Between curating a playlist that will keep 50+ people with different musical tastes energized, to building workouts that are challenging to athletes and accessible to newbies, to finding time for their own sweat sesh, your favourite trainers hustle hard. In our new series, we catch up with some of your favourite fit pros to find out how they get it done. Next up: Chris Lewarne.
Chris (aka The Cuddly Canadian), is one of Barry’s Bootcamp Toronto’s founding trainers and a Chief Instructor. The former New York lawyer talked to us about the friend who inspired him to pursue a career of inspiring others, how he earned his “Cuddly Canadian” moniker, his ideal day off, and the top five items he always has in his gym bag.
You left your law job to pursue a profession in fitness. What made you take the leap?
On the friend that inspired him to live for today, not tomorrow
It was my best friend Adrian. I wish I could tell you that I was given to introspection and meditated on potentially making a move and eventually mustered the inner strength to find some higher purpose in life, but I didn’t do or have those things.
I wasn’t happy for a long time as a corporate lawyer in New York and I probably would have remained unhappy for a long time as a corporate lawyer in New York if my best friend Adrian hadn’t died. Of course, that brought a whole new depth of unhappiness into my life that I would trade for anything and that I still struggle with every day, but it did wake me up to what matters in this world.
Adrian was that friend that few of us are lucky enough to have — simultaneously the most courageous, most compassionate and most incomparable man I’ve ever known. He was that guy that could do and be anything — everything actually — but rejected the linearity that binds us, that’s written into our social compact (the script that tells us go to school, get our internship, work our way to middle management, hope to become VP one day, retire, and THEN start to live…).
“If you find the thing you’re really meant to do in this world, the rest kinda just falls into place.”
Unlike me, he didn’t believe that just because he could be a lawyer or a doctor, he should follow that path. Instead, he made his own. He chose to be a student of the world, to restore an engine with artistry, to learn to play his seventh musical instrument (I think the accordion was the last he mastered), to perform carpentry jobs with so much skill that he could work half the year and spend the other half on humanitarian missions in East Africa, or month-long adventures motorcycling to the edge of the world in Panama and back.
When you find yourself speaking at a ceremony that memorializes someone like that, your internal compass can’t help but recalibrate. So I chose to find my truth in the world, to do something where I felt I could touch people and be touched by them, somewhere where I can see my clients struggle, furrow their brows, sweat with them, bleed with them, and smile with them when we all come through the other side together.
On finding purpose in the ring
Competitive boxing was where I got my first taste of that in New York. You can’t avoid it. When you’re arms-length from someone whose sole mandate is to hurt you more than you hurt him, when you’re tired, when your lungs burn and your legs feel weak and your inner child screams out that it’s not ok to be hit in the nose one more time, that’s when you start to learn a little bit about who you are and where you fit in on this planet. That’s where you glimpse into a spectrum of your (and your opponent’s) humanity that remains hidden to many of us.
I took my first fight while I was still a lawyer for Adrian, in support of cancer research and treatment through the incredible organization Haymakers For Hope. At some point, I realized I was in the gym a lot more than I was in the office. I was wearing all black sneakers to work so I could slip in and out for roadwork without the partners noticing.
“You owe it yourself to find the thing that makes you smile inside and out.”
From there, it was just a matter of gazing further and further down the road and looking back less and less at the 60 story tower I worked at on 5th Ave.
I started working with Haymakers, started helping other fighters train and eventually found my home with like-minded and like-spirited people at Barry’s Bootcamp.
My search for truth and trial and something that ties me to the memory of my friend was sweaty and bittersweet, complete with a full-circle homecoming when I came back from New York with the company to be a part of the birth of Barry’s Canada here in Toronto.
What was the most challenging part of making the change? The most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part
The most rewarding part? I think when you’ve chosen the right path, you don’t know it because of what’s in front of you, you know it because you don’t want to look back for a second. Adrian found solace in reading No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, by Thich Nhat Hanh when he was battling his cancer.
During a lengthy chemo session, he tattooed the phrase onto his thigh with a needle and India ink and later gave me the same tattoo on my forearm. It resonated with me. Thich Nhat Hanh famously said that we can find peace and happiness in every moment.
“Peace is every step.” Whenever I have self doubt, I just keep that in mind, I focus on the next step and trust that it’s ok not to know exactly where you end up if you enjoy the journey.
And the hardest
The hardest part? Giving up a six-figure bonus for sweat and smiles is not something most of us are willing to do. And for someone who grew up very poor, it was made all the more difficult for me.
But I will say this: if you find the thing you’re really meant to do in this world, the rest kinda just falls into place.
Trust the process and remember we only have one shot at this life. You owe it yourself to find the thing that makes you smile inside and out.
Why do they call you The Cuddly Canadian? We hear your insanely tough classes are anything but sweet!
Haha, I again can’t take credit for that one. When I was boxing in New York, my sparing opponents would always tell me that I apologized to them under my breath whenever I landed a hard right. I didn’t know I was doing it and it freaked them out a bit — they thought it was some weird mind-trick. My coach found it funny so he would joke in Spanish with the other guys at my boxing gym that I was the “Cuddly Canadian.” It kinda took off from there…
What’s your ideal day off?
Honestly? I teach morning classes every day so it’s hard to say this, but I am a HUGE night owl and a HORRIBLE morning person.
Sundays are my one day off teaching every week. I sleep 10-12 hours to make up for my weekly deficit and have the laziest mornings and afternoons you could imagine, eating cereal bare-chested in front of trashy action movies I’ve already seen too many times.
I feed my girlfriend’s Chihuahua, Chloe, human snacks with me (it’s her one cheat day of the week), then I take a long run, always down to the water, no matter how cold cause it gives me a tremendous energy for some reason.
From there, it’s football and a couple of pints of Guinness with my little brother (the best Sundays are when the Pats play), then write a program, find some cool music with big drops and get ready to Barry’s for the next week!
How do you find time to fit in your own workouts and what’s your favourite way to workout (outside of Barry’s of course)?
I’m lucky that we have a such a strong group of instructors here at Barry’s Canada. I try to take at least one class before or after I teach every day to get my HIIT in!
Aside from that, I love to supplement with some lazier heavy lifting with my good friend and our lead instructor, Darcy “Fierce” Pierce (he makes me lift way less lazy then I would on my own).
And of course I still can’t stay away from boxing for too long without missing it a little. I have a few clients I train privately in fighting and self-defence and it’s always amazing to see their confidence grow while getting a little taste of my old life.
Five things you’ve always got in your gym bag, go!
- BCAA’s (Catabolism is the number one enemy when you really train like an athlete)
- An extra tank top (teaching Barry’s is no joke – we burn through gym clothes)
- Wraps and a mouthguard, cause you never know you’re gonna find a heavy bag to hit or someone’s gonna want to do a little ring work
- Arnica and Advil (once you’re north of 25, if you want to keep training like an athlete, you gotta accept that you’re gonna take your gains with a little bit of pain…);
- An oversized towel (I like to take Chloe with me everywhere I go, as much as I can. Some public spaces haven’t evolved to love her as much as I do, so she spends a good deal of time hiding comfortably in my gym bag while I shop, dine with friends, or get a lift in).
“There’s strong, then there’s ‘We The North’ strong”
You’re originally Canadian but spent years living in New York. What are the major differences between the fitness scenes in each city?
I wouldn’t have believed this to be the case, but Canadians can be even more hardcore with their fitness pursuits than New Yorkers. I tried to tone down my teaching style a little bit when we first opened Barry’s Canada, worried that it would be too much too fast and quickly found that clients wanted the most hardcore “New York” class I could give them, every day of the week.
It’s become a new standard for people to come out of the room and say “that was the hardest workout I’ve ever done, but also the most fun!” I’m always amazed by the strength I find here, both of body and spirit. Maybe it’s something about enduring these long, grey-ass Canadian winters, but from where I’m standing, there’s strong, then there’s ‘We The North’ strong.
I like to think if he was still around, Adrian (also the fittest guy I’ve ever known) would be in class every week, burning out our treadmills and wearing down the grip on our heaviest weights, all with a smile, encouraging the person next to him to push a little more just when they think can’t. No Mud No Lotus.
Lead photo courtesy of Omar Ahmed