Iron Sharpens Iron
F3’s principles of fitness, fellowship and faith strengthen men
By Mike Savicki
This story begins on the Davidson green well before sunrise. Bobby Cashion, the local founder of a group known as F3, is the first to arrive. He has been tasked with leading the morning’s workout and needs to get things in order. It is just after five o’clock in the morning.
In the next thirty minutes, nearly two dozen others stroll onto the green. There’s “Gnarly Goat,” a firefighter from Cornelius, “Ezekiel,” a pastor from Davidson, and “Ba Da Bing,” a sports business professional from Cornelius. Ranging in ages from 44 to 54, they are just a handful of the men who have come together to exercise, build fellowship and share their faith with one another. It is something these men do before sunrise, rain or shine, several mornings each week throughout the year.
Cashion bears the nickname, “Crude,” and in F3 terminology, he is known as the day’s “Q.” Crude is the peer leader of the workout so what he says goes. He’s not a paid instructor, nor is he a professionally trained or certified fitness professional, so his workout isn’t too quirky or trendy, and that’s just fine with everyone. Since each member of F3 must take his turn as “Q’ and lead a workout, all are lightheartedly respectful of Cashion’s attempt since none want to endure the pain of payback.
By design, Crude likes boot camp workouts, so today’s workout is similarly structured to others he has led before, as well. Crude first incorporates stretching with some callisthenic exercises before suggesting a few yoga poses. He then finishes with light cardio. Ezekiel says Crude catches flack for making the group do yoga, but when it comes time for the cardio, mouths fall silent as the group’s collective laboring breathing mutes the small talk.
Forty five minutes later, following a closing activity known as the Circle of Trust, or “COT,” the workout is ended. A good portion of the group heads to the upstairs of Summit Coffee to continue the morning with a light faith discussion while others head home to get a head start on changing, commuting, and beginning their professional days. All agree the workout has put the men in a focused, clear, confident mindset that is invaluable and meaningful.
Reflecting on the benefit or the workout, and assessing the overall philosophy of F3, Davidson’s Bobby Cashion says, “I think if you get men in the right mindset, and add the proper amount of structure and support, they can do some pretty amazing things. That’s why F3 is so valuable for the community. It’s not just about working out, it’s also for building fellowship and friendship, growing faith and giving men that something that might be missing.
“But without it,’ he adds, “Men can find themselves on a road they never intended to travel, and as they get older, the unfamiliarity can become more difficult to manage.”
Cashion, himself, was in an unknown and unfamiliar place in life when he first invited a handful of neighbors and friends to work out together early one morning behind Davidson Elementary School in late 2011. At the same time, another group was forming on the campus of A.G. Middle school in Charlotte. They soon combined and F3 was born.
Using F3’s comparison of a man’s life progressing like a 2,000 meter rowing race, Cashion says he was in that third segment of the race where “the lactic acid of life is building up and you are feeling cramped with big family demands, peaking job responsibilities and the sense that life isn’t as fresh and carefree as it once was when the gun sounded to start the race.” Since men typically bond and connect better when they are under duress and “sharing pain,” he felt the group might not only help him better handle stress and feel more relaxed and confident, but also assist other men who were feeling the same way.
Steve Autrey, a Cashion neighbor and friend, joined F3 at Cashion’s invitation. He was in a similar place and sees the group as one in which the group workouts add accountability and lay the foundation for building bonds that help men feel better connected.
“I was at the point where working out on my own had just become boring,” Autrey, a Davidson United Methodist Church associate pastor who enjoys the F3 nickname, “Ezekiel,” says. “In addition to getting in shape, F3 is about the brotherhood. I feel a real sense of community when I’m out there. And, in my opinion, it is as close to feeling like you are a part of a sports team that I have felt since playing football in high school.”
“Like most guys, I get running on my daily hamster wheel and put myself on an island when it comes to sharing things about myself,” adds Tom Grabowski, nicknamed “Ba Da Bing, of Cornelius. “As guys, we don’t necessarily bond unless we are doing something that pushes or tests us physically and when that happens, we open up and form tighter connections. When I connected with F3, I saw what was missing in my life.”
Rob Cannon, a US Naval Academy graduate and Charlotte firefighter nicknamed “Gnarly Goat,” reflects on how his life has changed since adding his name to Cashion’s email list and finding his way to a workout more than three years ago.
“I have certainly seen my life change since those first workouts,” Cannon, of Cornelius, shares. “You end up connecting with so many other men who are intent on being the best versions of themselves not just in fitness but in all aspects of life. You surround yourself with other men who are just trying to do the right thing as dads, husbands and members of the community, and that helps you try to do the right thing yourself. Like iron sharpening iron, you sharpen each other.”
Founded in Charlotte in 2011 and now in more than one dozen states, F3 is a network of small, free workout groups open to men of all abilities. The defining characteristics of F3 workouts are that they take place outdoors, almost always in the early morning hours, and they are led by one of the participants. The workouts are all inclusive meaning no man is dropped or left behind. The three components of F3 are fitness, fellowship and faith. Visit www.f3nation.com to learn more.
This article was originally published in Currents Magazine in 2015.