Jeff Pearlman

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Don Cormier

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Sometimes the most interesting people we know are the ones sitting right across from us at a coffee shop. Meet the personal trainer with the wide smile, the love of ice cream and the ear that was ripped open during a game of basketball. POSTED November 28, 2017

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I’ve taught journalism for years, and at some point during every opening class I tell the students I’d rather interview the stranger at a bar than Mike Trout.

Puzzling looks ensue, so I add the explanation: “Mike Trout’s life is familiar. He generally does the same thing every day. He’s a creature of habit. The stranger at the bar is a mystery. He’s an enigma.”

I bring this up because a couple of months ago, while sitting at a long table inside a local coffee shop, I struck up a conversation with a big guy a couple of spots over. He was all alone, staring at his laptop, sipping from a cup of water. We chatted for a good while—about his childhood in Compton, about the Green Bay Packers, about his personal training gig—and at the end I said, “So … would you wanna do a Quaz?”

Enter: Don Cormier.

Don is the owners of his own personal training outfit, Cormier Fitness, as well as the proprietor of an uplifting blog on health and wellness. He helps people get fit out of Southern California and is, truly, one of the friendliest, coolest guys you could possibly meet on a random day at a random cafe. You can reach Don here.

Don Cormier, I can’t beat you up. But I can welcome you to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Don, we met a few months back while sitting at the same long table in the same coffee shop. And the thing that’s striking about you, off the bat, is your physique. You’re an insanely muscular guy who could kick my ass in about eight seconds. And this might sound dumb, but I wonder: Do you ever get tired of worrying about weight? About muscle? About diet? About physique? Like, I worry about it a fair amount and even at that level it can drive me crazy. So do you ever have moments of, “Man, I just wanna drink some fatty Starbucks beverages and lie on the couch for six days watching Entourage re-runs”?

DON CORMIER: First let me say thanks, Jeff, for allowing me to use this platform to share a few things about myself. Now about me kicking your ass in eight seconds—I feel disrespected. I was thinking three seconds.

But you know what’s interesting, Jeff? People always view me as intimidating, and I’m actually among the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I avoid confrontation in all cases. I just refuse to use my energy in that regard.

As far as worrying about my diet, I really don’t at all. I’ve developed some good eating habits. Not saying that I eat the cleanest but I’m conscious of how much food I’m consuming. At this point of my fitness journey, I’m just focused on maintaining my body. I never compare myself with anyone else and that’s how I find contentment within myself. I think these health “gurus” make everything just sound so complicated that people quit before even trying. Instead, they should be trying to see what works for them.

Thankfully I’m not a coffee guy so I only go to Starbucks for wifi and water cups. But unfortunately I have a sweet tooth and I love ice cream. I eat cream at least three days of the week. I’m not recommending anyone to do that, but I make up for it the next day in the gym.

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J.P.: Your online bio is very thin, and I’m curious to know your life path. I know you’re from Compton, I know you played college football somewhere, I know you’re a trainer. But can you fill in the gaps? Who are you? What’s the journey been? How did this happen?

D.C.: Who am I? I’m Donald Cormier Jr, and I’m a professional fitness trainer. My purpose is to help people live a fun and healthy life. My journey has been amazing, it’s been a rollercoaster but I’m still breathing. I played college basketball and tore my ACL my first year. That mainly happened due to me not taking care of my body and making tons of bad choices. I hold myself accountable for my actions and I understand why certain things happened.

After my injury I suffered from depression. It’s hard for anyone when your dream is to become a professional athlete, then it reality starts to set it in more and more that it isn’t going to happen. During my depression I had suicidal thoughts. I just really didn’t want to be here and I would question God every day. I got addicted to prescription drugs because it was my only escape and I would sleep throughout the day. My pride wouldn’t let me go back to my mother’s house so I just lived in my car for a while. I knew I was better than the person I was, so I started reading the Bible.

My mom is a minister so I grew up in church but once I got to college that’s where I had lost my disconnection. I started going to the gym, (mind you, at the time I was completely broke so I was sneaking into the gym because I couldn’t afford a membership. Lord forgive me, I was just determined). I became fascinated with exercising, so I started thinking of careers I could do where exercise was involved. Personal training was what I wanted to do, but everyone told me working in physical therapy would be better job security. I did my research and decided to jump into the world of physical therapy. I was able to learn from some amazing doctors not only in regards to exercise but how to be an overall professional. After working in the physical therapy field for three years I decided to follow my heart and pursue my personal training career.

J.P.: I was just reading your blog, and you wrote a post headlined “Grace” a while back. One of the things you wrote was “Sometimes it amazes me when I see the things God is allowing me to do and the places He is allowing me to go and all the precious people he is drawing in my life.” And I’m always fascinated by faith, probably because I have little-to-none of it. So here’s my question: How do you explain/justify God giving you these wonderful gifts while, meanwhile, infants die every day, people are murdered every day, 9.11, Nazi Germany, Rwanda genocide, etc? Because I struggle with the incongruity of it all.

D.C.: I love this question, Jeff, because I ask it, too. I feel like people give God credit for everything that is messed up in the world but never give him credit for the great things. It hurts my heart to hear when someone loses a loved one, especially when you know what they’re going through. It’s hard to understand God’s ways. I just pray for understanding, which helps me become more compassionate. That in turn makes me grateful because every day isn’t promised. That’s why I try and be the best person I can be—not just for me but for my family and friends. Sometimes I fail, but the great thing is I get another chance to get better and that’s only by God’s grace.

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J.P.: In another post, you write about foods to avoid, including “junk food.” Man, I LOVE junk food. Cookies, ice cream, a Coke Zero. Soooo … what to do? Being serious—do you feel like I need to give it up?

D.C.: Junk food is everyone’s problem. I have that problem, too! I think it’s about eliminating it little by little. If you still eat ice cream, give up cookies (LOL). It’s about self discipline and being able to sacrifice temporary gratification. Should you give it up? I wouldn’t suggest that you just go cold turkey and completely give it up. It’s about moderation.

J.P.: You’re from Compton. On your site you write, “Shout out to my city Compton, California where great people are birthed despite the image the media tries to display.” What do you feel people get wrong about Compton?

D.C.: The misconception about Compton is that it’s this poverty stricken place filled with thugs. Don’t get me wrong it’s not Beverly Hills, but it’s filled with a lot of talented people … some just aren’t afforded the same outlet as others. When I was in school we had one computer to a classroom and no textbooks to take home. Yet there are numerous people who went to college on academic scholarships. But I feel the media portrays the “Straight Outta Compton” image. I guess it’s more marketable.

J.P.: I’m gonna throw a touchy question at you, and I hope you don’t mind. When we were speaking the second time I noticed that you have a slight deformity with one of your ears. As a kid I had a bad birthmark that people used to mark, and it really scarred me for a while. You ooze this really infectious confidence that says, “This is me,” and I wonder: A. Did it ever bother you? As a kid, maybe. And B. How did you develop your confidence?

D.C.: Well let me say, I’m glad you noticed something else about me besides my physique (LOL). As a kid I always wore earrings. If you had the biggest diamonds you were cool. We were kids trying to emulate R. Kelly (only in that regard, of course). One day playing basketball my earlobe split because, of course, I had my cool earrings in while playing. I got fouled hard and my earring spilt straight through.

Sounds painful, but when it happened I was looking for my cubic zirconia diamond earring. Eventually it scarred up and formed into a keloid. When I first got it, it definitely messed with my self-confidence to the point where I got numerous surgeries. But they always came back. Now I’ve just learned to live with it. It’s a part of who I am. Confidence comes from within and how you feel on the inside shows on the outside. So when you ask how I walk around with so much confidence, it’s because I know my self worth.

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J.P.: You write, “Persistence is the essence of success.” But one thing I feel often goes undiscussed is how persistence is maintained. Know what I mean, Don? People say, “Be persistent! Be persistent!” But it’s sooo much easier said than done. So how does one maintain persistence? How do you?

D.C.: When it comes to persistence you’re only going to continue being persistent if you have a big enough reason as to why you’re doing it. I maintain persistence because I understand it’s my purpose to help people live a healthier life. So at the end of the day it’s not about me.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your life? Lowest?

D.C.: I’m currently living my greatest moment because I’m always looking toward the future and I’m accomplishing my goals one at a time. My lowest point probably would be witnessing my parents’ divorce.

J.P.: You played football. You’re also huge into wellness. Sooooo … football? Should people play? Should they not? Is it contradictory to tell people to get lots of sleep and eat well while also encouraging a sport that destroys the body and oftentimes results in CTE and brain-related damages?

D.C.: I love football. When I played I used it as an outlet for my anger during my parents’ divorce. I was able to use football instead of resorting to violence or crime, although it’s a dangerous sport. I think in all sports you are sacrificing your body one way or another. Football just gets a bad reputation because of all the attention it receives surrounding brain injuries.

J.P.: You ooze optimism and happiness. The Trump presidency has oftentimes turned my optimism and happiness to sludge. I read the paper, watch the news and feel like screaming. I don’t want to just live in a shell, but I want the happiness back. What to do, Don?

D.C.: Honestly I feel like I do live in a shell sometimes, because you turn the news and it’s always negative and injustice. Trump has always showed who he is. I’m amazed at the millions of people who have the same mindset as him. The way I stay sane is I pray and leave it up to God that the president humbles himself.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DON CORMIER:

• Five reasons one should make Compton his/her next vacation destination: 1. Don’t make Compton your vacation destination; 2. Go to Louis Burger on Rosecrans Ave and try the chill cheese fries; 3. Go to the Compton Christmas parade; 4. Build up your street cred; 5. Generate your own perspective. 

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Frank Gore, deadlifting, Madonna, eBay, Twix bars, Goldie Hawn, Sir Mix-A-Lot, the Olympic Marathon, Dodger Stadium, E.T., leather shoes, the number 965,432: E.T., Six Mix-A-Lot, Dodger Stadium, Olympic Marathon; Madonna; Twix; Frank Gore; deadlifting; Goldie Hawn; leather shoes; 965,432 (too random).

• One question you would ask Billy Dee Williams were he here right now: Did you have a crush on Princess Leia in the gold bikini?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I never thought I’d die on a plane.

• Three skills people might find surprising: I’m a good listener, I have a good sense of humor and I can make food disappear.

• Three memories from your first-ever date: 1. I dented the side of my mom’s car door before I even left the house; 2. I was sad the whole time and ruined the whole date; 3. I remember going to Denny’s because it was open 24 hours and I was scared to go home.

• What’s the most overrated exercise?: Benchpress.

• What do your shoes generally smell like?: Turkey bacon.

• Do you think Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire belong in the Hall of Fame?: I do. They made huge impacts on baseball.

• The coolest place you’ve ever visited is …: Atlanta. I loved the southern hospitality.

  • Ted Mark

    “It’s hard to understand God’s ways.” No shit. Other than that, Mr. Cormier sounds like an upstanding guy. Good Quaz.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life