Leaving Safe Harbor
Mariners Stint is Just One Reward
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, and catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain
Jonathan Carioto remembers being so out of shape that he could not tie his shoes without breathing heavily. He was 29 years old, and not at all excited about life. Sixteen years of working in a restaurant and a long period of putting others’ needs ahead of his own had sapped his energy.
Working crazy hours and embracing the restaurant’s bar culture had him on a treadmill. Changing it up, he moved to the restaurant’s kitchen to learn something new. For three or four years, he really enjoyed the change. He was making good money, and he worked for good people.
But eventually, he reached another plateau. He felt stuck in the same routine. Little things started to bother him as he grew increasingly disenchanted with going to work. Prospects for growth were limited.
He knew it was time for a change. But what? Should he look for a job at a new restaurant? A new manager recognized Carioto’s potential, but at the same time, saw his employee losing motivation. The manager recommended a personal-growth seminar that opened Carioto’s eyes to the fact that he wasn’t a victim: he was in charge of his own destiny.
About the same time, a friend at the restaurant, on his way to enroll for classes at GCC, suggested Carioto come along. “Why not?” Carioto recalls thinking.
Carioto spoke with a GCC counselor who advised that his first step should be to take his placement tests. Carioto was apprehensive, given his 10-year absence from school. But he took the tests and did well.
The counselor then helped him to sort out his likes and dislikes. Carioto thought about when he was growing up and how much he had enjoyed wrestling and playing football. It dawned on him: he really enjoyed sports and he liked being active. The idea of being an athletic trainer took root.
Fast forward a few brief years. Since that first encounter with GCC, Carioto has become a new man. Now 32, he is a lean, fit 200 pounds. He’s on track to graduate with an associate degree in Exercise Science and Personal Training and three certificates: Personal Training, Personal Training Specialist and Nutrition for Fitness Professionals.
For Carioto, life is new and exciting again. He knows where he’s headed, and he’s moving in that direction – fast. And on his own steam.
The decision to quit his job and head in new directions wasn’t an easy one. Carioto had worked for his restaurant employer for over 16 years and was a key employee. Out of respect, he wanted to give plenty of notice so the company could find a suitable replacement. He announced his decision to return to school months in advance, then started full time at GCC in spring 2013 while continuing to work full time at the restaurant. Carioto signed up for three classes and got all A’s. His new life was beginning to feel more comfortable.
Reaching Out for Guidance
After a few semesters, it was time for reevaluation. Carioto contacted Lisa Lewis, Fitness & Wellness department chair, asking, “Is this the right path? What do I need to do?” She offered advice and reassured him that he was in the right classes and headed toward his goals.
For many years, Lewis has worked with the Seattle Mariners, assisting with sports physicals for the Mariner staff, major- and minor-league players. When she needed help at the ball park, she would take along some of the Exercise Science students from GCC to expose them to the sports world and to give them some hands-on experience working with athletes. She had Carioto in one of her spring classes, saw his potential and invited him along. No one knew that decision would open an entirely new door.
Carioto’s maturity and professionalism made him a good fit to assist with the work Lewis was doing for the Mariners. “He ended up being my go-to guy,” said Lewis.
Other unexpected opportunities followed quickly. After helping with the physicals for a couple of weeks, Carioto received an invitation to help with testing for a couple of other teams. Back on campus, Lewis started having him help with GCC projects. Then, one day, when Carioto was helping Mariners do EKG testing, one of the team’s strength and conditioning coaches popped the question: Would he be interested in a paid internship for the team’s summer league?
But getting a summer internship with a professional baseball team is not easy; there’s a lot of competition from all over country. The process began in March, with Carioto sending a cover letter and resume, then talking to the Mariners’ head performance coordinator over the phone. A couple of weeks later, he was granted a face-to-face interview. Finally, in early June, Carioto received the welcome news: The internship was his.
Working with the Mariners
The internship with the Seattle Mariners Arizona League consisted of working with young players age 17 to 23 with less than three years of experience in pro baseball. The season runs from June 20 to August 29, with playoffs and a championship game, all played in the Valley of the Sun.
Carioto’s internship began with three weeks of observing stretching, strength and conditioning, baseball fundamentals and player progressions. After learning the protocols, Carioto began leading the team stretches and working directly with the players during their strength training and conditioning. Carioto also was required to attend all home and away games to run the players through their pre-game stretch and to watch player mechanics during the games.
In the sometimes-challenging world of professional sports, Carioto initially was on the outside looking in. After building rapport and establishing the trust of the players and staff, the team accepted Carioto into the family. He made some great professional contacts and the work was very rewarding for him. “It’s exciting to work closely with guys who want to better themselves, and it’s gratifying to see them develop,” said Carioto.
He kept working to develop himself, as well. Among the qualifications for advancement, major-league baseball teams require a National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) certification. Prior to getting the job with the Mariners, Carioto studied hard, sat for the Personal Trainer certification test…and passed on his first try. His next step will be to pass the NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist exam when he completes his bachelor’s degree. This will make him eligible to be hired as a strength and conditioning coach in any professional organization.
No Pain, No Gain
Carioto remembers his insecurity upon returning to school after a ten-year absence. Would he be able to keep up? How hard would it be? His fears were unfounded, as he did just fine. He learned help is available, and if you ask for it, you’ll get it.
Challenges continue; even with the pressure of being a full-time student, he must find the time to “practice what he preaches” and get to the gym to train and maintain a healthy lifestyle. He must also find time for studying as well as squeezing in a full-time job to pay for school and to support himself. There’s lots of homework and reading. “I’m not a huge reader, but I’m growing into that, and I need to, or I won’t be successful,” he said. “Sometimes we do the things we have to do so we can do the things we want to do.”
Committing to long-term goals required sacrifices, including less time with friends and family. “You just have to do it,” said Carioto. He has become accustomed to putting himself in uncomfortable situations, which he views as opportunities to make progress. “Tackling challenges, experiencing success and checking off achievements helps drive me,” he said.
Failures are part of the process too. “It’s OK to take steps back but you need to keep going forward,” said Carioto. “If you roll over and quit, you won’t make progress; you’ll just be another statistic.” He cites Vince Lombardi, former coach of the Green Bay Packers: “It's not whether you got knocked down; it's whether you get back up.”
An appreciative Carioto reflects on his journey and thinks, “I’m lucky to be here now.” He recalls champion athlete Emmitt Smith’s gratitude, when, after almost three decades of work, he became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and earned his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Offering a tribute to a close teammate, an emotional Smith brimmed with tears as he said, “I can achieve. I will achieve. I will be successful.” Carioto harbors similar feelings for what dedication and hard work can bring.
Carioto’s last day with the Arizona League will be toward the end of August. In September, he will be taking on a new position as a part-time paid employee in the new GCC Sports Performance Lab, due to open around the first of September. Once again, he will be the “go to” guy for Lewis.
He will be studying too, intent on finishing at GCC in May 2015. After that, he plans to transfer to Arizona State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Wellness, then on to Northern Arizona University for a master’s degree in Athletic Training – and perhaps, ultimately, a Ph.D.
Never Too Late
Lewis has seen Carioto take on the challenge of transformation. He’s lost weight, changed his social habits, cut back on drinking, altered his eating habits, fine-tuned his own workouts and made a serious commitment to school. “Being able to exert the self-discipline to achieve those goals a huge testament to the type of person he is,” she said.
Many of Carioto’s buddies are still doing what they’ve always done, and haven’t pursued further education. He says he understands how they can feel the time for new beginnings is long past. “It’s easy to have the old ‘I wish I had done it when I was younger’ thoughts,” said Carioto. “But no time is wasted; all the things I’ve learned in my past have accelerated my progress and gotten me where I am today.”
In fact, maturity can be an asset. “If Jon had been in my class when he was 22, it might have been easier to overlook him,” said Lewis. “He caught my eye because of his maturity and focus, much of which came from his 16 years of working at the restaurant.”
Importance of Encouragement
Watching Carioto’s metamorphosis has been fulfilling for Lewis, who is modest about her role. “All I’ve done for him is opened a couple of doors for him and given him a friendly nudge; he’s done all the hard work,” she said. Positive encouragement is the key, says Carioto, who likes the GCC programs because they’re built on teamwork. “It’s not ‘you win, I lose,’ or ‘I win, you lose; it’s about ‘win-win’,” he reflected. “You need a hand to bring you up, not push you down.”
“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” – Earl Nightingale