F3: Unique Fitness Program for Men Comes to Leland
This guest post was written by David Frederiksen. Have an idea for us? Email your suggestion or article to Allison.
This is where it ends.
It’s what I’m thinking outside downtown Wilmington’s Ironclad Brewery at 5 a.m. on a cold Sunday morning. The guys – Last, Donut, Sloppy Joe, Gobo, Heisenberg, Minecraft and Fife – are thinking it, too, or something like it.
Downtown is empty, only streetlamps, the occasional passer-by and winter’s leftover chill.
EPO appears out of nowhere in his car, splitting darkness. LETC, dressed in his Sunday best, is already there sitting in his truck. Backpacks, rucks, sneakers, boots, ball caps, shorts, tee-shirts and headlamps are piled. These items need to move. And the men – Last, Donut, Sloppy Joe, Gobo, Heisenberg, Minecraft and Fife – will be the ones moving them. First out to Ft. Fisher State Park by car, then back to Ironclad Brewery by foot where it ends.
It’s an event organized by local members of F3 Nation, or F3. Born in 2011 in Charlotte, NC, F3 stands for Fitness, Fellowship and Faith. Its mission: to plant, grow and serve small workout groups for the invigoration of male community leadership. That means getting guys (each with nicknames) up and moving through free, peer-led workouts. F3 motivates men to step up to the plate of life and lead – in their families, at work and, most important, in service to others.
That’s what’s happening here, with members voluntarily rucking (backpacking) 26 miles together in an extracurricular event categorized, tongue–in–cheek, as Completely Stupid and Utterly Pointless (CSAUP) on the F3 (f3nation.com) website. And not just in Wilmington, but across the southeast US and nation in different but equally daring forms for thousands of men of all backgrounds between the ages of 18 and 70.
Crazy sounding, yes, but we are getting to know one another – shedding the prickliness that often creeps between men as they age and move beyond, say, the frat or professional organization.
Twitch in your back. Blister on your foot. Twisted shoulder strap. Focusing on the realities of an event like this only makes it worse. But we have prepared through the daily, free workouts – called “posts” – conducted each morning six days a week from 5:30 to 6:15 a.m. at designated public parks, parking lots and the beach. Rain or shine, we’re there.
Half of this backpacking band slips into EPO’s car, the other half into LETC’s for the ride out to Ft. Fisher. Darkness, dashboard lights, laughter, silence. The drive feels long – strip malls, fast food, mom-and-pop places, mailboxes, churches, Spanish Moss, soda cans, barking dogs, a video store and a bridge called Snow’s Cut. First light. Smell of saltwater. Breeze. Dew on asphalt. Drop off at Ft. Fisher.
If you knew what lay ahead, you might quit, but you don’t because you’re with your brothers. For F3 men, true bonding and leadership begin here.
Reflective vests, strobe lights, a prayer for safety. Suddenly, we’re marching – Last, Donut, Sloppy Joe, Gobo, Heisenberg, Minecraft and Fife.
Last and I (nickname, The Hoff) are up front. We talk about life and art. Impressionism is the way to go, I say. Hold up, man, I wanna get a picture of that sunrise, says Last, shuffling over asphalt, then sand.
Fife has “the six” (back) of the column of the men now walking down Ft. Fisher Blvd. This former Marine, 26, loves trying out new motivational sayings: Only You Can Change You. Finish the Race Set Before You. Carry Your Brother’s Burden.
Columns of two, four men deep. Sixteen possible dialogues, eight life stories over nine hours and more than 100,000 steps. Sand, asphalt, occasional rain. You get to know a guy: Gobo’s black, knee-high socks. Donut’s small, gold-colored, loop earring. Sloppy Joe’s twangy Georgetown (SC) accent.
Daylight has a way of revealing us all.
A quick detour off Dow Road to the grave of the Ft. Fisher hermit. Shiny silver trinkets and an old straw hat litter a mound of dirt that looks like it was piled yesterday. Life is fragile, says one of the guys.
Howz it going, Minecraft? I say.
AYE, Hoff! Minecraft is one of the steadiest guys you’ll ever meet. A great listener.
Up Carolina Beach Road to EPO’s house for rest and some water – a little less than half way now. We sit in his driveway in pastel-colored beach chairs changing socks and tending to blisters. We text. Take pictures. Suck down energy gels. Donut’s wife and kids arrive to support. Spirits are high. We can feel the finish, but our minds deceive us, as we’re still more than 12 miles away.
On your feet: Last, Donut, Sloppy Joe, Gobo, Heisenberg, Minecraft and Fife.
River Road is hot and sunny. Our column is now more like an accordion, occasionally stretching out, then retracting, with sometimes strange, uneven spaces in between – a perfect illustration of what happens when men cease to understand one another or fall out of the pack. It would be easy to ignore these spaces, say they don’t exist, but loneliness, discomfort and isolation in a modern world say different. F3 shrinks these spaces, closing the gaps that occur between men over time.
In the end, it doesn’t matter who the man is or what he calls his god (F3 is open to men of faith and no faith), just that he’s there at your side at the finish, whatever that finish might be.
In the distance, the port’s giant cranes, towering and remote but somehow close. Our march continues; we work on closing the gaps between – Last, Donut, Sloppy Joe, Gobo, Heisenberg, Minecraft and Fife.
Blazing sun ducks in and out of clouds, as we turn onto Independence Boulevard, a long, sandy straightaway. The Cameron Art Museum is our final stop. We sit in the shade and look at a huge silk mural draped and undulating on one side of the museum. The breeze circulates among us, as we dig into our rucks for the last sock change. We linger a little too long, get a little too comfortable. It’s time to move. We push down 17th Street toward Market Street.
We slink along, dog-legging our way onto Ann Street, then Second Street and over to Princess. It starts raining. It feels good on sun-burned ears, arms and legs.
Evenly-spaced, we are now huddled and much closer than 25 miles ago, as we crest Fifth Avenue and descend into downtown Wilmington. The rain has turned to drizzle.
Finally, we’re there – in the wide-open space of Ironclad Brewery where our journey began almost 10 hours ago. We sit at the bar, the gaps closed, the space between us shrunk – Last, Donut, Sloppy Joe, Gobo, Heisenberg, Minecraft and Fife.
The Leland Launch of F3 will be Friday January 27 @ 5:30 am at Leland Municipal park behind the town hall and library.