How can you be a little more awesome, and can a heavyweight boxer really be a vegan?
If you’re ambitious, you set big goals. You work hard and you try your hardest to make it happen. But what do you do when your dream is suddenly pushed out of reach? If you’re anything like our guest, you keep fighting and challenging yourself until one day you find your goals have changed. Likely, they’ve probably changed for the better. This is a story about setting goals, pulling yourself up from disappointment, and plant-based protein.
Cam F Awesome is not our normal company CEO or business author. He is a champion heavyweight boxer who also happens to be a vegan. He lands punches in the ring and punchlines in comedy clubs as a stand-up comic. He travels around the country as a keynote speaker inspiring audiences with his life story and teaching principals like goal setting and resilience. He just won his fifth Golden Gloves national championship a few days ago. I recently interviewed Cam for the LEADx Podcast where we talked talent, tenacity, and tofu. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: Take us back to your childhood and how you got into boxing.
Cam F. Awesome: I'll go back to the very beginning. When I was born, I was Lenroy Cameron Thompson, Jr., and I was named after my father, and everyone called me Cameron—my middle name—so not to get my father and I confused. Why they didn't just call me Junior, I don't understand. I would always go by Cameron, and I wasn't the coolest kid in school, and I wasn't very social. I had social anxiety before that was even a thing. I would just stay home and play video games and eat, and I gained a lot of weight and was very socially awkward, but at around 16, I decided that I want to lose weight and try to get a date for prom.
Kruse: We all need goals, right?
Awesome: Yeah, so I never made any teams in high school or junior high, so I knew I couldn't try out for a school sport, but there was a free boxing gym down the block. It was just a couple miles away from my house growing up in Long Island, New York. I signed up for the boxing gym at about 16, and I realized that I would be a little bit outside of my comfort zone because I'd never really worked out, never hit the weights and wasn't very masculine. Like what people would think a boxer would be.
I went with just the intention of working out. I didn't want to punch anyone. I definitely didn't want to get punched myself. After going there day after day I lost the weight, and one day they were like, “Hey, do you want to spar?” I remember saying, “Oh, no. My mom wouldn't be okay with that.”
Everyone laughed, and I was embarrassed, so I decided I would spar, and I took a very unique way of looking at boxing. I didn't really work with a coach because I had no intentions of boxing. I just followed what I saw everyone else do, but if I saw someone hitting the heavy bag and they were hitting it to the body, I would think “Well, you want to punch mostly to the head. They're doing that wrong.” I would see someone hit the double end bag and say “Okay, that's for reflexes.” Then I would see someone hit the speedbag, and I couldn't figure out why anyone would hit the speedbag. It looks cool, but it's very ineffective, so I decided I would never hit the speedbag, and to this day I don’t do it.
Taking a logical approach to boxing led me to become number one in the country a lot faster than most boxers.
Kruse: I'm curious, what was it like when you started to hear the chatter around the 2012 Olympics?
Awesome: I actually I started boxing in 2007, and within a year I qualified for the 2008 Olympic trials, and I lost. I wasn't very experienced, but I bounced back and won nationals in 2008, 2009, 2010 and then 2011, and qualified for the 2012 Olympic trials, and I started hearing I was being compared to these great people, and I was overly confident in my head to where I knew if I did everything I was supposed to no one could beat me. And after going to the 2012 Olympic trials and winning I did a lot of traveling, and I was leaving the country a lot, and I was the first boxer to ever be suspended and kicked off the Olympic team for not filling out paperwork.
Kruse: What do you mean by that?
Awesome: USADA, United States Anti Doping Agency. They conduct testing, so you have to tell them where you're going to be on the hour, every hour, 365 days a year. So if I left town, I had to tell them where I was going. If I was going to a football game and I wouldn't have my phone on me, I would have to tell them where my seats are, where I'm going, what time I'll be back, and I did not inform them three times within 18 months.
Basically, you have to send them an email and tell them “I'm going here. This is the hotel. This is the hotel room I'll be in for these random drug tests,” and it wasn't a real offense, but it was right after Lance Armstrong went on Oprah, and they cracked down and made an example out of some athletes.
Kruse: How old were you at the time?
Awesome: I was 23 or 24.
Kruse: What was that like? How did you handle that?
Awesome: I knew I couldn't get suspended because, I mean, a couple of times I left to go fight in a competition you have to be drug tested to compete in. I was just going to let them know that and send the paperwork, so I went to the arbitration in Colorado Springs, flew out from L.A., and after I was suspended. My sponsors in L.A. called me immediately and said, “Don't bother coming back.” Let them know where to mail all my stuff, so I didn't have a place to live. I went back and crashed at a friend's house in Kansas City until I could get back on my feet. It was a pretty bad year for me. I got to learn a lot about myself.
Kruse: That must have been tough.
Awesome: Oh, yeah. It was tough to wrap my head around, and the other part—which not a lot of people think of—is I was getting a lot of press, a lot of TV time, interviews, and in the newspaper every week, and I would get asked “How's my training going?” I would go to Walmart or the grocery store and people would recognize me, and it was great. Those same people after I went back to Kansas City would recognize me after I was suspended and said, “Hey, Cam. Are you ready for the Olympics?” It was embarrassing having to explain that story to everyone. If you do try to explain that to someone off the bat as soon as you mention USADA they look at you like “Oh you got caught doping,” and ESPN released an article as soon as it happened saying, “Lenroy Thompson failed to meet drug test requirements.”
Now, if you read the article you would see that USADA said they had no suspicions that I was doping of any kind, but it was a paperwork error on my part, but people just read the captions. Everyone thought I was doping or I was smoking weed or I was doing drugs, so that was super embarrassing.
Kruse: You said it was a tough year right after that?
Awesome: It was very difficult for me. I had gained a lot of weight. I didn't want to go to the gym. I didn't want to work out. I just stayed home, and I drank, and I got into my feelings. I had probably a six-month pity party.
Kruse: How did you break out of it?
Awesome: I actually lost a bet, and it was Manny Pacquiao versus Timothy Bradley, and the loser had to be vegan for 28 days, and I lost. I lost the bet which I shouldn't have, and it was The Engine 2 28-day challenge, and the diet entailed sobriety, so I had to be sober for the first time for 28 days, and I kind of got out of my funk, and I lost a little bit of weight. I lost 32 pounds in the 28 days.
I hated it. The first two weeks were so bad. The third week was also bad, but the last couple days I was like “Man, I'm starting to feel good. I'm starting to get an energy boost. I'm eating cleaner. I'm living better. I wish I can do this for longer,” I was like “Oh wait I can,” I didn't want to be a vegan because you know those people aren't cool, so I was like I'll just do it for a little bit longer, and it's been five years now, and I'm still vegan. After losing the weight, I kind of got motivated and out of my funk. I decided to pursue boxing again partly because I didn't have a backup plan. I was so sure that I wasn't going to lose, that I didn't need a backup plan. I ended up losing to paperwork.
Kruse: Tell us the part where you're no longer Lenroy Thompson.
Awesome: Yeah. I didn't know if I wanted to be the guy who got suspended from the team and no longer boxed, or the guy who's back in boxing that was suspended from the team. I decided I was going to box again, but I was going to do it in a different way. I was going to live cleaner. I was going to be more of a positive person. I was going to do anything I set my mind to, I decided I would accomplish. With that new change of attitude I wanted to legally change my name from Lenroy to Cameron, and I just actually wanted to change it to Cam, and I figured if I'm going to do that I could change my last name, too. I thought of all the different possibilities of what my last name could be, and I came up with ‘Awesome,’ and to this day I haven't thought of a better last name.
Kruse: When you go to change your name is that a form at a courthouse? How do you do it?
Awesome: Yes, actually. It was like $178, and then you have to put your name in the newspaper for three consecutive weeks saying my name is Lenroy Thompson, I want to change it to Cam F. Awesome. Because I guess it's an old law to show I'm not hiding from someone. I did it for one week, and I was like “Yeah I'm not paying $9 to put my name in the Pennysavers.” So I went to go see the judge. After you do it, you're supposed to see the judge, so I booked my appointment early and she asked me—as soon as I walked in the courtroom—and I got there early, I'm wearing a suit because I thought it was going to be a big deal.
I've watched Judge Judy before. I know what to expect. I walk in. The judge stopped what was going on and she says, “Are you Mr. Thompson?” I was like, “Yes, ma'am.” She says, “We've been waiting for you.” They finished up, and the first question she asked was “I'm not here to tell you what to do, but are you sure you would like to change your last name to Awesome? Do you know that there may be negative consequences that come with that?” I was like, “Actually, Your Honor, it is your job to judge, and if I don't like my name I'll pay another $178 and change it again.” She's like, “All right.” I was like, “Are you going to hit your gavel?” She was like, “Oh, I don't even have my gavel on me.”
That was a little anticlimactic because I pictured banging the gavel and saying, “I'll allow it.” Or whatever. She didn't.
Kruse: I would think there would be some ceremony like announcing your new name and smacking the gavel and everybody cheering or something.
Awesome: No, it was just six of us in the room. It was a little more awkward than I thought it would be.
Kruse: Since you’re a vegan heavyweight boxer, I'm sure you get asked, “How are you getting enough protein?”
Awesome: Yeah. That's the most popular question I get asked. I don't count protein. I don't believe you need to. I think if you eat clean you'll be able to get enough protein in. The only reason why there are supplements is because your body is designed so that if you're taking in the right food you should be able to hit every nutritional need your body needs. But what happens is someone will eat a tub of ice cream and be like, “Oh, I don't have anymore room left for protein.” Then they'd have like 100-gram protein shake where they're just passing 90 grams out of their body because their body can't process that much all at once. I think a lot of marketing has tricked and fooled people into thinking that they need all the protein.
Kruse: There is protein in vegetables. Elephants eat vegetation and get lots of protein.
Awesome: Or a gorilla. People don't really think of that, but there's this connection between masculinity and meat. That people have not just here in America, but everywhere. They're like “All right, men eat meat and fighters eat meat,” and I don't really think you need to.
Kruse: If you're vegan there are protein shakes that you can take that are pea protein and hemp.
Awesome: Garden of Life. They make all vegan supplements. I think you need supplements if you are on my level or Michael Phelps who's burning like 5,000 calories a workout. Those are the people that need supplements. The person who goes on a 17-minute walk on their lunch break that thinks they need to drink a 2,000-calorie smoothie after they do that is hurting themselves more than they would be if they were just not even taking that walk. You're not depleting your body with your short workouts. You don't need to consume that many supplements.
Kruse: Do you still yourself fight cravings for certain things or is it like your body just doesn't want it?
Awesome: Oh, I crave cheese. Five years later I don't remember what cheese tastes like, but I do remember I miss it. I found that I'm going to be vegan for the rest of my life because I have a very unhealthy relationship with food. If I could, I will eat anything that's unhealthy and fast. I'll pull into a drive-through every day, and I'll just say, “This is the last day. I'm not usually going to do this.” I know myself, and I know I love food, but if I limit myself to what I can eat, and I stick to plant-based foods, I can't stop off at drive-throughs. The only fast food I can really eat is Chipotle because they have the sofritas. That's vegan tofu, and shout out to them because they sponsor me. It limits me to what I can eat, and it helps me stay on weight.
Kruse: The disappointment of 2012 led to your rebirth, the new name, and the new lifestyle.
Awesome: What I call my ‘after birthday,’ I threw a party. ‘After-birthday’ party.
Kruse: How many people think, “I can reinvent myself. I can be reborn on my own terms.” But you did just that.
Awesome: I actually changed my name legally on my half birthday. Just so I can justify celebrating both.
Kruse: You recommitted to your boxing career with looking forward to the 2016 Olympics.
Awesome: During the year off after I did the vegan thing and I was getting back into it, I went to open mic comedy nights because it was always free, and I decided I wanted to try to do an open mic, and I did a few open mics, and I started doing comedy shows, and when I got back into boxing if I would have a fight in Dallas, I would call up the Dallas comedy house and say, “Hey, I'm coming in. You don't have to pay for my travel or my stay, but I want a show on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I'll do it for minimum pay,” I was just doing it for the experience.
I decided that my backup plan from boxing would be comedy, and now in hindsight that's ridiculous because it's the only thing less likely than being successful in boxing. But I went to an open mic one night, and I ran into a guy. He said, “Hey, you were talking about being a speaker on stage. Can I ask you what do you make in speaking?” I was like, “Oh, you can't make money speaking.” He says, “You could make money speaking.” I was like, “No, you can't.” He's like, “I'm a speaker.” It's actually Devon Henderson. He's also a magician. I was like, “Hey, if that's true can I take you to for coffee tomorrow?” I asked him like a million questions, and he introduced me to a few people in NSA, and I got on the path of speaking that way, so I would go to high schools, and I would take over the gym class for an entire week.
I would give a speech every for class and teach boxing, and that way I would work on my delivery, so as I was traveling with boxing I was going to different schools in different cities, and I would fight at night and speak at schools during the day and do comedy schools late at night.
My plan now in about 2014 was to go to the Olympics in 2016, get a medal or don't get a medal. No matter what I'd be on Olympian, and use that platform to build a successful speaking career, and I won nationals in 2013, 14, 15, and 16. I won the Olympic trials in 2016, and lost an international competition, so I didn't qualify for the actual Rio games. I won the Olympic trials, but you do have to qualify internationally, and I lost on a split in the finals in an international competition.
Kruse: I know you're not one to make excuses, but there were some questions about the impartiality of the judges in that fight.
Awesome: Yeah, yeah. That's always a part of the game, but it's a subjective scoring system, and I, of course, put in the work, so I always think I deserve to win, so I'm always going to be a little biased on that side, but I decided I didn't want to take any time off after 2016 after I fell short, because I realized what a slump I fell into in 2012. And granted it feels good having that pressure off your shoulders and having your pity party and crying all of that out of you, but if you fall down it takes so much energy to climb back up, so I decided I would keep the ball rolling.
I lost that fight July 4th, 2016. July 5th I decided I was going to pursue speaking full time and stop boxing. After a few months I realized that I would be an athlete speaker, and if I'm not an athlete, I can't really be an athlete speaker, so I would just box enough to maintain my status as number one boxer in the country, and use that platform to build a speaking career. In December I fought in nationals, and I won nationals again. Just to be able to put on my resume that I'm the current number one boxer in the country, and now I'm just fighting in any tournaments to remain my number one. The Golden Gloves national championships, I won that because I knew if I won national Golden Gloves championships, I would be eligible for their scholarship to pay my way to Influence 17, and I would get a lot of free press and TV time from doing interviews and articles about winning my fourth national Golden Glove championship, and I would use that as a platform to book more speaking gigs and to promote my podcast and get on other people's podcasts, and it's obviously working.
Kruse: There's a lot of paths to success, and I don't know that anybody has chosen this path, and it's clearly working for you.
Awesome: Yeah. There's the tough parts, and you may be able to relate to this. When you're having a bad day—because I'm big on social media now, and I'm continuing to build a bigger following, and I'm trying to tweet at the right times and be relevant, and I'm trying to be authentic—but it's almost impossible to be authentic and politically correct at the same time, so you're going to upset a few people with some posts.
I sometimes lose 20 followers a day on Twitter, but then I would gain 30 followers that same day, so I'm building a genuine strong following, and I feel like that is part of the first step, but when you're posting motivational things when you're in a bad mood, it hurts so much.
Kruse: If I am just in a foul mood, I just I have a hard time putting myself out there on social media.
Awesome: It's like stabbing yourself in the face. I don't like it, but I think that where we are today, if we were to go back 1997 and if someone were to tell you, “Listen, you need to get on this whole internet train and get in on online marketing and social media because in about 10 years there's something called Myspace. It's going to get really big. Trust me.” That's going to seem like a crazy person, but what I believe right now in the direction that society is going, I believe that we're going to be less PC. We're going to be less conservative, and the young professionals of today are going to be those CEOs in 20 years, and those are going to be the people who are hiring, so right now as much as I need to build a career because I'm a struggling artist, I'm a struggling athlete, I'm a struggling speaker. As much as I would like to appeal to the 60-year-old white men who are running these companies, I know that in 20 years–the young professionals–that's who I will be making a strong living off of.
Kruse: I know you speak on the power of habits. What have been some habits that have helped you in the past or that you're even using today?
Awesome: The biggest thing that I had to do was I had to acknowledge what my habits were because I think a lot of other people think this way, but they don't realize what they do. They think that what they're doing is right and is not a habit. I have so many habits. I didn't think they were habits. I just thought, “Well, this is the way I do things because that's the way that works.” I decided I have to acknowledge what all my habits are whether they're good habits or bad habits. I need to be in control of them, and I need to change them. I've developed a habit of writing lists, so I always have my phone in my hand, and I'm not one of those people who are like anti-phones or you're at a dinner table, there are six people around you, be social. Wrong! I have 18,000 followers on Twitter. I'm being social with 18,000 people at once. That's actually being social. Especially when it's something that I can monetize in years to come with selling books or ads, but I always have my phone in my hand.
I write lists, so I have three lists, and I call it my to-do list. Let's call it that. It's a slightly inappropriate name, but if you watched Pineapple Express (the movie), you would get the reference. I have a list of things I need to do by morning time, by afternoon, and by evening, and I have alarms that have set on my phone every day. When that alarm goes off, I'm supposed to have everything on that list done. Anything that's not done at 11 a.m. goes on my afternoon list, and if it's not done by afternoon list it goes on my evening list. If it's not done by the evening before I go to bed, I rewrite everything on a whiteboard next to my bed, and I move everything that I haven't done to my morning, and no one wants to do the last things on their list from yesterday the first thing in the morning. I make sure I do everything that I don't want to leave for tomorrow. The least desirable things, I do them first.
There's a little shot of endorphins that your body releases every time you get something done, and I put little check marks next to it, whether it's ‘check the mail’ or ‘cut your toenails’. There are so many things on my list, and I put a little American flag emoji next to it, and at the end of the day when I get to erase everything that I've done off my list I feel accomplished. I can look back at an entire day and say, “Look at all of the things I've done. It was a productive day.” Or I could look back and say, “I wasted today, and I'll never get it back. Let's make up for it tomorrow.”
Kruse: Three big buckets of morning, afternoon and night. It’s about being thoughtful about what you're going to get done in each of these zones.
Awesome: Yeah. Even before our podcast, we had a little chat. I wrote down everything you said. I have a section on my notes under my phone, ‘meeting with and Kevin’ and everything that you told me to do I'll put on the list. When I met Devon Henderson for coffee, everything he told me, I wrote it down as he said it, and I refuse to meet with a person a second time unless I get everything on that list done because I don't want to ask you the same question twice or waste your time because I certainly do not want anyone wasting my time.
Kruse: Tom Ziglar, Zig Ziglar’s son, once told me “You shouldn't be writing notes for yourself. Write notes for the future generation.
Awesome: Oh, yeah, and make it a habit. Be conscious of everything you're doing. I think that's where a lot of people fall short because they aren't conscious of what they're doing, and you get the justification of your own BS. I think moderation is justification of bad habits. If you ever say, “I only.” Whatever you say after “I only,” is you justifying something you shouldn't be doing. “I only have a cigarette when I drink.” Well, those two things you shouldn't be doing.
Kruse: Yeah, I won't admit on air all my “I only’s,” but they're mainly food related.
Awesome: Yeah. Well, “I only eat like this on weekends.”
Kruse: Right. “I only drink a six-pack when the game is on.”
Awesome: Yeah, and I have the ESPN package, so there's always a game on.
Kruse: I like to challenge our audience to get 1% better every single day. What can we do today to become a little more awesome?
Awesome: I would say whatever your goal is, set it bigger, and fail on a big stage. Make it public so you're holding yourself accountable for it, and don't be embarrassed after you failed. If you can fail without being discouraged, success becomes inevitable.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.