Doubting? Hopeless? Fearful? Stuck? Faithless? Not after you listen to this guy!

It was 4am and my alarm went off.  It was cold and I was warm under my covers.  The house was quiet.  I didn’t want to get up and train for the XTERRA triathlons I had coming up.  I closed my eyes and thought I could always train later today or worst case tomorrow.  And then that still small voice inside me told me to get up.  I fumbled around, half alseep, put on my running shoes and running clothes.  I put my earphones in and instead of putting on music that day I searched on Youtube, “motivational speech”.  I clicked on a track without reading the title and a man’s voice came through my headphones (click here to listen ).  The first words he said in a booming voice were, “I am a the messanger, God sent me to tell you, that your best days are ahead of you, this is not the end and no matter what your facing, the trial and tribulation, you will come out of this victorious!”

All of the sudden, I was awake.  I was more than awake, I felt alive.  I felt encouraged.  I felt renewed.  I felt powerful and strong!  I didn’t know who’s voice this was but he had a message for me and I was listening.   I then started listening to more of of this voice.  This voice has a  name and he goes by  Billy Alsbrooks.  I didn’t know who he was at the time but he had a powerful message.  I looked him up and noticed he had written a book called, “Blessed and Unstoppable.”  I bought it, and I start each day with it and it has transformed my life.

I then dug a little deeper and wanted to know more about Billy.  Who was this voice that was inspiring me for good.  He was delivering a powerful message for good to all who would listen.  His book gives you a plan that if you follow it will lead you to a new life.

We all “know” how to do things in life (losing weight, making more money) but the point is to understand and take action.  Billy helps you understand and he will push you to take action, immediately.  In life, the person you are in 5 year will be based on the books you read and the people you meet.  Today, you need to meet Billy.  Read his book and listen to him on his youtube channel.  He is a person that will push you become a better person.  He doesn’t let  you settle for another option.

We caught up with Billy Alsbrooks and asked him some questions so that you can get to know him better and have him help us become better today than we were yesterday.

Billy, what made you change from sharing a message of destruction to a message of building others up?

The life changing moment for me was when My Father passed away unexpectedly. He died in front of me back in late 2007. I saw his last 10 minutes of his life, the look in his eyes, and his last breath. There was no time to prepare mentally for this traumatic event and it just completely devastated me. Up until this point, I had been completely self serving in all my ambitions, all my goals, and all the things I wanted to accomplish. The day after my dad transitioning, the funeral director asked me what I wanted the wording to be on my father’s head stone and what I wanted my dad’s obituary to say? I had no answer at the time, since I was still in total shock. I eventually came up with wording that best described my father’s life. That sparked an awakening in me, that I too would die one day and that people would be asking what to put in my obituary. I thought to myself, if I died right now, what would people say? I was not happy at all with the answer I came up with, I was embarrassed and ashamed actually. The only thing that lasts when we die is our legacy and the contributions that we made to the lives of others, that’s it. My father had taught me his last lesson, but it would change my life dramatically. I learned just how precious life is, how important family and friends are, and that we must make the most of every second we have here on earth. Tomorrow is not promised. I had found some thought provoking questions that would change my life’s trajectory forever. What did I want my legacy to be? How do I want people to remember me? What Am I called by God to do? What is my purpose? What should my top priorities be from here forward? Where do I want to allocate my most precious commodity (time)? What do I want to build with my life? These types of questions just kept arising in my spirit. Each day I meditated on them and searched deeply for the answers. It took many years for me to gain revelation over my life, as to what I was going to focus on and pour my energy into, but I found it. After seeing my dad die, I vowed to never go back to that old way of destruction, from here forward I was going to impact lives in positive and uplifting ways. I dedicated and committed my life to using the gifts God gave me to educate, motivate, and transform lives. I’m definitely, without any doubt, going to leave this world better than I found it.

Billy, what is one thing that if a person is struggling and questioning life they could do to turn things around?

Questions will take you in life wherever you want to go. All you have to do is find the right Question and you can initiate personal transformation. Self-assessment questions open the mind up and allow it to be reprogrammed. As I mentioned in the previous answer, the questions set in motion the change in me. The more clarity you have in your life, the more peace, balance, and power you will be functioning in. Asking yourself the right questions long enough will eventually give way to vision and self-awareness. For example, What do I want my marriage to look and feel like? What do I want my body to look like? What makes me feel the most alive? What am I most passionate about in life? What do I want my future, this time next year, to look like? What is my top most desired outcome for this week? What is one thing that I can do this week that would improve my life the most? When in my life have I been most disciplined and why? What am I doing right now in life that I need to stop doing? What do I need to start doing on a more consistent basis? Questions like these allow you to take back control of you mind, so that you can steer It, instead of it steering you. If we want to change a behavior, we must first address the mindset and the thought processes that gave birth to it. The quickest way to turn things around is to sit down and have a fierce conversation with ourselves. By asking ourselves powerful questions, we can shift the perspective and the context from which we see the world through, ultimately starving the negative behavior from the thinking that allows it to sustain itself. Our future comes directly off the assembly line of our mind. Your future is your thinking, the smallest change in thinking can change everything.

Billy, how have been able to continue to grow and progress?

There’s two things that I do consistently that have really changed my life. One, I get alone with God every single day. I go for a 30-45 minute slow walk, usually late night, and just lay my life before the Lord. All my concerns, ambitions, questions etc. I lay at his alter. He guides me in all my decisions and helps me better understand my calling. The second thing I do, is read everyday. I read a new book every week usually centered around personal development. This is my field, so I know that I need to immerse myself with as much wisdom as possible to be effective in my calling. I also have a 365 day bible, which is set up for daily readings to carry me through the whole bible within a year. This I have been doing for the past 12 years. In my alone time, I gain revelation of God, who He really is, and who he made me to be. This then allows and enables me to comprehend the material that I read, with a much greater and deeper understanding.

If your looking to make some changes in your life.  If your looking for motivation while you exercise.  If your looking for hope.  Tune in to Billy Alsbrooks channel here and check out his book here because if you surround yourself with Billy, you will only become a better person because of it.  I have Billy to thank for helping me qualify for the XTERRA World Championships!

Marcus Barton – the rest of the story

With his eyes closed, he pretended that the sounds he was hearing were that of an airplane. The sounds of airplanes always gave him a sense of peace, probably because he had served in one of the most powerful Air Forces in the world. He knew those sounds were there to serve and protect him, whether he was in Panama during the Noriega event or at USSTRATCOM (the folks in charge of the nukes). Those sounds would make him certain of the future, but today he couldn’t shake it; he knew it wasn’t an airplane vibrating his ear drum. He squeezed his eyes a bit tighter, hoping it would help get him to a happy place. He thought of memories of his three perfect children or his best friend, his beautiful wife. He thought of summer days: him, his dog, and his truck cruising around town, windows down, Jack Johnson on the radio, and the smell of fresh cut grass in the air. No matter what memory he tried to recall, he couldn’t shake it.

air tran specialist.jpg
United States Air Force Air Tran Specialist

He opened his eyes and was brought back to reality. He saw and smelled white, sterile, stale plastic. He was lodged deep inside of what looked like a donut, which at the time was one of his favorite foods. He was laying lifeless, on his back inside of a CAT scan for the third time in 90 days. Helpless, a position and word that didn’t exist to him. He wasn’t comfortable inside this tomb-like technology, but his comfortable lifestyle is what landed him in it. You may even know that lifestyle.

You’re a nice, outgoing person. A good neighbor. You’re a good employee. You set resolutions each year that seem to disappear a bit faster than you’d like, but at least you try. You have a nice house and car, but you took down the white picket fence because your life is not perfect; it’s better defined as comfortable.

The guy laying inside that CAT scan, 40 lbs overweight, staring at the white plastic was the epitome of comfortable just 3 months ago; before this strange illness popped up. His favorite question at night to himself each was, “which flavor of ice cream will I have tonight?” Now, the question he was asking each night before he closed his eyes was, “am I dying?”

This stuff isn’t supposed to happen to nice people like him. He was in the CAT scan, because the doctors were looking for cancer. Certainly, he didn’t want them to find any, but if they did, he wants it to be early on. If the scans came back clear, he promised to make some changes, but promises are always broken. He didn’t need to make any promises; he needed to make it a necessity. A necessity for his wife, his kids, his dogs, and his friends. His friends that he had at that time, and the friends he had yet to meet.

The scans came back clear. Phew, but why in the world did this happen? A question that science may never prove, but maybe it happened just so that he would make the world a better place!

His three months of uncertainty weren’t a dream like George Bailey’s in It’s a Wonderful Life. No ghosts visited him like Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. This guy lived 90 days with the the grim reaper at his front door. His life had an eviction notice with his name on it.

With a clean test result, he had a new lease on life; he was determined to never look back and start exercising and eating better!

Sure, we have all heard that story from a friend with the best of intentions to make a dramatic change, but we roll our eyes and wonder how long their passion to live a better, healthier life will last.

Just like this guy, you watch your friend start working out six days week. For him, it was three days of cardio and three days of strenth training.

But this friend of ours, in six months, lost that 40 pounds. While on a trail run with a friend, his life and our life would be forever changed because we get to live better lives because of the man we call Mr. XTERRA, race director, multiple time XTERRA overall champion, ambassador, friend, brother, son, father, husband and most importantly, Marcus Barton.

Ö till Ö 2015, Foto: JakobEdholm.com
Ö till Ö 2015, Foto: JakobEdholm.com

THE REST OF THE STORY-

While on that trail run, 40 pounds lighter, his friend asked him if he had ever done a triathlon. Of course, he hadn’t, but he thought it would keep him motivated to stay in shape. That triathlon was called XTERRA, which is a style of triathlon that consists of an open water swim, and off-road bike, and an off-road run. At the time, he didn’t even own a mountain bike, but he believed it wasn’t about resources; it was about being resourceful. So, he picked one up for $50 at a garage sale. The rest is history as a decade has pasted since his first XTERRA race!

Marcus, why have you stuck with XTERRA for the last 10 years?

“Because road triathlons, in my opinion, are so boring. There’s so much variety in the different XTERRA venues and some beautiful countryside. My favorite venue I’d have to say is Oak Mountain (Alabama) for three reasons. First, it’s a BLAST of a race course. Second, I am from there, so I get to visit my family. My dad and brother come out to watch and scoot all over the bike course to catch us at numerous places. Lastly, I get to see all the XTERRA staff!”

Marcus isn’t a pro-triathlete, but he expects to perform at his best, and his best is on top of podiums. Just take a look at his results and you just have to laugh. It’s littered with 1st place overall finishes in 2017 at Oak Mountain trail run, XTERRA Fort Yargo Triathlon, XTERRA Panther Creek and if he didn’t finish 1st, he is still on the podium with a 3rd place overall finish at the USAT Off-Road Triathlon Nationals and 21st and top American in his division at the ITU Cross Triathlon WORLD Championships. Certainly, a different position than how we first saw him at the beginning of this article.

Marcus, why does it matter to you to win and perform at your highest level?

“It pushes me to train hard, be a little more regimented with eating and generally stay healthy. For me, it’s a motivator. Even if I don’t win, I want to perform the best that I can. The minute I stop trying to do that, I’ll probably let other things slide and fall out of shape.”

What is your favorite vicory over the years?

“Winning XTERRA Whitewater, which is a race I created and race directed the first two years”

Whitewater is a special place in America and is an Olympic training facility and is also a vacation destination in itself. Marcus has passed the torch since setting up the race. Now he runs the transition clinic the night before the race, which is where you will find him sharing stories, showing transition tips and tricks, and giving out free samples from his sponsors.

While he has sponsors, he has a full time gig like the rest of us. So, when he’s not racing, he’s a top performer at work, which is what indirectly brought him to Charlotte. After the United States Air Force, he made a move into Information Technology. He became a Microsoft Certified Trainer and consultant. Before his current position at Dell, he was recruited by Microsoft to take a job in Charlotte, where he still lives after 18 years. As you can imagine, Marcus doesn’t find himself on the couch much any more.

marcus barton
Marcus Barton XTERRA Credit XTERRA

Marcus, How do you have time for everything? Can you give us a glimpse into a typical week?

“I generally do two-a-days during the week. I’m swimming three days a week in the mornings and doing some other workout in the AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The evenings, I’m usually running or biking. The weekends consist of the longer workouts with running and biking. Every now and then, there’s a brick thrown in. I carry a typical work day on the week days, but I do travel a bit. I cover North Carolina and South Carolina for work, so it’s not uncommon for me to spend several hours a day in the car driving. Some of my longer trips involve overnight stays, so I have to work my training schedule around it. My kids are all in their 20’s, so they’re sort of doing their own thing now and Alba (his wife) supports me by being flexible with my hectic schedule.”

Conclusion:

Because of that 90 day scare, we all know Marcus Barton. He has made our lives better. He has helped people across the country find what they are looking for through XTERRA. He has hoisted trophies like a true champion. He has shared houses in Spain with the likes of Josiah Middaugh, Cody Waite, Rife Hilgartner and Dan Kimball, one of his fondest memories. Marcus Barton playing a practical jokeHe laughs thinking about giving an XTERRA 18 wheeler parking tickets, or taking the cutout of Kahuna Dave’s head, made by the XTERRA staff, at Oak Mountain one year when he couldn’t make it and he toured it all over the southeast (last seen here). He remembers deciding at a lunch, on a whim, to enter a race that was 7 hours away in West Virginia and winning it. He’s a friend to all.

Marcus, the season hasn’t started yet, but who do you think is going to win the XTERRA World Championships in 2018?

“I think Josiah Middaugh is going to kill it. I don’t know why, but I think we’re gonna see a volcano God erupt with him. I think on the women’s side, Duffy will be hard to beat. The waves will be back, as I predict that it will be another wet and sloppy race.”

So if you’re going through an uncertain time, think of Marcus and make some dramatic changes. Let’s all be grateful for the scare and that he defied the odds. Let his lesson, be our lesson and not wait for a scare. Skip the 90 days of uncertainty and just sign up for a race this XTERRA season! You will be glad you did and you can thank Marcus later for all the friends you are going to make this year!

Branden Rakita – the rest of the story

We all want or seek validation.  It’s part of life.  Validation can come in public or private and we can get it through ourselves or through someone else.  Some of the best and most relational validation we get is through a fictional character portrayed in a Hollywood drama. But you won’t have to go to the movies today because Branden Rakita, Xterra pro-triathlete, lived the trilogy movie series for us and gives us the validation that we crave and will help you believe that real heroes still exist.

THE FIRST MOVIE: XTERRA USA CHAMPIONSHIP 2011

Branden Rakita, XTERRA Professional triathlete, lowers his mirrored goggles as the sun reflects off the water back into his eyes making him squint.  His black wet suit insulates his body as the nerves in his feet send his brain the message that the water he is standing in is freezing.  That freezing water is also the starting line of the 2011 XTERRA USA Championships in Snow Basin, Utah.  With him are hundreds of others looking to achieve the same goal that morning–winning.

The scene that morning was set up to unfold like a Hollywood drama.  The scene we are all familiar with that opens up focused on one particular character that you end up falling in love with. As the drama unfolds the character climbs the mountain, then the sun hits them at the perfect moment, the wind blowing their hair as the music begins to play.  The camera does a 360 degree view while he raises his hands and lifts his eyes to the heavens and smiles.  The character who just achieved a dream, makes the viewer feel validation in this remarkable moment. What previously seemed impossible, this character just remarkably pulled off a miracle and instantaneously becomes a hero! The theater erupts with cheering! We love those stories they give us validation and that is what we were expecting at the XTERRA USA Championship watching Rakita.

Validation for Rakita that day was winning the USA championship and he is no stranger to the pressure; he has been competing in endurance sports since he was just a kid. He competed in Ironkids, ran in state championship cross country meets, state track and field (running the 2-mile), as well as all the worldwise PRO races he’s competed in. He was prepared to win and was ranked in the top 5, so it wasn’t a hope, but more of an expectation he set for himself.  

Branden Rakita (credit 2XU)
Branden Rakita wearing a 2XU tri-suit.

At this point, if this really were a movie, you would grab a handful of popcorn, and as the movie progresses you move up to the edge of your seat and get ready for the predictable ending.   The race starts–he had a strong swim and was in the front pack in a stacked field. But then all of the sudden he was passed on the mountain bike by a guy that looked awfully familiar.  This familiar looking guy was wearing bib #25.   The race progressed and they transitioned into the run.  Then we watched the end of the movie as Brendan tried to catch the PRO listed as #25.  We yell and cheer, but then we see the finish line and #25 finishes just 30 seconds in front of Brendan. Branden took 6th overall, with only 32 seconds that separated his finishing time from #25 in front of him.  Where was our sense of validation? We had watched similar movies, but this one didn’t end the way WE wanted it.  

At the conclusion of any movie or, in this case, race, competitors, especially pros, look inward and analyze how they could have gone faster. They think about the little mistakes that they could have avoided to make up time. But most importantly, they have to answer those introspective questions that we ask at the end of movies from our seats. “What can I learn from this?”

Branden, what is your process of moving forward and learning from each race? How do you review your performances?  

Regardless of the outcome of the race I go through the race mentally again and make note of the positive aspects of the race and then areas where I need to improve.  The positive points I try to focus on what I did to make that happen, so I know how to repeat it.  I do my best to steer my thoughts away from a negative tone of thought such as, “I sucked at this” to looking at it as, “I can improve this more by doing this.”  If I am at a loss of how I can improve something I am struggling at, I ask my coach what we can do to make me stronger and do this better and I let him know what went well and what I think helped me do that particular thing well.

THE SEQUEL: XTERRA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS 2011

We, as humans, try and learn and then move on. But deep down a feeling lingers that at some point we will get some sort validation for the effort we are putting toward our goals.  As spectators the only way we can achieve this fairytale outcome is through a sequel.  The sequel to Brendan’s story was released in October 2011 on the beaches of Maui at the XTERRA World Championship, where every year the best in the world compete for the crown jewel in off road triathlon.  No need for a wet suit because the waters were warm.  Branden looked strong and was ready to take care of business and was easily spotted wearing his sponsored tri-suit labeled with Paul Mitchell, First Endurance, Rudy Project, SRM, Enduro Bites, Pro Cycling, Colorado Running Company, Inov-8, Effetto Mariposa, SRAM.

The cannon sounded and the water drowned out all the noise from fans and the loud PA system that echoed at the start line.  He had a strong swim and his bike was OK. He knew today he would have to dig deep on the run to make up some ground and move up on the leader board.  He came out of the bike transition and into the run. He started to make moves and entered in to the home stretch!

Branden Rakita (credit First Endurance)
Photo Credit First Endurance

While he was running toward the finish line he was closing in on another PRO that looked familiar. As he got closer he realized it was the same guy who wore #25 back at the USA Championship.  He pushed hard and ran by him and believe it or not beat him by 30 seconds.  But again, the music didn’t play for us, the hands didn’t go in the air, and he didn’t look to the heaven. We all knew the answer must be in the final movie of the Trilogy.

So, in two huge races, Branden and this other ‘familiar’ guy were only a total of 60 seconds apart. Sure, it’s unique that these two coincidentally finished so close, but what’s the point?  

THE FINAL MOVIE: THE REST OF THE STORY

It was January 18, 2013.  Branden wasn’t on a starting line.  He was probably at Pro Cycling Shop hanging out getting ready for the upcoming season.  A lady was interviewing a guy on TV. The mood was tense. The world for some reason was tuned in. Then it happened. The man said on national television that he had been using performance enhancing drugs to help him win 7 Tour de France titles and assist in his comeback in 2010. The lady was Oprah. The man was Lance Armstrong. He had unfairly taken titles away from many unsuspecting victims by cheating, except one guy you know.

Do you remember that guy wearing bib #25 who beat Branden?  And do you remember that same guy that Branden BEAT at the World Championship just a month later? And do you remember how combined, they were only 60 seconds apart (30 seconds at each race)?

That guy,the won who wore bib #25, was the same guy talking to Oprah that day. That guy, who Branden BEAT fair and square was none other than Lance Armstrong.

Finally, the theater erupts in cheers and popcorn flies everywhere! On January 18th, 2013, many elite athletes all over the world, including Branden, knew the feeling of being beatunfairly by Lance.  But that day, Branden was one of only a select few in history who knew the feeling of beating Lance. Branden beat him the only way he knew, the right way, with hard work and by playing by the rules.  He was a champion before but that day a hero was born.

Branden Rakita (credit XTERRA)
Branden Rakita (credit XTERRA)

Branden, you are one of the few people that have experienced this on the planet. What did you learn from that experience?

It was a case where I really reinforced the race is never over, I knew at USA Champs in 2011 that I was closing the time gap down and catching him, but came up short.  At Worlds I wanted to race to the best of my ability, it was in my head that yes I wanted to beat Lance, but it was not going to be the “end all be all” at the end of the day.  I had a horrible race in Maui that year and early on in the bike had to readjust my focus to find the positives during the race however small.  I didn’t know where I was in the race, but coming toward the finish I saw him struggling and gathered what strength I had left to catch him and pass him in the last 200 meters.

Branden, what is the most important message your parents have taught you that you would want to pass on to the next generation?

My parents have always instilled in me that hard work is how things get done and nothing replaces hard work.  You can certainly work smarter, but you still have to put the work in, there are not short cuts and it is okay to ask for help, but you must do the work. No one else should be doing it for you.

CONCLUSION:

Branden Rakita is a true professional. He learns from the close races and is grateful for the victories. But most importantly he gave us validation that the world is going to be ‘all right.’ He showed us that good people do still exist at the highest levels! Let’s all follow his lead and cheer for him this upcoming season on the XTERRA World tour!

You can connect with Branden on social media through INSTAGRAM @btrakita or Facebook at Branden Rakita (click the link to go to his page). Also, thank you to all of Branden’s sponsors ( Paul Mitchell, First Endurance, Rudy Project, SRM, Enduro Bites, Pro Cycling, Colorado Running Company, Inov-8, Effetto Mariposa, SRAM) for allowing him to give us this heroic story.