up a few flights of stairs recently completed the SeaWheeze Half Marathon with his wife.
“My daughter is getting married in about a month, and she was engaged at the SeaWheeze Half Marathon a year ago, and so we all ran it together this year,” Hollie says.
While CrossFit has made him stronger than he’s ever been, he still had to focus on training specifically for the race.
“I started adding more running to my workouts since I knew I had to kick up my cardio,” Hollie says. “I’m heavy on my feet when I run, so just getting the correct type of shoes—and learning better breathing habits—resulted in me being surprised at how much better I felt.”
Hollie ended up running about one-third of the race and run-walking the remaining two-thirds. “Considering I did not run the entire thing leads me to think I will have to try one more,” he says.
He keeps pushing through his workouts to better himself, which has improved every aspect of his life. “CrossFit has enhanced my relationship with my kids and my wife, and has brought sanity to my brain,” Hollie says.
That means if you have a goal, you shouldn’t wait to start, he says.
“Realize that it’s okay to make mistakes, but start the journey. Starting it is the biggest thing,” he says. “Usually there is some type of mental challenge that you have to battle, but it’ll be worth it in the end.”
In fact, he got a tattoo on his arm the year after he started doing CrossFit that echoes that exact sentiment: “If you walk through it, you will see the miracle on the other side.”
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