Saturday Spotlight- Pawel K

Name: Paweł K
Nickname: Polish Paul
Age: 30 (till Wednesday!)
Hometown: Greenpoint, NY
Current Town: Centereach, NY
Marital Status: Engaged
Children: do squirrels count?
Pets: None officially, but I do love to feed the wild rabbits and squirrels in my backyard.
Occupation: Enterprise Software Sales
Favorite Kicks: Mizuno’s

Hello fellow Hillbillies!

Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed reading the WOTW posts and like many here, I was always curious how someone becomes a WOTW. Well the mystique was lifted when Lou approached me, and I agreed without realizing what I was getting myself into!

I was born at Beth Israel Medical Center in lower Manhattan on May 9th, 1987 to two “fresh off the boat” Polish immigrants. My parents lived in Greenpoint at the time, which as some of you may be familiar with, was known as “little Poland” back then. Neither of my parents spoke English, so I went into school knowing very little myself. This proved to be difficult at first, but kids adapt quickly. We moved to Ridgewood, Queens when I was around 5 years old and I attended PS88 in the same neighborhood. My elementary school was extremely diverse and while I was in ESL till 5th grade I managed to make friends from all cultures and backgrounds.

When I wasn’t in school I was running around the neighborhood with very little adult supervision. The world was a different place back then, where kids played outside, and it was ok to scrape your knee, or talk to strangers. After a few years I convinced my parents to buy me a bicycle and that opened another couple of square miles to explore. During my childhood I often felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. The language barrier was one thing, but an even bigger issue for me was culture shock. We didn’t have TV growing up, my parents didn’t buy your typical kids breakfast cereals, clothing was mostly hand me downs with unpopular graphics which other kids liked to make fun of, etc. We moved to Douglaston right before I started middle school, which was a difficult thing to do, because at that age it meant I would never see my old friends again. Douglaston was much less diverse, and I entered middle school not knowing anyone. Being the “new kid” with a thick accent I ended up dealing with bullying and other fun situations in my new home.

My biggest escape growing up was the fact that I was lucky enough to get sent back to Poland to stay with my grandparents every year for the summer. I had cousins and friends who I became very close with, and once I was old enough (13) we started discovering other parts of Europe with no adult supervision. Some of my fondest memories are traveling to Italy or Greece by bus, train, boat, with my only slightly older cousins. When I turned 13 I did what any son of hardened former soviet bloc parents would do, I got a job. Unfortunately, this job was at the local Carvel and spending 30-40 hours a week around ice cream as someone who had no sweets in the house growing up, I gained weight rapidly. I struggled with self-image and eventually developed a binge eating disorder. I would yo-yo diet throughout the next decade……

….Fast forwarding a bit for the sake of time, the year is 2007. I just finished my freshman year at Stony Brook University and I go back to Douglaston to work the summer at the Pizza Place I delivered for in high school. At this point I’ve gained the freshman fifty (not a typo), and I was not in a great place mentally. I continued to gorge on pizza between deliveries and by the time fall semester rolled around, I was tipping the scale at 300lbs. Something clicked at the absolute low point in my life. Somewhere between depression and disgust I had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to change, and change I did. Cutting out fast food, soda, candy, etc. and signing up for the campus gym I slowly got into weightlifting. The weight started to come off quickly at first, and I got addicted to getting stronger. By the end of the spring semester I had lost 50lbs and was training regularly. The following summer I began powerlifting and continued to learn about nutrition and control my food intake. Despite eating better and training in the gym, I HATED cardio. I was never very athletic in school (possibly because I never got picked for teams in gym class 😉 ), so running was something I avoided at all costs. I bought a mountain bike and did that instead. In winter 2008-2009 I came across natural bodybuilding competitions (no steroids), and decided that in a years’ time I would get into contest shape.

I scoured the internet for information, and started a journal or “prep log” on the forums. I documented my 50-week journey to the stage and it ultimately became one of the most popular transformation threads on there. I threw on a banana hammock in November of 2009 and got to strut my stuff in front of a few hundred people at my first bodybuilding competition. The competition was a way to crack my shell, and ultimately changed my life forever. Throughout that entire process I learned a ton about myself, namely that if you want something bad enough, you can achieve it. It helped me get over my shyness and fear of being in the spotlight, and laid down the foundation for a more confident me.

Around the same time, I was torn on continuing with college. Having felt like I was wasting my time pursuing a degree I was not interested in, I decided to drop out. A friend from the gym introduced me to his two brothers who each ran a GNC store here on Long Island. I scored a job at the Smith Haven Mall location and began training/coaching on the side. I continued powerlifting, bodybuilding, and a little bit of mountain biking while I climbed the career ladder and eventually managed a few locations myself. Running was still something I would laugh at doing.

Through a bit of luck and some hard work I escaped the retail world toward the end of 2014 and started working at Computer Associates, at an entry level sales position. Going from being on my feet and active all day, to sitting in a cubicle 40-50 hours a week, my weight crept back up, and I gained 20lbs in the first 6 months………..and this is where things get interesting!

My presales engineer ends up being none other than our very own Todd Michels. Todd and I are working together, but I see him doing a lot of morning and lunch time workouts. It turns out that Todd is one of those nutjobs who likes to punish himself by swimming and riding a bike before his runs. He tells me all about his training for his first Ironman 70.3 This is the first time I am exposed to triathlon, and like my bodybuilding competition 6 years prior, Todd convinces me to sign up for TOBAY Spring Triathlon while I have no idea how to swim.
Summer of 2015 I join the Centereach town pool, and learn how to doggy paddle my way across without drowning. I build my mountain biking endurance to ride 15 miles without dying, and I finally build my way up to a 5k. Todd warms me that the TOBAY course is hilly, but he says not to worry, there is a place on Long Island where people like to go train for hilly races…………well fuck me, I was not expecting the seven sisters in all their glory! My first hills run I end up overly ambition and end up with plantar fasciitis, rendering me immobile for the next 6 weeks. But I come back, on and off again for the next two years. Fast forward to 2016, after a few more Sprints and an Olympic distance triathlon under my belt, I decide to sign up for the inaugural 2017 Ironman Lake Placid 70.3. I’m still not enjoying running at this point, but I half ass my way through enough training to make it over the finish line that September. The hills saved me, there is no freakin way I would have finished that run if it wasn’t for training on those hills over the summer.

The race came and went, but the hills were still there. I started running regularly with my buddy and fellow SHW Marc Saffren, this time not training for anything specific. Something wonderful happened when I was running without training for a race. I fell in love with it. There was something therapeutic happening to me on those hills. I would go into a “flow state” that was one of the most satisfying feelings I could describe. I got faster and faster, without that really being the goal. I was just out there for the hill of it.