By Gail Robinson
Inviting. Intense. Engaging. Entertaining. These are four words Ryan Montgomery used to capture his Sweet Momentum experience and I have to say, these words also do a wonderful job of describing Ryan himself. Just talk to Ryan for ten minutes and you’ll know what I mean. His blue eyes and easy smile sparkle with the invitation to connect; he cares intensely about things important to him—his family, vintage motorcycles, fitness, communicating clearly; he is a totally engaging storyteller and he’s entertaining as hell. I had such a great time talking with him when we sat down to chat one morning after his 5:30 am workout. He was sweaty and worn out from burpees and squats and medicine ball tosses, and even at that bright and early hour, he glowed with a joyful light.
The other word Ryan used to capture his Sweet Mo experience is Empowering and throughout our conversation, in many different ways, we kept returning to the question of what that empowerment is, where it comes from. When Ryan started working out at Sweet Mo about six months ago, he’d been a stay-at-home dad for 1 ½ years with his son Callum and he had developed low back pain. As Ryan said, “I was feeling low and weak. Small, even.” His chiropractor suggested he give Sweet Momentum a try and within four months, Ryan had lost around 22 pounds and had gone from 23% body fat to 15% body fat. Wow!
As Ryan said when we talked, “When I push myself physically [at Sweet Mo], I surprise myself. It’s like, ‘Whoa! I just did that!’ That’s empowering.” And the beautiful thing about surprising yourself with physical achievements is the payoff that comes mentally and emotionally. And that might be even more empowering. Ryan explained, “Working out energizes me. It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling. I work out early, early in the morning and it is the most positive way I can think of to start my day. Being fit/Getting fit has created one of the most positive mental shifts I’ve ever experienced.”
When I asked Ryan if he’s been glad about his decision to be a stay-at-home dad with Callum, his face lit up. “Absolutely,” he said immediately. But he also talked about the challenges and how incredibly hard that first year was. He explained that he experienced a pretty big identity crisis that first year and was haunted with questions like, “What am I doing? Where am I going?” Ryan is a classic extrovert—he gets energy from being around other people. Between the ages of 16-24, he was a dancer and stage performer; then he was a bartender and server for years. So his life and identity were focused on social interactions, on public performance. So much of his sense of value came from those social, public interactions. As he told me, “All of a sudden, I’m staying at home doing maintenance on my four-month-old son. It was so isolating. All those things that fed me were gone. I had to find new ways to feed myself.” And for a while, the way he fed himself was with some “bad intake habits.”
Ryan also talked about how in our culture, “What we do for a living identifies us. And then we internalize that.” He had to figure out who he was without that outward “job” to define him. What made it even harder, he explained, is that “for men, we’re not raised with even a whisper of the idea that we’ll raise children.” Ryan talked about the fact that even though the expectations for men as fathers has changed so much in the last 20-30 years, we’re still a long way from believing or expecting that fathers can or should be the primary parent. Being on his own with Callum day after day, he had to find his own sense of value.
When Callum was about a year old, Ryan thought he’d go back to work. He just assumed it’s what he should do, what he would do. But then they had to find a nanny, figure out schedules, and, as we were talking, Ryan rolled his eyes and threw up his hands, “Nothing was working. It’s like we were swimming against the tide, like the universe was telling us maybe we were headed the wrong direction.”
Then, Ryan said, one day he had an epiphany. He told me, “I just gave it up to the universe. Nothing was really wrong [for me as a stay-at-home dad]. I just accepted it. I stopped fighting it.” And at that point he was able to find his own value in his job as a dad. And Ryan doesn’t think it’s coincidence that his ability to embrace his life happened about the same time he started working out seriously at Sweet Momentum. The positive mental shift that comes from pushing himself, getting stronger, being active—that helped him see his whole life in a fresh way. Talk about empowerment.
When I asked Ryan what makes Sweet Momentum unique, he talked about the inclusive feeling that is so wonderful and that he would genuinely miss if he left. He said his favorite workout is the Bear Crawl with a strap around your waist and someone walking behind you, pulling the opposite direction. “It’s intense and super fun,” Ryan said. “I’ve only done it in one class though so…who knows if I’ll ever get to do it again. That is one of the very cool things about Sweet Mo. They’re always changing up the workouts. It’s tough to get bored.”
Ryan’s favorite moment at Sweet Mo actually came at the very beginning, during his fitness assessment with Beck. Ryan said he commented to Beck about expecting Beck to be bigger since he’s a trainer. Ryan told me, “Beck immediately opened up to me about being a trans male and that he’s working on building muscle/bulking up, just like I was. I remember walking away from that encounter feeling particularly touched. He opened up to me, talked to me like a human being, said to me, ‘here’s the struggle I’m working through, the thing I’m working on,’ and I could relate to it. But more importantly he just talked to me like a human being and not like a ‘client.’ That meant soooo much to me.”
Callum is one lucky little guy to have Ryan as a dad who is there for him every single day, for every single thing. And the Sweet Mo community is lucky to have Ryan bringing his A game to every workout—finding his strength, defining his own value, bringing a positive light to every encounter. Ryan, one of these days, I hope I get to be in a workout with you, paired up for partner Bear Crawls!