If you think you’re “too old” or “too fat” to do something amazing, you need to meet Barry Peterson. At age 52, the Portland, Oregonian is working as a high-voltage lineman again—after conquering his demons and dropping more than 100 pounds. We chronicled Peterson’s redemption in an earlier article, but we wanted to interview him again—this time on video—so you can hear him tell his tale directly as part of our Onnit Stories series.
Each week, Onnit Stories features a video interview that introduces you to a different person who’s made an inspiring life change since discovering Onnit. More often than not, they’re members of the Onnit Tribe, the free Facebook group that Onnit fans use to support each other in their wellness journeys. See below for the full video of Peterson’s conversation with Chief Fitness Officer John Wolf, as well as an edited transcript of some of the highlights.
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John Wolf: How did you find the Onnit Tribe?
Barry Peterson: During the COVID pandemic, I got laid off. Suddenly, I was home all the time, and I wanted to start working out again, so I hopped on the Onnit website one day. There was this 50% off sale on the Onnit 6 programs. Being on unemployment, I couldn’t really afford a steel mace or steel club, but I could do the bodyweight program, so I started there. I was so sore the next day, but I was hooked.
Through the program, I found the Onnit Tribe. At first I just sat back and watched the other members have conversations, because, as everybody knows, there’s no such thing as a good page on Facebook, right? I just sat back and waited for somebody to tell this fat guy to get off the page—“This isn’t for you, fatty. Onnit sells six-pack abs.” But no one ever said anything like that. After a little time, I realized that the Tribe is like nothing else. To say the members are like family is an understatement. They’re better than family.
What changed in your life when you found Onnit?
First, let me explain. A long time ago, I used to be 150 pounds, and I raced bicycles at a pretty high level. I had sponsors. Then I destroyed my knee, and I fell in love, and I stopped being active and started sitting on my ass. So I gained a whole bunch of weight over the years. I went from being a meter reader, walking and running every day, to being a lineman, and it’s a different lifestyle. Sometimes it lends itself to drinking, so I put on a whole bunch of weight.
But when I got to the Onnit Tribe, I found people who inspired me. People like Mitchell Crocker. That dude swings a 90-pound kettlebell, and I thought, “This guy is big like me. Maybe I can do that too.” Then there was Angi Sanders, and she lost 250 pounds. She’s another person who works like nobody else.
So I started seeing all these people and I wanted to join the conversation. I can’t remember what I commented on first in the Tribe, but my comment was received with nothing but positivity. Any kind of question you had, people were there to help you. And all the famous Onnit people are on there. You ask a question, and Eric Leija might have the answer. Are you joking me? Primal Swoledier will answer your question?! All these people that are on there are simply incredible. Having the ability to jump on and talk to John Wolf or somebody like that is amazing. So the people in the Tribe are real.
What was your first Onnit 6 Challenge like?
I had already lost 100 pounds just by stopping my drinking, but then I plateaued. It’s all fine and good to lose that weight, but I wasn’t physically in shape.
So when I did my first Onnit 6 Challenge, it was firing muscles that hadn’t been used in a really long time, especially core muscles. Onnit 6 just turned everything back on. I like to go hiking in this park near where I live, and there’s a very, very steep hill there. I used to have to stop and take some breaths to climb it. But at maybe Week 3 or 4 of the program, I did the hike and was able to do the whole thing without stopping.
The physical improvement is just part of what you’ve accomplished in the Tribe. How else have you grown?
The Tribe is full of very, very real people from all different walks of life, and I’ve learned that it’s OK to tell them what’s going on in my life. I’m not scared. I wish more people were able to share their shitty experiences like people in the Tribe are, because everybody has them, but a lot of people are really scared to talk about them because they think they’re the only ones.
In the Tribe, you’ll be blown away when somebody opens up and you find out that they lost their husband, because that person is so positive and working so hard. We have another lady whose husband is going through cancer right now. Shout out to that girl because, good gravy, where does she get all that energy? To get on there with a smile every day? Everybody’s got stuff going on in their life. I just wish that as far as life goes, we could all maybe throw it out there a little bit more, so we could share our experiences and help each other get through that shit.
You’ve been a huge catalyst for the evolution of our community in the Onnit Tribe. What were some of the challenges you introduced to the group to build a teamwork atmosphere?
I did a dance challenge. I decided to turn a song on one day and dance to it and put it on video, and then I just threw it out there to the Tribe and asked them to post videos of them dancing. I think Angi answered it first—you don’t have to challenge Angi to dance. She’s always dancing anyway. But then it kind of took off like wildfire.
There was more to it than that. You didn’t just toss on a song and dance. There were props involved. There was a specific outfit…[Laughs] Who doesn’t like Christina Aguilera? She’s pretty hot. I know that some people think it’s probably bullshit, but I didn’t do it for attention. I really did it for me. It came out of a dark place. That was really at a point when life was not a lot of fun anymore. I had not edited video in so many years because I was just not in the mood. So being able to do that in the Tribe kind of broke me out of it. And so, as ridiculous as that video is, that really is all Onnit. Onnit got me to laugh again, and it kept me very entertained to watch what song somebody was going to come on with and dance to next.
A big part of the Onnit Tribe is the shared sense of humor and the camaraderie—it’s a place where you don’t have to take yourself so seriously. I think that makes for a huge transformative energy, when we can share the more vulnerable parts of our lives and feel safe in doing so and feel supported and loved.
Yes, and the dance challenge evolved into other challenges I created, about sharing stuff that you’re going through, or obstacles in the road, or something or someone that inspires you. When you’re having a crappy day, it’s great to see someone else talking about having a hard day, and how they had to skip a workout because of it. Then you think, “I guess the other day when I was having a shitty day, it wasn’t all that abnormal.” If we could all lift each other up and give each other a virtual hug, it would make the world a better place.
You were a finalist and prize winner in your second Onnit 6 Challenge. That same week, I remember you became a lineman again by passing this test where you had to drag a dummy down a telephone pole. You crushed it, and were doing it faster than some of the younger guys.
Yeah, you have to go climb a pole and rescue a dummy to simulate rescuing a hurt line worker. Back when I started doing this kind of work, we actually used to rescue each other from 45 feet in the air! But yeah, I passed the test to be a lineman again, and then to find out I was a finalist in the Onnit 6 Challenge, I was shocked. Trying to explain to a bunch of linemen that you’ve just met why there are tears of joy coming out of your eyes wasn’t easy.
Apart from getting in better shape, has Onnit helped you perform this difficult job?
Being a lineman is incredible work. When we went through that winter storm back in February, I thought of Onnit every day. When a storm like that rolls through and causes devastation, you may go 40 hours straight—no breaks until everything’s done. So we went 16 days doing that—300 hours of overtime.
Little kids come up to you and hand you a paper that says “hero” on it because we got their power back on. When that happens, I start to cry. It’s very cool to be a part of something that important.
And I can tell you, that wouldn’t have happened for me without Onnit.