Becoming Brute: Cazayoux on Fear, Addiction and Finding Purpose

“The lower you fall, the higher you’ll fly.” —Fight Club

It was May 2009 when Brute Strength co-founder Michael Cazayoux tried heroin for the first time.

He was just six months shy of being out of rehab, a running race that kept him on track already in his rearview mirror. It was so easy to slip back into habits, years of alcohol, opioids and cocaine that started in high school and prompted his parents to send him to the first of three different treatment facilities in Utah.

By the end of the week, Cazayoux had racked up $5,000 in debt. If this wasn’t rock bottom, it was certainly headed there.

“I was either going to completely ruin the progress I had made,” Cazayouz said, “or I was going to humble myself and start all over, and work my ass off to live a whole-hearted life.”

He chose the latter, found CrossFit several months later and became hooked. It wasn’t so much his natural ability — Cazayoux swears he was initially the worst guy in the gym — as it was about the challenge. He became addicted to working out, meeting Tommy Hackenbruck of Ute CrossFit six months in and competing on his Games team in 2011.

Cazayoux went on to win the CrossFit Games twice —in ’12 and ’13— as part of Team Ute.

Remarkable? Yes. Easy? Hell no.

For the first year-and-a-half, relapse was all he thought about at daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

“It was a struggle. I was constantly craving drugs and alcohol, but I kept working my ass off and slowly my brain started to change,” Cazayoux said. “I lost a lot of association triggers that didn’t have the same power or effect over me anymore. My mind was calmer. I was more emotionally stable.”

CrossFit had given him goals again, had brought Cazayoux back to his five-sport days growing up in Louisiana. But building a brand based around it was the furthest thing from his mind.

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” — Fight Club

While his CrossFit career was flourishing, Cazayoux had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.

He had been going to therapy twice a week and, after getting clean, had tried to help addicts in a similar spot. But 90 percent of them would relapse or die.

“It was incredibly painful for me. I couldn’t handle it,” said Cazayoux, who abandoned the idea of social work after that. “I didn’t have the strength to take care of others and myself.”

So he did an internet search for the happiest professions and found physical therapy, listed high up after priesthood. Cazayoux threw himself onto that track, taking all the pre-requisites, including a 2012 anatomy course that would later change his life.

But just one semester before he graduated, Cazayoux became fixated on something else: becoming a Navy SEAL. Hackenbruck talked him out of it, telling Cazayoux a structured place where he’d have to listen to authority wasn’t the right fit. Especially for a kid who had spent most of his life avoiding conformity.

Cazayoux heeded his advice, but put his PT career on hold once again after graduation when a teammate’s husband offered him a strength and conditioning job at Southern Utah University.

The anatomy course he had taken, which sparked a huge interest in the human body, had Cazayoux living what he thought was a dream job. He eventually went back home, working at Louisiana State University and helping everyone from pro athletes to Olympians.

“But at the end of the day I kept feeling like I wasn’t fulfilled enough,” Cazayoux said. “I thought, ‘Am I deeply connecting with people? I didn’t feel like I was. I was helping the one percent get a 0.1 percent edge on the competition.”

After about a year of strength and conditioning, Cazayoux moved back to Salt Lake City in August of 2014. His plan was simple: to buy one of Hackenbruck’s gyms. Hackenbruck had other plans.

While in Louisiana, Cazayoux had met Olympic weightlifting coach Matt Bruce and the pair had teamed up to do personalized programing for about 30 people. Hackenbruck wanted Cazayoux to build that up along with the Ute name.

Cazayoux was not thrilled.

“I remember the only reason I was going to continue doing [the programming] was Matt was really fired up about it and I didn’t want to let him down,” Cazayoux said. “I was more interested in growing the gym and running that gym.”

But as Cazayoux started using social media and putting out content it became clear: he could reach a limitless amount of people.

That, coupled with finally being his own boss, was enough to hook Cazayoux.

The program, called Brute Strength, launched a test group in September 2014. It had a wait list of nearly 200 when it launched the following month.

“It’s mainly programming, but if I wanted to teach people about other things like mindset, I’d have that opportunity,” said Cazayoux, who phased himself out of Hackenbruck’s gym. “I slowly started to fall in love with running this company. I decided I was going to dedicate my life to Brute [full-time].”

“May I never be complete, May I never be content, May I never be perfect. – Fight Club

The rapid success of Brute Strength, which has an All-Star group of coaches and an ever-expanding group of programs, was a complete shock to Cazayoux.

“I was scared that I may put all this time and energy into it and people will think it’s worthless and I’m a fraud and who the fuck am I giving out this info or leading a team of expert coaches?,” Cazayoux said. “I am and continue to be frightened on levels about that. [But] the thousands of hours of therapy I went through taught me that fear is just a feeling and I don’t have to allow fear to dictate my actions.

I’ve learned if I don’t feel that feeling [of fear] I’m not pushing myself hard enough and outside of that comfort zone. I’ve come to embrace that feeling, because it’s a sign that I’m doing good work. I’m not letting the fear of mistakes or failure keep me from pushing.”

It’s like that Fight Club quote, a movie Cazayoux references twice, turning fear into exhilaration and eliminating obstacles. Brute Strength’s main mission is to challenge assumptions and prove stereotypes wrong and perhaps there is no better example than its fearless leader.

About four years into his sobriety, Cazayoux decided he wanted to drink again. He didn’t like the undue power drugs and alcohol held over him. He wanted the ability to have a drink, socially. To not walk into a party or a bar fearful it would trigger him.

Athlete Daily becoming brute

“In AA they say addiction is a disease and once you have it, you never get rid of it. I believe that’s true for some people. I didn’t believe that was true for me anymore,” Cazayoux said.

“I thought, ‘I’ve dealt with a lot of underlying issues and I’ll be successful if I choose to do this.’ It was a risky decision for sure. Maybe impulsive. But that’s a choice I’ve made and I’ve never been happier.”

And more successful, in all facets of life.

Brute Strength is booming and Cazayoux launched a podcast in April 2015 to go with it.

Gone are the cravings and the triggers.

Cazayoux, who is recently married, has been able to socially drink and embrace his social worker days.

“I have finally started to get back to be able to teach this kind of stuff. That’s absolutely what I’m most passionate about,” said Cazayoux, who is also a big believer in daily meditation.

“Most people underestimate the power that their mindset has over their entire life. Whether it’s overall success, their ability to stick to a diet program, to compete in something, their ability to communicate with other people and communicate effectively, it literally has the power to transform every aspect of your life.

I think it’s becoming more popular to talk about, especially in the fitness community. What I don’t see is people talking about HOW [to implement it].”

Somehow you know, Cazayoux will find a way.



All pictures courtesy of Michael Cazayoux.