Health is no cake-walk for student trainer

Every morning at 6 a.m., before the sun illuminates the Purple Valley, Charlie Cates ’10 wakes up and eats the first of his two breakfasts: a pure whey protein shake and a cup of oats with berries, honey and flaxseed. Cates’ second breakfast, which he eats a mere hour and a half later, consists of a half dozen eggs wrapped in tortillas with cheese. By the time he concludes his afternoon workout and heads to dinner, he has already eaten three full meals, drunk four protein shakes and slurped down two cups of oats. After dinner – which last Wednesday was comprised of two chicken breasts, a steak, a bowl of spinach, a plate of broccoli and a single yam – Cates still has room for a bedtime snack of cottage cheese, another protein shake, almonds, walnuts and oysters to boost his testosterone. In short, Cates, a 22-year-old certified physical trainer, does not take fitness and nutrition lightly.

“My specific food intake really doesn’t vary that much from day to day,” Cates said. “You can spend endless hours in the gym, but unless you eat right, it’ll amount to nothing. You simply can’t out-exercise a bad diet.”
The senior, whose shoulders are approximately as broad as a standard doorway, has been training others since he was 14, when his first client, his brother, came to him seeking exercise advice. Since then, Cates has worked with athletes as young as nine and as advanced as NFL players – the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints at the gym he worked at this past summer – all with the ultimate goal of opening his own gym, which he plans to name Self Made.
“I feel like my whole life, nobody has forced me to work out, to do anything, but I’ve still managed to work hard,” Cates said. “For me, Self Made represents that will power. It’s something I think about every day, from the moment I wake up to the minute I go to sleep.”
On his Web site,, one can see that Cates is already well on his way to achieving his goal – the site features a testimonials section from past trainees, workout videos shot with Eph athletes, a series of articles that Cates has authored on general fitness and a store where Web surfers can purchase the official Self Made t-shirt, which is already widely worn by campus athletes. Cates even has plans to publish a Self Made fitness newsletter this January. “Self Made is definitely consuming me, but I absolutely love it – it’s both my escape from reality but also my reality at the same time.”
In addition to having directly trained many of his teammates, Cates’ has had a more subtle positive impact on the dietary and fitness habits of the basketball team.
“It’s really great for me because I watch what he eats, and try to internalize his habits,” said teammate Ethan Timmins-Schiffman ’10. “I feel like he has single-handedly rejuvenated the hard-boiled egg bucket in the dining halls.”
Other teammates echoed a similar sentiment: “It’s quite inspirational the way he eats food so mechanically – he’s the epitome of perfection when it comes to eating,” said James Wang ’12. “Although I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone care as little about taste as he does.”
No one is more familiar with Cates’ daily habits and physical routines than roommate and teammate Will Hardy ’10, who lives off campus with Cates on Spring Street: “Charlie has a pull-up bar in the doorframe between our two rooms and whenever I enter his room I have to do a pull-up, or, as he calls it, ‘pay the toll,’” Hardy said. “I have to say though, it is a great pleasure to wake up to a large, shirtless man dominating oats in our kitchen every morning.”
How, one might enviously ask, does Cates have such a clearly defined goal for his future? Cates credits his obsession with fitness to his eighth grade English teacher, who one day assigned to the class Jack London’s Call of the Wild: “The story was about a dog that ran and ran and ran and got stronger and stronger and stronger,” Cates said. “But then he began to run too much and he became weak and thin, before finally getting passed on to a new owner. The new owner allowed him to rest and his muscles grew back and he became a beast. From that point forward I have been trying to work out hard enough so that one day, when I rest, I too will come back a beast.”
With the motivation for his current ambition having come at such an early stage in his development, I couldn’t help but wonder if Cates might someday have a change of heart. The possibility, however, seems unlikely. The “About Me” section on his Web site ends with the determined and unbending statement, “In the future I will own my own gym, Self Made.”
Furthermore, fitness seems to have permeated Cates’ general philosophy towards life. “To me, fitness is a symbolic representation of how much you’re willing to put it to your life,” Cates said. “As a species, we’re beyond just basic needs of survival, so we go and do greater things beyond that, whereas other species only worry about survival.”
But Cates himself has been forced to overcome his fair share of physical adversity. Having grown up with child-onset diabetes, he has been forced to strictly control every aspect of his life since childhood. “I’ve needed to know everything – when I was going to eat, what I was going to eat and its nutritional value – since I was nine,” Cates said.
Cates, however, has managed to take this obstacle and see it as a blessing. During high school, diabetes allowed him never to succumb to the peer pressure to drink alcohol. In fact, last summer, while interning as a trainer at the renowned Fitness Quest 10 gym in San Diego, Calif., Cates was asked to list the five greatest gifts he has ever received. “I listed diabetes as one of them. I wouldn’t be here today, where I am, if it weren’t for diabetes. I would have had a completely different outlook on food, nutrition, time management and organization,” Cates said.
I have no doubt that Cates, with unmatched dedication, meticulous attention to detail and the restraint of a monk,  will achieve any goal he sets for himself. Whether he’s opening his own chain of Self Made gyms, making the men’s basketball team the best conditioned squad in the NESCAC or growing biceps that are bigger than watermelons, Cates remains true to the lifestyle that he has chosen. So next time you find yourself complaining about the empty hard-boiled egg buckets at the dining halls, at least now you know who the culprit is.

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