February Athlete Spotlight: Hank Grezlak


Tell us something about your life outside of CrossFit (career, family, hobbies, etc).


I live in Lower Makefield with my son, Derek, who is 10. I love being a dad. Derek is a happy, sweet kid and the best thing that ever happened to me. He’s a reminder every day of all that is good and hopeful in the world. I work as a journalist and editor. I’m the editor-in-chief for a global newsroom that covers primarily the law and the legal industry. I worked my way up in my company from an entry-level reporter to now where I’m running the newsroom, and I love my job and have a great team. Other than going to Cornell and my first job as a police reporter in Montana, I’ve lived in this region my whole life. Outside of CrossFit, I like reading, writing, cooking, movies, wine, and coaching my son in flag football.


My favorite book or movie:


It’s hard to pick one for either category because I’m a voracious reader and I love movies. My two favorite books are A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Favorite movies are The Godfather and Braveheart.


My favorite local restaurant:


Brian’s of Lambertville. It’s a small, quaint, French BYO with a prix fixe menu. Great, unique food and just a wonderful dining experience.


My favorite band/music genre:


Hard rock/heavy metal. Metallica, Guns n’ Roses, AC/DC.


Tell us something that we don’t know or would be surprised to learn about you:


I write fiction in my spare time. I’ve written six novels and I’m almost finished number seven. I’ve won a few local short story contests and I was a finalist for the Missouri Review’s Jeffrey E. Smith prize for fiction a few years ago. I haven’t published any of my novels yet — getting published can seem at times as hard as adding 100 pounds to your power snatch — but I’ve come close. I just need to keep plugging along.


How I was introduced to CrossFit:  


It was out of necessity. I went through a three-year period where I lost my father quickly to esophageal cancer, my son was born, and then I got divorced and was suddenly operating as a single parent half the time with an 18-month-old. On a stress scale of 1-10, those are three 10s in a row. On top of that, my job was demanding, and there were rounds of consultants coming in and layoffs and changes. It often felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders and I didn’t want to let anyone down. And I didn’t. I focused on my son and my job and threw everything I had into those priorities. But I wasn’t taking care of myself. I gained weight and started creeping up close to my playing weight in college. I wasn’t sleeping enough, I wasn’t eating right, and although I was working out, I wasn’t being smart about it or pushing myself. I wound up having a health scare that made me afraid I might be facing an issue similar to my dad — it turned out to be nothing, it was mostly the result of all the stress — but I realized I had to change my lifestyle. I joined the Gym Jones website (the routines were similar to a lot of CrossFit routines) and started doing the workouts in my basement and LA Fitness. I enjoyed it and I got stronger and lost weight. But then I plateaued, and I realized I had to fully commit to CrossFit if I wanted to hit my goals. So finally, after probably years of checking out the CrossFit Newtown website and thinking about joining, I finally joined and it was without question one of the best decisions of my life.


My fitness routine before CrossFit:  


I trained much like I had as a college football player: 4 days a week of weights, two for upper body, two for lower body, with Olympic lifts mixed in and endless hours on the treadmill and elliptical, plus another two days of just cardio. Too much volume, not enough variation, and not enough maximum effort, despite spending nearly two hours at the gym every time I went. And I had lots of repetitive motion injuries and soreness. Now I go to the gym more often, but spend a fraction of the time actually at the gym, with much better results.


My thoughts after my first CrossFit workout:  


“Oh! So that’s what you’re supposed do. Man, am I out of shape. But I like this. I want more.” I think I PR’ed my first or second session on the power snatch after getting some coaching from Coach Steph, so that kind of sealed the deal.


My proudest CrossFit accomplishment is:  


In terms of just movements, it would be finally getting handstand push-ups. (Thanks Coach Natasha!). I generally can’t do RX yet, but it took me forever to even get a semblance of one, so I’m proud of that. Another was PR’ing 405 on the deadlift four months after surgery for a sports hernia.


My favorite WOD is:  


Probably Grace. I like the sprint WODs. I also like a lot of the hero WODs. You feel a sense of accomplishment for just surviving them.


My Favorite Lift is:  


Tie between power cleans and deadlifts. The deadlift used to be the lift I hated most. Now it’s my favorite.


My next goal is:  


I’ve got a lot of things I need to work on and improve or learn to do. I would like to get double-unders and bar muscle ups. I’d like to PR most of my major lifts by next summer.


How has CrossFit affected your life outside of the gym?


It’s been profound. Working with the coaches at CFN, and working with Coach Matt on nutrition, I’ve lost 38 pounds since the end of April 2018 and I’ve had to completely replace my entire wardrobe. I’m healthier and in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life, and my strength is close to what it was in college — and I was nearly 70 pounds heavier then. I feel better, my left knee, which I blew out twice in college playing football, doesn’t bother me nearly as much anymore. I have less pain and much more energy, strength and endurance. It’s restored my confidence. Coach Matt told me when I started working with him: “We’re going to totally transform your body.” He was right. I’ll always be grateful for that.


What I love most about CrossFit Newtown:  


Hands down, the people. The coaches and the members. It feels like a team, not a gym. I enjoy seeing everyone and I’m inspired by them. You see people like Matt Walsh and Scott Crystal and CJ Routh and Janice Perry and Carrie Allen and they always seem to be hitting PRs or at the top of the leaderboard and it motivates you in a positive way to push yourself to try to get there. If you’re anywhere near Buddy Van Nostrand and Pat McDonald in the morning, you can’t help but crack up, and then there’s Heather Poblete, who’s the unofficial chair of the 6 am crew and kind of keeps us organized and sometimes keeps us in line.  ;) And there are so many other great people you see regularly. I’ve learned something important from every single coach, and the other members are encouraging. I’ve been lucky in that I was always part of winning programs in football, and CFN very much has that positive, encouraging, winning culture.


What advice I would give to someone just joining CrossFit Newtown:  


Above all else, listen to the coaches. Don’t worry where everyone else is, just focus on yourself and make progress. Don’t ever hesitate to scale. I didn’t scale enough in the beginning, and I probably should scale more often than I do now. When I first started I thought I was dogging it if I didn’t try to do RX. It was a mistake. Also, try to stay disciplined about your form, particularly during the WODs. Honestly, I need to do a better job with that. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, your body goes into panic mode and unless you’re really concentrating on it, your form can break down. The other day a coach pointed that out to me, and I’m glad they did. I had no idea. Finally, don’t worry about being new. There’s nothing to be nervous about. Folks will welcome you.


Do you have any diet/nutritional advice?


Any meaningful advice I have I got from Matt. Working with him, I learned that my basic diet was actually quite healthy — high in protein, low in fat. My issues were portions, and binging on the weekends. Most of my progress with Matt has been because I’ve logged everything I ate, measured out portions, and learned the true caloric value of foods. I eat mostly lean protein — egg whites, chicken, flank steak, 96% ground beef — and things like blueberries, green apples, raw spinach, and I drink a lot of water, and try to keep pasta and processed foods to a minimum. Some other advice: Don’t ever snack out of a box or container. Measure it out and log it. Be honest about how many calories you’re consuming. Understand that going out to eat makes it tougher to stay within your goals. It takes discipline, but it’s not all about restrictions. While I haven’t had much pizza in the past eight months or so, I’ve gotten to enjoy a lot of other foods. I’ve probably eaten more bacon in the past eight months than I had in the previous eight years. As my son said: “Any eating program that has you losing weight and eating more bacon is a good program!”


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