When I first saw some of Carl Paoli’s videos I was intimidated. I spend the majority of my days parked in front of a computer editing the stories of people who live fascinating lives. At least on the good days I do. On the less good days I am working on the modern day equivalent of the used car lot commercial: fast hit, low end junk that will be chewed up and spit out the bowels of Facebook in under a day. So when I saw Carl running, jumping, and handstanding his way through life, I had the same reaction I have when I see a picture of a friend on social media of their wild, expensive, luxurious life- “That’s amazing, but that’s not me.” The thing is though, it could be me. Not the part with all the muscles and success in gymnastics maybe, but the part that really matters; the part that brings the happiness and the daily satisfaction.
“We need to define fitness.”-Carl Paoli
When I reached out to Carl and Tonya, his wife, about telling their story their one question was, “Why do you want to tell our story?” I have been friends with Tonya since high school, but apart from a few run-ins in our overlapping time in San Francisco ten years ago, we had not seen each other much since. I saw her life only through the passing frames of Instagram, but it offered glimpses of a life in constant motion- her workouts, social life, gymnastics coaching, a handsome guy, more gymnastics, that guy again, beautiful meals, classic shots of SF. And then, there he is again, the guy. Wait, he does gymnastics, too? Do they have a dog now? They must be serious. Now they’re married! Who is that teenage girl? Did they just adopt her? Now she’s doing gymnastics. They’re all watching TV together on the couch, more domestic life, more workouts.
The behind-the-scenes look into Carl and Tonya’s life came first for me, then the public view. Their home life offered insight into Carl’s drive, but it wasn’t until I met him, and Tonya again, that I started to understand how it all fit together. First, life was not as bumpless as it seemed from a thousand miles away (it never is, right?), but their perspective on bumps was refreshing. Instead of being frustrated that there was a bump, they seemed to appreciate the extra effort it would take to smooth the bump, kind of like a sprint set in a workout (Did I say that right, guys? Sprint set?). The very human frustrations of parenting their daughter, Tinai, are worked out in real time. Professional problems are allowed to take their course, neither of them pressuring the other to force a course correction or to push harder. It seems like they expect for life to come at them and they like the energy it takes to move through life.
Talking with Carl about fitness, it is quickly clear that hard bods and thick ‘ceps is not what it’s about. Being fit, as described by Carl, is about having the energy and ability to be there for your family, and to be clear-minded for the people that need you and the jobs you are responsible for. Fitness is a state of being rather than a tiered system of ab-hardness where 10 is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, 1 is Homer Simpson, and I’m somewhere under the middle.
“Fitness, the way it’s presented to the world, is objectifying, mindless, and it has really nothing to to do with moving anything, but your ego.” –Carl Paoli
Maybe it’s just comforting for me to hear something that I can misconstrue to mean that in some universe I am just as fit as some of the people hailed in our society. The way Carl defines fitness makes the goal not only more attainable, but also more useful. Workouts aren’t about reaching peak burn for max return; they are about movement, fluidity, and constructiveness. It’s about getting out and being an active participant in yourself so that when life comes at you with a bump, you’re already in motion, making that bump easier to smooth. Filming Tonya and Carl workout was- well, exhausting- but it was fascinating watching them laugh, grunt, smile, focus, give up, then try again. They went through all the metaphoric ups and downs that we go through in our careers, when we parent, in or relationships, or just the mundane motions of our daily tread. Their workouts started to look a lot like my life. I try; I half-succeed; then I end up on the floor panting. Except they weren’t exhausted. They were laughing with friends afterward, but then again, they’re fit.
I worked out too, a few years ago. I got large(r) arms and my back got all wavy with long, sand dune looking muscles. Toward the end there I was starting to really dedicate myself to the 7-minute abs theology of the late 80s, however, no coveted six pack was achieved. I met my wife somewhere in the middle of this period of max flex. I don’t think it was just the porky triceps that got her; I think I probably did exude more confidence and humor along with it. Now we have one kid and one more on the way, two overtime careers, a mortgage, and a backyard invaded by weeds. Having a super tight bod just isn’t on my priority list, but all that stuff- the kids, the loving wife that deserves to be aggressively loved in return, the career I’m passionate about- they deserve more energy than a dad bod can give. They deserve my best self. My career and partners deserve to work with someone who doesn’t complain about shooting a twelve-hour day with a twenty pound camera. And I deserve to give myself the best shot at the only life I’ve got.
“The moment you have a victory, what makes that victory relevant is the moment you share that victory with people that you care about.” –Carl Paoli
Carl’s work is inspiring because of the incredible things he can do, but his ideas and methods are useful because of why he is doing them. He and Tonya have built a life that is in constant motion. Their careers work in tandem with their family life, and their growing family life informs their work. It is a wonderful, danceful machine to watch, and a great example to learn from.
Contributor: Danny Bravens