My guest is Jim Karas. Acclaimed trainer, nutritionist and author. Jim gives an overview on his go to pillars whether it’s being an entrepreneur, your physical fitness practice or your nutrition.
Jim shares his latest project, a new book that he co authored with his daughter Olivia. Olivia Karas was a division one gymnast for Michigan. Together they give a transparent depiction of what it takes, the injuries, the sacrifice, the highs, and how the entire family is a part of the journey. Jim even shared some of the conversations he wishes he had with his son Evan while Evan was navigating being the sibling of and over achieving sister.
Jim is experienced, intelligent, compassionate, and transparent.
Listen to the episode here:
- Advice to Entrepreneurs [00:12:52]
- Self-Education [00:15:13]
- Important Pillars [00:17:50]
- Co-Writing with Daughter [00:30:28]
- Support Through Conversations [00:36:26]
- When the Best Stuff is Behind [00:46:22]
- Aiming for the Next Thing [00:52:45]
- Preparing for New Adventures [00:59:28]
Jim Karas – Child Athlete Advice, Health, and Lessons
My guest is Jim Karas. It makes a lot of sense why he’s here. He is a popular trainer and nutritionist. He’s been doing this for over 40 years. He’s the author of the books, Cardio-Free Diet, The Ultimate Diet REVolution, The 7 Day Energy Surge, and other publications. In this episode, we talk to Jim about some other more personal things and his project with his daughter, Olivia Karas. They co-authored a book called Confessions of a Division-1 Athlete. She was a gymnast for Michigan.
If you know anything about gymnastics, it’s brutal on every level. They start young, they train for hours and hours every day, five days a week, all year round. They’re injured constantly. He talks about what you could expect or have a transparent conversation as a parent. They wrote this book together. The other thing we talked about that I loved was how you deal with one of your other children.
Maybe one kid is high octane and they figured out what they like early, the world is celebrating them, and you have another child who’s got to be the sibling of this person. We get into all of it. It’s a personal conversation with him. We talked about being entrepreneurs and some nutrition and fitness tips. I enjoyed this conversation talking to Jim, the parent, about what he learned, what he wished he knew then, and what he wanted to share with you now. Enjoy.
Jim, thank you for joining me. Where are you?
Has summer started and everyone’s by the lake and going full throttle all day long?
Absolutely. I live right on the lake and it’s bumper to bumper that time of year starts. It’s crazy but it’s nice to feel that the energy is back.
The reason we were talking is you have a new book, Confessions of a Division-1 Athlete. I almost feel like you didn’t co-write it with your daughter. I feel like you put bumpers around a framework around her story and her work. Because you’re an experienced author and communicator, that was interesting. I have a lot of questions. Before we get into the book, I would love to know how someone goes from Wharton to giving health advice. I understand the connection of knowing what CEOs need, but maybe you could share some of your journeys because I’m always fascinated when people are willing to adapt. They start off in one way and that is a certain trajectory, and then they’re willing to follow their own passions. Maybe you could share a little bit of that.
For people of a certain age, when I give a lot of speeches, I always say, “I started my life wanting to become Blake Carrington from Dynasty.” Along the way, I became Richard Simmons, and the two morphed together. I was an overweight child until my 20s. I was almost 50 pounds heavier than I am now, so I always struggled. Honestly, a teacher did not show up to an exercise class back in 1986. I was discouraged and annoyed because I wanted to work out. I said, “If someone has the exercise tape, I’ll teach. I’ve memorized the exercise routine.”
I got up there in leg warmers, tank top, short shorts, and taught the exercise class, and then the rest progressed. I became one of the first personal trainers in Chicago, which was unique because as you can imagine having gone to Wharton, my family and my family’s friends would tilt their heads and say, “You’re doing what for a living?” I was like, “I’m an aerobics instructor and I’m a personal fitness trainer.” They didn’t know what I was talking about. From there, it morphed to becoming a trainer. I got busy quickly, so I started hiring people.
Around 1999, I got the urge to write my first book, which was called The Business Plan for the Body. It took the analogy of a business plan and applied it to weight loss. I was extremely fortunate because I got on a program with ABC on Good Morning America called Lock the Door, Lose the Weight. We locked seven overweight people in a house in the North Shore suburbs here in Chicago in Highland Park.
We gave them a diet doctor, a nutritionist, a chef, a psychologist who had to work cut out for it because people went nuts in the house and me. I was the fitness trainer. If this sounds like the Biggest Loser, I’ve always believed that someone at NBC saw what we had done at ABC and added the contestant components and that’s what turned into the Biggest Loser. I felt we were maybe the first Biggest Loser and it went on from there.
Go back to when you were young. You said that you were overweight. You talk to a lot of people and it’ll be like, “My parents were immigrants, so abundance was always having food in the house,” or, “We ate the wrong kinds of foods. It was emotional eating.” What was your situation on why you got overweight? I often go, “If you were feeling that way, where was the epiphany?” Besides adding different lifestyle choices, what else happens to lose that weight? Why were you there in the first place?
I’m the youngest of two sons. We are Greek so my family would call me Zimi, which is the way to say Jimmy with a Greek accent. I was always eating and I had a Greek yaya who was always feeding me all the time. I have an older brother who, way before men worked out or lifted weights or aspired to look like the cover of Men’s Health, was doing it. It only made matters worse that he was in this Adonis-ish shape and I was way less than Adonis.
[bctt tweet=”You can balance it. You have to find a way to do it.”]
I struggled on and off for many years. I struggled in junior high and I struggled in high school. My epiphany came in the second semester of my junior year in college. I went to the London School of Economics. It was right before I was about to turn 21. Quite frankly, I looked at myself as the plane was landing and I said, “You look crap. All you do is eat crap. You feel like crap. Let’s take this new experience, this new environment, and let’s make some changes in your habits.” That was the big shift in my life.
I started running in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in Tretorn tennis shoes. Back in 1982, most of the Brits clung to their children around them because no one was running back then. Unless you were running for something, you shouldn’t have been doing it. It was definitely odd to be out there doing it but that’s what changed my personal trajectory. It had me taking classes and the ultimate class where the teacher didn’t show up, and the rest is somewhat history.
It’s interesting when you talk about your brother. I have three daughters but I feel everyone plays a role in a family. I’m an only child so I know less about the dynamics but they always say that it’s like walking in the elevator and everybody takes their corner like, “That’s covered so I’m going to do something over here.” You are bright. There’s something interesting about what you’re saying, which is, a lot of times, if it’s a few tweaks here and there, we need a new environment because nobody around us will let us change.
They’ll be like, “This is what you do. You’re not the guy who’s running and being at the park.” It’s an important reminder to people that unless you have something traumatic and emotional that you have to deal with. If it could be as simple as a new environment and even a new group of people that we’re associating with, that’s what it takes. It’s hard to make a change in a constant environment.
A valid point because you’re pigeonholed, exactly what you’re saying. I get shivers up my spine when I hear people say this, “Jimmy doesn’t play sports. Jimmy doesn’t know how to catch a ball.” Gabby, that’s the truth. My father wasn’t around. He was busy. He was never home and nobody ever taught me how to shoot a basket, throw a football, or hit a baseball. A funny story to share with you. My brother would play Little League and I’m sitting in the stands as the chubby brother, probably eating. The parents are screaming at the boys when they miss the ball and they’re screaming at them when they get struck out.
My parents looked at me and said, “Do you want to play Little League?” I said, “No. Why would I want to do that? I get yelled at enough at home. I don’t need to get yelled at by strangers.” I had such a negative relationship with sports, with activity, with exercise, and such an unhealthy relationship with food, which is always so odd given what I do now for a living. Given I have this enormously athletic daughter, I also have an athletic son, and I am not the athlete whatsoever.
There are all kinds of athletes. People say that there are all kinds of IQs, physical IQ, emotional IQ, and such. There is an athletic IQ. There are people who they move and that’s what they do, but there are athletes where it’s about exposure and maybe they’re going to be people who practice. They’re more methodical, maybe it isn’t quite as intuitive, but they still are our athletes. There are different kinds. This was important. You get into this field and you talk a lot about when you started your business, one of your CEOs reminded you that there are only so many hours in a day that you can generate what you do.
I always say that to people. It’s important that if you’re talking about being an entrepreneur in a business, you only have so many hours in a day so you figured out early how to scale your business and train other people. It’s going to be hard to find people that give the service to the level that you did. I read where you said that you would order people’s dinners for them ahead before they would go to the restaurant and take all the choosing out of it.
I believed in the high touch. I thought, “If I was going to do this, let’s be the best.” I’m not trying to pat myself on the back or sound conceited in any way, but I’m the kind of person that if I’m going to do something, I want to do it well. I thought, “What kind of an experience?” That’s so important in my industry. I dislike the depiction of yelling, humiliating, and beating people up mentally, physically, and verbally because they’re struggling. This is their struggle. For me, dealing on such a high level with both CEOs and celebrities, you have to learn how to identify what their hot button is going to be to get them to start to make the changes. You’ve got to psychologically maneuver yourself in there, gain their trust, and try to give them quality information and direction.
You can understand that through experience. People who have that, it’s an intuitive thing that they naturally have that they understand. You said that at maybe 9:00, you need to be one person who needs to show up for one client and then by 10:30, someone different needs to show up. That’s a good coach. Some are experienced, but it’s intuitive. What would you say to somebody who is an entrepreneur? What are some of the principles after all these years of experience and learning through due process? What are key things for you for any type of entrepreneur?
A plan is essential. I have this whole thing about paying it forward because people have been wonderful to me, they’ve mentored me, and they’ve given me solid advice. It’s a little bit like Shark Tank, which happens to be my favorite show with my son. We’ll sit them down and say, “What is the plan? How are you going to execute it? How are you going to finance it? What is going to be your differentiation? What is going to make you special and unique that is going to be attractive to a customer, a client, or whatever it may be?” Whether it’s a product or a service, you have to sit down. I did have the luxury of having gone to business school so it was drilled into me. I have an accountant for a father who constantly talks about accounting and profit loss, so you don’t have to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
I had a funny experience I’ll share with you. I gave a talk at a school here to some underprivileged graduates who wanted to get into my industry. Each of them constantly said, “Do you know what I want to do? I want to help the underprivileged and I want to provide them with great service.” I said, “What’s the first thing you need?” They all looked at me blankly. I said, “You need a benefactor. You need someone because I love what you do.”
I’m passionate about helping young people get healthier mentally, physically, but you can’t do this business and you can’t help the people you want to help if you can’t eat. You have to figure out a way to make it into a business and proceed to do what is truly your passion, which is maybe helping those less able to afford the types of things like the types of food, the types of training, etc. It can get expensive, but you can do it the right way if you know where to go.
How did you combine this practical, systematic way of thinking? You have to be a bit of a dreamer to pursue something the way you did it. That’s an interesting thing. You often see people who are creatives, they have ideas. You have people who can execute. They’re lucky if they find each other. You have an interesting blend of both. How did you calibrate that part of your personality in your business?
I am transparent when I say that I don’t have an education in this area where I exist in weight loss, fitness, nutrition, anti-aging, etc. I was a voracious reader. I felt that I needed to get my hands on every single thing possible. To answer your question, I learned by reaction. Someone would come out with a book so I immediately would read the book because I assumed that my dozens of clients were going to start asking me about it.
Here’s an example, Sugar Busters!. Carrots make you fat. I used to go ballistic when I heard people say this because, in the book, the author claims that if you eat carrots, they’re too high in sugar, they’re going to make you fat. We’re all aware of the fact that most people struggling with their weight are not binging on carrots.
It was constantly trying to find good information to bring to them. This is before the internet. This was before cell phones. My first cell phone was like Michael Douglas in Wall Street, that big brick that he carried, it was the size of a shoebox. It was difficult to find this information so I would hit the library. I would get tons of magazines and books, rip everything out, photocopy it, hand it out to my clients. I had to keep delivering more and more information. I had to make myself essential in their life and that’s something a lot of people miss.
A trainer, following someone on Instagram, a site, or YouTube videos, you’ve got to go to someone who’s giving you the right information that feels right to you and it’s working for you. We all know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different response. That was a frequent statement that I would say to people. How are we going to change this insanity and these behaviors? I’m a huge believer that it’s one step at a time, it is not the Big Bang Theory.
It goes to that whole notion of lifestyle. It’s almost like you can spell it out to them 100 times and it’s like, “No, you don’t understand. This isn’t for the next 8 weeks or the next 6 months.” Some of it might be fundamental and most things are built on some pretty basic principles. For you in movement, your practice of movement, and your practice of eating, what are the pillars for you that are important?
I use that word pillar all the time, by the way. First of all, I am the anti-cardio guy. My third book was called The Cardio-Free Diet. When I originally pitched it to Simon & Schuster, the name of the book was Cardio Kills. I had been watching for years and years, and I used myself as a guinea pig. I was running, I was stepping, I was sliding, I was on the Stairmaster, I was on the bike. I was doing all this stuff and I was never seeing results. I would look in the strength training room and I would see men and women in infinitely better shapes, more tone, more muscle tone, better posture, and leaner abs. I said to myself, “What are they doing right in that room that I’m doing wrong when I’m doing all this cardio?”
I started asking questions. I always go up to people and say, “I’m not a creep. I’m an author, a trainer and I’m in this industry. How much cardio do you do?” A couple of men would look at each other and they go, “I don’t know, maybe five minutes to warm up.” I got this whole sense, and I looked into the research, that muscle is the engine of your metabolism. We are all losing muscle as we age. My big pillar is strength training is the foundation of your workout program. Let’s add icing to the cake. Whether it be running, tennis, yoga, whatever you may enjoy, great, but you have got to hit the weights to keep your metabolism up. The research again is 100% behind me.
I was early on. I got blasted on TV. People called me dangerous. They called me a quack. I got a lot of flack. The book hit number two in the New York Times Bestseller list so it did hit a chord but I stuck my neck out there to say that this is the way you should approach exercise and what my team has been doing for over 34 years. That’s the exercise portion. As I’ve gotten older, I’d like to add, you need to be kinder to your body. You as an athlete know this, you can’t beat your joints up and do things to your body that your body no longer likes. You need to be smart and intuitive and listen to what’s going on with your body.
With regard to food, I’m a simple guy. No snacking. My sixth book came out and I worked with a smart nutritionist who sat down with me and explained a lot of the ins and outs of losing weight. Every time you eat something, your food turns to sugar, glucose, in your stomach as it digests and it spreads out throughout your bloodstream. Your body calls about insulin. Insulin is a storage hormone. The food that you consume that’s been digested is going to be stored in your liver, your muscles, or your cells hopefully to be used for fuel later in the day. Unfortunately, about 75%-plus of our American population is to be stored as body fat.
My old recommendation of eating those 4 to 5 small meals a day, eating 3 meals and 3 snacks was 100% wrong if your goal is weight loss. A big pillar of mine is to eat your breakfast, eat your lunch, eat your dinner, and shut it down. The only exception I have is if you work out first thing in the morning, get up and eat a piece of fruit, a piece of toast, whatever you’d like, get in your exercise, and bookend with your complete breakfast. If we could cut snacking out, we could reverse our obesity epidemic.
It’s funny that you talked about that because of this whole thing with everyone becoming insulin resistant and all of that. You’re disciplined. I love your daughter’s point of view about you, hit the line and you’re good. Not everyone’s like that. It’s this idea of having eating windows. We say to them, “If you can’t concentrate because you’re distracted by the fact that you want lunch or you want snacks, then keep it 4 to 8 or 4 to 7.” That’s an important thing. As far as listening to your body, people are free to trust themselves. I already have an artificial knee. I got my knee at 46. I was in a lot of pain for fifteen years.
What you’re saying is important. Unless we were doing these bursts and we were hunting, half the stuff we do for exercise is made up BS that we’re not supposed to be doing anyway. I love the newspaper reading on the stationary bike or the treadmill. It’s important. When you said that you were ahead or got roasted, everyone who thinks about it has to get flack for stepping out. I grew up in the ‘80s and we used to be like, “Carb it all you want, bagels, this, and that.” They had a big message about no fat.
I appreciate the fact that you’re willing to say, “I thought it was like. I’ve learned and now I’m saying it’s like this as far as the no snacking instead of all the little meals and all these things.” It’s this idea of going to school for something, having expectations, and being willing. If you’re close to your family, a lot of people struggle with what they want, their inner dreams, that yearning, and with what the expectation is. I admire when people are willing to trust that and even when it’s in something considered weird like fitness at that time.
People thought we were strange that we were doing these things and it’s only X amount of decades ago, but you’re spot-on correct. I dislike the vast majority of exercise and eating advice. It pains me. I wish more and more people would give the good information. Let me be honest with you. I’ve written for Good Housekeeping, Oh Magazine, and a whole bunch of different things. They tell us that you will sell magazines and books if you say, “Lose 14 pounds in 14 days.” You and I know that’s not going to happen. You and I know that’s impossible but it sells titles because people want that quick fix. You didn’t gain weight in fourteen days. Don’t expect to lose them in fourteen days.
Nobody wants to hear that. You’ll have a specific clientele. Let’s fast forward. We’re going to jump off of you and we’ll jump into your daughter, Olivia. Forgive me, what’s your son’s name?
What’s his nickname?
[bctt tweet=”The body and mind work so much in tandem.”]
I want to make sure. This is interesting for me. Let’s say I don’t know of a sport harder than gymnastics on every level as far as starting young, the number of hours it takes, the pounding on your body, and going to a big university with the pressure of the competition. I don’t know any other sports in that way. Maybe you have a big program, a football, they’re pressured in a different way but you have a team. The hours are shorter. Kids don’t have to start at 6 years old, on and on.
Even for me, my experience of going to Division-1 college and playing volleyball was so much easier than what Olivia had to go through to become a Division-1 gymnast. Even as a parent, I want to ask your opinion about something. Both my husband and I come from sports and we were not pushed at all. Our parents didn’t do that. What happens is, when you come from a sporting background, 1 of 2 things happens. Either it’s like, “This is what we do in this family and that’s what you’re going to do.” Laird and I took a hands-off approach because we secretly know how hard it is.
Unless you are gravitating towards something, we’re going to expose you to stuff. Unless you gravitate towards something, it’s hard. I always tell my girls, “I’m not your coach. I’m your mom.” That’s different. I see parents everywhere that don’t come from sports but they’re either living through their kids or they’re pushing them. I don’t know if they fully understand all that it takes to do a sport at a high level and think they can push their kid into it. It was interesting.
The two of you wrote a book together called Confessions of the Division-1 Athlete. There is a picture of Olivia and there are beautiful pictures of her inside the book as well. I got the impression from you that you were supporting her. You’re like, “This is the thing that you want to do. I’ll support you.” It didn’t feel like you were all fired up on her doing it.
Gabby, I didn’t know what it was. Olivia’s mom was a successful stage actress. Going back to some of your questions, I worked seven days a week. I had years where I took five days off. That doesn’t mean five days along with Christmas Day and weekends. That means five days because I was working so hard. We did have fun writing about this. When Olivia was little, she was a nutball. She was a ball of energy. She was running around with that Fisher-Price vehicle when she was seven months old on her tiptoes. She would grit her teeth when she’d go into the corner. Her mom and my mother-in-law at the time would have to teach her how to move it out. She needed movement.
We’re city parents. She had ballet on Mondays. She had art on Wednesday and gymnastics on Thursday. This is a lot of weight for a lot of city kids, at least it was at our time because we had to keep her moving. When her coach then said, “May I have her twice a week?” We set Olivia down and said, “Do you want to go twice a week?” She said, “Yes.” She never even inhaled. The coach said, “I’d like her three times a week.” We said, “Would you like to go three times a week?” “Yes.”
Before we knew it, as we wrote in the book, we were taking her to the gym six days a week for three-plus hour practices but had no idea what she was doing, except that she loved it. We encouraged her but neither Ellen nor I ever pushed her to do anything. On the contrary, Olivia and I would have our biggest fights when she refused to miss practice. It’s like, “I’ve got a big party for my firm. I’d like you to be there.” “No.” “We’re supposed to go away for the weekend to New York. I want to take you and your brother to see some stuff.” “No.” This is where she ran the show. She said no, she was going to train. For all of these years, that was her passion so we gave in to her passion.
I would imagine by the time she’s 10 or 11, this was pretty serious already. We all have these moments when we have to trust our children that they’re seeing something about themselves or their life that we don’t understand. Are you worried like, “This kid doesn’t have balance in her life.” Are you like, “At least it’s something she’s passionate about so I’m going to give in.” What are the conversations as a couple? I know you divorced when she was 9 but you’re still doing this together. What does that look like?
We kept our eye on her and her balance was the gym and training. For her, Olivia has always been a decent student. She always did her homework. We never once had to say, “Have you done your homework?” She was on such a treadmill, get up, breakfast, school, home, snack, go to the gym, home, shower, eat, and do homework. As I said in the book, “Lather, rinse, repeat.” This is what she did. This is what she loved.
It’s interesting now in going through the process of writing the book, she’s a little angry at some of the stuff she missed in life. She went to one prom. She never went to homecoming. No one knew who she was at her high school because she didn’t play a sport for her school. They didn’t understand what she was doing every day and leaving except for her close friends. She decided to make the sacrifices. I say this so much, I want parents and the athlete and even if it’s a non-athlete, if it’s a debater, dancer or it’s someone who loves art, if you’re going to go all in, I’m a gambler so I use that expression all-in, you’ve got to know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s what she wanted.
There was never a time where she truly thought of quitting, except one rude coach back when she was young who was weighing the girls. It upset her so much that he was weighing and he made everything about weight. He didn’t want to talk about ability. He didn’t want to talk about the mental focus required. He talked about weight. As a little girl, she said, “I’m out. I’m not doing this.” She came home and drove her mother and me crazy. We said, “You’ve got to get back into the gym.” That’s the only time we said, “The gym would be a good idea for you again.” She went back and he was no longer there.
I understand your question but what I didn’t know was how it was going to change our family dynamic and our life because our life revolved around her sport. Much as you may have read Evan’s chapter to the not great feeling Evan had about himself for many years, being the sibling of a star is not easy and he sent that home.
I want to go in-depth because I don’t even know if it is possible for our parents to protect a sibling or the siblings of somebody who is executing at this crazy high level. By the way, most young people, unless they’re in athletics, and maybe some performers, because even getting good grades, it doesn’t get celebrated externally, the way some of these other things get celebrated. Unless some kid is brilliant and they’re like, “They’re in college classes in ninth grade.”
How would a parent help a sibling or support a sibling of somebody who finds something they not only liked but that they’re good at early? Most of us flounder around and it takes longer. Is there a way to protect them or support them or have another conversation to open up something? I couldn’t even imagine.
It’s the latter of what you said, you have to have a conversation. What is something you would like to do? We had an interesting situation with Evan. He was a terrific artist. He went to special art classes. One of the teachers took a great liking to him. He was painting, he was doing sculpture. For my 50th birthday, he made a duct tape jacket, which unbeknownst to him, looked exactly like Michael Jackson’s jacket from Thriller.
Unfortunately, he got bullied at school. One day said, “I quit art.” His mom and I were like, “Why? You’re so good at it.” He’s like, “I’m not doing it again. I don’t want to talk about it.” That was something we missed. We weren’t aware at the time of the bullying because he’s not the most communicative. He’s getting a lot better. He and I have gone to therapy to help our relationship because we look alike, we act alike, and therefore we butt heads. You’ve got to see how you can help that other child find their passion.
He used to get mad at me because I used to say, “Baba, you’re a big brain.” He said, “I don’t care about that. I don’t like that. Don’t say that.” I had to stop saying that even though it was trying to build him up because he is smart but he didn’t like that distinction. It wasn’t doing for him what the gymnastic was doing for Olivia. That was rough.
You bring up an important point because I have a kid and we’re the same birth sign. We’re similar and we do butt heads. She’s the opposite. I have a daughter who likes it when you congratulate her or tell her that you appreciate something she’s painted or a talent. My other daughter doesn’t want that. If I try to compliment her, like you said, “Baba, you have a big brain,” it’s funny. How do we ask them? I’ve had to ask my one daughter, “In what way could I support you?” They can tell you all the ways how you suck and the way you’re not getting it right.
Parents are overwhelmed. Parents are working. Parents have never parented before so everything is new and we’re there by the seat of our pants. Don’t be afraid to ask your kid even when they’re like, “Get away from me. I don’t want to talk to you.” They do want to talk to you. Say, “I get it. I’m not getting it right. Do you know of a way I can support you so I can understand better?” Those opportunities are there but we only know that till after we’ve gone through it.
I’m a big believer in the facts and the way I would approach things now is, “You’ve got this superstar sister who is excelling at X. How are you feeling about that? Number two, what is a passion you may have? If you don’t have one, that’s fine. Why don’t we do some reconnaissance? Why don’t we check some things out? Why don’t we talk to some people?” I always find it interesting and I’m sure you and your husband find this as well. Our friends are who our kids gravitate toward. It’s different from my kids, but I know that they respect this person. They will talk to them more than they will talk to you.
Try to tap into those people and say, “My daughter thinks you’re the shit.” It’s another Karas expression we use in the house. “Can you help me figure out what’s going on in her mind, what she’s thinking about? We’re her parents and we love her but we don’t seem to be able to get the information out of her.” See if you can use your village because I do believe it takes a village to figure all of this out.
I’m doing a little sleuthing on you. I noticed that you were involved with a television show called Insider Training. I am sure that you saw in the book that we have a chapter that’s called Insider Training. Sometimes a different coach or a different person can be someone to go to, not just the head coach, not just the teacher. Look around at who your team may be and they may help you a lot to navigate what your child’s thinking and get them on the right path.
As parents, we badly want to be all things to our children. If my kid goes up and is thanking everybody and they thank somebody more than they thank me who flipped their switch or got them on this path, be grateful. Be grateful that someone was there in your village that impacted your child in that way even if it’s not you.
I’ve had friends of both of my kids because we have the party house. We have kids here all the time. I love the energy that they bring. Some of the parents have been a little sketchy toward me, “I heard you had a talk with Bob about X, Y, Z.” I’m like, “Yes, he brought it up so I talked to him.” They’ve insinuated, “Don’t parent my child.”
I’ve tried to say, “He or she came to me with an issue so I’m trying to help them through it. I’m certainly not trying to usurp what you’re trying to do for your child but they do find different ways to gravitate toward different people.” I find it a compliment when my kids love someone else and they go to them for advice. It’s great. I’m not the only person you can come to or your mother for advice.
The other thing I do as well is I constantly have shared with my kids my struggles and my failures. As parents, something we should not be doing is that we walk on water and live in the clouds. We are real people. We get hurt. People have hurt us. We have had non-successes in life frequently. We need to share that with them so they don’t feel alone one day when they may not be succeeding at something.
That’s important. I want to share something quickly. Olivia created a formula where she said 40% of it was the athletic ability, 20% was the competitive spirit, and 40% was the joy and, in her case, performance. Maybe for someone else, performance will be competing. For her, it’s competing/performing in a sport like gymnastics. She said that equals success. That’s an important formula.
When you pursue anything, if you’re talking about athletics, I know people who were not certainly the most gifted, but mentally tough or the passion for what they were doing or their ability to turn it up when they were competing. I want to remind people that it is a bit of a pie that gets cut up. If we’re not nine feet tall, lightning-fast, or what have you, generally, we have other things. From very young, Olivia was successful and highly competitive. Before her junior year, Michigan reached out to her. Is that right?
Yes. They wrote us a letter in eighth grade after she won a national championship, the University of Michigan. Alan said, “Jim, it is so nice that the University of Michigan wrote a letter congratulating Olivia.” I said, “That is so nice.” I was clueless that they were flirting with our daughter not knowing how these scholarships work. Olivia was the oldest gymnast at her club trained by an Eastern European coach who has no clue about Division-1, Division-2, Division-3, or anything having to do with that. Therefore, we didn’t know what we were doing.
[bctt tweet=”The answer to should you give your own things up to sacrifice for your children is an absolute hard no.”]
When she got the scholarship between sophomore and junior year, it’s a moment that I will never forget. It was so exciting hearing her on the phone with Scott Sherman when he said to her, “Do you want to be a Wolverine?” It was amazing seeing the look on her face. It was her absolute passion to compete for Michigan, that was her goal.
In a sport like gymnastics, the tricky thing is there are two paths. You can do the elite and a lot of them do University and do the US Olympics. The hard thing is they’re not for most gymnasts, even the best ones and after college. I’d love your take on it when you peak. These girls and athletes are winning national titles at 16. They’re winning NCAA at 18 and 19.
Now you’re in the real world and you’re getting a job. There’s something that I have observed that feels bittersweet about that. All this accomplishment, work hard, achieve goals, but then there’s something that seems so tough about it because then you’re like, “Will I ever have that level of not greatness?” Of course, they could. You wonder that if after 20, the best stuff is behind you in certain ways. Is that a big price to pay?
We talk about that all the time. Let me cover a couple of things. Number one, gymnasts peak twice. I’m sure you as a young athlete as well, when you’re in pre-puberty, you’re Gumby. Your body, the backbends, and the things that you could do. I must add the lack of fear. One thing I see from young gymnasts starting young is they’re not afraid to do some of that crazy stuff. She did well and she hit puberty. She fractured her back. She had body image issues, she became a woman, which is what happens.
As her body evolved and changed, she had to almost relearn the sport. She had peak one, she goes through puberty, and she needs to rebuild. Olivia’s got a lot of grit and that’s something that is in my family. She had to rebuild again, wrist problems, shoulder problems. You name it, we’ve gone through it. The specialists we’ve seen, the PRP injections, all of that to try to get her up to snuff to then be able to compete in a club as a mature woman, and go on to compete for the University of Michigan. It’s a lot of patching.
It was brutal when she left. I can’t even imagine these poor men and women who got cut off at the knees in 2020 when it was their final year and COVID hit. Olivia’s teammates were in tears. They were seniors. They had their whole final season ahead of them. They had a competition and it was done. A lot of them went back for a fifth year because they needed that closure on the sport but Olivia had a terrible time because there’s no time in gymnastics. Every sport is different. For gymnastics, you’re in the gym 51 weeks out of the year. You don’t take off or it could be detrimental to your mind and especially your body because you could hurt yourself.
She graduates. You saw the first chapter of the book, I’m Going to be a Cocktail Waitress in a Slutty Red Dress because that’s the only job offer she got. We were there for dinner at that exact restaurant and we laughed about it. She lost her structure. This is the hard part for these athletes. All of what I was talking about, getting up, lifting the school, the training, the competing, the getting on the plane or the bus, one day, that is over.
In a week she graduated. In a week, she left her home and her family at Ann Arbor and came home to Chicago to live alternately with her mother and with me. That’s where I got this idea. We had had the idea for the book but thought, “I’ve got to give my baby some structure here. I’ve got to give her some purpose.” That’s when we started tinkering with this and toying with it. It helped her a great deal get through that hump until she did get her wonderful full-time job.
It’s an interesting thing when we’re in it and there’s the pursuit, it’s great. She had every injury, an Achilles injury, which is one of the toughest. Sometimes we’re in it and we don’t realize it in different ways so you’re paying upfront because they’re working their butts off. The family has rejiggered their whole life around them. The kid broke her back and fractured her back in high school with the other injuries. You don’t realize also that you pay after too. Sometimes you wonder if the pursuit is worth it.
For Olivia, speaking about my child, it was necessary because that’s how her brain functions. That’s what gives her self-confidence. All those words, self-actualization, and that is something she needed. A lot of kids who don’t have that passion may struggle even more because there’s a sense of, “I don’t have a great love or a great interest in anything. What am I going to do?” They see people who are the big athletes, the big, debaters that keep saying this, whatever someone may do at school, and it’s competitive. Right now, more than any other time, it’s horrible for these kids between the Instagrams and everyone’s happy, everyone’s perfect and all the filters they’re putting on. It’s a rough time to feel good about yourself because there’s so much to make you feel bad about yourself.
I know and I don’t even know what to do about it. I always say that I work with a lot of ex-professional athletes or high-level collegiate athletes. Gymnastics is unique in the amount of time that you have to do it. I feel like with other sports, not only did they do other sports but they have more time for their life and it’s not quite as extreme. I do try to remind them that. I have a daughter who’s trying to play tennis and she’s in Spain. She’s like, “Sometimes I think about what it is I’m doing and it’s stupid.” I’m like, “Totally.” I used to think about this in volleyball. I’m crying behind the bleachers. I’m 25 and I’m a woman. I’m like, “You’re crying about a white ball thing.”
I say to them, “It’s a matrix to know yourself, to learn, to get life skills, to learn how to work with people that you don’t love, to push yourself into uncomfortable spaces.” If people think it’s about winning and losing or being the best or a champion, that ends up being the bigger issue versus you were in a grid, you were in a matrix that taught you some extreme lessons. I always try to remind those athletes, “You’re like a loaded gun, you have to figure out where you want to aim that thing next.”
I agree with that completely. I know that we talked about this. I was shocked in researching for the book. On CNBC, Squawk Box is my jam. I love CNBC because I love to trade stocks. They said that when Ginni Rometty, the former female CEO, and there’s not a lot of them, at IBM stepping down. One of the anchors said, “We’re going to have a lot of Headhunters, look around at former D-1 female athletes, to fill these C-suites, the CEO, the top positions at these huge companies.”
I happen to have a client who’s one of the biggest executive search people in the country. Hands down, this is cool, I’m not saying everyone has to do it. He said that he’ll be looking at someone to put them in one of the top positions in a corporation. By the way, it doesn’t matter, the D-1, D-2, D-3. The minute he sees someone was an athlete, he knows this person has discipline, he or she. He knows they know how to get stuff done, they know how to take direction, and they know how to work as a team.
He said, “Some of that early ingrained behavior that you learn through the sport can translate a great deal for the rest of your life. I find that as a huge plus to any person, any child wanting to pursue something with passion. It may pay off not if you’re the best at the time but it may pay off with the life lessons you learn for much later on in life.”
The whole thing is how do we get our children to be in as many environments as to build out all those skills, even the notion of taking criticism. When you’re an athlete, you learn how to take criticism and you learn how not to take it personally. I know it’s a little different but I can only imagine gymnastics because it’s all about precision, the level of your ability to decipher information and be like, “Got it,” and not take it personally.
I heard that from one of the big firms in Boston. I had a guy tell me the same thing where it was like, “My boss looks for people that played college sports for that reason.” This is important for women’s athletics. We were weighed in. My coach, who is a dear friend of mine from college, came back years later and she goes, “We blew that.”
We got weighed in every Monday and if you weren’t in your ideal weight, if you went up two weeks in a row, you had to run. Everybody reading knows that muscle weighs more than fat, especially as you’re a developing young woman. From when I went in my freshman year, I was fifteen pounds heavier. I was not fatter. I was a lot stronger. You’d figure I went in at seventeen. You become more of a woman.
Olivia speaks frankly, which I appreciate about an eight-month battle with bulimia when she was talking about her weight and not liking breast development and all these things. It’s important to be reminded about the amount of pressure that the people are under. I had a girl write to me who was a water polo collegiate athlete. She asked me for exercises on how to get her shoulders and lats smaller. It’s this idea of, “None of us fit in. Do you fit in? You don’t fit in.” I said to this young lady, “If I came to you and said that, you probably would say to me, ‘It’s pretty cool that you’re strong,’ and you might want to enjoy it.”
It’s the same token. Olivia’s lats have not gone down. Because you’re an athlete and you do so many things in this area, muscle has memory. She’s like, “Dad, I have not swung on a bar in two years. What is going on with these lats?” I said, “They’re ingrained that they believe you’re going to get back on that high bar, you’re going to start doing giants again. Give your body a chance to settle into its new routine and its new normal.” It’s so interesting you say that because she says, “I don’t get it.” She doesn’t lift weights for her upper body but she does for her lower body. She works out but she’s like, “Dad, I can’t.”
We did a pull-up contest once and she won. She cheated but that’s okay. She still has such amazing upper body strength from all those years on those apparatus. It’s going to take time. Like weight loss, you’ve got to give your muscle some time to atrophy as well. It’s incredible how the body and mind go together. I’m a huge believer in all of that and the whole neuroplasticity thing. I could geek out with you for hours. The body and mind work so much in tandem. She’s got to keep telling her upper body, “We’re not getting back on those bars but it’s going to take time.”
When I see certain people, I was like, “They use their bodies. That’s great.” You see someone like Olivia and you’re like, “This person has used this vessel.” I wouldn’t go, “Her lats are big.” I’ll be like, “This chick has been doing stuff.” We get that forgiveness from other people but we don’t give that to ourselves. It’s common.
You guys wrote this book together. For a parent of an athlete, I appreciate this specificness of this area because it’s the worst sport possible for girls because you’re beaten up, you’re training all the time, your whole life. There’s one element where it’s the most exaggerated scenario of any sport. For Olivia, besides being a cathartic experience to write this down and share this experience as she moves on to the next adventures in her life. What do you think she was hoping for people to receive when they read this book?
It was a mutual thing. We wanted people to get an honest and raw impression of what you are getting into, how it affects the whole family, how it affects your psyche. Your comment is spot on. What is it like when this sport that completely and utterly defines you is over? We laugh all the time when people say, “Olivia, why don’t you do some gymnastics on the side?” She’s like, “You don’t get up on a balance beam when you haven’t done it six times a day. You don’t start vaulting around and getting on the bars. This is something that you’re either all in or all out.”
As a tennis player, you can play some tennis. If you’re a volleyball player, go play volleyball a couple of times a week with some friends and get together and have a blast. You can’t do that with gymnastics. It is over. One day, it’s on. The next day, it’s off. We wanted to try to prepare people for what that can feel like not feel that there’s something wrong with you because you lost your purpose and your structure but again. By the same token, give the positives of what came with it along the way. We tried to be both positive and brutally honest throughout the whole thing.
If you ask me right now and Olivia was six and she went to the gym, would I let her do it all over again? It’s 100% a yes. Would I have navigated this situation, the coaches, her brother, and some other situations differently? Absolutely, I missed it. I don’t want other parents to miss it. I want them to learn from my mistakes.
Jim, I appreciate it. I’ve had some situations in my parenting life where I was like, “I missed it big,” and it was all right in front of me. There’s a great story of some indigenous group on an island and there’s a ship coming but they don’t see it because they’ve never seen one before. In parenting, because we care so much, it’s hard to look in the mirror and be like, “How did you miss that?” It’s common. It’s navigating when a kid doesn’t have a passion, has its own challenges but also when you’ve got a kid who’s full-throttle into something and trying to help them walk that line also has its set of challenges.
They’re equally difficult. I say this all the time, you’re busy, your husband’s busy but nothing is more important to me than my kids. I tried to do my best and I missed some stuff. Parents as well, who read this, have to realize what you’re saying right now is so honest and helpful to your readers. I missed it. I’m not perfect. Be a little bit more aware. I do believe in asking questions. Try to engage your kids in a conversation because then you’ll find out things.
I learned with Olivia to ask her not about how she felt from the competition the day before, I would say, “How does Gabby feel? How does Lina feel? How does this feel?” It’s a way of getting to her because she wasn’t going to tell me how she felt but I felt if I went through the other gymnasts and got her talking, then I can get her more engaged in how she is feeling. To go after her directly, she wasn’t going to respond. I had to learn ways to go around her. That was a challenge.
Another thing I’ll say about being a part of a team, which you are as well, is there’s a lot of estrogen on that gymnastics floor, a lot of estrogen on volleyball courts. It is hard to get along with a group of women all trying to succeed at a similar sport. She learned a lot about friendships, relationships, and maybe some things she’s learned to avoid in the future when the warning signs are absolutely the same as what happened with that other girl in that other situation. That’s a good way. You can try to choose better friends. Be more perceptive, see what’s going on, and respond accordingly. That’s something our kids need to learn because kids are rough.
You go through life like that. My final question is inspired by what you talked about. I’ve carried a little bit of guilt or concern. My husband and I have full lives independent of one another and even though we’re together and we’re always together, our family is together, time together, I sometimes get into a battle of back and forth. A back and forth battle between, “I was supposed to give up everything to be here to cater to my kids’ time and success.” You hear it all the way.
Let’s say I grew up more in a negligent home, that’s probably why I excelled. You see other kids that excel but the parents have given up everything to work around that kid’s schedule. I’ve often wondered, I’m like, “Was I supposed to completely abandon all of the things I was interested in for my kids to even be more successful?” You had to work all the time. I always think that’s a weird mix of things like, “I’ve given up too much for them,” or, “I haven’t given up enough.” You wonder if they have a destiny, will they find it regardless? It’s all of those questions that are tricky.
The answer to should you give your own things up to sacrifice for your children is an absolute hard no. That’s Evan’s favorite expression. You have got to be a happy mother, a happy wife, a happy friend, a happy person to be a good mom. You need to have your own things that fill you up. I’ve been in this industry for over 34 years. I worry about women who are devoted mothers.
What happens when the kids leave the nest? No Bueno because you have not worked on completing yourself. You’ve worked on exclusively completing yourself through kids. I’m a huge believer that you have got to prioritize what you need because it’s going to make you a better person. It’s going to make you calmer, less anxious, less depressed. You’re going to feel better about yourself. Bring some joy. You can’t sacrifice. I strongly disagree with that.
When I was working in New York 45 weeks out of the year, I leave every Monday morning. I was training Diane Sawyer and Hugh Jackman and they said, “What kind of a father do you think you are?” I said, “When I’m home, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I am a full-on dad.” I’m not trying to make up for the four days I was out of town. I tell the kids, “Dad’s got to work. Dad’s work is in New York right now.” When I got home, I devoted my attention. They were my number one priority because I hadn’t seen him for four days. You can balance it. You have to find a way to do it.
It’s a conundrum. I’m of service to my family 100%, they are at the top. I do see certain moms where I feel like they’ve given up on everything. I’m with you on that where you go, “These kids are going to move out. They’re going to get lives. They’re going to be down the road.” I was curious about that because that is one that sometimes is always a question. Jim, thank you for your time.
The book is called Confessions of a Division-1 Athlete, it’s by Jim Karas and Olivia Karas. Maybe you guys will do another one. I know you said that you’re going to do a project at some point with Evan. Maybe in a couple of years, she needs to do a follow-up to talk about this next chapter and even go from being a college student and athlete to a working force person in this day and age.
You’re going to laugh because we spend so much time together. She’s almost with me 100% of the time. I said, “Are you ready for project two?” She looked at me and said, “Are you out of your mind?” I said, “No. I’ve already got it in my head. I know exactly what could be. It should be this and that and what you’re feeling.” She said, “Dad, I’m working in PR and marketing. I’m color commentating for the Big Ten Network. I’m doing press with you. I’m trying to get my life back in New York,” she wants to go back to New York, “I’m good right now.”
The problem is Gabby, I’m the one who wants to do the next project because she’s going to leave. A lot of parents may feel this way. COVID has been terrible in many regards but I had a lot of bonus time with my kids and it’s been wonderful. I got to get my act together for my next chapter now that they’re going back to their lives. The good news is they’re both going to be in New York. I’m thrilled that both my kids will be in New York City so I can go torment them once a month for 3 or 4 nights and take all their friends out to dinner and that’ll be fun.
That’ll be the best. Jim, thank you for your time and your work. You’re also a great example. Another thing that’s important is to continue the conversation for 60, 70, or 80 if we’re doing some of the right things we have, vitality and we don’t have to limit ourselves.
My next push is all into anti-aging. I’ve got a bunch of ideas because if we work the program, Gabby, you clearly are and your husband is, there is no such thing as allowing your body to get old. If you tell it to be old, it’ll be old. If you tell it to be young, it will stay young within reason. I don’t want to sound ridiculous but it’s a great passion. I had no problem when I turned 60. I’m a little shocked that the next one will be 70 but I’m going to be okay. I’ve got a couple of years to stress out about that so I’m going to be okay.
Thanks so much for reading. If you’d like, rate, subscribe and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
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- Jim Karas
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- The 7 Day Energy Surge
- Confessions of a Division-1 Athlete
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About Jim Karas
Jim is a Lifestyle Expert who combines his education gained at the Wharton School of Business with over 34 years of invaluable experience helping people look and feel their very best. Jim feels and looks at least 10 years younger, a testament to his ability to understand, maintain and improve the human body. His energy and passion permeate everything he does, from personal training, television appearances, and speaking engagement, to his #1 New York Times best-selling books.