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July 5, 2023

Turn Up The Heat: Embracing Challenge for Ultra Personal Growth

Mike Tousignant

Turn Up The Heat: Embracing Challenge for Ultra Personal Growth

When I take a moment to reflect on my life and what lies ahead, I notice that I’m always trying to fill three buckets. Each of these buckets holds a place for family and friends, body, and work.

First backpacking trip with just older son Calvin.

I focus on these buckets as a way to clear the mind and the noise of everyday life. We have so many inputs that can quickly derail us, or we never figure out where we’re heading in the first place and quickly get lost without an endpoint. 

Now, all of the above has been said a million times, a million different ways by great authors and leaders and of course, all those social media gurus on the internet. 

I’m not trying to be any of those, but I had this moment and I wanted to share it. I find we can learn from all of those around us at all times if we listen, stay curious, and keep an open mind. 

I want to share a story that recently hit me while trying to focus on my buckets. If I pay attention to these buckets, I find much greater success in my day to day;

  • Spiritual
    • Mediation, journaling, family/friends
  • Physical
    • Exercise, nutrition, sleep, competition
  • Intellectual
    • Easton, reading, guitar, hobbies

During the latter half of 2022, I found myself pondering the next chapter.

I’ve spent over 20 years competing in high-impact sports, starting with football at the tender age of nine. Wrestling and Jiu Jitsu followed suit, and I even had a shot at MMA (you can see my one fight here, real shitty phone video, I’m the guy in white trunks) before embarking on a Jiu Jitsu journey in Brazil for a few months.

BJJ with Professor Phil Lietz.

By this point, I had become a black belt. Competition fueled my motivation, and I thrived in this environment until an unfortunate ACL complete tear forced me to take a step back. While I longed to return to the competitive scene, life had other plans for me. 

Top of Hanging Lake!

Easton was growing rapidly, and I was given the opportunity to lead as its CEO. We expanded, my wife and I started a family — bought a house even — then we had a second kid. Life became a whirlwind, and I cherished every moment. My focus shifted towards personal growth and nurturing the Easton community.

Still, as time went on, I couldn’t ignore the persistent nudges from my team and that little voice inside my head urging me to get back on the mats. I missed it dearly.

I still made it on the mat 1-2 days a week but I wanted to have a real return where I was there four days a week and competing again. Taking into account both my conscience and the consistent feedback from my team, I decided to return to the mats. Unfortunately, my neck wasn’t in the best shape, and any training session left me in a pretty bad state for weeks. 

Even a slight wrong move would leave my head tilted for hours until I could get some traction to reset my spine. It felt as if my neck was misaligned.

Honestly, I am scared of becoming paralyzed with the compounded trauma of 30 years of high impact sports (I was a defensive lineman and linebacker in high school and college, weighing in at a whopping 170 lbs.) 

So there I was, sitting in the sauna, engrossed in a health session inspired by Andrew Huberman. Around the 25-minute mark, when the intensity kicked in, a realization hit me. I had been stuck in the motions of life, not quite in a rut, but rather a state of wanderlust and melancholy. 

Crushing some sushi with Calvin and Leo.

Although I was dedicated to my morning practices, my children, and the growth of Easton, I felt a void. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something had been missing for over a year. I didn’t feel like I was living up to my fullest potential. 

Then, it hit me square in the face.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve always competed in something. The times I wasn’t competing coincided with periods of neglecting my own well-being (think early twenties before I discovered BJJ at 24.) Here’s the striking fact: I hadn’t competed in anything since 2014. Eight long years without physical competition.

Sure, growing Easton and assuming new roles while becoming a father had its challenges, and can also feel similar to competition. And if I had been competing during those years, I might have messed up a few important details of fatherhood and leadership. 

Now, at 40 years old, Easton has an incredible leadership team that surpasses my abilities in every role I once held. My boys are at an age where they can join me in various activities, and witnessing their father’s hard work inspires their own growth. It reminds me of a poem, A Little Fellow Follows Me, which I keep printed and hanging in my office. I think all Dads or Moms should do the same. 

So, there I was in the sauna, and all these thoughts hit me like a ton of bricks. This epiphany – this missing piece of the puzzle. I realized that since my neck needed time to heal (let’s say a year with some physical therapy), I needed something else. 

Looking back at my sports history, I realized that I’ve always thrived when competing against opponents. Not just metaphorically, but literally. I craved competition – not just against others, but against my own mind and limitations. 

I wanted to find my pain barrier, to discover my breaking point and if I had what it takes to push through it. I considered triathlons or Exterra mountain bike and trail run events, but then another thought struck me:

Emily, my wife, is my ultimate fitness inspiration. Our first date was at a climbing gym at 6 a.m. during our early twenties. She introduced me to climbing, and her unwavering commitment to exercise every day fueled my own passion for fitness.

Emily post race.

Emily used to be heavily into ultra-running before we had our kids. When the time commitment became too much with a growing family, she hung up her shoes and opted for activities that didn’t require six hours a day on the weekends. 

So I had this thought: maybe I could do ultra-runs. The kids were older, and it would be a great activity for me and Emily to share – do race days together, cross the finish line holding hands, suffer in our own way but in the same event. 

Long run with Bauer the dog.

Next, to do what I always do when something strokes my passion: start the research process.

I dove into audiobooks and started learning about the pain and trials of running distances like 30 miles, 50 miles, 60 miles, and even over 100 miles. I was sold! I used to despise running, and even at that moment, the idea seemed absurd. I’d rather go all out on the mat for an hour or two and then relax at home.

But being out there, running for 7, 25, or even 30+ hours – that’s a whole different ball game. I started devouring books on the subject, probably more than 25 so far, and three times as many podcasts. (Probably pretty typical behavior for a newbie.)

So, I mustered up the courage and signed up for my first race. It was absolutely dreadful, and that’s precisely what I wanted. I even got to cross the finish line holding Emily’s hand as we limped through it together. My upper body felt fine, but below the waist was in excruciating pain and carried an array of new injuries. 

Yet, my neck was intact, and I was competing once again — now against myself. And through the journey, I unearthed reservoirs of life I never knew existed. I’ve completed a 50k race, and another 55k awaits me in July, with a 100-mile race scheduled for October. These challenges will truly test my mettle, and I intend to show my kids that they too can conquer difficult tasks.

Mike and Emily post 50k.

Embracing the discomfort, I’ve adopted James Dalton’s mantra from Road House, played by the late Patrick Swayze, “pain don’t hurt,” even when every step feels like walking on glass. 

I do all this because competing with my own pain helps me grow in every aspect of my life. We have also adopted this phrase in my house. Not because we want to bury the boys’ emotions and pain, but to help them understand the difference between emotional and physical pain. This approach creates great conversations around hard things and why we push through them. 

I want to reach the bottom of my reserves and see if I can keep digging. I carry this philosophy into everything I do – as a father, a husband, a leader, a friend, a teammate and an employee. This is who I am, and I’m committed to continually pushing forward for self-improvement. If I’ve had an impact on your life, I hope to inspire you to do the same because I don’t believe in showing up half-heartedly for anyone. I also recognize I am human and fail often, but the goal is to reflect and improve for the next opportunity. 

We all have a responsibility to challenge ourselves daily so we can inspire those around us to do the same. I firmly believe this, and I draw inspiration and motivation from each one of the students and staff at Easton. Working closely with our leadership teams, I’m blown away every day by their dedication to one another and the values of Easton. 

I take on these challenges because of the greatness I see in our community. I want to be like you, and together, we’ll conquer every new mountain that stands in our way.

Cross Country skiing with the boys in tow using Pulks!
The family’s first backpacking trip.

At 40, I realized the significance of something I had overlooked until it was gone. Don’t get me wrong – I have always been scared of competing. It’s scary to work so hard and to put it all on the line. But the end result is always worth it, win or lose. Do the work leading up to the event, and the gains and personal growth will forever change your life for the better. 

Find something you are passionate about, and put yourself out there.

Whether it’s competing in Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai, playing guitar at a friend’s wedding, or hopping on the trails and racing against others, find out how deep you can dig. Let those new and exciting experiences change your body and mind, and flow into all aspects of your life. 

See you on the mats, or trail, or wherever you want to meet up!

You can always reach me at



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