Faith Made Him Fit for Life

A personal trainer discovers that fitness applies to spiritual, as well as physical, health.

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- Posted on Aug 3, 2012

Dominic Novak

One look at me, and you can probably guess my profession. I’m a big, strong guy, a former bodybuilding champ. Today I’m a successful personal trainer, helping get thousands in shape, from teenagers and housewives to Diana Ross and Joan Lunden.

I operate my own gym and I work out every day myself, trying to keep my 40-something body in shape. But not long ago I learned there’s more to being fit than being in shape physically. I learned that a fit body is nothing without a fit soul.

In fact, until I learned this lesson, the more successful I became, the more overcome I was by a fear of failure, a fear that was destroying my life.

I had always looked upon my body as a temple, though not of the soul, necessarily. In high school, I spent days, weeks, months pumping iron and practicing exercises in Jack LaLanne fitness magazines.

I was a star of my high school basketball team, and I planned to do the same in college. After that who knew how far I could go? It made me giddy just to dream about it.

I enrolled at Pace University in New York and tried out for the basketball team, fully expecting to make it as a starter. Instead, the coach cut me before the season began. The shock and rejection were bad enough. But the unfamiliar thing I felt was fear.

I wasn’t a good student. Outside of basketball, I had no marketable skills. What do I do now? I wondered. The whole drive home to my parents’, I repeated that question again and again.

At home I went down to the basement, where I kept all my weights, and began lifting like crazy, frantically. I’m a failure, I told myself, a failure, a failure, as I hefted that iron in the air until my muscles screamed. If I’m not an athlete, who am I?

I couldn’t hide my shame forever. My parents could see how shattered I was. Dad tried to comfort me. “Dominic, don’t be afraid to turn to the Lord for help,” he said.

My parents were devout, but it had not rubbed off on me. The only strength I knew was my physical strength, and that had failed me.

Or had it? I heard that Springfield College in Massachusetts offered a major in health fitness, so I transferred there. It was perfect. Sports related, but not exactly sports. By the time I graduated, the fitness craze was hitting the country big time. Everyone was looking for trainers.

Clients liked me. I was a good motivator, probably because I was so motivated myself, though I had yet to understand what was behind my motivation. I was positively driven. Word spread, and within a year I was busy seven days a week, working 12 to 16 hours a day.

Every thought I had, every relationship I pursued, served one purpose: to build my business. Within seven years, I had a nice car and townhouse, a bunch of employees and my own gym.

I must have felt on top of the world, right? In fact, I was petrified. What if competitors come in and cut away at my business? What if I have a bad month or two and can’t make a bank payment? What if...what if I fail? It was that same fear from college all over again. It had taken root deep inside me.

The only way to fight it was to work like a madman. Up every day at 4:00 A.M., and didn’t return till late at night to my townhouse I’d never even finished furnishing.

The business prospered beyond my dreams. And yet, all day, every day, I kept hearing this little voice in my head: If you let up for a minute, you really will be a failure. Everyone will know.

I had a series of relationships that were just as empty as my townhouse. None of them lasted. How could they? I was consumed with my business, and myself. Motivated more by fear of failure than by a desire for success.
 

Then I met a woman, Dana, and married her. Not that marriage changed me. One night I came home to find the table set for a lovely, late dinner. Dana served me, then sat down beside me. She turned to me and said something, but I never heard her. I had fallen fast asleep.

We had two beautiful daughters, Samantha and Stefanie. Fatherhood changed me...for the worse. Now failure meant I would ruin the lives of my wife and children. I felt more pressure than ever and I began to fear I might really crash.

One night I got home long after Dana and the girls had gone to bed. I plopped on an easy chair in our daughters’ playroom, eyeing every plaything Dana and I had bought the girls. Softly, so my family wouldn’t hear, I began to cry. I’ve never played with them with any of these toys.

The dam I’d built around myself finally broke. First the economy tanked. Then a high-end national competitor moved in, the hottest gym in the country. Clients I’d had for years left. Membership plunged. And at long last the failure I’d always feared, in fact I’d always felt was inevitable, seemed imminent.

One night at the worst of it all, I sat again in the playroom. I was alone, totally alone. I hadn’t felt so alone since that horrible day I was cut from the basketball team. Really, nothing had changed. Except one thing. I could finally heed my father’s words.

All at once they came back to me, clear and decisive: “Dominic, don’t be afraid to turn to the Lord.”

I fell to my knees and offered up a desperate prayer. Lord, I don’t need you to save my business. I need you to save me!

The next evening as we were finishing dinner, I put down my fork and stared at my beautiful family, the greatest gift a man can have. For richer or poorer, I thought, whatever happens to my business, they’ll still love me.

I said to the kids, “Come on, let’s play a game.” Dana’s eyebrows arched, but she didn’t ask why I wasn’t rushing back to work before I’d finished chewing my last bite of food.

Later I learned why. She’d been praying for me to turn to God and to find the source of true strength, a strength that can carry us through the most difficult times, a strength that at last got me into the best shape of my life.

Five Verses for Spiritual Exercise

Here are five Bible verses that I turn to every morning. They prevent me
from being ruled by fear, worry, anger and stress, and help me bring faith
and balance into my life.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation so why should I be afraid? The Lord protects
me from dangers so why should I tremble?" —Psalm 27:1

"I prayed to the Lord and he answered me, freeing me from all my fears. Those who
look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their
faces." —Psalm 34:4-5

"Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord and he will give you your heart's desires."—Psalm 37:3-4

"God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we
will not fear, even if earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the
sea." —Psalm 46:1-2

"We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us. And so we also
ought to give up our lives for our Christian brothers and sisters." —1 John 3:16

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