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Life Prowess with Roger Pennine

Despite finding CrossFit later in life, Roger Pennine is crushing it at the sport. Only 8 years in, without much of an athletic background, Roger is proof that wellness is achievable at any age! A lifelong learner and believer in living in the present moment, Roger knows the value we each have on others’ lives. His approach is simple: Make the most of each moment for yourself and those you are with. Prudent advice as we approach the season of celebration and togetherness.  

Prowess:               

Hey Roger, thank you so much for doing this. I’m excited to talk to you because I really like you and I think you’re a cool guy. Not too many people as hardworking as you at the gym, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.

Roger:                     

My pleasure. My life’s an open book. Because at the end of the day, we’re all heading to the same place. I could see it with my own parents and others… Eventually, you’re going to end up as an anonymous name on some stone that no one knows and no one’s going to come to see per se… we’ve got to live while we are here. And I’ve had so many lifetimes already.

Prowess:               

Tell me about that. You grew up in Rhode Island, right?

Roger:                    

I grew up in Providence, and my mother said that I was so bad as a kid, I had to go to Catholic school. My sister went to the regular public school. But I needed the discipline.

Prowess:               

And how was that experience?

Roger:                     

I really didn’t like it. I mean, I always felt like it wasn’t going to shape my life because it wasn’t what I was going to live by. And then I had no intention of going to college because I just really wasn’t a school kid. So in my senior year, which was ‘73, the draft was still going on for Vietnam. So I applied for college, to get the deferment. You know, college was an automatic deferment. Then in June the draft was ended, but I had to go to college anyway. So I ended up going to URI just for one semester. It wasn’t for me. So I went to work.

Prowess:               

So what did you do?

Roger:                     

I started off working in factories. I was a plater for a while, then got a job for the City of Providence, which is everybody’s dream. Then I ended up with the gas company, which eventually became National Grid. I stayed 38 years. And as soon as I hit 60, I was out the door. About six months before I retired, I bought a house down in Naples, FL. I was tired of Providence and said, “That’s it. I’m outta here.” I thought Naples would be nice, but it is very boring. They roll the sidewalks up about 10 o’clock. I also had my kids here still, and lots of friends, so I found myself flying back every five weeks or so. After two years my wife and I started to think, “What are we doing down here? Everyone is back up north.” So we ended up moving back.

Prowess:               

Do you feel like at this point in your life, you know purpose?

Roger:                     

That’s a good question. You know what my purpose is? It’s just to be the best person I can be to the people around me at this point in my life. That’s all I can do.

Prowess:               

I love that. I think that’s great advice for any point in your life, making the best of the present moment. I know you love working out and being in this environment. What got you into CrossFit and how long have you been doing it? Have you always been active?

Roger:                     

I’m actually kind of addicted to exercise because of fear. You know, fear is a great motivator. Prior to working out, I was 250 pounds. That was eight years ago. So it got to the point where I crossed that 250-pound mark. I was 251. Then I started to get scared because now I’m thinking, what the hell is going to happen next week? Am I going to be 255? It just kind of creeps up on you. Back then I was on cholesterol pills and high blood pressure pills. And I had a really bad problem with migraines. And I had to actually give myself, a shot in my thigh.

Prowess:               

Oh wow, I had no idea.

Roger:                     

Yeah, so my wife actually found a doctor-controlled weight loss program. You go to the doctor every week, they weigh you. They do a complete body composition analysis, and then adjust your diet, according to what your readings are, what you have to do. They just tell you what you’re supposed to have. And it’s pretty good because they have nothing to do with the food. You know, it’s nothing like Weight Watchers, or other programs where you have to buy the food from them. And that was easy because my wife would make dinner and she didn’t have to make two separate meals. So everybody would have the same thing. I just had my portions. And that worked. They started me out on 800 calories a day. I lost 11 pounds the first week.

Prowess:               

Were you miserable? How was your mood?

Roger:                     

Yeah, until you get into that zone, yeah, it’s tough. I used to go there for B6 and B12 shots every week. It’s tough in the beginning. Really tough. But I lost 35 pounds without doing anything.

Prowess:               

Just changing your diet, right?

Roger:                     

Right. And so, you always tend to hit that wall at home. So actually my wife is the one who found CrossFit. One of the guys where she worked, his son was doing CrossFit. She told me, “You should check this out.” So I went down to CrossFit Providence, and checked that out. I thought, “Yeah, I think I can do this stuff.” You know, having an open mind about what’s going to happen.

Prowess:               

So that’s great you took her suggestions. How about her? Did she, or was she exercising too?

Roger:                    

She was just telling me about it, my wife hasn’t done any exercise. She’s lucky that way. She loves her wine, never exercises, and she’s as healthy as anything. It’s frustrating. Even if I’m sick, you know, like last month I had bronchitis, she just breezes through life and will never get sick. She needs to be there to take care of everybody else, I guess.

So I started at CrossFit Providence and then I ended up losing the last, 50-something pounds. When I started at Providence and I saw the weight coming off and I saw the shape I was getting in, (you know, obviously I’m not going to be ripped) that’s when I became hooked on it. I don’t have to take a pill for anything. No more cholesterol medication. The migraines disappeared. It’s unbelievable.

Prowess:               

Wow.

Roger:                     

Yeah. I do take pain medication, for arthritis sometimes. I actually had five operations on my left shoulder. They finally ended up replacing that. I’ve also had five operations on my knee.

Prowess:               

Wow. And look how strong you are! I heard you were the number one athlete for your age group in the world?

Roger:                     

Yeah, I was. I got knocked out on the very last week [of the CrossFit games]. Ended up number three this past year.

Prowess:               

That’s amazing. Think about that. Somebody who didn’t work out, where you started, and then to be at this level!

Roger:                     

I was number one last year. I don’t know if you remember the very last week he snuck that very last thing. It was the weight complex where we had the overhead push jerk. And that’s what knocked me out of first place. Yeah. That last stupid thing. And so I got trapped up there, you know, because of my weak shoulder. In my very first Games, I hadn’t been doing CrossFit a year yet, and I came in seventh place.

Like I said, what drives me most is fear because I am so afraid of putting weight on right now. I’ve been like that since I lost the weight. And you know, people don’t understand that you don’t just wake up overweight one day. It comes with a pound here, a pound there, it sneaks up on you. And that’s my greatest fear, you know, is to go back there. I feel so good right now.

Prowess:               

When did you join Prowess?

Roger:                     

Two and a half years ago. When I moved back here to Bristol, after living in Florida, I continued going to CrossFit Providence for a bit, but then they were going to sell. One of the coaches, Kelly, ended up opening CrossFit Industrial Revolution. So I followed her, but the commute was too much. That’s when I found Prowess.

Prowess:               

So what do you love most about CrossFit?

Roger:                     

I like intensity. I love when the workouts incorporate strength, mobility, and cardio. The community is also important. I joined a CrossFit gym when I was down in Florida, and made some really, really good friends who I still keep in touch with today.

Prowess:               

I’ve got to ask you about your tattoos. Is that a God or Buddha?

Roger:                     

That’s Buddha – the three faces…

Prowess:               

Tell me about that.

Roger:                     

I follow Buddhist philosophy of living in the present moment. There is nothing you can do about the past, and you can’t worry about the future that hasn’t happened yet. So you concentrate on the here and now and how you can make it better for you, and for anybody that’s with you. And that’s all you really have is the present moment. I love that simple philosophy. Just do the right thing in each moment.

Prowess:               

How do you know what’s the right thing for you?

Roger:                     

Just how it makes you feel, you know. I mean, you know right from wrong. If you’re honest, the truth can never come back to bite you. It’s about just trying to live your life the best you can. And don’t hurt anybody.

Prowess:               

I love that you mention feelings. I’m finally learning to trust myself and my own feelings.

Roger:                     

Yeah. You never stop learning. Even at my age, you don’t stop learning. Whether it’s, a life lesson or something from a book, learning keeps you going. You’ve got to be curious. You have to ask questions. That’s the key. Don’t take anything for face value, you know, do some research, do some digging, ask questions, be curious about things. You’ll live a lot longer.

Prowess:               

Be curious, ask questions. I love that advice. And I guess curiosity is what got you here. You’re pretty awesome, Roger. Thanks for sharing your time and perspective with us. We are so happy to have you in our community!

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