Athlete Of the Month - Dr. Mike Cutaia
This month brings us a first...it marks the first time we’ve selected an AOM from outside the “gen-pop”. Michael Cutaia, aka “Dr Mike”, has been with us for longer than it seems, to me at least, and although he trains exclusively at the gym through private sessions he’s been an active member on the blog and in the community as well, which is a rare treat. Mike is so not shy that he even heckled me on the blog a few days after I told him about this interview! We’re lucky to have him around and hope you enjoy him waxing poetic over these next few paragraphs.
Fox - (I leaned in on the mat next to Mike while he and Judy were cooling down after a session with David to spring the news on him). Hey Mike, I need to speak with you some time in the next week or so. You’re our next athlete of the month.
Mike - What? You’ve gotta be kidding me…
..Once we sorted out the truth we eventually sat down for a chat…
Fox - So Mike, tell me how you found CrossFit South Brooklyn.
Mike - By accident, actually. I was frustrated and searching online for a better alternative for my cardiac rehab. I was three months out from aortic valve replacement. I came across CrossFit and then saw that there was one right near our home! I wandered in and met David and off we went.
Fox - How did you decide to choose CrossFit as cardiac rehab? It’s certainly not the norm.
Mike- I just thought “This is it” when I walked in. I told David about my medical history, 2 time cancer survivor with some radiation induced damage to my aortic valve, and he wasn’t scared at all. I remember his confidence that we were in the right place and that he could help us. That said a lot to me. I say “us” because I came along with my wife, Judy, to start training.
Fox - What we do is extremely different from traditional cardiac rehab, why did you decide to stay?
Mike - Rehab aside, I realized that I’d lost a lot of muscle mass from my younger days and was interested in a way to regain that and slow down the aging process. I had not lifted weights since I was 15, so it was really all new to me. In my 30’s I continued running and cycling as a leisure activity, but other than that I was not someone who trained on a regular basis. Like most people, I thought this was enough. I immediately liked the novelty of Crossfit and quickly became interested in the science behind it. I really think more people my age (64) should be doing this. There is an emerging medical literature (HIT-high intensity training) on this that is pretty impressive. I’m sort of evangelical about it with my friends. I show them the website and some of the videos. No luck turning anyone on to it just yet, but I have had a few good laughs over it though. One friend asked when in my CrossFit career I had to get a tattoo. Maybe now? Let’s ask Judy!
Fox - Ha! I think you’d look good with a few tattoos. Tell me a bit about you outside the gym. I know you’re a big family guy.
Mike – Yes!. The story of how I met Judy, the love of my life, is actually a funny one. She was a year behind me at SUNY Downstate medical school where we were both residents. My first encounter with her was when she came to ask my opinion about treatment for a patient. I gave it to her and she promptly dismissed it! She said she was going to ask someone else. Well I knew immediately that I wanted to know more about this strong, beautiful, intelligent woman. I finagled a friend into transferring her from his team to mine and left him thinking it was to his advantage (“The Sting”- one of my favorite movies!). Things moved fast for us from there. Within two months we were living together and within a year had started a family. We have two great sons and two beautiful grandkids. We are lucky enough to have all living here in Brooklyn. We get together frequently and love spending time together.
Fox - That’s a great meeting story, and it’s nice that you guys are all so close to each other. What other personal interests do you have aside from the gym?
Mike - I like to read broadly-art, science, economics, politics. I also read poetry each day via The Writer’s Almanac. I’ve been honored to have a few of my poems up on the blog. I like movies, Robert Downy Jr. and Johnny Depp are a few favorite actors (except for the Pirates of the Carribean stuff). Aside from that I am lucky to be still interested in my work as a physician after all these years. I’ve always been a biology person, from playing with bugs as a kid to popping back dislocated fingers as a teen during school yard football games. I’ve worked for the VA for 32 years (Pulmonary Critical Care) in association with various universities (SUNY, Brown, Penn). Research and teaching have always been a big part of what I do. I have been at the Brooklyn VA location for the past nine years. The VA was a required part of the training during my residency and I fell in love with it. They’re really special patients and I enjoy being around them. It’s an interesting thing that even though I am generally an anti-war person, I feel a sense of patriotism in the work I do. I grew up in Queens in a neighborhood of kids just didn’t go to college. I was the only one out of my group that did. There are at least 5 names on that wall in DC of guys I grew up with. Veterans are very close to my heart. Its important for me to give something back.
As for living, I really enjoy the simple things in life, whether that’s travelling with Judy, relaxing with my family and friends, reading, writing, or working out! Something that I’ve learned from struggling thru my medical “adventures” is how important it is to stay “in the moment”. This is a great life skill to learn. I like the Zen phrase-“right here, right now”-which embodies this idea.
Fox - That’s great stuff, and must be tremendously rewarding. Let’s get back to gym speak real quick. What do you enjoy about training here and, what’s something you’d like to avoid?
Mike – Well, I like it all, really, but I certainly don’t love burpees! I enjoy the weightlifting which can vary from grueling to very grueling. I like to be challenged. David recently had us do our own version of the the Hotshots 19 memorial workout. That was amazing. I turned to David afterwards and said “more of that!”. There is very little I don’t enjoy about gym life! It’s a pleasure to get off work and know I’m going to the gym tonite to get my ass kicked! I enjoy testing and pushing my limits as an older athlete. Above everything, I really enjoy being integrated with the community at large. I really like what I see and hear in the gym. I love that our gym is filled with so many interesting people. I have great respect for my younger gym mates because I wasn’t as aware of the need to take care of my body when I was their age. This is a very talented community of amazing people that inspire me, both physically and intellectually! I’ve had some difficult medical issues to deal with in my life, so I wish that I had been exposed to this type of training much earlier. Now, I’m very glad to be a part of a community that embodies such positive attributes: energy, discipline, tolerance, and humor!
I am equally impressed with the quality and dedication of the coaching staff. They are as amazing as the clientele. I think David should be commended for putting so many talented professionals together under one roof! I think all the coaches should be commended for bringing such patience and knowledge to their work. True professionals is how I would describe each and every one of them.
The way I see it, we are all part of something bigger here: slowly changing the American culture to something more positive, more healthy, more respectful of this body we inhabit. It’s a movement, like the ones I took part in in the sixties/seventies. So, Crossfit for me is both personal and political. We are doing our part to change the culture.
Fox - So true, Mike. I couldn’t say it better. Last stock question. What should we look for in a future Athlete of the Month?
Mike - I thought about this and a tee shirt that David wore one time came to mind. It said “Brains and Brawn”. It’s a perfect logo for CFSBK! That’s what I think should be recognized. Someone who is engaged in all facets of the community, physically and mentally. Chris, let’s work on a new tee shirt with that logo!
"Fight Gone Bad News"
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