How CrossFit Turned An Overweight College Grad Into a Very Fit Marine
When you know, you know. At least that’s how freshly minted Marine Officer Zach Bowman felt nearly two years ago when he decided he wanted to serve his country at the age of 23.
He could have been swayed from his goal of joining “the few and the proud” because of a major strength deficit and weight surplus (he weighed 260 pounds) when that dream began. Instead, he used his weakness as fuel to reach the lofty goal of joining the Marines as an officer — not something just anyone can attain.
According to Major Trey Kennedy, who would become Bowman’s Officer Selection Officer (OSO), less than 50% of those who apply to become Marine Corps officers even make it past the interview process to get into Officer Candidate School (OCS). After that, only two-thirds of those who start end up graduating — but he knew from the “get-go” that Bowman would be one of them, due to his very evident determination.
Bowman’s success wasn’t a surprise to friends either, those who call him very “driven and self-disciplined,” someone who has an “unbelievable work ethic.” The road to the Marines was paved with hard physical work and determination that would be an inspiration to anyone — and CrossFit is what started it all.
A track and football standout in high school, Bowman attended Winthrop University on a partial track scholarship for shot put and discus. He had always been what many would describe as a “big guy.” At 6’2, as a college athlete, his health was kept in check despite packing a few extra pounds.
With dark hair and a big smile in every photo posted on his Facebook profile, Bowman appears to be the generally happy guy that friends describe him as. But that post-graduation funk can hit the best of us, and he began to wonder what was next.
Soon after with a psychology degree in hand, he began working as a realtor and let fitness got by the wayside. He was also working in an unsatisfying job and considering going to law school, but a plan for the future was not yet fully charted.
Bowman had gained weight since college and was bigger than most athletes at the box when he walked into Ultimate CrossFit in Charlotte, North Carolina for the first time. Though he didn’t know anyone there on day one, it didn’t take long for Bowman to make friends by joining a specific group that worked out together on the weekends.
They immediately welcomed the younger, “bigger” Bowman into their community and he soon found both a fitness and professional mentor in friend Matt Miller. Miller recognized Bowman’s great attitude and work ethic, soon hiring him on as an intern at his law firm in addition to helping him get in shape at the gym.
Finding his mission.
Having power-lifted a lot in the past, Bowman was familiar with a lot of CrossFit moves and thought it would be a good way to get back in shape. He had no idea it would actually direct the course of his life for the next decade. Not two months after joining the box, Bowman began getting a powerful urge to consider joining the Marine Corps.
It all started when he saw the Marine emblem tattoo on the arm of gym manager Mike Hirst. A photo of Hirst reaching into a chalk bucket was posted by the water fountain and each time Bowman filled up his water bottle, the image inspired him to turn this pipe dream into a reality.
“You could see the pride he had,” Bowman explained about Hirst. “I didn’t feel that pride [in my life] anymore — and looking at the Marines and serving my country there was something in me where I knew I had what it would take.”
“I didn’t feel that pride [in my life] anymore — and looking at the Marines and serving my country there was something in me where I knew I had what it would take.”
He was also aware that he could actually combine his desired law career with the opportunity to serve his country. Bowman could see his future beginning to take shape and the challenge both excited and invigorated him.
Miller wasn’t surprised Bowman was ready and able to take on the challenge of simultaneously losing a substantial amount of weight and studying for the LSAT in the same short period of time.
“Not once was it easy — in fact, a lot of times was just hard — plain and simple, but Zach showed up every day and put in the work — when he felt like it, when he didn’t feel like it, it didn’t matter,” Miller said, adding that he considers Bowman a great role model to his 12 and 9-year-old.
Putting fitness to the test.
He quickly set up a first meeting with his OCO Kennedy, who admitted Bowman wasn’t in shape at the time. The physical fitness test for the Marines includes pull-ups, a 3-mile-run and sit-ups — but you need to set certain minimums for each in order to even have a chance.
Bowman was tracking only 2-pull-ups and 28-minutes on his run time, not even close to competitive. But he felt confident he could lose at least 40 pounds and gain the strength and speed necessary to accomplish the necessary numbers.
It was March at the time and Bowman felt that he could whip himself into top notch shape within 9 months before he would test for OCS.
Kennedy didn’t doubt Bowman’s ability, saying he “never made an excuse for himself” even though he had every reason to justify why it might not be for him.
“His mission to become a Marine Corps officer was the start of his day and he made it a priority. He wasn’t going to be denied the end result,” said Kennedy over the phone.
Bowman said he couldn’t have done it without his trainers, friends, teammates and mentors working with him at Ultimate CrossFit.
“I’m excited about everything, but it doesn’t happen without CrossFit, or my community, or [my friends] helping me in the gym and keeping me grounded, keeping that goal in mind,” said Bowman, noting that the community aspect of CrossFit was a vital piece of the puzzle for him as he journey-ed toward his ultimate goal.
One coach Bowman credits is Mie Yoshinaga, who kept him accountable on both fitness and nutrition during his training. Bowman says he wouldn’t be where he is today without her guidance.
“Zach has learned to set goals, make and execute plans, and persevere until he achieved that goal,” said Yoshinaga, who also describes Bowman as “humble” and “gracious” throughout the entire process.
By the time December rolled around, Bowman was down 47 pounds, hit 15 pull-ups, 120 sit-ups and ran 3 miles in 22 minutes and 32 seconds on his physical fitness test. He blew his old stats out the window and passed with flying colors.
He calls the moment he got his OCS acceptance call “one of the best feelings of my life.”
On August 11th, Bowman was commissioned into the Marine Corps as an officer and began law school at Campbell University in Raleigh two days later.
“I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard at something or been so focused on completing a goal,” said Bowman. “It’s do or die and I thought to myself — you only have one shot at this. t transformed me.”
There’s no doubt the Marines has has gained a quality individual worthy of respect and admiration in Zach Bowman. Ooh rah!