If you had told me that one day we’d have a member attend more than 400 classes in a year, I would’ve called you crazy. Not that it’s impossible, but I never knew that a normal, everyday member, who has a wife and a job, would carve out that much of his/her time to spend at our gym. Although, now that I think about it, I’m not exactly sure you can call Jose “normal”.
Besides our staff, he is easily the most recognizable face at Croga CrossFit. Jose attended 408 classes in 2018, often multiple a day and all while also traveling to Europe for significant chunks of time this past year. It is no wonder everyone knows him, he’s ALWAYS in the box if he’s in town!
The great part about that though is that Jose is the perfect model for success in CrossFit. He always smiles, he works hard, he never complains about the workout (well, until it’s over and he’s tired or sore the next day), he does extra credit to improve the things he needs work on, he stays after class to stretch, he eats well and he is a motivator and always cheers for athletes of all levels. In addition, he pushes his fellow Croganites to get out of their comfort zone and try things they’ve never done or to get out and use their fitness (as evidenced by spearheading our Largest Team award at the San Francisco Spartan Race and getting 10+ athletes to compete at local throwdowns when they didn’t plan to ever sign up).
With all of this considered, there really was no other option for our 2018 Member of the Year awardee. Congratulations, Jose Cong, we couldn’t have asked for a better person to crown as this years MOTY. Keep up the good work, our gym would not be the same without you!
Can you tell us a little about yourself (family, work, hobbies)?
The parts you may not know about me: I am half Chinese – half Mexican who has lived in the Bay Area since 1982, grew up in SF and East San Jose and now home literally is a few blocks behind Croga (for as much as I love to train, it is interesting that I don’t find myself walking or jogging to Croga). I have been a TV producer for a morning live talk TV show where I doubled as an on-screen lifestyles reporter who also has worked on music videos and one B slasher movie a long long long time ago (all while in High School then a couple of years after graduation). I have designed and ran sales and operations for a few gyms in the past while in college before finding my calling in the world of recruiting and talent management aka HR. I have helped build and org design teams with companies like Apple (early iPod and super early iPhone), Nest Labs, Google, and now with my own startup where we are attempting to productize a philosophy developed to build and drive high impact in teams over my career (as well as advice and angel invest in startups). I travel more than I care for and I came close to actually being liable in Europe for taxes due to my extended scheduled across the pond. I give speeches and write a few blogs about the future of work in my free time.
The parts most of you may know: I am married to the amazing Lina Rizzo, another member of our fantastic community at Croga. Justin makes up the Cong clan trifecta during summers and other school breaks from Yale. Contrary to popular belief, he is our nephew, not our son, though we love him just like one. We also have two dogs, one neurotic and a perpetual puppy staged one in Jake & Kiki, they drive us crazy at times but we love them like our children! We are actually excited about the arrival of the next clan member in March of 2019. When possible, I love attending sporting events and will do anything to experience top events like Super Bowls, NBA Finals, World Series, World Cups, etc. Love food, all kinds, a great bottle of wine, bourbon, or nice spicy and dry mezcal. I enjoy traveling just not the short work trips across the Atlantic which literally reduce my lifespan each time. I don’t mind if I can spend a little bit of time soaking in the culture and the food of my destinations. I am about to get my 3rd passport and it is mostly because I am constantly running out of room for stamps. Enjoy playing sports and if I had my way, I would be kitesurfing daily but my beach bum days are long gone. Favorite Pizza is a simple 3 cheese from Modern Apizza in New Haven, CT, Favorite Doughnut is a Basil, Blueberry Bourbon from Blue Star in Portland, OR, Favorite Ice Cream: Dark Chocolate Gelato at Chocolat in Milan, Italy or Sea Salt Caramel from Bi-Rite in SF but would happily settle for any good “homemade” vanilla bean ice cream. I am the type of individual that can’t help but to jump from a cliff if I see one (75 meters in the highest waterfall dive I have successfully completed and ~200 meters repelling drop with a 25-meter “release” dive) and that pretty much summarizes my attitude about life. Live for challenges! Obviously, I love CrossFit!
What are some new things that you have learned about yourself since starting CrossFit?
I have learned that it truly is never too late to learn new things and to hit reset in my life. I grew up as an active and highly competitive child (I know, hard to believe, right) participating in cross country, track & field (yes, field too, did the shot put), swimming (medley specialists), football, and my main love, rugby & kitesurfing. I grew up fairly fit but my career responsibilities made it harder to work out and stay fit once I retired from 15 years of competitive rugby with the San José Seahawks. I gained a lot of weight, at my highest, I was probably close to 190 lbs, and not a CJ “gainz” type of good 190 lbs. I tried everything from running to the regular gym but I was unable to return to my younger fitness levels. I actually joined Croga in the box’s earlier days and loved it but a freak injury to my calf on a sprint out of all things. Unfortunately, I ended up leaving Croga and went back to my physically sedentary and mentally stressful lifestyle.
A couple of years ago, I finally decided to try and do something about it thanks to my wife who was always trying to get me to join her HiiT gym and her trail races. A picture my brother sent me from Justin’s high school graduation and Coach David yelling at me to come back to Croga every time he drove past me as I walked our dogs around the hood finally got me to step back through the door. I have not looked back since! What started out as a workout a couple of times a week has turned into a lifestyle (and obsession) to follow an inspiring Crossfit mantra, “Build a better version of yourself”. I had never done any gymnastics or Olympic / Power Lifting before and didn’t think I could Rx any of the WODs, but through the coaching & mentoring of our coaches, the support of the community, and the energy Croga generates, I have learned new tricks, increased my confidence in being fit at my age, and can honestly say that I am in the best shape of my life. The best part, I honestly feel like I am nowhere near my apex and can get significantly more fit!
I have also learned the importance of making time for my well being. The stress management benefits of working out. The value of eating healthier The positive impact of feeling & looking fit.
I can honestly admit to being in the best shape of my life and at my age, I am proud of it but again, I know I can get better, much better.
You attended over 400 classes this year (often multiple a day), what was your driving force for spending so much time here?
I could write a novel about this but if I think about it, there are a few benefits. My main driving force is the feeling of getting better! Nothing like achieving a new PR, beating a previous score, on rare occasions beating some of the great athletes at Croga (especially body weight type of WODs). The feeling that I am better today than yesterday because of the work I have put in energizes me and the opportunity to exceed my own exceptions tomorrow drives me to work harder each day. It is a perpetual source of energy for someone as competitive as me. Other motivations include taking on the challenges Coach Cody throws our way with the programming (Some ignite WODs, at times, seem more challenging than the regular WODs). I may be one of the very few members who refuses to look at the WODs ahead, I am often surprised when walking in or have bugged Lina to tell me what the WOD is the night before. I just love being surprised and having to think about strategy. The support and guidance from the Coaches is also key. I am constantly improving on a movement or learning a new skill. Last but not least, THE ENERGY from the members is not only inspiring but addicting, I could probably name 90% of the community and share a specific event which inspired me and I bet the remaining 10%, I have just not met them. Our community is closest to what I experienced and miss the most from playing competitive rugby, truly blown away by the fellow athletes and their support.
Do you have a favorite WOD, lift, or movement? What’s one you love to hate?
My favorite WODs are the Hero ones and the Girls, basically, anything that looks impossible and will most likely leave me flat on the rubber mats! I enjoy powerlifting and wish I was better at Oly. I would say that I hate anything with the Assault Bike and Wall Balls but given my injury, I have learned that I can improve on the AB but not sure that I can ever love it. WBs are getting easier but I still HATE them! The one WOD that I have both hated and loved, Steve’s member WOD this past year. That and the Assault Bike marathon. I also have to throw in any crazy extra credit workout that CJ talks me into doing with him (ie: Death Race) and I can’t forget Andrew & Rob N.’s “summit run” to Mission Peak a few months ago.
What’s your biggest fitness goal for this upcoming year?
One goal this year, recover from my ACL reconstructive surgery and get back to where I left off so I can do the October Open, do at least one competition, play rugby with my old team at a tournament, finish the Spartan Race at Oracle Park (formerly known as AT&T Park in SF) and the ultimate goal, be as fit as I can be so I can keep up with our son and be an example to him so he can grow up living a healthy lifestyle.
What is one thing about you that people may not know?
I once had my driving license suspended for over a year and no, it was not because of a DUI. I have not spent NYEs in San Jose or in the same location for over 15 years. Also, I am really not great at anything, seriously, I just refuse to be outworked!
If you could have one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?
If you could have a conversation with anyone that ever existed, dead or alive, who would it be?
Leonardo DaVinci, I am not sure that there is anyone in history with a bigger vision for the future, many of his ideas seeded inventions which changed the world and in my opinion, continue to inspire!
If you could give your former self any piece of advice about your current journey, what would it be?
To watch the Steve Jobs commence speech at Stanford University and understand that dots do connect. Decisions we make earlier in life could have profound effects on our future. I also spent a great deal of my life working as hard as I could for companies/ projects that had a great impact in the world but I did it at the expense of budgeting time for family, friends, and myself. I spend a lot of time at Croga and exercising now because I realize that a more balanced lifestyle supersedes my previous achievements. Set lofty goals but include personal ones as well.
Anything else you would like to add?
I am blown away by this selection, I just want to express my gratitude to everyone behind Croga, from the coaches to Jill P, to the community. I hope I am putting back enough energy into our community to make up for the tremendous amount that I take out of it. Special thank you to Lina for allowing me to allocate so much effort into Croga and Crossfit! And at some point, I need to meet Ben officially and do a 5 AM WOD with him. He sets my personal marks daily with his scores!!!