The Reluctant Achiever interviews Michael Gayle of MGayle Outdoor Adventures, a Personal Trainer with a difference.
Asking for help can fill many of us with dread. If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you probably know I counted myself in that number. But why are we so hesitant?
Often we’re too proud or don’t want to appear weak. Sometimes we’re just plain scared. But we really needn’t be. Asking for and receiving help to achieve our goals can be one of the most liberating experiences we ever have – if we manage to ask of course!
Someone who has devoted his life to helping others achieve their dreams is Michael Gayle.
Michael is the founder of MGayle Outdoor Adventures, a training and adventure company based in Medina, Minnesota.
I first met Michael via LinkedIn. His enthusiasm literally leapt out of the phone at me. Blinking snow out of his eyes on a February morning Michael tells us proudly how he trained Andrea - a client who’s never done anything like this before - to be ready to ski her first Birkie (a gruelling 55k ski race). She’d only learned to ski the previous November!
His generosity of spirit combined with his seemingly unexpendable reserve of energy had me intrigued. None so much as when he decided to record himself taking a 10-minute cold water training dip in the freezing Waverley Lake. That took the ice bucket challenge to a whole new level!
From helping people get into the gym or local park for the first time, right through to expedition training and guiding trips into the wilderness of Newfoundland and Svalbard, Michael’s reason for being is to help others make their dreams a reality.
It was clear to me from the very beginning that any reluctant achiever would benefit from a Michael Gayle in their life.
I decided to find out more about the man behind the LinkedIn profile…
A bit of background
Michael grew up in Lansdowne, a suburb of Philadelphia. To situate Lansdowne for me he explains that it’s around 2 hours from the Jersey shore that he visited with his parents as a child. And, importantly, around 2 hours from the Appalachian Mountains.
As a youngster, Michael recalls, he attended summer camps where he spent his time learning the skills of the outdoors – hiking, rope rappelling and camping out.
He tells me: “I started to go to summer camp when I was 8 years old. That’s what caused me to fall in love with the outdoors. I remember we sang songs around the campfire at the end of each day. It was joyous. And so I associated the outdoors with joy, life and energy.”
Learning outdoor skills and fitness from an early age made Michael stand out when he joined the Marine Corps too…
“I was in training at Paris Island, South Carolina, when we were told to rope rappel backwards off a 60 ft fire tower. For me, it was no problem. It was the same as when I was a kid. For others it was scary, they’d never done it before. When I got to the bottom I was so excited I asked the drill instructor if I could do it again. I don’t think he was too happy with me.”
Seeing the fear on the faces of some other recruits, Michael realised how fortunate he was to have acquired a host of outdoor skills so early on in life.
While he was serving as a Marine, Michael was also a freshman in college. It was at this point he became aware of his talent for training others and the power of reciprocity. It opened up a whole new world to him…
“I met an English professor who said ‘If you help me get in better shape, I’ll give you an education in theatre’. I helped him train and I went to a whole bunch of different productions and learnt a lot about theatre. Since then I’ve worked with many people who have really interesting lives. I go over and above to help them train and I end up having experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise. It helps me to see life from different perspectives.”
Michael’s passion for training, particularly outdoor training, has grown steadily since that first encounter. He’s been training people from all walks of life, in one way or another, for over 25 years now.
So what is MGayle Outdoor Adventures about today?
One aspect of training that Michael is really passionate about is Pilates…
“Many of us try to push ourselves to train but it can be difficult. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you can’t do it… it just means that sometimes you have to approach it in a different way. There are things we can do to keep ourselves healthy and mitigate the risk of injury. The Pilates aspect is very specific. It helps me to train people in the right way to avoid injury.”
He tells me that there’s really no age limit to training:
“I hear people say “as I age, you know it gets harder”. It can be that way, but it doesn’t have to be. Unless we continue to train consistently the body will age. But if we train in a way that’s appropriate for our bodies, we get stronger. We can continue to do what we want to do.”
“We might have to put a bit more time into flexibility. When we were younger perhaps we didn’t need that. Pilates is the tool that allows people to be able to explore, to keep exploring as if they were young.”
Although Michael is more than happy to train his clients indoors, his ultimate aim is to get more people outside, he wants them to ‘catch the outdoor bug’.
He’s worked with many clients who didn’t have a relationship with the outdoors at all before they met him. He’s helped them discover something they’d never imagined for themselves…
“They say “hey wow, I never knew there were state parks this close to my home” they’re only 5 minutes from their home and they never knew they existed. We train when the sun is rising or coming down, in all different weather conditions. That starts the excitement and they say, I wanna do this now, I wanna do that, to do things they didn’t even dream of because it wasn’t within their thinking before.”
“The clients that are willing to take that leap of faith and get outdoors with me are the ones that I’ve found will grow the most. Because it becomes part of them, it becomes part of who they are.”
“I’m not minimising the benefits of training indoors, but every one of those training sessions outdoors is an experience of breathing the fresh air, seeing that sunrise, it’s seeing nature around us. You’re experiencing all that whilst you’re getting in shape, that’s part of it.”
Don’t overthink it
Of course, training is not all about the physical. I ask Michael about the mental and emotional benefits of his clients getting outdoors…
“Take being out in the rain or a storm, many people don’t do that as adults. I’ve noticed that those types of experiences help us focus on the present, versus thinking about being somewhere else (what you have to do with your day etc.) It’s good for us to be in a place where we can just be there.”
“I’m like everyone else, we can all fall into thinking about stuff we should have done in the past, or things we need to do in the future. Being outdoors allows us to quieten that internal dialogue. It allows us to focus on appreciating what we have and the people around us that support us and love us. That can have a huge impact on mental health but also on physical and emotional health.”
Consider it done
At the moment, Michael is training a 12-strong team to compete in a 15k Tough Mudder race. Many of the team are first-timers. He explains:
“Doing the Tough Mudder isn’t about the Tough Mudder. It’s about getting people outdoors, getting them physically fit. It’s about building a relationship with the outdoors and teaching them using Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi and other skills that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
Michael is totally against the old assumption of “no pain, no gain”...
“Training is about listening to your body and not doing it if your body isn’t rested or healed. It’s a different mindset than most of us are accustomed to. My clients are getting in shape, or getting back in shape again, and I want them to hold it for life. Not just do the Tough Mudder and then put on 20 or 30lbs and go back to watching Netflix.”
“I want them to say “this is a great experience, my body feels good. Tough Mudder was challenging but I was ready for it, totally prepared. And the next challenge is this…”, and it’s maybe doing a hundred-mile bike ride, or a 20-mile hike with a 30lb backpack, you know?”
As a veteran personal trainer and a Marine with a host of qualifications in tracking, wilderness and survival training, it would be foolhardy not to trust Michael’s judgement on how to train for a challenge. Regardless of whether you think you can make it at first, Michael knows he can devise a plan to get you there…
“There are ways to get things done. I’ve had a lot of experiences that make me confident I can make it happen. The path to helping people is not difficult for me. It may be difficult for them to go through. But finding the path, as far as I’m concerned, isn’t difficult.”
“It’s seeing it and believing it as if it already happened. That’s the most difficult thing about the whole process, the very first step.”
I ask Michael what his advice would be to someone who wants to challenge themselves but can’t see the way forward. Generous as ever, he replies:
“If it’s something that means something to them, if it’s important that they do it, I’d ask them to look me up. It needs to mean something to them, that’s key."
"I can give them direction and help them get physically, mentally and emotionally prepared. The experience of getting ready for that challenge is transformational. It will change their life forever.”
“I’d ask them to reach out to me, and if they don’t end up working with me, that’s fine. I could be their coach on the sidelines. I could potentially help set something up, for example, if they’re in England.”
With much love and encouragement,
The Reluctant Achiever
The Reluctant Achiever is written by professional copywriter Wendy Ann Jones.
Photographs featured in this article are courtesy of Michael Gayle and MGayle Outdoor Adventures.