TEAM BLOG: ADVANCEMENT '13

A blog by the Next Level  2013 Advancement Team.  

This blog provides the insight, in-jokes and inspiration of a team in action.  Each post is by a team member as their journey continues.  

In The Next Level, an "Advancement Team" is a team built of experienced athletes designed to "advance" the program.  The spring 2013 Advancement Team is comprised of eight men: Tom Keon, Phil Cohen, Stephen Cyr, Seth Carbonneau, Stephen Forgione. Phil Biondo, Yarza Winn and Chris Noonan.  

Each post represents only the views of it's poster, and is not intended as a reflection of the opinions, views or beliefs of any other teammate, the team as a whole or The Next Level.  

Follow these men as they make their marks on a small corner of history.

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Some self-indulgence

I have decided to be self-indulgent and post an article that was published on the homepage of Novartis' global intranet.

I have worked for Novartis for almost three years. There is a recurring series on the cover of the home page called NIBR's Got Talent where employes that have interesting tablets outside of work are showcased. Among the interesting talents were a female rugby player, an Olympic 800M qualifier, and an award winning horticulturalist. I was interviewed for this series and after it was published I became a local celebrity.

Unfortunately the glamor and glitz only lasted a few weeks, but it was fun while it lasted. The take-home message I got from discussing this article with so many individuals is that people are floored by seeing or hearing of anyone performing such feats. My reply to this awe was that anyone could do this stuff, you just have to do it. I am not even that impressive of a strongman, if more people put time and effort in I would be average at best, it's just that I put the time in.

Anyway, here's the article (alone with the awesome pictures that went along with it):


If you see a short, well-muscled man making several trips to the pasta station at the Cambridge site, you may be looking at Seth Carbonneau on days when he’s in training and must consume 6000 calories. “When I’m carb-loading,” he says, “I can’t wait to get to NIBR’s café for pasta day or Pad Thai day so I can pig out.”

Seth is a strongman who has competed in 16 meets throughout New England, earning high placements. In July, he won a strong second place in the New Hampshire competition. In August, he placed second in the Massachusetts State Strongman. At 5’4 and 174 pounds, Seth competes in the light-weight division. A strongman displays feats of strength, such as lifting the back of a tractor or moving an Atlas stone, made of concrete, from the ground to a platform.

At NIBR, Seth studies epigenetics in theDevelopmental and Molecular Pathwaysdepartment. “A trend in strength sports is that intelligent people are doing it, people with good careers,” he says. “The training program is not trivial. You learn by trial and error. I keep a log of everything I do at the gym and see how it relates to results. This is similar to my job, setting up experiments to get the best results.”

He started lifting weights and body-building at the College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he studied evolutionary biology. After that, he worked for four years at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Pediatric Oncology. Then he applied for a job at NIBR, where he has worked for two years. “One of the best things about Novartis is that they have a track for people with BAs – without PhDs – to move pretty high. If you have the knowledge and the passion, you can make it.”

Seth began going to a gym near his home, where he practiced a routine which focuses on three different exercises: the bench press, the squat, and the dead lift. Soon, he noticed that another person at the gym, Gina Melnik, was doing the same routine and had the same goals. “We started training together. She’s really strong, and she was interested in the strongman.” Gina is an environmental psychologist for the US Department of Transportation. “She’s an awesome training partner. We do anything we can to be better. I’m constantly losing fat and gaining muscle, but being a strongman is not just about strength: it’s also endurance and speed, and in that sense it’s different from body-building and power-lifting. It requires you to be well-rounded.”

You never know what can happen at a competition. You might have to run 100 feet with a 150-lb sandbag – then do 10 repetitions. You might have to wear a harness and pull a monster truck. You might have to stretch out your arms in the “crucifix position” and hold heavy hammers. There is much technique involved. Subtleties in the movements make them easier and give you a competitive advantage.

“I’m pretty strong,” says Seth, “but my greatest strength is my mental game. It hurts to do it, the brain wants to stop, but the body can go on. With the dead lift, I close my eyes and focus not on what I’m picking up, but feeling as if I’m pushing my heels into the ground, like it’s sand.” Strongman training is more taxing on the central nervous system than it is on the muscles. “A day or two after training,” says Seth, “I have a body buzz as if hyper-caffeinated.”

For Seth, being a strongman is about reaching goals. “When I’ve set a goal and I reach it, it’s incredibly rewarding. Right now, I’m working on a 500-lb dead-lift. I’m at 470 lbs today, so I should accomplish it sometime in the Fall. When I reach that goal, it will be monumental!”