Fitness, Fellowship and Faith
Part of a national network inspiring male community leadership, F3BruCo men’s workout groups build outer and inner strength.
It’s 5 am at the Southport waterfront, an hour before sunrise. The gray stillness is broken only by water lapping a rocky shore and the flapping wings of early gulls. A group of men starts to gather. Some young as middle school, some old enough for Social Security. Most are in between — a firefighter, an insurance agent, a lawn-care specialist, a preacher. They come in shorts, tank tops, tennis shoes and ball caps.
By 5:30, they are an energized, huddled mass as their leader, called Q, recites five principles of group participation.
Then organized chaos breaks loose. The Q leads a workout warm-up and assigns exercises to be done at different stations, one after the other. The men are vocal, jumping, high-fiving, telling jokes, shouting encouragement. “They can modify for injury, but don’t modify for effort. For instance, do push-ups instead of burpees,” says Dirty Bird, their Communicator. “The only competition is you versus the guy you were yesterday.”
This is F3, a free men’s exercise and socialization concept based on fitness, fellowship and faith.
It originated in Charlotte in 2011. New Hanover County has had a chapter for a while. In June, workout groups from Leland, Southport and Shallotte gathered at a Brunswick Community College parking lot to officially launch F3 BruCo, the Brunswick County chapter.
Dunkin Donuts provided enough to feed everyone; 117 men showed up. In total, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 men participate in weekly workouts throughout the two counties. F3Nation is workout-based, but that isn’t the main ingredient. “I believe, personally, that the mission we have to plant, grow and serve through male leadership is extremely important,” says Dirty Bird, whose real name is Ellis. “We need men stepping up, for their own kids and for each other and for kids in their community.”
Dirty Bird joined in September 2020 and is now a regular. “First time, I was hooked,” he says. To grasp what F3 does, some things need explaining. Everything has a nickname or abbreviation. A Q (random letter) is the workout group leader. The workout is held at an AO (area of operations), and every FNG (friendly new guy) is given a nickname by a PAX (member) based on something that will push him to achieve, by being slightly annoying. For example, Dirty Bird is a Carolina Panthers fan, so he was assigned a nickname used for the rival Atlanta Falcons.
There’s Top Hat, Burlap, Ramses, Sharkbait, Stiff, PowWow, Plunger, Canary, Coonbait, Snickers . . . “We try to get someone in an emotional headlock. Had a guy on his first day who was given the name Piglet, and he hated it and when he was running and slacking a little, we said, ‘Come on, Piglet!’ and it speeded him up.”
Workouts have names based on location and type, such as bootcamp, running, rucking (running with a weighted backpack) and wild card. Group names include TorTueGa, Myrtle Kombat, Run Forest Run . . . and so on. The new BCC location is Brunswick Stew. Specific exercises have nicknames. A jumping jack is a side-straddle-hop. Push-ups are ‘Mericans, “because they’re American and so patriotic,” Dirty Bird says. “Yeah, everything’s a little strange. Most people when they show up the first time are super confused.”
Onlookers at Southport’s pre-dawn group might see grown men bear-crawling from one street corner to the next. “A favorite workout is the four-corners,” Dirty Bird says, “where we pick a block in downtown Southport and each corner is a different workout station, then you sprint to the next corner… You might get over here and do ‘Mericans, then bear crawl over there and do air squats. Basically, we have it like, we aren’t going to run a 5K without letting guys know the day before. And if you need to modify a workout, like push-ups can be hard and if you have to do 50 push-ups and can’t, then you can hold a plank until the guy next to you is done. Or you can modify.
Another motto is, ‘We leave no man behind, and we leave no man where we found him.’ I’m not going to leave you in the dust, but I’m not going to let you go six months without making progress.”
Perhaps the most crucial element of an F3 workout occurs afterward, when the guys circle up. That is when minds and hearts are free to spill, safely, without judgment. Men openly seek guidance, assurance, prayers. “Chances are the first time, the first 15 times, a man shows up he’s not going to bare his soul, but when he hears other guys with prayer requests, you have that Circle of Trust,” Dirty Bird says. “That’s one of the things this movement is trying to overcome; you don’t have to be afraid to open up.”
He’s seen the power of the Circle of Trust work when, in another Brunswick location, a man admitted a struggle with alcoholism. A PAX mentioned a contact at a Christian recovery center. “He wouldn’t have known it if he weren’t part of F3,” Dirty Bird says. Another PAX, elsewhere, brought his young nephew, who had lost his father. “I don’t think that kid has missed one workout,” Dirty Bird says. “He’s become an inspiration. His uncle brought him into the mix and gave him that foothold.”
F3 gatherings are: (1) always free, (2) open to all men, (3) held outdoors rain or shine, (4) peer-led in a rotation fashion and (5) always end in a Circle of Trust. “Once we’re all comfortable with each other, we pick on each other. It’s the way men do,” Dirty Bird says. “We’ve seen a lot of physical transformations and a lot of mental transformations. It’s always an open invitation.”
(workout schedule, lexicon, etc.): f3capefear.com