#17: Mark McKoy


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Mark McKoy broke onto the scene at the age of 18, qualifying for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow (which were boycotted). At age 20, he represented Canada at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, 1982, and won the Gold Medal in the 110-metre hurdles in a Canadian and Commonwealth record. He repeated this achievement at the Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1986, once again setting a new Canadian and Commonwealth record. In 1984, qualifying for the Olympics a second time, Mark finished a close 4th in Los Angeles, setting numerous Canadian records on the route.

He was disappointed with his performance at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, placing 7th in the hurdle finals. But he spectacularly redeemed himself in the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, 1992, taking the Gold Medal in the 110m hurdles, the first Track Gold Medal for Canada in 64 years. A five-time Olympian, Mark was a member of Canada’s National Track and Field Team, 1980-94. He still holds the world record for the 50m hurdles (set in 1986 in Osaka, Japan), and is the former world record holder in the 60m hurdles and 4 X 200m relay.

He is widely recognized as one of the fastest human beings from a still start in history. In 1996, he provided explosiveness training to the Canadian National Karate team prior to the World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic. The Team responded by winning 36 medals, by far their greatest total medal haul ever.

Mark has extensive experience in creating the world’s best fitness and athletic training programs. He is also a recognized expert in empowering and training others in how to have a mindset of a champion and apply it to get breakthrough results everywhere in life, including in health & fitness, and in building winning teams and support structures. He is the world’s foremost motivator and educator of trainers in the top health & fitness methodologies. His leading skills are as a leader, doer, innovator, communicator, coach, trainer, tactician, motivator, change agent and fitness guru.

Mark has been in the health and fitness industry for almost 40 years. Developing programs for himself and others as a teenager, he has continued (and continues) to develop and implement programs for a range of individuals from novice to professional.

Find out more about Mark McKoy at:
www.markmckoy.com

Stefan Aarnio: Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the show, Respect the Grind with Stefan Aarnio. This is the show where we interview people who have achieved mastery and freedom through discipline. We interview entrepreneurs, athletes, authors, artists, real estate investors, anyone who’s achieved mastery, and examine what it took to get there.
Today on the show I have Mark McCoy. He is a well-known Olympian gold medalist and top tier athlete. Mark, welcome to the show, Respect the Grind. Thank you so much for joining me.

Mark McKoy: Thanks for having me Stefan. It’s a pleasure to be here, really.

Stefan Aarnio: Yeah, thank you. Mark, people see the Olympics, what do they see it, every four years? We got the summer Olympics, and we go the winter Olympics, what is it like to be one of the champions who gets to take home a piece of hardware at the end of a long competition like that?

Mark McKoy: Well, I tell you what, especially with the name of your show, Respect the Grind, it was a long grind, trust me, 16 years of grinding. It certainly was a relief, if nothing else, of trying, and trying, and trying, and never thinking you were going to get there. It was really something special to go home by the end of that.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. So, I’m just reading here off of Wikipedia while we’re talking here. So, 1992 summer Olympics was when you were, I guess, winning there, and getting the medal in 110 meter hurdles. So, you literally … how many times do you think you’ve ran the 110 meter hurdles? I’m curious to know. I say it takes 10 years and 10,000 hours, tell people about that. You have a couple seconds of glory on TV where you’re winning, and then what did you say 16 years of prep to get to that point?

Mark McKoy: Yep. I started hurdling in 1976.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow.

Mark McKoy: It was four Olympics later, that I ended up on the podium. So, it’s … yeah, like I said, quite a grind. And mostly failures along the way.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. So, you said, 16 years. So, you did go to the Olympics four times? You went four times, and then you won the fourth time?

Mark McKoy: Actually, I was on five teams, the first Olympics we didn’t go to because it was Moscow, 1980, we boycotted.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow.

Mark McKoy: That was way, I know, before you were born.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow.

Mark McKoy: So, it’s my actual third Olympics that I went to, that I won. And then, I did one after that, and then I retired.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. That’s amazing, man. So, all that prep for that one little moment. Now, let me ask you this, what’s life like before winning and after? Is there a big change there? Do people see you differently? Or is it just like you have this flash in the pan and that’s it?

Mark McKoy: No, it’s not. It’s a huge, huge change, I’d say. It certainly opened up some doors. Life in amateur athletics is tough enough as it is. There’s not many opportunities as there’s certainly very little support, and after you win, there’s a lot more support, more so in Europe, even with a gold medal in Canada, it doesn’t really do much for you. It does open up a few doors, North America on the whole, really, I mean, Canada, it’s all about hockey. North America, they all have their professional sports, they’re the big draws. But in Europe, probably, well, much better known in Europe, than I am here.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. That’s amazing. So, why do you think the Europeans value the Olympians more than, let’s say, the North Americans? Is it just a competition from the NBA, NHL, NFL, is that what it’s about?

Mark McKoy: Yeah. They have soccer over there, but other than that, it’s really, track and field is a huge sport.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. So, I got to ask, Mark, I mean, I was an athlete when I was younger, I was a volleyball, basketball, I’m a tall guy, so volleyball, basketball, soccer. I was in those because I was tall. You were in track and field, and specifically hurdles, why did you choose to go and do that specific thing, out of all the things that could be done?

Mark McKoy: I always tell this story, too, when I’m speaking is, nobody chooses hurdles. Nobody in their right mind chooses hurdles. Now, I know a lot of people think I’m not in my right mind, which is probably true, but I was watching the Olympics in 1976, Montreal Olympics, here in Canada, and I always wanted to be a sprinter. I always wanted to be the fastest man in the world.
And I was watching the 100 meter final one night, [inaudible 00:04:49] that’s what I want to do. And the coach said, “Well, you know, you’re not that fast. You’ve got to pick something else.” So, basically, the only thing left to run, that he thought … I think he was just trying to get me off the team … was to run hurdles. And at our school, the irony of the story is, we didn’t have any hurdles. I started with no hurdles. I was determined. I was like, “I’m going to the Olympics, with hurdles or without, I’m going.” So, I started practicing hurdles, without hurdles.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. So, what do you use instead of a hurdle, if you don’t have a hurdle?

Mark McKoy: A good imagination.

Stefan Aarnio: Oh, you just ran down the track and just used your mind and just jumped?

Mark McKoy: [crosstalk 00:05:27] jump.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. Okay. So, that’s amazing. So, for you, was the motivation to be a champion and go to the Olympics, was that what you wanted and you just wanted to go one way or the other? Was that what it was about?

Mark McKoy: Yeah. People always ask that same question, it’s like Olympian, they think you’re … They hear about these kids dreaming about the Olympics, I’m like, “I’ve never ever talked to an Olympian who dreamt about the Olympics, or winning the Olympics.” It’s like something that you gradually gain. First of all, I wanted to go, I can’t lie just, I loved track. I love running. And I was like, “Okay, I’ll fess. Once I saw it, it’s sort of an inspiration, that’ll be like the pinnacle just to go.” And then, as you get better, you think, “Oh, well, you know, I went, I made the final. Oh, maybe I can make the podium. Oh, maybe I can do this.” It’s like it’s layered in steps, you don’t just get up one morning and say, “You know what, I want to go win the Olympics. I had that dream from when I was six years old.” Well, I didn’t have it until I was a teenager.

Stefan Aarnio: Oh, interesting. So, let me ask you this, Mark, with the sports world, it’s so competitive. Like you said, in Canada, it’s hockey dominated, and it’s hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey. If you go down to the States, they got football, they got baseball, depending on where you are, there’s some sort of sport people are doing. Did you ever get seduced by those other sports? Were you ever a hockey player? Were you ever playing those other things?

Mark McKoy: No, I don’t like the cold. I can’t skate. So, hockey wasn’t going to happen. I did try my hand at football for about three days, when I went to York University here in Toronto. The thing is, I don’t like authority. I don’t like people telling me what to do, and coaches are very egotistical. I lasted three days and I’m like, “You know what? Take this apartment and shove it because you [crosstalk 00:07:19].” Seriously, I was there three days, I’m like, “Forget it, you can’t tell me what to do.” So, then I went back to track.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. So, do you think that choosing track is more about being a solo operator and wanting to really compete against yourself, I guess, versus being on a big team and having to make compromises?

Mark McKoy: Yeah. It’s funny, because I was talking about the amount of teamwork that’s involved in an individual sport, like track, and there is, but it’s all up to you. All the decisions you make, you win, you lose. You stand on that line, all the people you choose to be on your team, in your circles, your training partners, your coaches, your physiotherapists, you have to pick the right environment, the right team to be in, in order to get there. So, it’s not a completely single person sport, but all the decisions are up to you, and all the decisions you make, as you’ll probably hear throughout this interview, can sway you one way or the other. I like taking that responsibility. Like, if I bum the win, it’s me. If I lose, it’s me. And that’s just my personality.

Stefan Aarnio: So, tell me a little bit more about what you said there, Mark. We’re talking about creating the environment, and this is where I think we’re getting into this interview, what kind of environment did you create for yourself, or still create for yourself, to create that champion environment? Tell me a little bit about that because so many people at home have, maybe, a victim environment, or they have a negative environment, and when it comes down to training versus environment, usually the environment wins. So, tell me about the winning environment, the champion environment.

Mark McKoy: Yeah. I’ve always said, and I’ve done this from the time I was a young kid, I don’t know if I get it from my mom, my dad, from where, because I have five brothers and sisters, none of them are athletes. None of my parents were athletes. So, usually, you see these, like especially in the States, the football players, the father’s are a quarterback, the brother’s a quarterback, like everybody sort of does it.
I didn’t have those influences, but I’ve always said you have to surround yourself with the best people you could find. And I still say it. In Canada, I used to get myself in a lot of trouble, that’s just my personality, again, here because we never had any really great Olympic athletes. And if you’re not coached by a Canadian coach, they hold back your funding, which was peanuts, anyway, so I really didn’t give a crap. I was always … Number one, I was coaching myself. And, number two, I used to go down to the States because they had the best hurdlers in the world.
So, you’d always find the best people you can surround yourself with. I want information from the world record holder, not from some Joe Blow from down the street who says, “You know, I can teach you how to hurdle.” That’s the type of mentality we have up here, so always surround yourself with the best you can find and you got to get rid of those negative people around you. Sometimes it’s good friends, sometimes it’s family, but you don’t want any rocks, you want helium balloons to hang around to drag you up, not rocks to drag you down.

Stefan Aarnio: I love that. I was on another interview today, and we were talking about having the rock and the balloon relationship, in a different context, I said entrepreneurs are always crazy, and they’re the balloon, and they need a rock to keep them from flying away. And what you’re saying is we need some balloons to lift us up.

Mark McKoy: Yeah, cut the rocks loose.

Stefan Aarnio: I love that. I love that. How many times did you say you had to go to the Olympics before you won?

Mark McKoy: Well, like I said, 1980, I didn’t go, but I was on the team. 1984, I came fourth. 1988, I came seventh. Then, I won in 92, and then in 1996, I didn’t even make the final, and that was the writing on the wall, “You’re too old, time to retire.”

Stefan Aarnio: Right. So, four times, four times, you’re at peak condition, you’re ready to go, tell me, what is the difference between fourth or seventh and first. What is the champion difference between that? Because when you’re champion, when you’re gold, everybody knows your name, you’re on the box of Wheaties. When you’re second, it’s like, “Ha!” When you’re third, at least you got third. And when you’re fourth, no one’s heard of you. So, what’s the difference between those four times, when you’re in peak condition, ready to go?

Mark McKoy: Well, first of all, if you’re into Seinfeld, he has a great standup routine where he says, “First place, greatest guy in the world. Second place, never heard of him.” So, it doesn’t even go down to fourth. Second place, no body knows who you are. So, it’s all or nothing. But, all of those things, like you said, the only difference between all of those things is the environment. Basically, I’m talking about the coaches that I had, the athletes I used to train with. As I went through my career, and I found better and better people, the better that I was training with, the better I got, the more confident you are on the line, the more confidence you have on the line, the better you perform. So, each of those instances, I just surrounded myself with better people.

Stefan Aarnio: So, you build a better team each time, and each time the better team, produced the better result. This is very much like business. I’m loving this interview right now.

Mark McKoy: [crosstalk 00:12:18]

Stefan Aarnio: So, did you have a different coach every time you went?

Mark McKoy: Yep.

Stefan Aarnio: Okay. So, let’s talk about this, now how important is a coach to reaching that top level performance?

Mark McKoy: Coach is everything. Even Usain Bolt has a coach. I don’t care how good you are, and I don’t care what field you’re in, and I talk about this with our good friend, Raymond Aaron, is everything you do … and you can only be an expert in one, like you said, you got 10,000 hours to be an expert [inaudible 00:12:48] in something. How many hours do you have? You can’t be good at everything. So, you need a … if I was going to go into business, I need somebody to coach me in business because I don’t have a lot of time, I don’t know anything about it, I don’t have the desire to study business. If I was doing stock markets, if I was doing, whatever the case may be, you should have some kind of a mentor coach to get you there. And health and fitness is no different.
I would never just go downstairs and train by myself. I train every day. I’m on a new venture, which I’ll mention to you later, but it’s hard to do things at that level, or any level, by yourself. So, the coach thing is, like I said, the better the coach I had, the better I performed. It’s that simple.

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Stefan Aarnio: So, let me ask you this, Mark, obviously, not all coaches are created equal, as you said. The local Canadian coaches, they maybe weren’t ready, or they didn’t have the assets or the information, the knowledge, to give you, what makes a top tier coach, top tier? And what makes an amateur, an amateur, when it comes to coaches?

Mark McKoy: Two things, really. One is experience, been around and you’ve seen it and done it. The other is a lot of coaches are, egotistical is probably not the right word, but they think they know it all, and they’re not willing to learn. Like, I don’t care who you are, you got to learn everyday. I learned from six year old kids when I’m training people that come up with great ideas, I’m like, “Why didn’t I think of that?” You got to be open to everything. It doesn’t mean everything’s going to be right when you get it, but you got to be open to everything.
And I find coaches here … Like, this isn’t rocket science, we’re running down the track in like 10 or 13 seconds or whatever it is. I always tell people, and it’s easy to do, if you’re a sprinter, or you’re a sprint coach, get on a plane, go down to Jamaica, watch what the best are doing. It’s that simple, yet we never do it. It really baffles my mind that we don’t do that. And you’d have to pay them some money, they don’t care, they want more money, and you get the education. You got to pay for what you want in life, but it’s really that simple.
When my career, I’ll give you a short version is, I trained here. I’m like, “Okay, the best in the world are in the States.” Scholarship to the States, got better. Then, when I was down there, I had the opportunity to run against their world record holder, the best hurdler in history. I sat down and talked to him for an hour, I got better again. A couple of years later, I talked to his coach, I got better again. A couple years later, I went over to Britain and I trained with the best hurdler in the world, and his coach, who’s the best hurdler coach in the world, and I win the Olympics. So, sometimes in the morning, I get up and I’m like, “What am I missing? Everybody complicates things, it’s not that difficult.”

Stefan Aarnio: So, just train with the best, locate the best, you will become the best.

Mark McKoy: Yeah. Sometimes you have to pay for it, sometimes you won’t be able to find the best. If I was in computers, I’d call up Bill Gates, but that’s probably not going to happen, but you try to get to the best you can get to, and that will get you … And the thing is, the better you are, the more those people will respect you, so then you will be able to get close to those people. Like now, I can talk to almost anybody because they respect what I did. So, it’s a process, it’s not going to happen over night. People just, they’re not patient enough.

Stefan Aarnio: I love that. Well, that’s what respecting the grind is all about, it does take an unbelievable investment to get to anywhere you want to be. Now, I met you, Mark, in Winnipeg. I don’t know if you remember me, I met you at a seminar in Winnipeg, I think it was like 2012, and I think Raymond was telling, our mutual friend Raymond Aaron, was telling a story and it was about a hurdler … Now, I don’t know if this was you, probably was you. And he was saying that, this hurdler was running, went to the best coach in the world, or one of the best coaches, and was running and I guess it was half a second off the time, or 40% of a second, it was some amount short of hitting the goal. And the coach said, “Oh, just straighten your foot. If you straighten your foot out, it’s going to close the gap of X number of inches, which is going to get you the time.” Is that you? Was that story about Mark’s [crosstalk 00:17:36].

Mark McKoy: That’s my story.

Stefan Aarnio: Okay. Can you tell that story in your own words? Because I, obviously, just butchered it pretty badly, but …

Mark McKoy: You’re not too far off. Again, it’s that simple. I went to, from here, to train in Britain, and my training partner, at the time, his name is Colin Jackson, best hurdler in the world. And his coach, Malcolm Arnold. So, he’s watching me, I go over there for the first time and I’d been off for a while, I’d had achilles surgery and went through a whole bunch of different stuff, which we might get into later, as well. So, he said, “Just run over these hurdles,” which takes about 13 seconds. And up to this point, I’d been training for 13 years, and with some good hurdlers, and some good coaches, and nobody had said anything to me about my feet. So he said, “You know what,” like you said, “So, your feet are here, you’re running down the track, you want them straight, and one of them was off by an inch.” So, by straightening it, I gained an inch on every step. But, actually, it was about 39 steps that I did that on and basically, by doing that simple thing, which was not like I had to life extra weights or run extra workouts, it’s just, straighten your foot. And that’s was 39 inches, and I won the Olympics by 39 inches.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. So, that …

Mark McKoy: That’s what being coached by the best.

Stefan Aarnio: I love this story because it’s not working harder, it’s just that little bit of technique from the one guy who can see it. And, Mark, how many years of your life did it take you to get to the guy, and that one point, where the guy says, “Hey, just drop your foot this direction a little bit.”

Mark McKoy: 13 years.

Stefan Aarnio: 13 years. And how old were you at the time?

Mark McKoy: I was almost … It was just before I was 27.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. So, 27 years you’d been in the endeavor for 13 years, and dropping, or changing that degree of your foot by a little bit, that’s the difference between a gold medal and the champion and never heard of him. Just that one little bit. And how many coaches had you been through at that point before you just got that one little …

Mark McKoy: Tons of coaches. Tons of them. A whole lot of times, but definitely a dozen or so, yeah, and nobody saw, nobody saw it.

Stefan Aarnio: That’s unbelievable. Now, let me ask you this, Mark, do you believe that success is more, is it more talent, or is it more hard work?

Mark McKoy: It’s all hard work. Don’t get me wrong, you need some genetics. But, I work with people, now, I work with athletes of all ages, from kids to pros, and Olympians, and I can tell you, unequivocally, it’s 99% hard work and 1% genetics.

Stefan Aarnio: And out of the hard work, how much of the hard work is pure psychology? How much is it you just telling you how it’s going to go?

Mark McKoy: Yeah, a lot of it, a lot, like I said, I was speaking on a stage with, I can’t actually even mention in the same sentence, I think it’s important, but Les Brown, last weekend at one of Raymond’s events, and he said, “How hungry are you? You got to be hungry.” And I always say, just how bad do you want it? Because if you think I … again, I’ve worked with so many different athletes, that are way more talented than I am, trust me. And you see the excuses they come up for.
I never miss a workout. I went from the hospital, after having achilles surgery, right to the track. I had … Even if I’m sick, or if I’m tired, I just go anyway. So, too many people make excuses for whatever reason. When people talk about psychology, I say, psychology is actually in the training because the first rule of success is showing up. I don’t care what your excuse is for the day, if you don’t show up, you’re not winning. You can’t win the race if you’re not there. So, it’s, again, 99% hard work, and it’s 99% your attitude towards the work. And showing up is not just, also, just not being there. I had people show up and they might as well not be there.
I had a guy I was training this morning and he was on the phone for the whole workout, so you might as well not be there, you’re not showing up. That’s not showing up. It’s just how bad do you want it, and what are you willing to do to make it happen?

Stefan Aarnio: Well, let’s start with excuses for a moment, Mark. You mentioned excuses, and I coach people in real estate and business, you coach people in athletics, you’ve been coached before. Tell me about excuses. What are excuses? Why do people have excuses? How do you get around excuses?

Mark McKoy: If we had that answer, I’d be a billionaire. I’d say, I train people. It’s, again, how important is something to you? Because people will show up for business meetings. I have people, one of my pet peeves is, not showing up on time. I have no respect for anybody who can’t show up on time and I always believe, if I’m five minutes early, I’m late. I’m always on time for things. People always ask me, I know a lot of people now because of just my connections through the years and what I’ve done. Or, I know a lot of people who people want to meet, and they’re like, “Oh, can you introduce me to them?” But, they’re always late. Now, I said, “Two things, if I introduce you to this person, and you’re late, I’m going to look bad. If I introduce you to this person, and you’re on time, I’m going to say you have more respect for them than me. Why do you show up for them and not for me?” So, it’s a lose-lose situation. So, that’s one of my pet peeves. Yeah, you can make excuses about traffic or rain or whatever it is, but people who are successful, don’t make excuses and they … There’s a speaker, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of him, his name is Larry Winget. You ever heard of him?

Stefan Aarnio: I don’t think I have.

Mark McKoy: Okay. He just tells it like it is. I love listening to him. He says, “Successful people are people who do what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’re going to do it, the way they say they’re going to do it.” It’s that simple. You change any of those things, you’re not going to make it. It’s really that simple.

Stefan Aarnio: Hmm. So, hearing what you’re saying there about excuses, a little bit, Mark. Would you say that people who make excuses, perhaps, just have their values out of order and they haven’t put the thing that they … They’re putting something in front of the thing that they want, or there’s a thing that they say they want, versus what they really want. Is that what you’d say it is?

Mark McKoy: Yeah. I always tell people that, especially in my business, in health and fitness, probably the biggest area where you’ll find people making excuses. When people come into my gym, I’ve got so thick skin now, I don’t even listen. I tell people I listen with my eyes. Anything you’re telling me, it’s just going in one ear, because I’ve heard it all before. It’s true, though, and I expect that you’re not going to get your goals when you come into the gym. So, if you want to lose weight or you want to be an athlete, you want to get that scholarship, automatically, you’re not going to do it.
In my mind, you got to show me because … and I know it sounds sort of callous, but … there’s only 5% of the population, in anything, that’s successful, so 95% aren’t. You have a very slim chance of being that 5%, so you have to show me. I train people, and these guys want scholarships for tennis, and the first meeting, they came in 10 minutes late. The first session, fired them on the spot, not interested. You’re not going to make it, get out of my gym. Like you said, it’s priorities. If you want something bad enough, you’re going to show up on time and you’re going to do everything you’re supposed to do without excuses, otherwise it’s not a priority.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. I love that. Now, Mark, let me ask you this, there’s life for the athlete, as you were saying, like an amateur pro athlete, before winning the medal, and then there’s life after the medal. Did success change you in that process at all?

Mark McKoy: It didn’t change me, it changed my life. It’s funny enough, and the first time I went over to Britain to train, we had a really great training group. There was a lot of us coming and going, but there’s a bout 10 core people that were always there and trained, and all them are successful, none of them won the Olympics, but they won the Commonwealth Games, they won more championships, they were all successful.
And one of the girls from … all of the group I’m still really good friends with, actually, but … she came up to me, I met her last year when my coach retired, and she said, “Mark, it’s been so long, you haven’t changed a bit.” I’m like, “Why am I going to change? Just because I won a medal?” I don’t think that should change you, but as I said, it changed my life, that’s for sure.

Stefan Aarnio: I like that. It’s not what you’re doing, it’s what you’re doing does, as our friend Raymond says. Let me ask you this one, Mark. What’s more important to you? We’re going to switch gears to business a little bit because I love how athletics and business are tied together in that it’s like you said, if you show up on time, do what you say you’re going to do, that direct skillset applies to business, as well as athletics, and pretty much anything in life. What do you think is more important, having a great brand, or having a great business?

Mark McKoy: I would have to say a brand. And I say that because I just recently read Richard Branson’s book, and his brand is customer service. And he’s got, what? 400 businesses? So, you can build any business if you have a brand people trust. So, I’d have to say the brand is way more important.

Stefan Aarnio: That’s very interesting. I love it because there really is no right answer. And some people come with the business first, then they build the brands, and we call them the brand first. In your business, winning a gold medal is absolutely one of the best brand pieces you could ever have. I guess, maybe a Stanley Cup is up there, or maybe a Super Bowl ring …

Mark McKoy: Yeah, just [crosstalk 00:27:43].

Stefan Aarnio: I like that. With your own accolades, or winning that, that’s a major, major piece, winning a gold medal, how have you been able to leverage that into your business and, I guess, make more money with having that brand accolade?

Mark McKoy: Yeah. Well, like I said, it’s huge. Personal training does not make a hell of a lot of money. You’re not going to get rich off of it anytime soon, but when I retired in ’96, I was just going to list, like you hear a lot of athletes, “I don’t want to train again, I don’t want to do it.” I just wanted to hang out, drink beer, get fat, and find a job somewhere. The last thing I want to do is anything to do with athletics or fitness.
And I was approached by different people, at the time, people with kids in soccer and in hockey and in baseball, and they’re like, “We need speed. We need … can you come and train our kids?” I’m like, “Nope, not interested. Done it, been there, go find somebody else.” And they’re like, “Well, we’ll give you this.” I’m like, “Nope, not interested.” And they go, “Okay, well, we’ll double that.” Like, “Nope, nope, nope.” “Okay, we’ll quadruple that.” I’m like, “Okay. I’ll see you Monday morning.” Everybody’s got a price, right?
So, it does, I charge stupid money to do personal training. I charge, probably, I’m guessing, at least four times as much as a regular trainer here in the city. So, that brand certainly helps.

Stefan Aarnio: Have you been able to leverage that brand into any other things? Do you ever get any licensing deals? I guess, speaking fees? That kind of thing?

Mark McKoy: It helps, obviously, with speaking. Nobody would give me the time of day if I didn’t have a gold medal, that’s for sure. So, I don’t do a lot of it, but periodically, people call me up and basically just come tell them my story. So, it does with that, I’ve never really ventured into … I’ve tried different things in business, but again, you can’t only be good at an expert or top level at one thing and I figured I ventured away from fitness and health and I’ve always found my way back because this is my calling, this is what I do well. I can’t speak, obviously. So, I always come back to health and fitness.

Stefan Aarnio: Love it. When you have to have your, somewhere, your heart is. What’s Mark McKoy’s obsession? Every high achiever has some sort of obsession, it’s what you think about all the time, what’s your obsession going through your mind every day?

Mark McKoy: I don’t really have … I’m so calm. I don’t have … I was only dr … Actually, I had this conversation with somebody the other day, is you’ll find that, actually, an NHL hockey player that was here the other day, and was saying like, he was so competitive in everything he does. If it’s walking down a street, I got to be faster than this guy, if it’s a board game, if it’s a card game.
I remember when I was training, all I cared about was running and winning. When I was on the line, that’s when I was competitive. Everything else I did in life, they used to call me, on the fence boy, because like, you want to go this way? Okay. You want to go that way? Sure. I wasn’t competitive. I didn’t want to play any board games, any card games, I just never had that drive. Only one thing drove me. I wouldn’t say it’s an obsession, but I’m really passionate, now, about helping people who want to be helped, mind you, which is very few, as I said before, in achieving health goals, not necessarily fitness.
We’ve got people in my gym, now, drop dead of heart attacks and they were really, really fit. There’s a huge difference between being healthy and being fit. So, my passion is, and this is where I’m going, as my new gig right now, is I’m actually … Years ago, I said I would never run again. The training was so hard, so intense, I’m like, “When I retire, not running.” I still go to gym, I still keep fit, not running again, ever. A month ago, I declared I’m coming back and I’m running the World Masters, but I’m going to run the 100 meters because it’s here in Toronto in two years. So, I have a two year journey that I’m going to show people how to get fit and healthy because the way that it’s done now, I think, in gyms and it’s more money grab than it is actually people actually showing people how to be healthy. And that’s what I like to do, I like to show people. You can talk all you want, like I said, I listen with my eyes and I’m going to show people, “Here’s how you get healthy. Here’s how you get fit.”

Stefan Aarnio: So, let’s talk about health and fitness a little bit. And those are two separate things, like you said, someone could be fit, but he’s rotten on the inside, maybe his organs are done. Draw the line there a little bit for the people at home because I think we live in such a visual society and it’s all about how people look. They want to be tan. They want to be cut up. They want to have the muscles. Talk about the difference between health and fitness and the inside and the outside.

Mark McKoy: Okay. Yeah. So, fitness is basically, like you said, fitness is more aesthetic and you can get that in numerous ways, going to the gym, lifting weights, a lot of people do it with a lot of supplementation and things like that. Health, on the other hand, I think, again, it’s longterm versus short term. You can get very, very fit and healthy if you concentrate on your health first. To me, health is number one, especially as you age, everybody around you is on some medications, for whatever the issues they’re having, a lot more issues when you’re getting closer to your 60s, trust me.
So, I learned, and I wasn’t the healthiest athlete, you can get by until you’re 30, 40, even up to 50, you can get by. A lot of people are like, “Why do I need to work out? Look at me, I’m fit.” Yeah, talk to me in 10 years. So, I’ve really been concentrating on health and that’s another reason I’m doing this journey that I’m going on for the next couple of years. And, I’m actually vegan. First, I don’t go to doctors very often, and things like that. I feel good all the time. I just went and had a complete physical done and everything, they said the blood work was like that of a 20 year old. So, I concentrate on health, and now I’m going through into the fitness part of it. I feel better than most people do. My results are better than most people’s are. And now, I’m going to show them that I’m also going to be faster and stronger, as well.

Stefan Aarnio: Let’s talk about the choice to be vegan. That’s a real big movement right now. The world is waking up to veganism. There’s vegan fast food coming out because there’s enough demand in the marketplace. How old were you, Mark, and what was happening in your life where you decided, “I’m going to be a vegan,” and still get the performance? Because people think, and there’s this myth, about protein and meat and all this stuff, tell me about the choice to be vegan and how people can still get the performance from having no meat.

Mark McKoy: Okay. Couple of things. First, I shouldn’t have used that word because I know a lot of vegetarians and vegans who are totally out of shape and who’ve actually never eat a vegetable. I don’t know how you can be a vegetarian and never have a vegetable, but they can have chips and cookies and cakes and all this stuff and it’s not healthy. So, I like to say I’m plant based. I eat whole foods and I try to stay away from all the, like you mentioned, the vegan fast food that you can get. There’s so much stuff out there, you know, sugar is vegan, you can have cookies and cake and it’s riddled with sugar and it’s not healthy, but it’s vegan.
So, basically, a couple of years ago … I’ve been seven years, now … I was just taking this course … I’m always doing research, especially when it comes to nutrition … I was taking the course, and it was actually through this Chinese medicine doctor, and I was staying at his place for a week, and he kept feeding us his food and telling us what’s good about this way of eating, and what’s bad about animal products. And, the way I am, my persona, I just jumped right in, I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to do it.”
And I did it and, like I said, I’ve never felt better. And from all the research I’ve done, all this protein … that’s the first thing, where do you get your protein? We consume way too much protein, anyway. Protein makes you sick, from the research I’ve done, anyway. And the meat and dairy industry, that’s all they have in their products is protein, so they have to push it. And, it’s a billion dollar industry, you can’t fight it, and I’m not trying to, I don’t care. People can die, but I don’t care. So, from that, I just jumped right in and never looked back. And that’s another reason, because I believe in it, and I want to show people that performance is going to be way better, not worse.

Stefan Aarnio: Would you say it makes the machine run cleaner, having no animal products?

Mark McKoy: Exactly. Way cleaner. You’re cleaning out the pipes, animal products clog them up. It’s like putting diesel in the gas engine.

Stefan Aarnio: I love that.

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Stefan Aarnio: You know what? We’re switching gears, Mark. Going back to your story and your life of doing all these amazing things, what was one moment you thought you were going to fail, and maybe you were just going to give up on all this stuff?

Mark McKoy: One moment? How long do you have? Almost every day. 1461 days between each Olympics, pick one.

Stefan Aarnio: Yeah, I was going to say, give me the Oscar winning moment where you’re [crosstalk 00:37:59] you’re done, you’re like, “Man, I’m never doing this again.”

Mark McKoy: That would be right after Seoul. At Seoul, a lot of people who do know my story, and after the ’87 season, I was seventh in the world championships, disappointed that I was always in these finals, all the way from ’83, actually, ’82, actually, until ’87. I was in every final, world championship, Commonwealth, Olympic and I just couldn’t get on the podium. So, I decided to train with Ben Johnson and do drugs and say, you know, because his coach believes you can win without drugs, so I’m like, “Okay, obviously, you’re right.” So, I started taking drugs with him. After a few months, I just got worse and worse because, as a hurdler, you can’t be … I got big. And sprinters are okay, you just have to run down a track, but as a hurdler, you still need to be flexible and nimble and quick and I was just getting too big. And actually, my times were getting worse. And, also, my muscles were getting big, my tendons weren’t getting stronger, and I wrecked my achilles tendon. That whole of ’88, I was running on one foot, getting Cortisone shots to get me through the season because it was an Olympic year.
And after ’88, because I’m not sure if you remember, the Dublin inquiry, we all had to go and testify, “Yeah, we did drugs,” and they suspended me for two years. I had an achilles operation. I had just bought a condo in downtown Toronto. I was like $200,000 in debt. I wasn’t running, didn’t have a job, didn’t have an education. Trust me, if I could afford a bullet, I would’ve … That was like rock bottom.

Stefan Aarnio: Wow. And then-

Mark McKoy: That was number two, do you want to hear number one?

Stefan Aarnio: Oh, that was number two?

Mark McKoy: I’m just kidding.

Stefan Aarnio: That was number one, that was number …

Mark McKoy: Oh, that was number one. Yeah.

Stefan Aarnio: So, what kept you going through that whole time? Why not just get the bullet and end it? Because so many people, I noticed, injured people on this show, the darker someone goes down, usually, the higher they rise. If they’re able to make it out of that dark time. What kept you going?

Mark McKoy: It comes right back to what we talked about in the beginning is, the environment. The one good thing is, I always had good people around me and Colin Jackson, who I mentioned was my training partner from Britain, was a good friend. When I was down in the dumps, he said, “Mark, come over here, come train with me.” I was, also, like I said, 27 years old, which is old for a track and field athlete, I’d be 30 in the next Olympics, which I went in ’92. And he goes, “Come on, you can come back over here.” And I went over to Britain, surrounded myself with good people, his training group, we had his coach and just being around great people, and my career started to rise again.

Stefan Aarnio: So, the environment won? It’s all about the environment.

Mark McKoy: Environment.

Stefan Aarnio: Awesome. Mark, what do you think is the biggest cause of failure in people? You’re coaching people all the time, you see people win, you see people lose, what causes them to fail?

Mark McKoy: Impatience. They just don’t hang out long enough. If you keep going, it’s inevitable, because you just get … Mine’s a great point, case and point, is all the athletes that I trained with, along the way, were more talented than me. That’s why I went to hurdles because I wasn’t as good as they were. But, it’s just, never giving up because if you do it long enough, you’re going to make it. And that’s why I say, it’s just like those … You get up to the end of the cliff and it’s right over the horizon, and then you turn back. And they were just there, if you would have just gone one more day, or one more week, or one more month, or whatever it is. And I think people just, they don’t have the staying power, they give up too early.

Stefan Aarnio: I love that. That’s what respecting the grind is all about. You’re grinding every day, and you got to respect the process. Now, Mark, if you could go back to, let’s say, 18 year old Mark McKoy, what’s one piece of advice you’d give yourself?

Mark McKoy: Don’t take fucking long.

Stefan Aarnio: You were just telling me about patience a second ago.

Mark McKoy: No, I’m just kidding. You know, I’ve been very fortunate. People ask me a lot of things like, “What would you have changed? What would you have done differently?” I think that my path, my road, was, not perfect, but even with ’88 and the Ben Johnson thing, people said, “Oh man, what a mistake, Don’t you wish you hadn’t of done that?” And I’m like, “No, because that was the only thing that got me to go train in Britain with Colin. If I didn’t do that, I probably would never have gone to train with Colin. I would never have won the Olympics. Because if I wasn’t in that group, it wouldn’t have happened.”
So, when I was 18, I used to, or a teenager, I used to train with a group here called Scarborough Optimists, which was Ben Johnson and Desai Williams and all these Olympians, just right place, right time. Then, I went down to the States, and I met the number one hurdler in the world. Everything just seemed to work its way out. I liked the process. I think the most important thing is the journey and the things you learn along the way. I think each little thing I learned, at each stage of my career, spurred me onto the next thing. I think if I would have given myself some advice and said, “You know what? If you had gone straight to Britain, for example, and trained with Colin, you would have made it faster.” I’m not too certain, I think you need all those experiences along the way to help you grow. It’s like, you can’t plant a tree, and then expect an apple the next day. It takes time. You got to nurture it. You got to feed it.

Stefan Aarnio: Right. And especially with mentors and coaches, you might not have been ready for him at the time, and he might have told you some stuff that you needed to hear and you might not have been ready for it until when you got him at the right time. Because people always come to me … You know, I coach and mentor people in real estate investing and flipping houses and stuff and people always want to know, “Oh, who taught you?” Or, “Who’s the next guy I can go to?” Or, “What’s the super high level guy that I can go to?” But, it’s really about the mentor that’s at the right level to bring you to the next thought, not, maybe, the tenth level, but you need the second level, and then the third level. And if you went right to level ten out of the gates, you might not have made it.

Mark McKoy: Absolutely. I don’t think … You know, that was just meant … That was my path, that was how it was meant to be. What do they say? When the student is ready, the teacher will appear, or something like that? And I think that’s what it was. Every little step and I think back was an amazing journey. I enjoyed every part, even the dark sides. It was tough at the time, but coming through the end, I wouldn’t have appreciated the win, if I didn’t go through that. Not, I wouldn’t appreciate it, but if I would have just gone in ’84 and just won, I certainly wouldn’t have appreciated that as much as going through all the struggles and the failures and, like you said, down to the deep, dark holes, it meant a hell of a lot more when I got that, a hell of a lot more.

Stefan Aarnio: The dark side is always much more fun looking back.

Mark McKoy: Looking back, yeah, not so much fun when you’re there.

Stefan Aarnio: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Mark McKoy: Exactly.

Stefan Aarnio: Mark, now, we got to wrap up here in a couple of minutes. What are the top three books that have changed your life and how you think?

Mark McKoy: You know what? I really didn’t start reading until recently. I’ve never been a reader. I’ve never been much of a scholar. A couple of books … I mean, they’re nutrition, so people will never-. Health-wise, one called, China Study. It’s the biggest nutrition experiment ever done.

Stefan Aarnio: Famous. It’s a famous book, yeah.

Mark McKoy: Yeah. So, that one, on the health side, number one. What else have I read? It would have to be recently. I went through the whole of high school, I read, usually, in grades, 9, 10, 11, 12, you have to do a book report, or whatever. I did The Hobbit every single year. I got a D every single year. I read one book in high school. I hated reading. My dad used to curse me for it. I like reading books like, Richard Branson, Iacocca, people who have come through struggle. Who else was there? I haven’t read Les … I just heard Les’ … I listen to a lot of Ted Talks, and YouTube motivational things, but it’s always the people that … I like, my brain’s going, it’s four o’clock, I’m dead … these books of people who’ve been through the struggle, successful business people who have been through struggle. Not the Trump’s, who, “Oh, I was so poor. I got a million dollars. I only got a million dollars to start my empire.” Yeah.

Stefan Aarnio: And a $100 million mentor to start, too.

Mark McKoy: Yeah.

Stefan Aarnio: That’s the real power. $100 million mentor, Fred Trump, wants a $1 million cash. That’s pretty sweet, man.

Mark McKoy: Yeah. Tough, tough start. But, yeah, the immigrants I come across. What’s that one … Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell’s got some good books. All these things, these are the genuine, everyday, people that have made great things out of their lives. Those are the type of books I like reading.

Stefan Aarnio: Awesome. Who has been your number one, most important mentor? And this can be in athletics or anything, just in your life, who has been your number one mentor, do you think?

Mark McKoy: I would have to say it was my coach, Malcolm Arnold, in Britain because he was more than just a coach. There’s a lot of good coaches out there, and I think you have to have the right temperament, right? There are coaches who bark and scream at you and they’re great coaches, but I would never allow them to coach me. It’s just his style and his temperament. I talk to him to this day. The first time I met him … Well, I met him way back in 1986, or something like that, and he’s always been there. Every time I ask him something, he answers me. I stayed at his house, I brought my kids and my wife over there to stay at his house, just a great, great man.

Stefan Aarnio: Love it. I love what you said about style, there. Now, what’s the one thing that young people need to succeed these days? Mark, you told me you’re not the youngest man anymore, you look 27 in your picture, here, and I can see on the computer screen, what’s the thing you want to say to the young people today?

Mark McKoy: I think, it’s most people these days, especially young people, have no patience. They want everything yesterday, especially with technology. Get off technology. That’s the thing. I see so many … You walk down the street and everybody’s on these … Look around and take something in. My mother always says, “Slow down and smell the roses.” But, it’s just have some patience and stop getting all wound up with having everything, needing everything yesterday. With Google and apps that you can order things right away, it’s like, everybody’s sort of … that’s why everybody’s in debt. You know, you want something, you buy it, put it on the credit card. Put some work into it. You want something bad enough, take the time, it’s going to take time, nothing in life … There’s one thing you can’t mess with and that’s the clock. Time is time, it’s going to take time. When you get the patience, you’ll make it.

Stefan Aarnio: Amazing. Is there any resources that you want to recommend to people starting out and wanting to follow a path of success?

Mark McKoy: Yeah, me. Actually, just follow the greats. Albeit, there’s no one, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Follow all the greats out there, and like I said, if it’s health and fitness related, I am, you can go to MarkMcKoy.com, it’s not finished yet, but it will be up within the next month or so, where we’ll be doing … It’s training, nutrition, and mindset. And the most important part of that whole thing is the mindset, because the mindset you can take that anywhere. You can have the best training program in the world, you can have the best nutrition in the world, but if you don’t do it, who cares?
So, like we’ve been talking for this last hour, it’s all about how bad you want it, what are you willing to do to get it, and surround yourself with the right people, who are going to get you there.

Stefan Aarnio: Love it. Mark, do you have any programs or causes you’d like to promote, so people can get in touch with you?

Mark McKoy: Yeah, like I said, this new venture I’m on is just brand new. I probably started it after we talked the first time and you should just go to MarkMcKoy.com. And, like I said, it’s mostly around the mindset of, exactly what we’ve been talking about, the struggles. I’m going to go through them, too. Me running again, I haven’t run in, even though I’m still fit, I haven’t run in over 25 years.
So, I’m going to go through these struggles. I’m going to go over, I’m going to have lots of hurdles, excuse the pun, because I’m not going to be hurdling. There’s going to be a lot of barriers and just like you were asking me, how do we get over these things? Because I’m going to experience them, too. So, yeah, that’s the main thing. I’d love people to come on this journey with me. Ask questions, give feedback, I wanted this to be interactive to where I can actually help people, especially young people, because it’s a struggle. It’s getting harder and harder, not easier. And I like to give back, and I like to help young people.

Stefan Aarnio: Awesome. Thanks so much for being on the show, Mark. I appreciate having you.

Mark McKoy: Yep. Pleasure is mine.

Stefan Aarnio: Hi, Stefan Aarnio here. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my podcast, Respect The Grind. Now, if you enjoyed this episode, I want to invite you to check you my book, Self-Made Confessions of a Twenty-Something Self Made Millionaire.
At age 22, I had just graduated from a university. I had no cash to my name. I was a guitar teacher, broke, living at my mother’s house. And with $1,200 in cash, that I scraped together, got into my first real estate deal. And by age 28.5, became a self-made millionaire through real estate and through business. In this book, you’re going to find out how I did it, and how I built the foundations for building equity and cash in real estate and in business.
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