Spotlight Athletes Shine Light on Longevity: Jim Kenny and Judson Bernardo
Jim Kenny and Judson Bernardo are two of our longest standing athletes: dedicated folks who have been with us since the opening of our earliest locations. If you’ve never met them, it’s likely because their schedules push them to train while most of us are in the middle of our work day. In fact, until this interview, they had never met each other.
In over a decade, Jim and Judson have never canceled their memberships. From ditching junk food to embracing early morning grit, these two have experienced the benefits of deep commitment and what it means to “get what you came for.”
“When I think of longevity I don’t really think about the length of a time period.” Judson tells us. “I think of the motivation and relationships that create that length of time.”
Longevity is about being open to an ongoing shift—and understanding that progress is an imperfect process. It’s propelled by intention with action: a self-determined desire to continue navigating our ever-evolving strength.
For Jim, “ longevity is the ability to live your best life, for as long as possible, without excuses. What are we willing to do better when no one is watching?” he asks.
This interview is long—like their relationship with us. But also like their relationship with us, this interview is robust and earnest. It elicits feelings of pride for us because in many ways, it’s a perfectly nostalgic retelling of our history.
SG: How long have you been an athlete at Defined, and what’s one thing in your life that’s changed since you’ve been with us?
JUDSON: I’ve been an athlete at Defined since April 2012; so 10 years now. Wow! One thing in my life that has changed since I’ve been with you guys is me being more conscious of what I eat. I used to eat a lot of junk food without hesitation. But no more of that.
SG: What is one of your fondest memories at one of Defined’s previous locations?
JIM: My fondest memories at Belmont are all rooted in working out with the 5:30 am crew. Jon Luciano and I would claim our spots in the back row and do our best to hang with the Mount Rushmore of legacy Defined athletes – Murph, Liberty, Mama, Coach Allyn, Derek, Kevin Lange, Manuel, Rios and so on. There’s just something special about the shared experience of waking up before the world does and pushing each other through a workout that is mentally and physically harder than anything most people will even attempt. Those shared experiences still continue today, no doubt. But, just like my parents used to walk a mile to school in the snow, Belmont had a certain grit that glued us all together.
SG: For people who don’t know you, tell us a bit about your athletic background. How has your outlook on training shifted over the years?
JIM: Prior to high school, I played all the typical team sports – football, baseball, basketball, and soccer. But, like most young athletes, it became clear that I was pretty average at all of them. I remember playing 8th grade football particularly. My helmet didn’t fit, so my head would rattle around, inevitably leaving me with a headache. I hated tackling drills. And, though our team went undefeated, I was just a decoy wide receiver. One day, the coaches made us run laps as punishment, and I smoked everyone. That was a sign.
From then on, until I discovered CrossFit in 2011, I was a long-distance runner. I was pretty good, but I had terrible form. My coach used to say that by landing on my heels, I was essentially applying the brakes with each stride. That limited my potential, but I loved that all of my success and failure was on my shoulders. It all came down to my mindset and how hard I was willing to work. All I needed was a pair of running shoes and the will to put the miles in. That mindset sticks with me in my training today – What are you willing to do to better yourself when no one is watching?
SG: You’re an Open Gym guy. Tell us why that’s your vibe.
JIM: I think your “why” changes over time. When I first started CrossFit, you could pick any functional movement and I was basically starting from scratch. I wanted to be more fit, for sure, but I also wanted to be stronger, with more skills, without losing that competitive mindset. Randomized WODs were the perfect medicine for my lack of general physical preparedness.
As I’ve gotten older though, my focus has been fine-tuned towards more personal and specific weaknesses, with a longer-term eye on health and longevity. Open Gym allows me to customize my own programming, at a time that works for my schedule. That said, I do miss the class vibes. And, every once in a while I like to check in with my former metcon self.
SG: Do you remember the first workout you did with us? If not, what was one of your earliest memories of Defined?
JUDSON: Oh I definitely have not forgotten my first workout. It was almost embarrassing. It was ‘Cindy,’ and she completely humbled me. I remember thinking “Oh, just pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats. No biggie. It’s all body weight.” But I was wrong, I nearly died.
SG: You have a pretty interesting schedule. Can you tell us how that affects when and how you train?
JUDSON: Some of you already know this, but I’m a registered nurse; I work 12 hour night shifts. Normally for us night shifters, if we’re not working, we’re sleeping (ha!). But training relaxes me and gets my mind off the constant dumpster fire at the hospital. My training schedule is pretty interesting, and friends call me crazy because I usually come in at the 10:45 am class right after my shift—after being up for 16+ hours straight. Sometimes I’m tired, most times I’m just running on pure adrenaline; but I always remember why I’m doing it—and I’ve never had any regrets.
SG: What does longevity mean to you?
JUDSON: When I think of longevity I don’t really think about the length of a time period. I think of the motivation and relationships that create that length of time. I haven’t been with Defined for 10 years because they have nice equipment and a great space. I’ve been with Defined because they genuinely cared to get to know me. For example, I can handstand-walk like nobody’s business and all the coaches know it’s not because I’m a former gymnast or anything like that. They know it’s because I used to breakdance in high school. And that I really hate running. Cara never forgets that.
JIM: In my mind, longevity is the ability to live your best life, for as long as possible, without excuses. I’m fortunate enough to still have full control of my health and happiness. What can I do today to make that the case long into the future? I remember one day at my prior gym being too aggressive with a max box jump attempt and cutting open my shin. The gym didn’t have any ice, so they pulled a frozen steak out of the freezer to ice it down. Long story short, the cut got infected, and I was out of commission for weeks. To be clear, I’m a big proponent of blaming the mover, not the movement, but it also shined a light on prioritizing choices that will benefit me the most in the future, while keeping me in the game today.
SG: What were your first impressions of Defined, and how have they changed?
JIM: The first time I walked into Belmont, I met Coach Noal and he gave me the grand tour. It was very, “This is what we’re about. Join us if you’d like.” There wasn’t any big sales pitch, or Glassman worshiping. As someone who essentially has to see through that kind of stuff for a living, it was exactly what I was looking for. The other thing that really stood out, and still does today, is that the programming was very intentional, thoughtful, and longer-term focused. Every day wasn’t just a random Hero WOD. There were cycles, and some days were easier than others. As a newly established gym, that takes some courage as new members typically want quick results and think that burning the house down every day is the best way. I don’t know if Defined gets enough credit for that differentiated approach, even to this day.
In terms of how my impression has changed, I’ve just come to appreciate more how Defined has created a culture of continuous improvement. Defined built a strong culture a long time ago, one that has survived several location moves. So, the path of least resistance is the status quo. Instead, the owners and coaches are always looking for ways to improve. I’m a bit of a movie nerd and one of my favorite directors once compared writing the perfect movie script to ironing a shirt. You’re always going back to what you think you’ve finished and re-ironing it before moving forward. That’s not a perfect comparison, but it takes a certain mindset to try to improve what isn’t broken.
SG: What movement or workout used to feel challenging for you, but feels more achievable these days? What’s something you’re still working on?
JUDSON: Muscle-ups for both! I’m still working on them—but with so many great tips I’ve collected from the coaches, it definitely feels more achievable these days.
SG: Any advice for CrossFit beginners?
JIM: Care more about how you are moving than what you are moving. I’ve been doing this for nearly 11 years now and most of my injuries and ceilings today can be traced back to shortcuts I took when I started. There are certain movements that I’ve had to completely relearn, not because they weren’t taught to me properly, but because I used to compare myself to the guy or girl next to me. No one cares how much weight you have on the bar or how quickly you finished a workout. Again, going back to longevity and doing things today that will benefit you tomorrow – your foundation doesn’t end with Foundations.
JUDSON: Don’t let yourself get discouraged by comparing your own progress to someone else’s. It can be so tempting to slap on a lot of weight because you see others doing it, but always stick to proper technique and form first. And then the heavy plates will follow.
SG: What’s something one of our coaches said to you that you either think about often, or you’ll never forget?
JUDSON: One time I was working on squats and wasn’t engaging my core as much as I should have been, and I remembered Coach Kevin calmly walking up to me and saying, “pretend I’m about to punch you in the stomach” as I was squatting. I’ll never forget that!
JIM: I think of two Defined sayings every time I step into the gym. First, “Get what you came for.” It’s a simple statement with so many interpretations, ranging from knowing your “why,” to taking personal responsibility for your experience. But also, the hard part is just showing up. Now that you have, maximize the opportunity. Every time I used to get ready for a training run, or step up to the start line, once I took that first step, it was on.
The second is more around self-awareness, a counterbalance to the first. At some point during my time at Defined, the programming started to include “for the day.” For example, a one-rep max “for the day.” Not every day is going to be a PR, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a step forward. Get comfortable with that. It’s not a cop-out. John Welbourn has this saying, “Some days you have a shovel and other days just a spoon.” It refers to the idea of having to move a pile of dirt from one location to another. Some days you have a shovel, other days just a spoon, but each day you still move the dirt. Show up and move the dirt, to the best of your ability, with whatever you have to work with that day.
SG: Favorite workout: Go!
JUDSON: Annie! She’s been good to me.
JIM: I joke that I like anything that doesn’t involve weight, or skill, or mobility, but there’s some truth to that. Bodyweight workouts with some endurance requirements usually tap into my athletic background the best. I use Murph Day every year to assess my fitness, but it’s actually not my favorite. I actually struggle to pace the runs, as my former runner-self usually kicks in and wonders why I’m running so slowly. There are also too many transitions for my taste, and not really a good way to reduce them and still go unbroken. Jackie is probably my favorite. The 1,000m row opener is more of a mental test. If you go too hard, you’ll give it all back on the other two movements. You can ease in, fully warm up, find your pace, and think about how much you need to leave in the tank to crush the rest. I also like that once you’re done with a set, you’re completely done with that movement. From what I can tell from past workout notes, I haven’t done Jackie in about 7 years. Maybe it’s time to move that dirt.