So what exactly is required to change the world? How does that happen? How does one take an obscure idea like Paleo and make it a common household name? Especially when you don’t have more than a few hundred dollars to start and you don’t have any celebrities lined up to promote your idea. Allow me to attempt to explain how that all happened.
Back in 2002 Dave Werner (my husband) and Robb Wolf met on a chat room. It happened to be Dragon Door’s chat room and long story short, Dave convinced Robb to come over to his newly equipped garage gym and throw down some bumper plates – something Robb couldn’t do at the YMCA he was going to. Quickly they discovered they were both a couple of bad ass nerds that enjoyed geeking out over similar things. Robb would sometimes hang out and stay for our standard steak, salad and bread (Dave and I hadn’t given up grains yet) dinners and we would talk about…what else… nutrition! We would discuss gut health, why Robb was eating big globs of fat and how he pretty much resurrected himself from the dead by embracing the paleo diet.
It became quite clear to me early on that this guy had a burning passion for nutrition and that he was going to do something with it. Robb was going through some tough times and he was at a Y in the road. But his Y looked more like a spider web. Something you might not know about Robb is the guy can spin out great ideas at an alarming rate. If the mood is right, he could come up with 99 fantastic business ideas or careers in less than 60 minutes for you and himself! At the time, he was considering getting a PhD in nutrition or pursuing a career in biochemistry, or moving back to California to get away from the gray light in Seattle. Having a tremendous amount of passion and also knowing there are a million different paths with which to pursue it, is a curse and a blessing. I knew that Robb could take off but only with a counter weight, a partner (i.e. Nicki Violetti!).
Before Robb decided for sure that Seattle wasn’t for him and to pursue his passion back in Chico, he discovered this obscure website called CrossFit.com. This was still 2002. At that time Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai had been posting workouts for over a year. They weren’t really sure if anyone was doing them but they were floating out there waiting to be discovered. Dave and Robb’s other garage gym buddy, Nick Nibler, decided to do the CrossFit.com workouts after Robb told him about the site. The results were pretty darn cool. Dave and Robb took notice and started doing the workouts too. One thing led to another and Robb said “Let’s start a gym” and Dave said “Let’s be a CrossFit affiliate”. Robb asked permission and the first CrossFit affiliate was born, CrossFit North, in our 200 sq ft garage. This was just the first business Robb got us into. Right as we were getting serious about CrossFit North and moved out of our 200 sq ft garage into a 250 sq ft storage unit, Robb left for California. It was time.
Nick Nibler, Robb Wolf, David Werner at the grand opening of CrossFit North at a Shurgard Storage Unit. March 22, 2003
*Please note Robb’s amazing velour shirt!
Check out the plush set up!
Then started the silent phase – a term I learned in my fundraising days at the University of Washington. The silent phase of a capital campaign is where you do all the hard work of explaining the what and the why to get people to care, one individual at a time. But there is no fanfare and very little acknowledgment for what is happening. And this is what Robb did. He did some of his first post’s on the Dragon Door Forum in 2001 and the CrossFit Forum in 2002 helping folks with their nutritional needs. If you go back and look at his posts from that time forward, what you will see is thousands of hours of his time answering questions and helping individuals, spreading the what and how and why of Paleo.
Did Robb come up with the idea of Paleo eating? No, Loren Cordain did. Dr. Cordain wrote the first book about Paleo and got his ideas out there. But they didn’t get that far. Loren mentored Robb and Robb took the Paleo idea to the masses one person at a time. Robb gave his first of many nutrition talks at the CrossFit Level I Certifications starting in late 2003. He would drive down from Chico to Santa Cruz and stay on the floor of a friend’s house and help out with the certs, talking to anyone who wanted to discuss nutrition, health, and fitness. These were the days when all the Level I Certifications were run by volunteer help. No one got paid in the early days. Robb was busy running the 4th CrossFit Affiliate on the planet, CrossFit NorCal, with Nicki Violetti, and volunteering lots of time on-line and at certifications to help people understand the basic principles of eating the foods humans evolved to eat.
We had Robb up to Level 4 CrossFit Seattle (we had changed our name from CrossFit North to Level 4 CrossFit Seattle) to give his nutrition seminar in early spring 2009. After talking with Robb and Nicki about the paleo weight loss challenges they were having at their box, I decided we needed to have our own. Dave came up with the name Spring Leaning Challenge and we had a huge turnout. 70 people signed up. Dave gave a lecture about eating paleo and we sent people on their way. But soon we realized people were still in the dark. Everyone had lots of questions about what they could eat. Seems obvious enough now, but at the time the information was still obscure. Robb had not written The Paleo Solution yet and there were no paleo cookbooks or websites dedicated to eating paleo. Dave came up with a handout called “Okay- what do I eat” to help with all the questions. Then Robb released his book a year and half later. When we do a Leaning Challenge now, we only have enough time and space to point people toward just a few of the resources available.
Robb Wolf giving his nutrition seminar at Level 4 CrossFit Seattle
Silent phases are a slow burn. And just for the record, they last a long time. The grind is epic. When did Paleo explode onto the scene and become an overnight success? As in, your Mom knows what it is now, not because she is eating paleo but because she can’t help but see it everywhere in the stores and on the web. By my calculations, it took 10 years.
What happens when you start a world movement that has a generic name like Paleo and isn’t seemingly tied to one person? People don’t necessarily know where it came from but they see that it’s here – in fact it’s everywhere! There are plenty of jokes about it now (which means it’s full blown), paleo freaks are irritating their parents and friends (another big sign) and paleo-friendly restaurants are popping up everywhere.
One thing I really enjoy thinking about is all the businesses Robb has helped spawn. Directly, indirectly, you name it. I walk into Whole Foods and I’m bombarded by PALEO everywhere. I go searching for some paleo recipe online and there are too many to choose from – fantastic. In fact, Dave and I are working 7 days a week right now, thanks to Robb, trying to get our second business (moveskill.com) moving in the right direction. Yes, moveskill.com was Robb’s idea!
So what exactly is required to change the world? To convince the world to think about eating in a radical yet very old-school way? Time and a lot of grit and grind. A drive to help one person at a time. And that’s the truth about Robb. You can move a mountain, especially if you know it will help a whole lot of people.
Robb walking in on his surprise 40th birthday party after doing some unsuccessful rabbit hunting with Dave. January 2012