Stepping Into the Unknown

Bryan Mills


Lately at the Mash Compound we have attracted a whole new group of people who have decided to attack life. A group that has set aside society’s way of thinking, and instead they are committing themselves to taking the gifts that God has given them to the highest point possible. I know that I am biased, but I can honestly say that there is no one at my facility that is half in. Whether it is to be an Olympian, D1 Athlete, or in the case of the person that I am about to talk about, Special Forces, my team is committed, determined, and focused.

“Bryan Mills” is one of my athletes training everyday for the Special Forces. He literally quit school, picked up, and moved to

Bryan Mills

Advance, NC to be a part of Mash! We have all grown to love him. He is one of my most committed team members, and he consistently amazed everyone around him. He wrote a blog about his decision to put his chips all in at the Mash Mafia Compound. I want the world to know right now that Drew and I love this guy like family! Bryan you are family!

Barbell SoulFly

Stepping into the Unknown…

Putting thoughts to paper has been a form of therapy for me the past few months. Travis Mash asked me to put my “Journey” down on to paper. So here it goes…

Recently I have made a big leap of faith in my life. I quit my job, quit some of my classes (except the online courses), packed the truck and the puppy and ventured out into the unknown. Not to a distant land or world but to Advance, North Carolina, a town outside of Winston-Salem, to train in Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit, hoping to use these means of training to reach my personal goals. Some may think that it was an irrational and drastic move for a place to work out, but, for me, it was much more of a life-changing decision.

This last year has been a very rough transition time in my life. I left the Army after seven years of active duty and several deployments as an Infantryman in several different units. It was a career that came naturally to me, that was very easy for me to stay and succeed in. I had superseded my peers and done everything you could do as an infantryman in the time I served. In spite of this success, I made the decision to leave, if for no other reason than the fact that, after a while, this job takes a toll on you, physically and mentally, and I really did not like the person I was becoming. I had started on this path straight out of high school, knowing that I wanted a family and an education and believing this was a good way to achieve both. Now, I have seen too many of my friends get hurt and, sadly, too many of them be left behind and these experiences have changed me. On top of the transition out of the Army, I had to rebuild relationships, struggle through financial issues and face my own demons – issues that I didn’t realize I had, issues I am still working through today. I went from living life at 110 mph to a slow and steady walk.

The gym and the barbell became a means of therapy, a form of meditation, my sanctuary following my time in the Army. I was in a very successful Box in Raleigh, but felt sorry for myself, as I was walking through a lot of issues, and I gave up on myself and my coach, a man who had served his country in the same way as I did. A man who also used the barbell and the gym as his sanctuary. I still regret not staying there. I am very embarrassed to face that coach that did not give up on me, in spite of the fact that I gave up on myself. I found myself in a very dark place, at the lowest point I have ever been, drowning myself with alcohol. I struggled to get out and, with support of the people who are closest to me, I eventually found myself in a better place. I had used money, school, work, relationships and my issues as an excuse for far too long. I decided I wanted to make a change and to refocus on my goals and start doing the things I want to do in life. I needed to get out of the living situation I was in because I had overstayed my welcome and had become too comfortable. I had settled for mediocrity. I needed to move on, I needed to get away from the norm. A few opportunities came up but did not go through. I was struggling with this and couldn’t understand why I was in this predicament. I got myself back into the gym and in front of the barbell, at a different Box that was a lot closer and a lot less expensive.

Through the holiday season, the constant itch and hunger of needing change would not go away. During this time I had become addicted to watching the podcast Barbell Shrugged. It was the New Year and my girlfriend had made a big step in her life. After a life-changing trip to Australia and coming back and working hard in her studies, she got into Appalachian State to pursue one of her main goals, earning her college degree. The night before she made the move, I could not sleep. Anxiousness built up inside of me due to her impending move and the fact that I started my second semester of college the following Monday. Needless to say, I was wide-awake. I was playing episode 97 of Barbell Shrugged with Travis Mash in the background. I thought it was so badass that a man like him was in my back yard. I listened to his story of how he packed up his car with $200 in his pocket and moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado to train under West Barnett, all in order to reach his goals. I also loved how he explained that the barbell will teach you and show you what kind of person you are. I looked to see where this dude had his gym and saw that it was less than 10 minutes away from the route to Boone, the college town that my girlfriend would now be calling home. My childhood best friend was helping us move and I asked him if we could stop by and just check it out. I grabbed a shirt from my Box to give to him but did not expect to meet him. However, when we checked the place out, there he was, sitting on a black leathery couch talking to his coaches, leaders of the Mash Mafia, and to his beautiful and amazing wife Drew, who so happened to have gone to the same high school as I did. Her father and my biological father came to my hometown for the same reason.

Coach Trav took the time to talk to us for 45 minutes or so. Instantly I fell in love with the man – he just gave off this awesome, positive vibe. I would come learn that he is a godly, Christian man as well. We talked and picked his mind a little and he told us about the Attitude Nation podcast he does with Jon North, Weightlifting Talk. As is turns out, this would be the same day that Jon North made the announcement that Travis Mash was going to become his head coach and that they where going to combine both Attitude Nation and the Mash Mafia. Coach Trav told us to come and train anytime and we went off on our way. After that I kept running into stories of people dropping things in their lives that were holding them back and making risky decisions to do what they needed to do to reach their goals. Whether they became successful or not, they where happy and content with that decision. Chris Moore from Barbell Shrugged has his own podcast, Barbell Buddha (plug), and he had been talking about making changes and taking new risks in his life to do the things he wanted to do within the coming year. Jon North made the call on Weightlifting Talk for people to come and train with Attitude Nation and the Mash Mafia to go to the 2016 and 2020 summer Olympics and win gold medals. I am not a very good weightlifter, but I yearned to be surrounded by people like that, who did not want to settle for less, who wanted more out of life. Though I am not training for a competition or gold medals, I am training for something similar in the sense of personal goals.

A week or so followed and I contacted Coach Trav and asked him to help train me. We set an appointment for the following Friday, a task that was very hard to do as I was living in Raleigh, a good distance away. The following weekend, I was visiting my wonderful best friend, who also happens to be my girlfriend. In the middle of the night I had a wicked, vivid dream of my grandfather. My grandfather was my hero and I was his fishing buddy. He passed away the week I was coming home from my first deployment. It is something that I continue to struggle through to this day, and probably will for the rest of my life. I did not have him there to help me get through the things I had been through during deployment, similar to things he went through as a young man after several deployments to Vietnam. I did not have the opportunity to say goodbye. Later, I would learn that he did not revisit his experience openly until the last few months before he passed away. My grandmother would later tell me that, after his return home from Vietnam, he asked her never to ask him about what had happened. In those few months before his passing he would sit on his recliner and pour his heart out, sobbing, reliving and revealing his pain.

In the dream, he simply looked at me with that shit-eating grin on his face and told me, “go for it, just do it.” When my aunt, who sadly took her own life this past year, and my grandmother had to view my grandfather’s body after he passed away, he had that same grin on his face, a grin that he is very well-known for, a type of grin that is mischievous, yet warm and charming. I woke up my girlfriend at 3 a.m. and told her what had happened in my dream. Being the woman she is, she understood the meaning of this and talked it out with me and supported me. I drove down to Advance the following Monday, went to the gym and spoke to Travis. Coach Trav was more than willing to train me, but the problem was that I had nowhere to live and no job to support myself and the gym fee. However, I was willing to do what I had to do to do reach my goals. After our conversation, he asked me what I was going to do for a place to live and a job and I simply replied that, “I dunno, I will figure it out.” He just looked at me and smiled and said I might have a place for you to live and a job for you. I told him I didn’t know if I could pay for his coaching and working out at the gym, but I was willing to scrub toilets, mop floors and take his dogs out for walks at 2 a.m. if he wanted me to. He just laughed and said, “Do you write?” I responded, “not very good, but if you want me to, I will.” His reply was, “That’s how you will pay for the gym. I want you to write of your experiences and do what you are doing to reach your goals.” What he did not know is that this is one of the things I do to get through my issues, but usually I just end up burning it. A weird thing to do, maybe, but I guess it’s a representation of how I deal with my issues – just let it turn into ashes and be taken into the wind.

During the summer, my girlfriend and I had gone on a little date to a brewery in my hometown. We met a reporter from the local newspaper. This reporter and I got on to the topic of my time in the military and what I was doing with my life. All I told him was that I was going to school and working part-time. He looked at me and told me that there was something different about me, as a person, and he just looked at me and simply said, “Don’t lose hope.” These three words have, in a way, been etched in mind. They are three words that have helped me along the way and have pissed me the fuck off, but they always come back to me. He, too, asked me if I wrote and I told him that yes, I used to journal or, as I like to call it, write in “my memoirs,” but I told him that I usually burn it. He laughed and told me to save them, put them away and to later come back to them. I chuckled inside and then finished my beer, paid our tab and took off for the night. I told my girlfriend of the conversation and went on with my life. It strikes me now how this conversation has already come full circle, how the very simple things he had encouraged me to continue doing might be an avenue for me to move forward with a new experience and time in my life.

Coach Trav told me to send an email explaining that I have a one-year-old German short-haired Pointer, making sure there would be no issue with that, as I was not going to leave him behind. I also explained to him that I would be bringing my own furniture. He told me to come the following Monday and to be ready to train. So Monday came and I pulled up to the gym with a mattress, box spring and essential items, ready to work. The CrossFit work out of the day so happened to be “Amanda,” which is my girlfriend’s name. Coach Trav had never responded to my email – mind you this man’s inbox is stacked with hundreds and hundreds of emails from yahoos like me and others. Naturally, I was a little nervous and ready to sleep in a camping area nearby or rent a storage unit and sleep in there until “I figured it out,” but he had found a place for me to live and a job working for my landlord, who is also my neighbor. My landlord owns a fish food business called “Reef Frenzy”. His wife later pointed out how cool it is that my pup’s name also happens to be “Reef.” If it wasn’t for my girlfriend, Reef would have been Wilfred, but that’s neither here nor there. My landlord and his wife also risked a lot to be where they are today: successful. The home I am living in is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom trailer, including a washer and dryer. It is my own Walden. It is my palace and a home for anyone who is willing to come, live and reach their own personal goals, to “slam bars and kill PRs.” It is tucked away on what use to be a huge cattle farm. My neighbors are three Tennessee Walker horses and any cattle that come by, including one who I made the mistake of giving a carrot to. It is a 1.8 mile trip in a straight line to the Mash Mafia compound and a two minute drive to the grocery store and a Dominos Pizza. The Mash Mafia and Attitude Nation is a family that is welcoming and incredible to be around. It is a family made up of soccer moms, D-1 prospects, Olympic hopefuls, CrossFit games competitors, men and women who are 50 years young, the average Joe who has no athletic experience, and all kinds of people who have the goal of reaching not just a certain level of fitness, but of life itself.

So, here I am, a home to live in and a space to train, a sanctuary to deal with my problems and a place to help me reach my goals. Somewhere to grow and be built up and a place that will break me and keep me humble at the same time. A place to connect with like-minded people who are not settling for mediocrity, but who are different at the same time. Through my random rambles and awful story-telling capabilities, I forgot to mention my personal goals.

I am planning to go back into the military and become a Special Forces Medic. Some may ask, why go back to what you left? The answer for now is that I am simply taking advantage of a free education, with the hope of later becoming a Physician Assistant. Later in life I want to travel overseas and practice medicine. I feel that maybe I could erase my wrongs and help others through this avenue. I also have a few other goals concerning the military, besides an education, that I would like to accomplish. These include competing in and finishing the Best Ranger competition, retiring as Master Sergeant or maybe taking the officer route, completing the Special Forces Combat Diver course or Military Free-fall school, and, lastly, to “take the long walk.” I have other life goals as well, both short-term and long-term, like becoming a good father, a loving husband, and a man after Jah’s own heart.

This is a blog of my journey of reaching my goals and how I am going to get there…

Bryan Mills

“Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all… but we just went for it.” – Yvon Chouinard

Leave a Reply 4 comments