On today’s episode, I interview my dear friend and all-around amazing guy, Paul Buono. Paul and I reflect on the last three years of his life. He moved from the east coast to Colorado, he started competing in the sport of CrossFit, he had a relationship, got engaged, and is now not engaged. We also talk about his recent diagnosis of Lupus. This is an amazing episode that we go really deep on. I really hope that you enjoy this episode.
Enjoy the show and as always, thank you for listening.
My name is Paul Buono. Up until February of this year, I would have introduced myself as a CrossFit Games athlete. I would have told you about my experience in both participation and coaching of the sport of CrossFit because I allowed those endeavors to comprise my entire identity. However, this year has presented a new challenge for myself. In April, I was diagnosed with SLE Lupus. If you are unaware of what SLE Lupus is, you can read more here.
This challenge has absolutely dropped me to my knees. I have had to dive deeper into my purpose, the meaning of life and all of my shadows that I have established over the years of chasing ego-based goals. Now, I am on a journey to chase enlightenment, fulfillment, and change as many lives as possible through vulnerability, compassion, and connection as I can.
So, now, who am I? I am a son, a brother, an uncle, brother-in-law, and friend. I enjoy rock climbing, hiking, snowboarding, and training. However, I am not a rock climber, hiker, snowboarder or athlete. I work my hardest to not carry the labels from my activities as my identity. I am just a person, trying my best, every day.
Angelo: How are you today?
Paul: I’m good. Heading into the holidays tomorrow and just really excited to get some downtime, hang out with some friends. I think I’m going to do some outdoorsy stuff over the weekend and I’m just excited for that. How are you?
Angelo: I’m doing great man, just a regular day for me. We are recording this the day before Thanksgiving so tomorrow is a holiday. What are you going to be doing for Thanksgiving?
Paul: I’m going to wake up, I’m not sure yet if I want to either go to the gym or I might get up really early in the morning with a headlamp, go for a hike at 5:00, 5:30 in the morning. Get some type of activity in; I don’t know, outdoors, climbing, whatever. Then I’m going to come home, pick up the turkey, drive up to my friend’s house, he lives 20 minutes from me, and him and a bunch of people we are going to just do a little friends-giving all day and games at night and stuff like that.
Angelo: You are in charge of making the turkey or bringing the turkey?
Paul: It’s going to come out; I have Lupus, all this stuff, all these autoimmune issues so I’m doing the AIP diet. I had to get this super organic healthy turkey and I had to make it in a certain way. So I’m going to make the turkey too because not only are we going to really dive into this turkey and have it be gross, I was like, I’m going to make a healthy version of a turkey I will be the one that makes it so no one else has to do that.
Angelo: That’s awesome. So you are going to go for this hike, how long does it take to cook a turkey?
Paul: I don’t know yet.
Angelo: You better plan this out man. This could take four or five hours.
Paul: I know, that’s what I’m planning after. I’m going to get there at 10:30 in the morning. With the turkey everything will get there, and that way if we still have to figure it out a little bit we’ll have enough time before dinner to figure it out.
Angelo: Absolutely. Three years ago you took second on a team at the CrossFit games, you were the captain of that team for CrossFit Milford, and during this time too you left your job with the military, right?
Paul: I was civilian but I was with the Army Corp Engineers.
Angelo: You left your job from the east coast and you left after this high moment in CrossFit, or I should say one of your highest moments in your CrossFit career. You packed up and you moved to Colorado.
Paul: Oh yeah.
Angelo: Looking at it now, why do you feel like you moved to Colorado?
Paul: I think when you are young and excitable the grass is always going to look greener on the other side. Truthfully I think now diving into myself a little bit more spiritually and emotionally and physically, not just “running” all the time, I think I was running from something then which I thought all my answers would be in Colorado. I thought having an outdoor lifestyle, meet likeminded individuals, be able to train, take a job as a trainer, I thought that would make all my problems go away and it didn’t.
Truthfully I think I was running as well as I wanted to have the perfect life, I think I wanted people on Instagram and social media to be like, ‘man, that guy Paul Buono he just does whatever he wants, he’s the man, he just quit it all and moved to Colorado and pursued his dream’. I think I was really chasing a lot of validation from other people throughout all that.
Angelo: Man, that’s so honest that you could even reflect and make that review right now.
So you pack up and you move to Colorado, what’s it like when you first get there?
Paul: I was miserable. The first week I was like, this is awesome, you look at the mountains and all this stuff and you are like this is great. But truthfully I was depressed, I was alone, I was upset, I felt isolated and secluded, I had trouble making friends because I am so type A and I was so dedicated to my athletics that I had no flow in my life that allowed me to go out to the bars at night or hang out a little bit later. I was a very regimented person and that really strained me to make friendships and connections when I moved here. I was really alone for the first four to six months when I was here.
Angelo: Did you think about moving back home?
Paul: I think it was in the back of my head but I think my pride would have never allowed me to tell anyone that I couldn’t hack it, I had trouble making friends, people didn’t like me. So I was like, no, I’m just going to stick this out. I kept presenting it like, ‘how happy are you?’ I’m so happy, the mountains all the time, blah, blah, blah. I never even went. I was alone at the gym.
Angelo: So you get there and now you are a CrossFit coach and you are doing everything in your training, what’s that first six months like, how did you get over the hump of feeling “alone” and all that?
Paul: It was right around the six month mark that me and my ex got together. We started dating and immediately I had a companion, I had someone to hang out with at night and so stuff with, go to dinners, someone who understood me, the way I like to eat, the way I like to sleep, the way I like to train, and she liked it as well at the time. I really think that she was a pivotal part in me staying here; it was connecting with her and being in a committed relationship with her. It was like, this is going to work. Then once I had someone on my side, by my side all the time, it was like; let’s go to the mountains, let’s do all these things that I wanted to do, and it started getting a lot better.
Angelo: So you guys get together and you start diving into the relationship, was this relationship that you were just in the most long term or the deepest relationship that you’ve been in?
Paul: Yeah. We ended up getting engaged and we were together, all these different things and totally in love with each other. I still have so much respect for her and love for her. It was just one of those things that timing and life and situations allowed it to not play out the way we originally saw it. Yeah, it was the longest I have ever been in a relationship, the most committed I have ever been in a relationship. It was the first time that I actually realized that I would change for someone, I will allow myself to adapt and it’s not always about me, you know what I mean?
Paul: That’s a big struggle for me. Anyone that’s an athlete you have to be a very selfish person whether you were born that way or it was created through your experiences in life through training. I was very selfish, I could have done more, however I did in my mind I pushed my boundaries way more than I ever had.
Angelo: Do you feel like you would have been able to get in this deeper relationship if you were at home?
Paul: No, I don’t, I absolutely don’t. I think if I was at home and I was still in Milford and I was around Jason Leydon and Ryan, and my good friend Zara, who were also very committed to the gym I would have just kept doing that. I would have built this safety bubble, and if I ever dated someone it would just be like there is this girl on the side that I invite over at 8 or 9 at night, like I’m bored. I don’t think I would have been willing to commit to something. I think I still would have been so one minded towards training and competing that there was no more room in my life for anyone else.
Angelo: Sure. How soon from getting there did you hurt your back?
Paul: I hurt my back before I left.
Paul: And that made me almost not go because I was working with Doctor Keith, but I got into a good place. I hurt my back pretty much immediately after the games. I didn’t listen to anyone and I just went right back into my training cycle.
As excited as I was that we took 2nd I knew that we could have taken 1st. I think I was a little too immature, a little too young and was like, I already know we are strong in training, so I have to be in the gym training. At that moment he is the only person left, it’s not like anyone else mattered to me at that moment, I was like I have to beat him, or I have to beat him. He is the pinnacle, I’m right under that, so this is what I have to do now. I went in, my back was a little tight in the weekend and I was doing super light squats, and just like that boom, bulging disc, felt it, dropped the weights, fell on the ground, I think Ryan had to drive me to Dr. Keith’s office. He was like, ‘we’ve got a problem here’. Over the course of the next couple of months I got into an okay place, moved out here, did six more months of rehab.
Angelo: How was that fro you going through that process? Because you’ve come back from surgery before on your shoulder, how was it trying to do this again, especially after you’ve been in such a higher place in the sport?
Paul: Scary because at that moment I was going to try to make it my career, I was going to try to live off it. I was like, oh shit, well luckily I have a coaching job I’m not living off sponsors. I was lost because that was the year I was supposed to try to go individual after that. I do believe I could, I had so much momentum, I was just PR-ing everything because my confidence was through the roof. It was the first time I felt weak in years, probably since I was in high school. In high school everyone goes through this awkward faces and maybe you are struggling with girls or something like that. probably since that age when I didn’t have full confidence and I’m an alpha male and I could take the ball and run with it, this is my gig, I was like, I don’t know what to do, this was supposed to be the year.
Angelo: So you get through rehab in your back, were you thinking about, man I’m going rehab my back and get back to competing, where was your mindset at that time from rehab?
Paul: I’m going to get back to competing, I was like, I’m going to go, this is it, I’m going to compete. 15th we did the games, I’m going to take off 16th, I will be ready to go by 17th. I kept trying and trying and I kept failing my training cycle. I would get about 8-10 weeks into a training cycle and I would be fucked, I would be crushed. I was like, what is this? This hasn’t really ever happened, phantom pain, phantom fatigue, all this stuff, I was like, man, I just really de-conditioned I have to do more.
Angelo: At what point were you like, okay I’m training too much, this isn’t working, I need to bag this idea or put this idea off of competing, and what was that like?
Paul: I got a knee injury. I ended up not being able to walk pretty much. I was hobbling, I couldn’t do stairs, and it was like every time I put my foot down my knee would give out. I was like, this isn’t working, this isn’t sustainable. I was like, I can’t keep doing these training cycles. I was squatting 455 at the time and body weight 160, I was super strong, I was clean and jerking snatching all the time best but I felt terrible, awful, just pain and fatigue. At this time I was following a template program for games level athletes and regional level athletes, I was like this is better buried.
I sat down and I was like I need to take another year off, I’m already feeling deconditioned, I’m already feeling out of shape and now I have this pain everywhere. I contacted Mike McGoldrick and I was like, ‘hey man, I need sustain ability, longevity rehab plan, I need to balance al my hormones and all this stuff, I don’t know if this is what I want long term, but for right now this is what I need’.
Angelo: How did that go with Mike?
Paul: He crushed it. He got me, mentally I was clear, I was happy again, I was out of pain completely and all these things.
But then the egotistical mind immediately was like, okay, I feel good— how R-rated is this podcast?
Angelo: You could say whatever you want buddy.
Paul: I was getting boners again, excitable, I was starting to feel like my old self again. I was like, okay, I’m feeling good, let me go fuck this up for my ego and I’m going to go compete again. We built in the next 8 months training, training, training, something kept happening. At first, and I don’t blame him at all, he was being a coach, but at first he was like, “hey man, you’ve got to be able to finish these training cycles if you want to compete. Every second that we are doing at some point you need to change something because you are getting beat up”. I was like, “I know, but I don’t know what to tell you man”. After a couple of weeks I’m getting really tired and I’m just in so much pain that I can’t really do that. Finally we separated ways, I was like, I’m not competing in CrossFit, I’m done, I can’t do it, I’m going to go compete in weight training.
Angelo: How recent was the change though of competing in CrossFit?
Paul: I haven’t tried competing in CrossFit since about October or November of 2017.
Angelo: Okay, so about a year ago. So about a year ago you are like, no CrossFit, I’m going to go do weight lifting?
Paul: Qualified for nationals, didn’t do too much to qualify for nationals, expect the last 10 years of my life I have lifted five days a week, but I didn’t do anything specific to qualify. Then I qualified, put myself through a training cycle and fucked myself. I really thought I was on top of it but keeping a low body weight while training extremely intensely and never really listening to my body. I always thought my body would never break, I was like, I can run the hardest training cycles out of anyone I know, I’ll be fine, I’m mentally resilient, I’m physically resilient I could do it. I dug way too deep, way, way too deep.
What ended up happening was I had snatched a lifetime PR of 270 and I was like fuck, this is great, I’m going to be crashing nationals. Then within a week I was traveling, I got off a plane and I went into full body hives, heads to toe. I was like, what did I eat? Anaphylactic shock, I spend the night throwing up, then in the morning I woke up and my joints, from my shoulders to my fingertips were so locked that I couldn’t move. I literally couldn’t move my body. I was like, what is this? I was like, I’ve got to go to the gym and do something to loosen up- something is going on.
I went to the gym and I tried to deadlift 95 pounds, and Gabby was there with me, she saw it fall out of my hands. I couldn’t pick it up off the ground, and literally once I got it to the knees 95 pounds fell out of my hands. I was like, oh my god this is not good, this is not good. The next couple of days it was hives and swelling, and all these weird symptoms, this weird fatigue. I was like, I’m on the couch and if you ask me to go get my water bottle on the table I would have thought you said, “Paul, we need to go climb Everest right now”. I was like, there is no way that could ever happen. I could never get off this couch.
Angelo: Were you still coaching CrossFit at the time?
Paul: I was.
Paul: I owned my own training business at this time, training education. That’s what I was doing mostly, coaching some classes on the side because I enjoyed it. But really pushing my business, I was in a relationship, I was training like a mad man, there was financial stress of starting a new business and the uncertainty around that, and I think it all led into this fatigue and that flare.
Angelo: Do you feel like it was the training or it had more to do with all those other outside factors?
Paul: I think eventually this would have happened without the training.
I think the training sped it up. I’m not one to just take, ‘oh you’ve got Lupus, this is your life, welcome, you are going to have pain and fatigue, you are going to have bouts of depression because Lupus can attack the brain, you are going to have swelling and hives, and these stuff’. I just never accepted it, so I was like, I’m not just going to my rheumatologist, I’m going to the integrative doctor, I’m going to go to the acupuncturist, I’m going to figure this shit out. That’s where my mental resiliency with this disease is coming in. I was like, no, I’m not living a life like this, not me. Before I actually got the firm diagnosis I had already read five books on autoimmune diseases. I was like, I know I’m going to figure this shit out because I don’t like your answers doctor.
To answer that, because of the stress and everything, I did a lot of tests for my hormones and I am in stage 2 adrenocortex, I pretty much only make cortisol when I wake up in the morning, or I don’t know anymore because I haven’t done the test and I have been doing stuff and I feel a thousand times better, but I would have these cortisol dumps like 10 in the morning. From 10 o’clock until 10 at night I would be like, I don’t know how I’m going to make it till 10 o’clock at night because I’m exhausted.
Angelo: You mentioned before we got on that you are a project manager, talk to me about your transition from a coach to getting in entrepreneurship and that whole adventure.
Paul: I actually love entrepreneurship. It’s fun, it’s exciting when you are working on a project that you absolutely love and you are working with people that you absolutely love and you are fulfilling your mission and your passion in life. Most days, even when I was exhausted would go by in a flash. I’d be like, what just happened, I’ve done a thousand things today, it’s 7 o’clock at night, I need to eat dinner and all I want to do is start working again. You love it, and at no moment do you feel like you are working. You are existing and the work that you are doing is just a byproduct of you being alive. That’s how it felt to me.
Granted there is some stress with that because you want to have balance in life with managing a relationship, your friends, your family and I fell out of balance with that. That was the big struggle for me. I was coaching, I wanted to run the business, I was coaching people one-on-one in nutrition, and I was doing a tone of program designs for people and I loved it. When I got diagnosed I was like, with the uncertainty of the disease I need certainty in the other aspects of my life, like it immediately became important for me to have health insurance and to have disability long term and short term disability, to have someone helping me with the retirement potentially.
Having a steady pay check and steady work always coming in, that became the number one and most important for me, because I was like, if I have so much uncertainty in my health I need certainty in these other aspects of my life, that at least I know if things go bad I’m covered.
Paul: I was a civil engineer. I got a job working as a project engineer for an HVAC company, so a lot of mechanical engineering. On the second day I pretty much went in and I quit, because I was there and I would be working on an office and I ended up working on site with paints and glues and chemicals and all this stuff. I was like, “it’s not your fault, you wouldn’t have known, but I can’t put myself and my immune system in that environment at this stage in my game, I need to be way more cautious”, and they were like, “we get it”.
Angelo: When did you get diagnosed with Lupus, was it May, April, when was it this year?
Paul: It all started in February the flare, but the firm diagnosis came in the beginning of May.
Angelo: In the beginning of May.
Paul: You have to test for multiple things for multiple lengths of time before they will diagnose it.
Angelo: So this year, just in 2018 alone you’ve been diagnosed with Lupus, you and your fiancée broke up, and now you’ve got a new career path doing something else, and then the business stuff. You’ve had quite a year Paul Buono.
Paul: Yeah. People are like, “oh man, Paul is having a bad year- he got diagnosed with Lupus”. It’s hitting pretty hard. It’s not just the Lupus that’s has at certain times of the year crossed me mentally and emotionally, it’s been just the compounding everything.
Angelo: Are you open to sharing about what happened, a little bit more in detail with your relationship?
Paul: Yeah, absolutely.
Angelo: Tell people about it, because you mentioned in the very beginning that you were on very good terms, and I’ sure a lot of people are saying, ‘wait a second, this guy gets Lupus, and then he doesn’t have a fiancée anymore, what happened?’ I don’t want people to think that it was because you had Lupus, so explain that.
Paul: Like I said, Gabby is great, she is funny and she was supportive and all these other things, and we are still on great terms, we were texting today, we talk on the phone probably once a week, once every two weeks. But what ended up happening was I was going through all this phase with getting Lupus and all this stuff and at the same time she was applying to grad school. I knew that she didn’t really want to stay in Colorado, however I kept probably in my own mind, oh she’ll get into it, Colorado boulder, it will be fine, we’ll stay here, she’ll go to school, I’ll get my business in a spot where I could work more remotely and then after school we’ll move somewhere together.
But she really wanted to go somewhere else, I knew that, and she ended up getting a very nice scholarship, she is going to university in Miami. I got diagnosed with Lupus on a Tuesday and the University of Miami said that in order to keep the scholarship, in order to go there she had to give an answer on that Wednesday, otherwise she could still go but she would lose a ton of money in scholarship. Her phone call with boulder wasn’t until Friday. I don’t know if I’m in boulder yet, I’ve gone into Miami, I’m getting a ton of support financially and I have to give that answer one day after I, me got diagnosed with Lupus. Really, we didn’t have much time to think about it and we just came to the conclusion of we each have to do what’s best for us right now, and that’s what we came to.
She is like, ‘I need to take this scholarship, I want to go to grad school’. Whoever is listening, if you don’t know, Gabby is a foreign exchange student, she is from France, at the end of the year her Visa was up, she wanted to stay here, it was important to her to be able to stay in the country on her own terms, that it wasn’t a marriage that got her to stay here, so she wanted to do it independently which I respected. At that moment in time, the time in the window on her Visa the best option for her was to go back to school. She wanted to go back to school. It’s not like we could have just said, ‘hey, can you take a year off school, keep working?’ She had to go to school, she got this scholarship and I wasn’t in a position to move out of the state because I had just started working with all these doctors and my health was so uncertain. We just said, ‘you have to do what’s best for you right now, I have to do what’s best for me.’
Angelo: Do you wish you would have went?
Paul: Not so much anymore, but pretty much from the day I made that decision it was just so uncertain until she left. Up until about probably a couple of weeks ago I was like, I should have went, I should have went, I should have went. But I’ve come to this spot where it’s like everything that’s happening in my life is happening for a reason right now, and I know I’m being guided into the right place because I’m trying to make the best decisions I can.
So whatever is happening is happening for a reason—just now it’s not like, ‘oh, that’s great, Paul got hit over the head with a bat for six months and he comes out with this’—everything that’s happening is happening to me the way it was supposed to happen. When I struggle I’m like, this is happening for a reason, this pain, this hurt, this grief, this sadness, this aloneness, it’s setting me up for my next big thing which I don’t know what it is yet, I can’t connect the dots going forward, but I know when I look back it’s like, whatever happens in my life tomorrow, or the next day or the month, the week, or whatever, a year, 5 years, 10 years it would not have happened if these 6 months, 8 months didn’t happen and they weren’t so terrible.
When people are like, “how have you been?” I’m like, “great, this has been the best year of my life”. They are like, “what do you mean?” I say, “it’s the best year of my life because it’s the absolute worst year of my life, and it’s the absolutely most pain I’ve ever been in emotionally, spiritually, physically, I’ve been challenged so much but I know that with the growth mindset this is the year that kick starts me into the next passion and the next pursuit and my next love, whether that’s Gabby in five years, whether that’s someone else, I don’t know, I don’t have that answer.
But I’m just trusting that my relationship that happened with Gabby and the disease, a failed business and a new career, and moving into an apartment by myself, and all these things, wherever I’m at it’s because of these. You don’t get all that pleasure without at least equal amounts of pain. I’ve been in a ton of pain, the way I framed it in my mind is- this really sucks so something really good must be coming.
Angelo: Yeah. Let me ask you this Paul because I don’t know if you can attest to this, just hearing where you are now mentally from where you were when you first went out there, what has changed in these last three years that you’ve been—I don’t want to say that you were fragile, if this happened to you three years ago I don’t know if you would have had this grade of outlook on it that you do now, what’s happened over these three years just for you as a man that you feel like you are able to take these shots on the chin and still stand up and feel great? Because everybody knows that it’s really easy to be really positive and optimistic and all that shit when things are going really well, what has changed for you in your life that you have been able to handle this so well?
Paul: I think the first thing that happened was about two years after I started working with a life coach, his name is Chance [inaudible 00:33:18] of Chance Consulting, and he’s been great and we work together for two years. While he prepared me for a lot of this I don’t think it was just that I’m really deep in my relationship with my family again. When all this happened I guess I was strong enough to know that I was weak enough to dip in and rely on my friends and family. I’m incredibly grateful and lucky that the people that I had spent the last five years while I was training pushing away, not making time for accepted me back with open arms and just wanted to love me and accept me and take care of me, and listen to me.
If you guys think this happened without talking to my mom for like an hour a day every day, it didn’t. There was nights that I would wake up in a cold sweat at 2 in the morning and be panicking that I was going to die, that I wasn’t going to be able to support myself, that I was a loser, I was weak, all the negative thoughts, I would call my mom at 2:00 in the morning. She would talk me back to sleep until 3:30, 4:00 in the morning. I would talk and get everything out until I couldn’t even stay awake anymore. I sound powerful, I sound happy, I sound like I’m in a good place and that’s because I am, but that’s directly because people like my brother, my mom, my dad, my sister-in-law, my niece who is a year-old—I’m getting very emotional because without them I would not be here, I’m even saying I may not be alive.
It was very challenging. At times it was very dark, like you are driving down the road and you are like I can just fucking crank this wheel right now and I could end all this. I could do it. Then the picture of your niece comes in your head and your mom, and all the conversations and the people that you love. It was very tough. Really what got me through was my connections; my life coach, one of my closest friends now, the therapist that I started working with just because I had to talk. If you hold all this stuff in—that’s why I’m so open about everything I went through on here, because the more you talk, guess what, I know I’m going to have 10, 15, 20 people reach out to me after this and say, “hey man, I’ve been there too”.
The more you open up the more you are vulnerable, the more you are willing to let people know how bad you’ve been struggling, the more you see that you are not alone. But the more closed off you are to it the more you are like, this is just me, everyone is killing it, and I’m just at my lowest. Talking and having people that I love, that’s why I’m positive now.
Angelo: Were you apprehensive about sharing all these things when they first started happening and your feelings?
Paul: Oh yeah, oh my gosh, when I first started I didn’t want anyone to know. There was a six month gap on my Instagram because I just didn’t post anything. I didn’t want anyone to know. I wanted people think I was no more and things were status quo. If you looked at a picture of my face you would know something was up, it was a mess. I had rushes all over my face and scabs on my face, it was swollen and flared. I just wanted to be normal. That’s it- I just want to be normal. I just want to be normal. I don’t want anyone to know how bad this is, I don’t want anyone to know how upset I am. Then I made one post, I was like: I don’t know how to do this, I don’t know how to struggle well, I’m scared to let you guys know what’s really been going on. Within that it was like this weight was off my shoulders, I was like, ah, I could talk now.
Once you break the barrier of talking about your struggle it’s like, this is who I am and I am better because of it. I am 10 times the man I am now than I was when I was a 2nd place finisher at the CrossFit games, living in ego, living selfishly, not loving my parents, going weeks without calling them, going weeks without connecting with my friends, not making anyone else important but me. When you struggle and you go through something like this you become more empathetic, more compassionate, more passionate, you just love harder, you love better, and that’s all we are.
If you really break it down the universe is just love, that’s it. Because your emotional barriers from your childhood aren’t allowing you to love yourself properly, you will never be able to love anyone else around you properly, so then you are just missing out on the world. If you need to struggle a little bit to experience that good, you are going to get the gifts of that and you are going to allow that to carry you into the rest of your life.
Angelo: Do you think you could have achieved what you’ve achieved in CrossFit if you were not selfish?
Paul: No. I don’t think so, because at the end of the day you still have to put the work in. To achieve something that great in a competitive mindset where everyone else is willing to make those sacrifices and I was just equally selfish, it’s very tough. Now do I think there is a better balance? Yes, but you have to be selfish.
Angelo: Obviously we can’t go in the past to change any of this or any of that.
Do you feel like you would have been able to give more in general, overall? What I want to know is, do you feel like if you had to redo it again, and I understand there is no regrets or anything, but if you had to choose it, do you feel like if you could have taken all that energy of getting to the CrossFit games and doing really well and all that competing, and put it in a different outlet you would have rather done that now looking back?
Paul: Yeah, I do regret it. With what you said- no regrets. I do regret it because it’s not important. To me that’s not important. I didn’t change anyone’s life the day that I took 2nd place. No one else in my family was better because of it. I may have inspired some people to chase their dreams which I think is great, but the world was not a better place because I took 2nd place in 2015 at the CrossFit games in the affiliate cup. I just don’t think it made the world a better place. What we need to be doing is we need to take care of each other and our planet and we are not doing that.
I would have loved to have spent more time in my youth with friends and family. Do I wish I was out drinking? No, I don’t wish that either because I still don’t wish that. I don’t wish I was out drinking, I don’t miss that, but I miss connecting deeply with people during that time, I miss listening to what other people had going on in their lives, it was always about what I had going on in my life. I didn’t volunteer. I didn’t do really anything for anyone that wasn’t for livelihood. That’s my regret- it was that type of selfishness.
Angelo: Now with this new look on life and where you are at now, what is your lifestyle like with work and exercise and being physical, and giving back and sharing more love like you said?
Paul: Every day I wake up at 5:30 in the morning, I do my abs and my gut formulas and all that stuff. If anyone has any questions on what I do for autoimmunity in terms of digestive health and diets please just send me an email it will be linked somewhere at the end, but I don’t want to get into it, everything that I do from that standpoint on this podcast. I’ll drink my gut formulas and juices and stuff like that and I meditate for about 15 minutes, and I do box breathing through my nose while I’m also not listening to anything, just completely zenned out just trying to relax.
I make a coffee. I drink a little coffee with ghee in it. I head out to the gym I do about 60-75 minutes of exercise, and I say exercise because it’s not really training. I’ll do some lifting and I’ll do some gymnastics, I don’t do a ton of CrossFit conditioning if any at all. I do a lot of climbing. If I’m tired I’ll just go for a walk, if I’m tired I’ll go to a yoga class. I just try to listen to my body with my training now not like forcing something. Really, I only traditionally work out about three days a week, but there is hiking and walking and yoga and climbing. Because of the rushes that are on my face I’m still a little careful about going into a pool, but once they heal I would like to start swimming again.
I don’t do anything intense. Every once in a while I lift a little intense or lift something a little heavy, I’ll do really short sprints pretty intense, but most of the exercise I do I try to keep at an aerobic pace where I can say something. I don’t really ever condition for more than 20 30 minutes just because I don’t really want to stress my hormones or anything like that and I want my body to be able to recover. Then I shower, I go to work from 8:00-5:30, 8:30-5:30 depending is there is a lot of work, sometimes I’ll stay a little bit later or whatever is going on.
Sometimes I’ll leave, come home and I’ll eat dinner and then get back on the computer for an hour or two. But I try to shut down the computer before 8:00 and then I try to go to bed sometime between 9:00 and 9:30. I try to lay down at 9:00, read a little bit and then go sleep at 9:30, that’s it. That’s a week day. Weekends vary, I still try to go to bed pretty early because sleep is super important for me right now, and I try to keep a good sleep schedule. I won’t set an alarm but I will still naturally be up at 6:00 6:30 and then pretty much the same thing; I’ll drink a coffee, I’ll go to the gym, and then I have some clients I still work with, about 10 clients, I’ll write their programs after I work out on a Saturday for a couple of hours.
Then I just try to shut down and hang out with friends, see people, and engage with communities or go hiking or go outside and do stuff like that. For a while on Sundays I was going to this 4-hour meditation on Sunday mornings, I was like I can’t do this. It’s not the problem meditating, if you are meditating for 4 hours every single week what are you really running from? You are just making more problems for yourself. You only get so many hours in your day, your life, your week, and you are giving 4 hours of your weekend up to meditating? I don’t care what that does for me, just shit wasn’t getting done. I was like, I got to see people.
Angelo: It’s like a part-time job of meditating.
Paul: Yeah, I was like, I can’t fucking do that. I’m diving into all these different realms of spirituality and stuff like that. I thought that would be something cool to try but it just ended up not being a good fit for me.
Angelo: Sure. Like you mentioned, you are still working with clients and you have your engineer job, or your project management job. Do you feel like you are going to always stay in fitness, or do you feel that’s something you really enjoy as far as your work goes or your craft, or is diving deeper into being an engineer something you’ve been thinking about?
Paul: I don’t know if I’ll always be in fitness but I do think I will always be in health. Part of me thinks that one of the reasons why I’m going through this right now is because it’s the gift of, you take the most sour lemon ever and you turn into the sweetest lemonade. I feel very connected to fitness right now because I feel very connected to training athletes the way that I wish I had trained, and people that are looking for health to be given the advice that I wish I was given or that anyone knew about at the time. To me I thought peak performance meant peak health. I thought if I took 2nd at the games I would be incredibly healthy.
For everyone’s knowledge, before the games I had a blood test and like, “we think you have Lupus”, I was like, “there is no way I have Lupus, I’ve done squatting of 455. That doesn’t make any sense. You don’t know what you are talking about”. I wish I knew that you could still be performing really well and incredibly unhealthy. I think most high level athletes are actually teetering that line of a couple overtraining years, and boom- that could be autoimmunity. I think your body learns to attack itself from never resting. I’m very connected to my clients right now because me continuing to work with them is in my mind a way to give back, I’ve been given this thing I understand that no one wants to go here, and I’m learning the tools to hopefully mitigate that.
Angelo: Now, how do you feel about CrossFit at this point?
Paul: I think CrossFit.com and the way it was prescribed the way Greg Glassman intended it to be is fantastic. In the traditional programing there are skill days and there is just a heavy day, and there is workouts with odd objects that slowed the workouts down so they are not totally intense. The way that the CrossFit games has turned CrossFit, where everything is thrusters and chest bars with high contractions and high turnover rates, and you can literally hit these intense workouts where you can literally go at 100% for 7 minutes, or 8-12 minutes day in and day out, that’s going to beat people up.
That’s going to lead to bigger issues and people aren’t aware, they just think, ‘oh, it’s exercise it has to be good for me’. Yeah, it is, but you are not constantly varied, you are not doing different things, you are not getting outside the gym, you are going for 60 minutes aerobic sessions on your rest day. I’m talking like your high aerobic heart rate on the bike. If you are going to do 60 minutes of movement on rest day you should be walking, you should be riding a bike at less than 100 RPMs. You shouldn’t be killing yourself, it’s not a workout. It’s the ego that has turned CrossFit into a poor training program, not the program.
Angelo: Do you feel like this new games format, because it’s going to make people and force people to do more qualifiers and things like that, do you feel like it’s only going to make the problem even worse?
Paul: For some. What I’ve seen is through my relationships and friendships and the people I talk to, it’s actually doing a good job. If you weren’t close you are not even trying anymore, you are like ‘I’m going to go do these other stuff’. It doesn’t really matter so you are taking the stress out of it. A lot of people are just like, ‘I’m not going there’, automatically their stress levels about training and competing and their nutrition are lower. I have a ton of friends that are like, ‘I’m going to get into climbing, I’m going to start swimming, I’m going to go to a dance class after work rather than go workout because I’m not going to the games definitely now, I’m going to pull back’. But the top athletes or those top 10 regional athletes from US prior that have been on the course every year they are going to have to push harder and I think it could be more stressful for them.
Angelo: That’s an interesting point. Like you said the people that were barely making regionals are probably just like definitely not taking this as serious anymore.
Paul: Yeah, it’s like, why would I give up my life to not even have a regional and not even go to the games? Why don’t I just pull back a little bit, not train as much, have more time to do other things, and find happiness in other ways?
Angelo: Sure, it makes a lot of sense. It’s a very interesting time for CrossFit too especially because they are going to be really focused on CrossFit health, so this maybe a good time for them as far as educating and helping people in a more longevity piece kind of way.
Paul: I would love to somehow get involved with that. I don’t know how that would look, but like, I don’t care about Mat Fraser at all, or Noah Ohlsen, or Katrin, or any of those people, I really care about the person that needs to get off the couch. I care about them having good coaching and a good coach, not just knowing what a narrow squat is and you’ve always said that, or how to coach a pushup. How do we get the person that’s struggling to walk into the gym because of their insecurities and their emotional attachments, and how do we get them to come in and just move their body for 60 minutes starting at maybe once a week and building them up over the course of years to more training?
How do we get the person with cancer who’s depressed and scared and irritable, has not outlet, how do we get them an outlet? How do we give the person that is fighting a mental illness or depression or is suicidal bipolar any of those things, how do we help them release endorphins so that they could feel better, so they become functioning members of society again? How can we get the person with heart disease or high blood pressure, how can we get them off meds? That’s what I care about now because that’s the big picture. If we give those gifts to people then what do we do? We create more love and that’s what everything is about. Everything is about more love in the world.
Once someone gets love from someone else they have more capacity to give that off to more people. The person that gets none is going to have no capacity to give to anyone else. So the more we can help people the more people there are to help more people.
Angelo: Sure. How do you feel inspiring this change goes? How do you feel like, if somebody is listening to this or you are talking to somebody that wasn’t taking care of themselves to get them to realize this? Because this is something I struggle with too especially from somebody that grew up where it wasn’t about inspiration it was more likely about fear or shame to do something, how do you feel like you go about doing that?
Paul: That’s a great question. On some capacity we are going to have to show them somehow, right? We are going to show them those that have been successful. I think gyms are marketing, gyms that market their members, are there testimonials that maybe, or in someone else’s shoes, or something like that. I think a lot of people are scared. I think it’s a lot of fear of failure, it’s a lot of fear of letting other people down, it’s a lot of fear of not belonging which is different than fitting in, but it’s a fear of not belonging, it’s a fear of being different. I think it’s coming down to less of the CrossFit games—if we are looking on a bigger picture which is happening, less CrossFit games, more marketing towards my mom and my dad. Someone, a normal person like me now who works a regular job and goes to the gym, it isn’t about the people anymore that quit their day jobs like I did to train for it six hours a day. That’s not important.
That person might be running from something as well and they are running and just hiding in the gym. It’s like, let’s market the people that are doing life, let’s show those people Johnny comes to the gym at 5:30, 6:30 every day. He works hard, on the day that he doesn’t work hard he still shows up and he just moves his body. He goes to work, after work he goes home and he spends time with his family. That is who we should be showcasing now, not what I used to be, not what the best athletes are, because that’s not realistic for anyone else in the world.
Angelo: Why do you think so many people are attracted to it then?
Paul: There is that whole sex sells, right? First of all, people that do that look amazing: 0% body fat. What’s being shown are things that connect with people deeper in their ego-level. Everyone has ego, the ego itself, and I think social media has a lot to do with it. I think people showing different athletic achievements gets them connection from people online, like, ‘oh, great job’, 500 likes, 200 likes. Every time you get that button to this hit that [inaudible 00:59:04] it does something to someone’s—there’s like an emotional attachment there that makes them feel good. It’s an immediate gratification of, hey, this person likes you- this is your friend. I think a lot of it has to come down to what’s happening with social media now and everyone now is just looking for attention. I think everyone is looking for attention in the wrong ways, always or nothing.
Angelo: It is true, the social media. It’s so amazing that we may have created a tool that has connected us the most and out us further away from each other the most.
Paul: I know.
Angelo: Isn’t that crazy?
Paul: Yeah. It’s like, oh, Angelo liked my picture on Instagram, I don’t need to reach out to Angelo and see how he is doing because I know he still likes me.
There is no actual connection. I don’t know how you are doing, you don’t know how I’m doing, I could post something like, ‘oh, you know I’m doing great’, and secretly I’m dying on the inside and everyone thinks I have the best life.
Angelo: It’s a very interesting time Paul Buono. I know you have a very positive outlook on your life and obviously going through these things has made you such a stronger man, is there anything besides looking forward to the future, is there anything in particular you feel is going to be coming in your future?
Paul: Nothing that’s absolutely definite. Yeah, I would like to settle and buy a house and do things like that. I would like to get married, I’m not even dating anyone, but this last relationship that I was in with Gabby, one of the best gifts that came from it- it showed me how important it is to have someone love you and be loved and to share your time with someone. That was the biggest gift that she could have given me, because before Gabby I was easily willing to die alone, I did not care. But getting to share my time with her and having such a great time showed me that I do want room in my life for another person and a partner.
Now do I want little baby Paul Buonos running around? I’m not sure yet, that’s all really going to come down to if I am in a place with my health that I think I could manage having a family and the stresses that come financially and time wise with kids. If I don’t think I’m at a sport where I can do that I would like to live close to family, so maybe move back to the east coast in x amount of years, I don’t know so I could be near my brother and his family, so I could feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself. I could go to my niece’s recitals or art shows, or softball games, I don’t know, maybe she plays football, we are not going to generalize here. I want to be a part of a family, and that’s very important to me. What’s coming is stronger relationship, some sort of family whether it’s deepening into my relationships with my already existing family, my immediate family, or creating something with a partner down the road.
Angelo: That’s awesome.
Paul: It’s interesting to say I’m going to get married and I just got out of a relationship and I’m totally alone, not dating anyone, not seeing anyone, you know what I mean, but I know that’s what I want. I want to be with a family, that’s the most important thing now to me, it’s people. People are the gift of life.
Angelo: That’s a quote card right there, we’ve got to make sure we right one up. People are the gift of life-Paul Buono. I swear to you that is going to get made into a quote card and I will post that somewhere. That is for sure, it’s not even a question.
Paul: I love that.
Angelo: That’s awesome. It’s so amazing to see you transform through this. The truth is you may not have ever done this without all this happening.
Paul: Not a short. I wouldn’t have. You said it earlier, before this year everything was based around shame and fear and guilt, and that’s where all my actions were coming from, and without this I would have never had the trigger to change. A lot of people say, ‘how do you change?’ You don’t change unless you have to change. Why would you change unless something was going wrong? If you thought everything was going right and you are doing fine, and you are making enough money; ‘my wife kind of loves me but she is definitely not going to leave me so that’s okay, I’m safe there’. ‘I make enough that she would never leave because she couldn’t have the lifestyle she has or something like that’. ‘My cholesterol is a little high but it doesn’t affect me day to day, so why would I change my diet?’
It’s like, when you get hit in the head, someone throws a rock at your fucking head four times in a week, you are going to be like, why is someone continually throwing rocks at my head? I have to change so I don’t get rocks thrown at my head anymore.
Angelo: Do you think that there is a way to change without getting the rocks thrown at your head? Because the way you described this avatar just now I would argue to say it’s probably 80% of the world, or 80% of America, not the world. Do you feel like the only chance people have of changing is that cholesterol going too high and you getting ill, or your wife being unhappy with you and leaving you? Do you think it needs to be these epiphany moments come at the cost of something catastrophic, I don’t know another way to say it, some sort of tragedy?
Paul: Yes, what I described is what I think about 80% of the world is or the US. I think you have to be very in tune with yourself and you have to approach the growth mindset from an early age and almost take it on preventatively. Like, you know what, everything is okay but I want everything to be great, how do I change? You have to take it more form a preventative place or a growth place where it’s like I’m doing good but I want to do better. Unfortunately, I think it does take four rocks being thrown at your head for a lot of people to be like, man, maybe it isn’t the world, may be it is me.
We live in a culture where it’s a blame culture. I could have easily said Gabby left me because I have Lupus, but that’s the blame culture, and it’s not really true when you dive into it. You have to be willing to accept blame through your life before you could do that, you have to be willing to say this is my fault. That’s been the tough thing, I really struggled in the beginning because all these things I had to admit somewhere along the line they were my fault. You don’t just wake up with a disease people, if you are sick and you are struggling the scariest thing and the most relieving thing is that you have the power to create and cure the disease from your own actions and choices.
If you get diagnoses with Lupus and you keep going to McDonalds your disease is going to get worse. If you pick up a book all about autoimmune disease and you start reading and you learn that it’s not your genetics—yeah, your genetics have 3%-5% of play in getting a disease, but it’s your environmental factors, it’s your lifestyle, it’s your behavior, it’s the foods you eat, it’s the conversations you have, it’s your emotional triggers. People don’t realize that, yeah, your emotional roots can cause diseases because if you are stressed about things that had happened to you in the past, then if you are chronically stressed you could create disease. You have to be willing to step back and say this is my fault, and that’s how you can do it.
Angelo: Let me ask you this, because I was talking to somebody about this: what do you think comes first, awareness or taking responsibility? I feel like they are the beginning stages of any sort of change. Do you think you need to be like, this is my life aha, now I could change it or it’s like, wait, something is really fucked up, I have the potential for better but first I need to own the fact that I did all this shit?
Paul: Awareness, taking responsibility.
Angelo: When people ask like finding your purpose or having a transformation it usually comes down to those two things, I was just curious as to what you thought was the order.
Paul: I think taking responsibility and then awareness, because we don’t live in a conscious culture. It’s not like we are like, man I’m fucking aware, I know this shit, it’s like, no, something is wrong, I don’t know what’s wrong but it’s my fault and I have to become aware of what that was. We are so involved with our phones and we are busy—I don’t think people realize that some of these workaholics, the only reason you are busy is because you are making yourself busy because it’s a numbing tool for you to not realize what’s actually going on in your life.
I cannot believe the amount of people that say they are fucking busy, just say certain things, not taking care of yourself or not seeing someone is important. It’s a really easy decision.
Paul: It’s like we are so unaware of all our decisions that we first have to take responsibility to create the space for us to become aware. Otherwise we never take responsibility, we are constantly blame and we will never become aware.
Angelo: I like it Paul Buono. That’s good. It’s very intelligent things we just talked about.
Paul: I know.
Angelo: It really was great. This has been a pleasure Paul.
Paul: Thank you. I’ve had a great time.
Angelo: It really was. I have a few questions that we ask every guest and so we’ll close out with those. As usual, first I give every guest a chance to define alpha hippie for them. What does the alpha hippie mean to you?
Paul: Alpha Hippie I think we can look at alpha versus beta, we have alpha the male, the original of what we think. We have masculine energy versus feminine energy. The alpha would be “masculine energy”, and it doesn’t mean a woman can’t be masculine and a male can’t be feminine, because people, I am a very feminine male. If we look at the traits of feminine masculine, I’m incredibly feminine. Alpha hippie what it means to me the way it’s presented is that it’s a masculine type energy that’s also diving into more of a feminine type energy where it’s more love and acceptance and more of a growth mindset rather than the traditional alpha mindset where it’s I’m going to steam roll over every fucking person to get what I want. It’s more of, hey, I have this masculine energy but I’m going to present it in a way of love and acceptance and happiness and growth all together.
Angelo: Paul, fabulous. It really is. It’s really good. It’s amazing. Especially too recognizing that it doesn’t make you less manly to have feminine energy. People I think when you say that that’s the first dichotomy they dive into, ‘well, I only have masculine energy’. First of all we have both of them. If you’ve ever done anything creative I have news for you guys- it’s from feminine energy, the masculine shit is boring- it would be blockhead shit. If you’ve ever done anything like that you do have some feminine energy. Where could people find out about you? You mentioned about being able to offer some assistance with anybody with Lupus and some of the things with autoimmune diseases that you have been treating and putting into your lifestyle.
Paul: Not that there was anything wrong with what I said: I want people to know that I’m not a doctor obviously, I’m just a guy that has Lupus that continually read and researched and found out what was best for me and I got myself with the right people in my corner. If you want help with those types of resources send me an email email@example.com, spell the way my name is spelt. You could contact me on my website paulbuono.com, Instagram @paulbuono, Facebook my name is Paul Buono, just Google Paul Buono. Seriously if you are struggling with any of that stuff please let me know. I think medicine is great, I still take my one Lupus medicine, I don’t want anyone to think, ‘oh, Paul doesn’t take his medicines, he just got formula’.
I listen to my doctors, I get my routine blood work, but after about six months which my doctor is completely shocked by pretty much my blood work is returning back to a very good place. I don’t have any pain. I have very normal amounts of energy. I’m not going to say I don’t get tired because that would be absolutely ridiculous. Everyone gets tired- you should get tired when it’s time to go to bed. But I have normal energy, I don’t have fatigue, my hives are gone, my swelling for the most part is gone unless I eat a food that I’m intolerant to by accident because I’m introducing something.
I just want to be open and honest, and if you want to reach out and you have questions for me I’ll be more than willing to talk with you, whoever you are. I know that’s why I am going through this; it’s to help other people going through this.
Whatever I could do to help, I can’t give you a medical opinion or anything like that, I could just tell you from my experience.
Angelo: Perfect. First of all too, I want the audience to know this: if I had Lupus I would find out what Paul does because I know Paul does more research on shit than I would ever do even if I had the disease, for the record.
Paul: At certain times almost I’ll make it worse because I’m reading about it, and it’s like, stop reading that, no, because if you stop reading about it then you are ignorant to it, and then you just fall into the category of not knowing. Then you don’t know you can’t fix it. I’ve scared the hell out of myself in order to find what’s going on, but it’s been working.
Angelo: Awesome. Last question: if you had one word to be remembered by, what would it be?
Paul: I’m really thinking. A couple of words are coming to my mind. I’m I able to say the two and then choose one?
Angelo: Yeah, this ain’t life or death brother, go ahead. I’m not going to kick you, fuck you out. Show is done, fuck out you are done. That’s it- see you next time on Alpha Hippie.
Paul: I would love to say passionate, because I do believe it’s true. I’m passionate about life and people and anything I touch I become passionate about. But passionate I feel like it’s the easy way out for this answer and I feel like a lot of people would say that. I would want to be known as helpful, because helpful it entices that passion but it entices it to where I want to go and that’s helping people and the environment, and animals and the things that need help. I would say helpful is the word that I want.
Angelo: Perfect. So you are passionate about being helpful, bang.
Paul: Boom baby.
Angelo: It’s awesome. Paul my brother, thank you so much for making time to be on this show, I want to say thank you, and I want to wish you the best of lack on your autoimmune turkey. From the bottom of my heart, the best of luck.
Paul: That’s hilarious. Oh god.
Angelo: It just rolled of my tongue. I didn’t even have that planned I got a little cramp in my abs for laughing so hard. Seriously brother, thank you so much. I love you very much.
Paul: Thank you. I love you too.