John Kokkinen

Please tell us a little bit about yourself?

One-score and thirteen years ago, my mother—my father also had a not insignificant hand in the matter–brought forth onto this continent a third child, conceived in a sauna, and dedicated to the proposition that a good sweat is medicine for the sole . . .

Sure, the above is a bit dramatic, and I’ll fully confess that I took some artistic license about the circumstances surrounding my conception . . . well, at least I hope I did.  But the truth is not too far off.  I was born in rural northern MN, the youngest of three children.  As the above story dramatically suggests, we fully celebrated our Finnish heritage growing up.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that between May and October, rarely a day went by when I didn’t take a sauna.  And I’m talking about a real sauna with a wood stove, 200 degrees, lots of steam, followed by a jump in the lake.  And we didn’t let a little bit of ice stop us from jumping in the lake.  I can honestly say that I’ve been in the lake every months of the year (including November through April).

I played a lot of unorganized sports growing up.  In high school, I was a pretty decent swimmer.  I went to college at the UofMN.  After college, I went to law school, also at the UofMN.  I got married right after law school, and my wife and I spent some time out in Washington, DC before moving back to MN in 2012.

My wife and I have a son who’s almost three years old and a dog who’s almost six years old.  My wife’s sister and her husband and their one-year old son and six-year old dog (who’s a litter-mate to Lula) moved back to MN a few months ago, and they live in our basement.  We’re very European—or perhaps Appalachian—in that regard.

I make a decent bolognaise sauce, and good apple crisp, and a very mean lasagna.

When and why did you start doing CrossFit?

My aforementioned brother-in-law had been doing CrossFit for many years before he moved into our basement.  He invited me to check out a gym in Maple Grove and I decided I’d give it a shot.  I was tired with the fitness routine I had been doing previously (see below) and I needed a change of pace and to try something completely new.

What made you decide to come to CrossFit SISU?

If you are interested in CrossFit, and you live in the Minneapolis metro area, and you have a Finnish heritage like I do, it’s pretty hard to not be drawn to a gym that has the word Sisu in its name.

What were you doing before and what apprehensions did you have before starting CrossFit?

In 2011, I rediscovered fitness after facing the reality that I was about 30 pounds overweight.  My wife and I bought the Insanity video series and we got great results.  After a while, I shifted over to P90X, which I also enjoyed.  After about 3 years of bouncing back and forth between the two video series, I sort of burned out.  It’s really hard to do the same videos over and over again.

The biggest apprehensions I had were whether I would be able to handle the Olympic lifts.  I’d never even tried any of them before joining CrossFit.  After three months, I’m still a bit apprehensive, but I think I’m learning and getting the hang of it.  But, at the same time, wow do I cringe every time I see that squat cleans are a part of the workout.

What were your thoughts after your first CrossFit SISU Intro class?

A bit overwhelmed about whether I’d ever be able to do the Olympic lifts.  At the same time, I was very motivated to overcome my apprehensions and push myself outside of my comfort zone.  Oh, yeah, and I was tired . . . and then, the next day, sore.

What’s the greatest benefits you see so far since starting at CrossFit SISU?

When my legs aren’t sore from the workout the day before (or sometimes, from the workout three days before) I can definitely feel the increased strength I’ve gained in my lower body.  The other major benefit is my sleep.  Because I am a part of the crew of true warriors who get up for the 5:30 a.m. class three times a week, I have to be in bed by 9:15 p.m. every night.  So CrossFit has forced me to commit to better sleep habits.

How has being at CrossFit SISU enriched your life outside of the box?

I’ve really enjoyed the friendships I’ve made so far with the other athletes.  It was fun to learn that an old college buddy (Wade) also happens to go to SISU and that someone I work with (Katie W.) is a longtime member.  It also is fun to have CrossFit in common with several other friends and co-workers who go to other gyms.

Please share any special memories or achievements during your time at CrossFit SISU?

I’d have to say that one special achievement happened just the other day.  11/20/14 –  three rounds going for max weighted pushups.  As someone who is still quite new and spends the bulk of his time below that meaty part of the bell curve on the leader board, it was fun to see myself at the top of the leaderboard for most of the day . . . then the 4:30, 5:30, and 6:30 p.m. classes recorded their results.  Although I fell down the board a bit, I still was in the upper third.

I’m also proud of the big improvements I’ve made in kipping pull-ups and T2B.  The first time I did them, I ripped my hands apart something fierce, and for a good month, I dreaded having to do them, not so much because of my hands but because I just really wasn’t any good at the kipping motion.  But in the last month, I really hit a groove, especially with T2B.  I used to hate them because I was so bad at them that they slowed me down significantly.  Now I love them because I’ve gotten good enough that I can actually make up time on my T2B.

 What advice would you give to a person thinking about joining our SISU Community?

Forget about your pride and your ego, especially if you’re male.  Don’t worry about all these tough guys and gals who are throwing around a ton of weight.  Don’t let yourself be tempted to do more weight than you can handle because you’re self-conscious about the fact that there are a number of athletes who are lifting a lot more weight than you.  The important part is to make sure that you’re pushing yourself but that you’re staying safe.

 Favorite WOD?

Anything that includes pull-ups and/or T2B and excludes dubs.  I hate dubs!  I’m absolutely terrible at them! 

Back in late October we did a 1000M max effort row, and then we did a 15 minute AMRAP of 25 cal row, 15 dead lifts, 10 pull ups, and 5/5 alt pistols.  It was absolutely brutal: a full month later, I think I’m still recovering.  But I loved it.

 Secret Ninja exercise is?

 Push-ups with kids on my back—usually some combination of my son and a couple of nephews and/or nieces.

 My not so secret sucky is?

 Dubs . . . I suck at them.  And all of you who can do like 150 unbroken ones . . . I’m not impressed!   Well, ok, I guess I am.

 My favorite cheat meal is?

Oh that’s tough!  It’s a really close call between pizza (onions, peppers, sausage, thin crust, lots of grease) or a perfectly made cheeseburger and fries (again, lots of grease).