Audio Interview by Ryan Leech
Ryan: Well, it's good to be on the phone with you Jeffrey Neitlich. Is that pronounced right?
Jeff: It's actually Neitlich.
Ryan: Neitlich, Neitlich.
Jeff: You did better than most.
Ryan: Cool. So Jeffrey Neitlich and do you like Jeff or Jeffrey?
Ryan: Jeff is good. Okay. Cool, Jeff. And maybe you could just give a real quick sort of, kind of high-level bio of who you are?
Jeff: Okay. Well, I am a 55-year-old physician. I have been a doctor since I graduated medical school in 1989 from Harvard, and then I spent most of my career at Yale. I am a radiologist. I spent about 15 years at Yale and then I kind of bounced around a little bit. I lived in Florida for a while. I lived in Washington State for a while. I lived in North Carolina for the last couple years and just recently moved to Atlanta. My career… I've spent some time doing sports medicine imaging, although the majority of my career I'm considered an abdominal radiologist. So, that’s where my specialty is but, I do a lot of MRI and do a lot of sports imaging.
I was a pretty avid road cyclist when I was in my teens and 20s, and then through career, I kind of took a break and didn't really get on a bike for about 25 years. And then when I moved to Washington State I decided... I just really was itching to get out and get a bike again. So when I moved to Washington State in 2012, and the year before I moved, I bought a road bike and a mountain bike.
And I had not done mountain biking …back when I was biking which was in the 80s and 90s, mountain biking was not much of a popular sport. You know, it was kind of new. I had met Gary Fisher for example, once in Northern California, but it was all kind of new back then. So I decided to try ‘em both. In the first year I rode I just got out and did road biking because that's what I knew, and I liked it, but it wasn’t… didn't quite fill my itch for fun. It was kind of good exercise but not a lot of fun and so I got out and tried mountain biking and, just loved it! I haven’t actually been on a road bike since then.
Ryan: Nice…. so it's only been a short time really that you have been biking.
Jeff: I’m in my seventh year on a mountain bike.
Ryan: Yeah. Wow. Great and that's in itself really cool to show that mountain biking is something... that can be dug into it and started at any age, in late 40s... as you can see from the membership site, there is almost a majority of riders are actually in a similar kind of age that you are.
Jeff: Yeah, I’ve really been impressed by the diversity of ages and the older group that Ryan Leech Connection has attracted. I thought I was kind of unique when I did it, but apparently not. And I wish if I could go back in life, I wish I could go back 30 years or 40 years even and pick it up in my youth. I would probably be more naturally skilled at it. I think it has been something I’ve had to work at more because it wasn't ingrained in me in my youth but, the process of learning to mountain bike and develop skills has just been really great for me.
Ryan: Yeah. So, I mean that's kind of it. It is always “I wish I'd started earlier I might be more skilled”, or you know it might be easier. It is an interesting question and what might be the benefits to starting later in life?
Jeff: Well I definitely think that there is a maturity to, particularly if you are the kind of person like I am who will practice and try to really learn skills as opposed to just kind of getting out and peddling. I definitely think there is a maturity to starting later. I've done other things in my life that have required dedication - not just medical school but, I am a musician. I was a pretty accomplished musician when I was younger. I think at this point in my life I've built up this level of discipline that will allow me to get out and really focus and work hard to get better. I think that's a good advantage.
Ryan: Sure. Sure.
Jeff: I also think because I've been fortunate enough to be athletic my whole life at least I've been in shape to do some of the skills, that I think for some older people if you spend 30 years without exercising and tried to jump on a mountain bike and do a bunny hop, I mean, I think that would be really difficult. It was not so easy for me but I can imagine it being harder.
Ryan: Right. Sure.
Jeff: An advantage of doing it when you're younger is that some of the fear that comes in at my age when I'm doing certain things for the first time that are scary, I think if you have been on the bike when you were four years old then you kind of just naturally grow up with it. Some of that fear may not be as challenging.
Ryan: Yes. Yeah absolutely. Yeah... totally agree. I am just trying to think if there's a benefit to having to deal with that fear in new sports.
Jeff: I think the benefit is it keeps me safe.
Jeff: I know that I love mountain biking and I love some of the challenges, but at the same time I know I have to get up and work tomorrow and I can't take a chance that getting hurt is going to interfere with my ability to do my regular day job.
Jeff: I think that's probably the advantage to having fear at this point.
Ryan: Yeah, for sure. So you have been a member of RLC... and you became an ambassador and a curriculum expert, through your dedication to the courses and to your practice. So, I'm just wondering, just for some of the members on the site, how did you best make use and utilize the content on the site? And any tips or suggestions there?
Jeff: Well, sure. First of all, I will say that what got me kind of over this hump of loving mountain biking was the 30-Day Wheelie Challenge. You introduced that I think before I think before RLC actually existed, you had put out the 30 day challenge and that's where I connected to you.
Jeff: And now the 30 day wheelie challenge for me turned out to be more like a 90 day wheelie challenge, which was totally cool, I mean I did the 30 day course once through and then I kind of took my time the second time through because I could wheelie at the end of my first time through. But it wasn't like I could wheelie comfortably for a mile. It was just sort of I knew I could get 15 or 20 strokes, which at the time was just awesome for me, but it did take me a couple of times through to really feel confident about it.
But that just kind of stoked me to want to do more and so when you came out with the full RLC site and started adding courses, I just loved digging into the new stuff. But I think that the process for me has been: start at the beginning and work through the courses in order, not necessarily because I need to master day 1 to go to day 2, but at least feel like I need to have gotten what your intention was out of it. So part of the process for me was really trying to focus on your videos, and the text, and before I would even get out to do a course to do that day, I would say to myself what is it that he wants me to accomplish by the end of this day?
Jeff: Am I going to look like your video when I'm done? But for instance the break it down. I kind of knew at that level what you wanted me to feel comfortable that I could get up into it, have my front wheel off the ground and hit the brakes and come back down. So I just got out of there and said, I'm going to do, I’m going to kind of mimic your video, read the course, and I'm going to get it until I get to that point, and once I feel comfortable I'll go to the next one. If it takes me a day that's cool. If it takes me three days that's fine too. But, I would just try to get inside your head from the video and say, what does he want me to do and then I would try to do that and then I would move on. It was kind of, I’ve done that with each one of the courses now.
Ryan: So there's a little bit of extra effort in trying to really tune into the essence of each lesson that perhaps might be missed if it’s taken in with that entertainment-style of attention that most people have by default online. There's that sort of half-in-half-out sort of a little passive watching through a lesson. Because people are just entertained, especially in mountain biking, it’s all action and entertainment-style videos and then when it comes to a tutorial, it’s all of a sudden you’re hit with all this detail, and so trying to be present enough through the whole lesson and really take in the overall teaching and boil it down to the essence and try to take that out into the practice.
Ryan: Is that a bit of a fair summary.
Jeff: It is good, in fact, as an ambassador, I’m again trying to apply my experience to the people that I am answering questions for. I think there's two extremes of people trying to learn online. One extreme is kind of that it's just this, I can get out there, my front wheel gets off the ground, it's time to move on and so they will kind of quickly try to go through too much at once. Moving along too quickly and they will be on day 10, but really from the skill level, they are back on day 3 and they have just tried to advance too quickly.
And then there’s the other extreme, I think there's people that will focus on one lesson for weeks because they don't feel like they look like you do when the lesson is done and so they don't want to move on until they look like you. And I realized early on that you through years of practice and dedication and everything, you are at a level that most of us are never going to reach. And so again, like you just described, I try to pare it down to the essence of what am I really supposed to be able to do at the end of this lesson? And then spend enough time on it that I get to that level, but not get so bogged down in it that I expect to look like you by the time that lesson was over.
Ryan: Great. Yeah. That's really good to hear and to know for myself and others that are watching these videos.
Ryan: That’s why it’s cool that there are others sharing their videos, just so everyone can see what it actually looks like to be in the process... So, once you are out and practicing, there's a certain… are you there? I think you froze just for a second. Seems like I might have lost you…... There you are. Little break there.
Jeff: Anyways I was just saying I love the videos that people share. I think they are…my preference is always if somebody's going to post a real question if they have a video I think it just makes it so much easier to see and then to share with them. And at the same time I love… because I've kept all the videos of me through every course, I’ve got just this whole catalog of me.
Ryan: Oh, cool.
Jeff: And I love going back and looking at myself, two months before and seeing how much I've progressed over time. And I’ve share a lot of that with my wife Shari, who is now delving into the courses so she can see it's not like I just was able to actually get out there and wheelie, or manual, or bunny hop. It took a lot of time and practice and dedication.
Ryan: Yeah. And that's the reality and I am curious because you just said that mountain biking is much more enjoyable. You can have for more fun than road riding in a lot of ways and so now there’s a certain level of frustration... that you’ve got to deal with when you’re doing skills practice, when you are working on a wheelie, or a manual, or bunny hop or even a track stand. It’s just going to feel awkward and nothing’s going to work, nothing is going to happen and it's not… it's not fun. And a lot of times, in situations, it's something else. Can you speak to that... that other aspect of skills practice that it isn't really fun but is somehow alluring?
Jeff: Sure. I think satisfying is a better term for me than fun when it comes to some skills practice. I think that everybody, no matter how good they are, no matter how much time they put in, you're going to hit walls. Whether it's on less than 1 or less than 10. No matter how good you've gotten, you are going to hit walls. There's going to be days that yesterday I could manual for a 100 feet and today no matter what I do, 5 feet and I am down.
And that is frustrating, but there's something really satisfying about you spent 10 days trying to do something that hasn't worked and then all of a sudden it clicks and you nail it! That's one of the most satisfying things for me. It's just kind of conquering something and that's sometimes what drives me to keep going when it's frustrating. And there are so many ways that I will approach those days, like maybe I'll just take 4 or 5 days off that skill, and it's amazing to me how sometimes that is just the key to success.
Jeff: Tried something a 100 times, every single day for an hour, you think I'm going to spend more time more time more time and all of a sudden you just take a few days off, you come back to it and it was like why couldn't I do this before? It seems so easy now. And then there are other days when I just feel like I'm not going in the house until I can wheelie 10 strokes in a row, so... And I'll spend the whole day. When I was doing the wheelie challenge there were some days the next day I would wake up just sore.
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: I didn't let myself stop until I got to a certain point. But there is something that’s fun when you can do the skill and there is kind of a level of satisfaction of along the way….
Ryan: It's a whole series of emotions and experiences. It is a package deal. You can't really have the full spectrum of the richness that comes from the whole process unless you're willing to go through those long efforts of zero results, or almost results that are worse than the previous practice.
Ryan: And the whole process of dealing with that is what leads to that satisfaction and to the fun once you actually have the skill... How about the…because of that sort of dedication you have, and the persistence you have, there are certainly some injuries that may have popped up, repetitive strain injuries. So how do you manage those in the process?
Jeff: Yeah that's a good question and there's no question there is an age factor to that, because I'm in pretty good shape but, sometimes there are days that I want to go out there and practice something for an hour and 15 minutes in I'm just sore and I need to stop. And I have been injured a couple of times actually, I don't think I've never sustained an injury, a side-lining injury, from the technical practices, but riding I broke a finger, clipping a tree a couple years ago and I had a sore knee for a while from poor peddling posture.
And those things are hard to deal with but I think from the daily practice there is no question that I don't care what age you are, if you get out there and bunny hop for an hour it's going to hurt. It's just some of these skills take a lot of physical effort and they're using muscles that I'm not…you are not used to using unless you're doing it all the time and you have to be willing to rest. I think that's one of the great things about RLC though, is that if I'm feeling hurt from bunny-hopping I can spend the next few days practicing my track stands or something else that doesn't involve that kind of effort of those muscles. So the variety helps keep things interesting also.
Ryan: Yeah. It's good point... The noticing, to be aware enough of your body to catch these, whether it's an elbow that's being overworked or muscles getting strained, or your shoulder, or back.
Ryan: To know when to stop practicing versus pushing through is something that for me though it has always been a little tricky just because my drive always tends to override the body cues.
Ryan: And that is something that's taking me a long time to figure out. I am still trying to work through it.
Jeff: So yeah it is challenging especially, like I said, I've never been a professional athlete but I've been a competitive athlete my whole life and the mindset particularly when you are younger and competitive is you work through it. It hurts but that's okay, you work through it. You get an injury but you have a team counting on you, you just keep doing it. And so there is this kind of mindset of working through pain but at the same time you have to develop that maturity to know that I just have to take a break right now or else I'm going to push it to the point where I'm gonna need six months off the bike, and that is not going to…who wants that?
Ryan: Yeah. I mean my elbow, I’ve got like repetitive strain. And it just… once you have pushed it for so long, as many people know it is just so hard to give it enough long term rest for it to ease up.
Jeff: Rest doesn’t come easy for people like us.
Ryan: No, it doesn't. So... I am also kind of curious. You became an ambassador while you were still also going through learning some of the skills, and working through some of the courses. So, I'm curious about just taking that perspective of guiding other members and also really trying to take on that role of helping them sort out and figure out what to do? Or what to try differently? How did that loop back to also support your own progression?
Jeff: It’s interesting. I think some of that comes down to my history off the bike, because I've been a medical educator since I graduated medical school and immediately started teaching medical students and I've been teaching physicians, young physicians, older physicians. One of the things that I've learned along the way is that we're always students. It doesn’t matter what skill level you get to you're always able to learn new things and grow and I think the ability to guide others and the ability to guide yourself are not always the same.
Jeff: When you asked me generously to participate as an ambassador, I was really excited to do that because part of it is because I do think that maybe through my history of education I can understand some of the things you're teaching, sometimes even before I mastered it myself. But also kind of helping to guide others, of watching their videos and reading the responses from you and other ambassadors has certainly helped me in my own progression. And so, even now I am an ambassador and I think I've been through every course you've done except I haven't completed the whole front wheel turns stoppies and things like that.
But it's helped me tremendously.. and develop my own skill and my own understanding of… it's one thing to watch you, which your videos are awesome, to watch you describe how to do things. But then when you're watching somebody else's video, when you're thinking well how can I help him do that better? You analyze it from a different perspective and then you take that back out the next time you ride and then maybe if I do what I'm trying to help somebody else figure out it'll help me gain understanding of my own things that I can change.
Ryan: Yeah. Sure. Yeah, yeah, that is pretty cool to see and watch that happen. It’s visualization. It’s just investing. You say that sometimes you can understand that the whole teaching protocol without actually being able to do it yourself, but you can understand all the elements and utilize that in how you crafts responses to other members. But the only reason that you're able to do that is because you have taken the time to really kind of think through it, and to visualize it, and to try to feel it in your own bodies. Is that a fair thing to say?
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. I think it is one of the advantages of me being a radiologist is my whole life is built around visualizing things and taking an image of one thing and trying to figure out how to manipulate it and evaluate it. And one of my favorite parts of see in every single…I think I have told you this before, but in every single course you have at least one lesson that encounters visualizing. Watching you do it, watching pros jump, things like that. Shaums is a big component of visualization in your teaching which I think is just tremendous, because I've kind of adhered to that kind of philosophy teaching my entire life that it is one thing to do the physical act but it just kind of picturing…
Ryan: It’s one thing to do a physical act but it's another thing to... that kind of where I lost you.
Jeff: Okay, yeah. I think there is certainly a lot of physical components to doing the skills, but I think in everything we do, visualizing, being able to see how things are supposed to look in your mind and actually communicate that to your own body to get out there and do it is really critical.
Jeff: And I think the way you put that into the course is really wonderful. So few teachers in anything realize how important that is.
Jeff: Shari was a competitive Olympic athlete and I know talking to her that that was a big part of Olympic training was visualizing things. How they were supposed to look being able to see yourself doing it and then doing it.
Ryan: Right yeah, yeah absolutely! I know you have…yeah you have thought about visualization quite a bit and even linked it into your work. I remember you shared some visions for education around visualization, some projects you were working on personally as well. Is there any other ways you can expand upon this topic? I mean this might be a good way to close as well, just to share because it is crucial.
It is one of the most important aspects to learning and also I find it quite enjoyable and satisfying in and of itself and for a sport like mountain biking it is a sport that has risk and going through a process in your mind-eye to work out some of the kinks before you put your physical body into play can actually save a lot of… can prevent injury and reduce the amount of practice and prevent certain mistakes from happening that could end up causing a crash. So... it is a tremendously powerful practice. And so since you have spent some time on it, is there any other angles or things that you might share or offer here?
Jeff: Sure. There is a couple of perspectives I can share on that. One is again away from the bike, but in medicine, in radiology a lot of what we do is actually doing procedures on patients, putting needles in them, catheters, wires and things and trying to teach that to a student or a resident who is trying to learn, sometimes they get bogged down in the x-rays and the CAT scans and all of that and a lot of times before they will go in and do it on a patient with my help, I'll have them just stand outside the room and picture how it's supposed to go.
Picture the liver that we're going to put a needle into and picture in your mind what things I want to avoid hitting with my needle and what things do I need to try to make sure I get to. And see themselves doing it in their mind before they actually get in there and do it. And it makes a huge difference. I've seen doctors who can't really figure out how to do a procedure, watch me do it and then imagine themselves doing it and see how the anatomy is supposed to work and a week later they will nail it and they will be able to do it correctly.
That's away from the bike and for me on the bike, one of the things that I have done with each of your courses as I have gone through them is the night before I'm going to go out and do lesson 10 tomorrow, the night before I watch the video several times to get an idea of what it is supposed to look like. And then as I'm drifting off to sleep I will be picturing myself doing a manual for 20 feet and pumping and breaking and all of those things. And I will often end up dreaming about it during the night.
And so, by the time I get to it the next day, I’ve really got a vivid picture of how it is supposed to look and it has definitely made by progress better. And sometimes when I've been not doing skill for months, I'll just go back to your visualization lesson for that skill, the manuals is one of my favorite ones. And I just watch the visualization video a few times. And now that you have got it on the app, take it out with me and look at it on my phone right before I do it. And then just picture it and get out there and do it. And I definitely think it translates into faster progress, less fear and more fun doing it that way.
Ryan: Yeah. That's so cool. That's great. Thank you. And it’s also I think one thing... just last though on that, is just the fact that you have taken ownership of your skill progression and development. Sure there's the course and there’s some structure and there is the visuals and a process, but it's your engagement, really taking ownership of the process and fueling it with your own desires and goals.
I think that is perhaps, again…there is no other way to get through a course, or to learn a skill. It cannot be done just half-heartedly, or passively, or you cannot just rely on the videos to work some sort of magic on your body and mind. It's that real alive, active engagement, and you clearly have that and I remember it really showed in your comment interaction, in the wheelie challenge, we had some great conversations back and forth.
Ryan: Because you dig in with some specific questions and because you are actively trying to figure things out in your mind after the practice and you’d come back to me, and we go back-and-forth a few times and you're doing the same thing now with hundreds of members in all the different courses. It is really cool to watch that from my perspective now. I am just super grateful for that. It is pretty cool to have your vibe weaved into RLC.
Jeff: Thanks. It has just been an honour to be a part of it.
Ryan: Cool man. Well, I think this might be a good way to wrap, eh?.
Jeff: Okay sure. Yeah. One message that I can leave to anybody listening is that the courses take a lot of work and dedication, and anybody that thinks that it's going to be easy because they have videos, it's not.
Jeff: But at the same time anybody can do it if they put in the time. If there is anybody that thinks that they are too old, or they just don't have that natural ability, I think that's just... it’s not true. If I can do it, and I think I am pretty good at it now, anybody can do it if they just pay attention to the course, follow along in order and then put in the time to do it.
Ryan: Yes, totally agree. The wheelie gene. Do you have the wheelie gene or not? That's a misinformation there.
Jeff: Yup. I agree.
Ryan: Cool. Awesome. Great. Right on… I’ll stop this. [end]