Source: Sherman Publications

Clarkston grad helps get soldiers fit

by Trevor Keiser

April 06, 2011

Clarkston High School graduate Joe DeGain is getting the opportunity of a lifetime as he leaves this weekend for Iraq to help U.S. troops with physical training.

“By no means do I think I am serving our country by going over there, but I just love the fact I can give back to the soldiers and help them in some capacity, while they defend our nation,” DeGain said. “The only reason we can get up and go to work every day and hug and kiss our kids or our wife or go to school or anything has to do with them protecting us.”

DeGain is a trainer with the international fitness company CrossFit. CrossFit headquarters flies him to various cities across the nation on weekends to certify trainers to physically and mentally train others. To be able to train troops stationed in Iraq is an honor, DeGain said.

“For some reason they picked me, I have no idea what the rhyme or reason was behind it, all I know is I was 100 percent excited and didn’t hesitate for a second,” he said. “It’s something I would love to do.”

DeGain called CrossFit training “a methodology of fitness,” which combines functional movements with intensity to create a totally fit person prepared for anything life throws at them.

“It’s a focus of every facet of one’s fitness, making sure one doesn’t sacrifice at the expense of another,” he said. “It doesn’t try to only focus on cardiovascular, cardiorespiratory endurance, but also focuses on strength at the same time, making sure that flexibility, power, speed, accuracy, agility, all the 10 general physical skills are all addressed.”

DeGain said the military has embraced CrossFit training because it trains people “for the unknown and unknowable.”

“They don’t know if they have to have great strength for one day, then the next day run an incredible amount with a rucksack on,” he said. “Soldiers don’t know what they’re training for all the time.”

DeGain got connected to CrossFit after a friend introduced him to it. After checking out the website and “playing around with it a little bit,” he decided to become a certified trainer and is now apart of the “HQ (Highly Qualified) staff.” It wasn’t too long after DeGain decided to open up his own CrossFit gym called “810 CrossFit.”

“I had one guy come and ask me to train him, so I told my wife to start parking out in the driveway. She started parking out in the driveway in winter, not the smartest thing I could have asked her to do,” he said with a laugh. “We moved our cars into the driveway and put all of our tools and everything from the garage into the basement and I just turned my garage into a fitness studio and it grew quickly.”

It grew quicker than he thought it would and now, with 15 members, they have moved the studio out of the garage to a facility in Grand Blanc. DeGain loves that it’s a family venture and something he and his wife can do together. He calls it a “Ma & Pa Fitness Gym.”

“It’s different than any gym you would ever see,” he said. “There are no mirrors, there are no comfortable elliptical machines, and there are no magazine racks. It’s a warehouse that promotes hard work and sacrifice to get results.”

When not at the gym, or helping train others to be trainers, DeGain can be seen teaching physical education at Pine Knob Elementary molding.

“We do a lot of things at the elementary school that mimics the elements of CrossFit. Things like Midline stabilization, posterior chain engagement, and proper range of motion,” he said. “We have a great thing going on between the staff and the curriculum for Clarkston Phys Ed.”

Prior to Pine Knob, he taught at the high school. He was also the high school wrestling coach for nine years.

“There were some special kids on that wrestling team,” he said. “It was a tough decision not to coach this year and I miss those kids a lot, but it was time to focus more on my family.”

After graduating from Clarkston in 1996, DeGain went on to wrestle for the University of Michigan for five years where he was a four time letter winner and team captain. Falling in love while in school, he married after graduation and started a family soon after, and never got a chance to enlist into the U.S. military.

“I wasn’t pursuing going into the military. My dream was always to wrestle and I always wanted to wrestle and wanted to pursue that as far as I could. I pursued it as much as I could and then when I was done with that, I was in love and it was time to settle down,” he said. “There is never enough time for anything. I think it’s a very admirable gesture to sign up for the military and to be in the services. I would have liked to, but I wouldn’t have changed anything or taken it back”

DeGain lives in Grand Blanc with his wife Elizabeth Kalush-DeGain, who teaches at Grand Blanc High School. They have three children, Madeline, 14, Lillian, 7, and Samuel, 6, and are in the process of adopting a 19- month-old foster daughter, Kimora.

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“It’s definitely not something meant for only great athletes, anybody can do it,” Joe said. “We got anyone from an Olympic athlete can benefit from it to an 85 year-old grandmother.”

As far as going to train the soldiers in Iraq, Joe said he is excited to bring them something they want.

“They’re over there sacrificing so much, I’m sure there is so much they would long for from home that they’d like to have, but can’t get to them, so I’m excited they requested it and I get to actually deliver the material,” he said. “I get to shake their hands and thank them for their service and any bit of knowledge that’s ever been soaked into my brain (about fitness and nutrition) I get to share that with them.”