Member Spotlight: John Burke

This week we would like to feature Ambition Athletics member John Burke.  John has made some great progress in the past year.  Here is his story.

John Burke

You began training at Ambition in Nov. ’11.  What made you want to find a training facility?  How did you first find out about us?

Carmela and I were looking for a training program involving kettlebells and giving that a go.  We enjoy training together and were looking for more structure in the gym and proper instruction in workouts utilizing kettlebells.  Our own workouts of running, paddling and some gym work were not getting us where we wanted to go in our fitness.  We had both just finished with racing outrigger canoes, Carmela for 3 years, I for over 20 years and coaching for 15 of those years. Carmela and I met through paddling and she more than opened my eyes that there was so much more out there than just paddling.  Carmela found Ambition Athletics through a Groupon and it was in a great location, so we went for it.

Both your weight loss and strength gains have been phenomenal throughout the past year +.  Where did your weight start compared to where you are now?   Tell us about where your strength was when you first started and where you are now. 

Wow, you want me to talk about my weight!!  When I started in November 2011,  I weighed 297 lbs. On 2/14/13 I weighed 231 lbs!  I am proud of where I am now and want to shed some light on where I was when I first walked into Ambition Athletics.  I was pretty messed up from overtraining for outrigger paddling.  I could not sit in an outrigger without my hips, back, and shoulders hurting.  I could not jog anymore nor lift in the gym without pain from being so out of whack from all the paddling over the years.  All my life I have been involved in sports of some sort, and a big one for me was being involved with activities in on and around the ocean.  “I am made from the dust of the Stars, and the Oceans flow in My Veins” (Rush).   I was lucky to have been born and raised in La Jolla, so the ocean was a common place for our family to be.  I was the typical athlete in high school:  I played football, wrestled, threw shot and disc for track.  In Hawaii for my freshman year of college, I walked on and made the soccer team and became the starting center half.  Then I was encouraged by a few of the big Tongans on the Rugby team to give Rugby a try.  I did and loved it!  I was playing Lock, Breakaway and #8.  All those positions are right in the Scrum and Rugby proved to be so much more than football ever was, but it is tough on the body.  When I transferred to UCSD and recruited for the Crew Team, I thought getting back on the water was a great thing.  I rowed crew for my college career and ended up being in the Varsity Heavy Weight Eight.  I was Most Valuable Oarsmen one year, and received the Julian Haladay Award for rowing excellence over 4 years.  After graduation, I was hired to coach the incoming Novice Rowers.  I coached the novice for 2 seasons and it was a rewarding experience being part of the changes the men’s team went through in their first year.   After coaching rowing, I tried paddling with the outrigger team next to the boat house.  Well, 20 something years later of racing 1, 2 and 6 man outriggers, and coaching outrigger for 15 of those years, my mind and body were pretty beat up.

When I started at Ambition I was experiencing knee, hip, back and lots of shoulder pain.  I think I started swinging with the blue bell (12 kg) and many, many things were a struggle for me: I could barely do a push up, lunges and squats were difficult, and a pull up was just a thought.  My mobility was a wreck from paddling for so many years.  As time progressed and attending all the classes that I could, my strength and mobility came charging back and it seemed every week I was at new PR’s in so many exercises that we do!  Now, I can swing the double beasts for sets, deadlift close to 400, almost 5 pull ups on the rings, and have a goal this year to do a Turkish Get Up with the beast!  Oh, did I mention that my knees, hips, back and shoulders don’t hurt anymore!  My mobility has greatly improved but still a work in progress as one day I want to pull off a pistol squat on each leg with weight, but that will be a ways off, but a goal.

Where do you want to go next with either your weight loss or strength/mobility goals?

The sky is the limit for my strength and mobility.  I love to get stronger and move better and see how that really makes other sports or activities I do so damn much easier.  As far as my weight loss, I am around my goal weight and am confident I can adjust for the sports I am doing.  I am going to try to compete in the Highland Games coming up in June in Vista and am about to embark on learning how to deal with all the unique things they throw and lift!  Strength goals: I want to get past double my BW in the deadlift, strict press and be able to snatch “the beast”.

This may sound a bit funny, but one of my main strength and mobility goals is to become the best golfer that I can!  I’m at a 7 Handicap right now and want to get as low as possible.  If anyone wants to become stronger and more mobile for golf, I can tell you Ambition is the place.  Everything we do can be related to the golf swing and seeing the ball.  All the letter ball, eye charts and following the finger exercises have helped my focus on the ball.  As of right now,  I am having to adjust my swing due to increase in clubhead speed due to strength gains, and my huge weight loss.  Carmela and I love to golf and we walk every course that we can. It is so much easier being stronger and not dragging that belly keg around with me!


You have been involved in several sports on the water during your lifetime.  Tell us more about what you do and how your training has helped your performance.

Right now the water sports I am involved in are Stand Up Paddling and Surf Ski Paddling.  Carmela and I love to SUP surf and surf the local spots as much as we can, and plan to do that anywhere we travel or travel to nice tropical places with tasty waves.

I was involved and still am with outrigger canoe racing.  I started paddling outriggers over 20 years ago and have done hundreds of races in them from a 1, 2 and 6 man outrigger, ranging from 500 meter sprints at the world sprint championships to crossing the Molokai Channel from Molokai over to Oahu (44 miles).  One part of the season in Outrigger that I really enjoyed was the 9 man racing.  9 man racing is done with the 6 man outriggers and 3 extra paddlers on a chase boat that follows with the canoe racing.  About every 15 mins the chase boat speeds ahead and drops the 3 extras in the water and when the canoe races up, 3 paddlers in the canoe bail over the side and the 3 in the water try to fly into the canoe as fast as possible to not stop the canoe or slow its speed.  This pattern continues til the race is over.  Every September the California Association races from Catalina Island back to Newport Beach (35 miles).  I have done this crossing 18 times, and medaled in 12 of them.  I have also raced the 1 and 2 person outriggers and the final race of this season is a relay race from Catalina Island back to Dana Point (39 miles).  The relay consists of 2 paddlers on the 1 mans, and teams of 4 for the 2 mans.  The teams switch out every 15 to 30 mins.  I have done this crossing 8 times, finished first across the line once, medaled in most of the other ones.

I have now just gotten back into trying to learn how to paddle a Surfski.  To me Surfski is the ultimate of all the paddling sports as the learning curve is so long and it is the most technical of all the paddling sports.  The Surf Ski’s are all about 20 feet long and range from 19 to 16 inches wide.  You sit down in a bucket seat and you put your feet in the foot board.  Your steer with peddles under your feet, and use a double bladed racing kayak paddle.  Surfski requires tremendous balance, core strength and endurance.  To me it encompasses all the water sports I have done and brings them into one.  I have to use all my surf skills to catch bumps in the ocean, and all my paddling, and strength skills just to stay on it!

My training at Ambition has helped tremendously with SUP and Surfski!  My gains in strength and mobility have made each so much more Fun.  On the Surf Ski my gains in stability and speed have exceeded where I thought I would be right now.  The core strength I have gained allows me to focus on better technique and my strength gains has moved me from being in the middle of the pack during races to being near the lead groups now.  SUP surfing requires balance and strength from Head to Toe and training has helped make SUP so easy and so Fun.

What do like most about training at Ambition?

“Getting Strong as Hell!!”  Experiencing the positive changes in my strength and mobility!

The Entire Approach to improving Strength and Mobility through training with the 80% principle (most of the time), and educating everyone as to the why, with the how.  Not only do we learn how to properly do the exercises but learn why they are important and why the mobility is vital to proper exercises.  Of course it’s also everyone that trains there and the subtle and not so subtle challenges and encouragement we all get from each other!  And of course it’s the master minds behind the whole thing: the trainers.  You know, it’s the subtle comments from them when doing a set and they ask, “just warming up?”, “No use the bell two sizes heavier than that one”, or the look from Mike and you know you better get a heavier kettlebell! And through it all, full recognition when you hit a new PR, mobility, or weight goal.  It’s just fun, “Happy Faces”.

Muscle Beach

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2 Responses to Member Spotlight: John Burke

  1. Cam says:

    Fantastic interview John, awesome progress, and great coaching! Enjoyed learning about stand up paddling and surfski paddling, I hadn’t heard about them before. Keep up the solid work!

  2. Heidi Kamrath says:

    Awesome, John! Impressive and inspiring! Good on ya!

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