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Bear Crawled a Marathon (with Devon Lévesque)

Today we’re talking to Devon Lévesque, a trainer and fitness influencer based out of Jersey City, New Jersey. Devon is probably best known for — and I promise I’m no exaggerating here — bear crawling a full marathon. In about 22 hours this past October, Devon — who already held the world record for distance in the bear crawl — bear crawled 26.2 miles and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for FitOps, an organization dedicated to empowering veterans to pursue health and fitness careers. Devon — whose father was a professional bodybuilder and whose mother was a pro arm wrestler — joins us to talk about his unconventional upbringing in wellness, motivation and preparation for his record breaking bear crawl, and much, much more.

I want to take a quick second to shout out Today’s episode sponsor, MANIMAL, America’s Longest-Lasting Wrist Wrap Since 2010. Manimal has over +1,000 5-star reviews and trusted by athletes and coaches who want to get stronger in the gym, minus the wrist pain. Want to put MANIMAL wraps to the test? Visit Manimal.com and use code BARBEND for 15% off, backed by a Lifetime Guarantee.

Devon Lévesque BarBend Podcast

(We may receive commissions on items purchased through links on this page.)

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Devon Lévesque about:

  • Recovering from his record-breaking bear crawl, and why nerves in his hands need to regrow (2:02)
  • Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge at night (4:50)
  • The inspiration behind his marathon bear crawl and finding a cause to raise awareness and money (8:30)
  • The goal behind FitOps Foundation (13:00)
  • Devon’s unconventional upbringing in fitness (16:20)
  • “Accidentally” getting into personal training (19:40)
  • A wellness-first investment strategy (23:30)

Relevant links and further reading:


Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

Adrenaline was just kicking. It was super slippery because it’s mainly wood on the bridge. You have to watch every single step that you take, not only with your feet, but both hands as well. You’re so used to focusing on two feet. Now you’re focusing on four different parts of your body hitting the floor.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.


Today I’m talking to Devon Levesque, a trainer and fitness influencer based out of Jersey City, New Jersey. Devon is probably best known for — I promise, I’m not exaggerating here — bear-crawling a full marathon. He’s the only human to do it.


In about 22 hours this past October, Devon, who already held the world record for distance in the bear crawl, bear crawled 26.2 miles and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for FitOps — an organization dedicated to empowering veterans to pursue health and fitness careers.


Devon, whose father was a pro bodybuilder and whose mother was a pro arm wrestler, joins me to talk about his unconventional upbringing in wellness, motivation and preparation for his record-breaking bear crawl, and much, much more.


I do want to take a second to shout-out today’s episode sponsor, MANIMAL. America’s longest lasting wrist wraps since 2010. MANIMAL has over 1,000 five-star reviews and is trusted by athletes and coaches who want to get stronger in the gym, minus the wrist pain.


Want to put MANIMAL wraps to the test yourself? Visit manimal.com and use code BARBEND for 15 percent off, backed by a lifetime guarantee.


Now let’s get to it. Devon, thanks so much for taking the time to join us. You are almost two weeks removed from your marathon bear crawl. You’re the only person in history to even attempt something like this, 26.2 miles. Two weeks later on, how are you feeling? How are your hands? How’s your body? What’s the recovery process been like?

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

Overall, I feel amazing. My hands though, I think there’s a little nerve damage. I’m trying to keep it as healthy as possible and move them around and get some blood flow going. My body feels good. My hands still a little iffy.

David TaoDavid Tao

I was watching on the attempt. I was tuning in seems every hour. You were going for well over 21 hours, and you had an awesome support crew around. You had a carefully planned route.


As far as the planning and the reality, did anything surprise you along the way? Did anything get out of whack? Was it pretty much as you expected over the course of that full day?

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

I started training to this about 12 months out. I like to give myself a pat on the back in regards to time management. I stick to my schedule, not only with training but in business as well.


When I told myself I’m going to bear crawl a marathon, the best way to do it was to break it down into sections and stick to the schedule and stay consistent, whether that was the 12 months leading up to it in training, and the actual day out. When you look at bear crawling 26.2 miles, it sounds super scary, and it’s very intimidating.


If you break it down into 18 rounds, and you look at it almost an imam, and you set a timer for every round, say 65 minutes, then you get done the round in 45 minutes, you’re like, “Dang. OK, I have 20 minutes to rest.” That is much easier on the brain from a mental perspective, and then, visually, writing it down. That’s what I did.


I also went into it with a non-negotiable mentality. Meaning, I did not let one negative mindset thought come into my brain at all. I told myself the entire time that I’m going to finish, and that’s all I was focused on. I was in this hyper-focused flow mentality.

David TaoDavid Tao

One thing I liked about your planning…If anyone spends any time with you, they can tell you that you’re a very type A-person. Everything is scheduled. You have a plan going into anything, be it a workout, be it something on your business life which we’ll talk about a little later on.


One thing I thought was smart is you crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the night when it was not going to be full of tourists, when there wasn’t anyone on it. That was a cool thing to watch.


Tell us about that experience, bear crawling over the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m not sure if anyone’s done that before, but it made for an amazing visual. Did that part feel different than the rest of the crawl?

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

It did. That’s a good question, and I’m glad you’re pointing that out. I planned that exactly for that reason. We had to switch up the route a little bit outside the New York Marathon route because obviously we’re going through a world pandemic, and they can’t shut down bridges and what not.


I chose to go over the Brooklyn Bridge at that point, like you said, so there was no people. We left the 1 Hotel in Brooklyn. There’s a certain path you have to take to take the stairs up to the Brooklyn Bridge.


When I first stepped onto the Brooklyn Bridge, I stood up, shook it out, looked around me. There was about 30 people around me. That just gives you the chills right there. You’re looking at downtown New York City. You have the whole bridge in front of you. You have 30 people surrounding you. It was cold, it was about 35 degrees. [laughs]


Adrenaline kicked in, and I felt the support. I didn’t take too many breaks on that. I might have stood up one time, maybe twice, to take a photo with the group because it was an awesome scenery.


Adrenaline was just kicking. It was super slippery because it’s mainly wood on the bridge. You have to watch every single step that you take, not only with your feet, but both hands as well.


You’re so used to focusing on two feet. Now you’re focusing on four different parts of your body hitting the floor, whether they’re going to slip, whether they’re not going to slip, how much pressure you’re putting on your hands. That was the difficult part.


Overall, the Brooklyn Bridge, it was definitely a turning point in the entire race. I was excited to get up at Brooklyn. I told myself, “I’m not going back to Brooklyn for at least six months.”


It was the first nine miles of the race. It was brutal. [laughs] I haven’t been back to Brooklyn since. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ll convince you to come back out. I’m in Brooklyn. Our office is in Brooklyn. We’ll convince you to come back out. Let’s rewind a little bit. This wasn’t your first tango with a long bear crawl. It wasn’t even your first…


Not only do you hold the record for longest bear crawl having bear crawled a marathon, you already held the record by a big duration for the most distance bear. You’ve bear crawled more than basically any other human in history. That’s pretty undeniable at this point.


What inspired your feats of endurance, and why the bear crawl? Take us back to the origins of that, if you don’t mind.

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

I was in England on a Gymshark campaign with this fitness expert, this guy Ross Edgley. Ross Edgley, if you don’t know who he is, he swam around Great Britain in 157 days. He does some pretty inspiring things testing the body out.


He made a good point. He’s like, “Rather than people focusing so much on filters that they have on Instagram, they should focus on doing something to impact the world in a positive manner.” It just clicked that I want to tell my kids that I did something cool and for a purpose, rather than having a cool filter on Instagram in front of a mirror.


We started to brainstorm. He’s like, “I’ve seen you bear crawl a lot. You should try to bear crawl a marathon.” I’m like, “What?” [laughs] We’re in England, in the Lake District. If you’ve ever seen the Lake District, it’s a gorgeous. There’s no technologies. You barely have any cell phone services. It’s just lakes and mountains. It’s gorgeous.


I started bear crawling around the lake. I was like, “I might be able to actually do it,” in my head. I didn’t say it out loud. Then, by the end of the trip, him and I came to a conclusion that I’m going to do it. We first said we’re going to do the London Marathon and then came up with the New York because that’s where the majority of my followers are from.


We did that, but I came back to America. I told a couple of people, and 2 people turned into 5 people, 5 people turned into 10, and then everyone found out that Devon was going to bear crawl the New York Marathon. There was no turning back at that point. [laughs]


In sync, I went to this foundation — it’s called FitOps Foundation — and I met about 50 veterans there. I was there for about three days. They all told their stories that night about what they’ve gone through in the military, what they’re going through at home nowadays.


What they were talking about, and the mental struggles they are going through, and trying to find purpose again and what not, clicked in my brain as well. Something I went through when I was 16 with my father, when he took his life when I was 16. It all merged. I wanted to do the bear crawl for a purpose, and it was a good recipe. That’s where it came from.


One thing led to another. I started doing a mile, and then two miles, inside the gym. Then I moved to treadmills. I got up to about five miles. The first five miles that I did, I tweaked my wrist, and I was like, “I don’t know if I can do 26.2,” to be honest. I kept pushing.


Then I moved to a football field. I started doing laps around the football field. Once I got up to about seven miles pretty comfortably, I then moved to the cement around the football field, and started wrapping my hands accordingly and taking care of it.


It’s just consistency. Too many people look for an easy way out, even in the fitness world. What can I take? What’s going to help me get in shape in a week?


There’s no secret, it’s consistency. It’s doing it, getting up. If you do curls every day for 12 months your biceps are going to get bigger. It’s inevitable. There’s no secret sauce to it. You’re being consistent. You’re breaking your body down, you’re building it back up. That’s what I did.


I continued to break it down. If I was sore, I let it recover for those couple days, whether I’m taking my BCAAs, whether I’m getting massages, whether I’m sitting in the sauna, acupuncture, biopuncture. I ended up getting stem cell at one point. It’s breaking your body down and building it up. That’s the consistency of it is what led me to complete it.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ll get back to that in a second. First a quick word for our sponsor, MANIMAL. MANIMAL makes wrist wraps, lifting straps, apparel, and more.


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Lift strong, lift long, and start today with MANIMAL. Visit manimal.com and use code BARBEND for 15 percent off. Now let’s get back to the conversation.


Let’s talk a little bit about the reasons behind why you’re doing this. Obviously, it’s to do something cool. You want something where you can look back in 30 years and tell your kids, “Hey, look what dad did.” You were raising a significant amount of money in a significant amount of awareness for several different causes over the course of the marathon.


One thing I thought was neat was as people could follow along on Instagram where you have a pretty significant following, they could also very easily donate, and you had different charitable organizations that you were repping at different parts.


I don’t know if you’ve shared it publicly yet, but how much did you end up raising? What were some of the charitable endeavors that you ended up raising money for?

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

It was only one foundation that we raised money for. There was different sponsors that sponsored the race. Maybe that was where the I guess confusion, but not really. It was FitOps Foundation.


FitOps, we take veterans, we put them through a three-week training course. They come out with certifications in the fitness world. They come out with marketing knowledge. They come out with business knowledge. Anything that they need to succeed in the fitness world, they get in that three-week course. Then they go on to the world and we help place in the jobs.


A lot of veterans lose purpose when they leave the military. They don’t know what to do. They maybe can’t get a job. A lot of the same pillars that are in the military are in personal trainers, whether it’s being organized, whether it’s having a fitness-driven lifestyle. A soldier makes a very good personal trainer as well. That’s where the foundation is.


It costs $3,000 to put a veteran through the foundation. There’s thousands of veterans trying to get into this foundation, so that’s what I was raising money for. We ended up raising the day of, I think the number was around 150,000. We’re still waiting on some money to come in.


Then, John Cena, he made an announcement to match up anything up to a million dollars. We’re waiting on that number, but it’s around 3 to 400,000 mark that we raised for the veterans, which is really cool.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s fantastic. How did you get John Cena involved?

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

John Cena has been a part of FitOps. He’s a big supporter of veterans and what we’re raising money for, the cause. Obviously, he saw the bear crawl and whatnot, and he wanted to donate.

David TaoDavid Tao

He’s certainly someone in the fitness space who is known for putting his money where his mouth is. It’s all fantastic to hear he was on board.


Thanks for running us through a little bit of the why, not just the what you did, but the reasoning behind it and FitOps. We will include more info about FitOps in our post on BarBend corresponding with this podcast, as well as the episode description, so folks want to learn more about an awesome organization.


I want to change focus a little bit to you in fitness. You haven’t always been Devon, the fitness influencer who bear crawls a big distance or does crazy feats of endurance. You have a background in hospitality, in restaurants, and in nightclubs.


Tell us a little bit about how you got into the fitness space. I find that’s always very interesting for people who start off and build careers in other industries that might not seem like they’re directly related to health and fitness.

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

I started in the fitness space from a really young age. I was automatically implemented into it because my grandfather was a professional weightlifter and bodybuilder. He was Mr. New Hampshire in 1956. My father was a professional weightlifter and bodybuilder, and my mother was a professional arm wrestler.


I have four sisters. They all played sports. I played sports ever since I was five years old. I grew up with a massive gym in my house, bigger than our living room because fitness [indecipherable 16:31] lifestyle literally [indecipherable 16:34] the amount of vitamins that I would take growing up, my family’s all about natural.


I grew up on a farm in New Hampshire. We have grown chickens, and I was outside on the trampoline every day. I was never allowed to play video games. I was always active. My life has always been a fitness-driven lifestyle.


I never knew that you can make a career in the fitness world, to be totally honest. My father owned a construction company, so I always help him out with that, making money by the hour, and scrapping metal, and doing whatever on job sites.


I then went to a military academy. Played sports there, succeeded pretty well. We ended up winning a national championship in football. Played baseball. Out of there, I got a scholarship to play football and academics at Long Island University, so I did that.


As you can see, a trend. I’ve always had fitness in my lifestyle, I had to. I love it. It’s inevitable. It was never a question. It came so natural. It wasn’t, “I want to be in the fitness.” It’s, I wake up, I brush my teeth, I worked out. It was my whole life, that’s how it worked. I never thought twice about it.


When I was in college, I was at a military academy for high school. [laughs] When I got to college I wanted to unleash myself. [laughs] I started getting into nightlife a little bit more, and bartending, trying to make a little extra cash in college; bar-backing, whatnot.


I ended up dropping out when I was a junior. I got linked with EMM group, which is like [indecipherable 18:11] . They’re a nightlife company. I got thrown into the wolves and started managing nightclubs when I was 20 years old. Did that for about three years, and then got into my own things.


I enjoyed the hospitality industry. I love taking care of people, and showing them a good time; just talking with people. I look at myself as a pretty personable individual. I like talking in general and helping people out.


At that point, when I was in the restaurant industry, there was a couple things that happened. If anyone has ever been in the fitness industry, it’s tough. There’s a lot of moving parts.


There was a point where I got to make a decision of do I want to stay in this industry or do I want to switch? I sat down with a guy. He was like, “What do you like to do?” I was like, “C’mon.”


He’s like, “I see you in the gym every day. Why don’t you get in the fitness industry?” I was like, “I don’t even know where I would start that.” [laughs] He’s like, “You should start posting your workouts,” and so I did.


Then someone reached out to me and they were like, “Hey, I see your workouts online. Would you ever consider training?” I’m like, “I don’t know how to train people. I played sports my whole life. I can throw you through some sport workouts, but…”


They’re like, “No, I want to learn some things from a sports perspective, just be around your energy.” I’m like, “Cool.” I started working out with them. I wouldn’t like sit there and train them, I would literally sweat with them, encourage them, and talk to them about life.


This specific person was going through a divorce at the time. He was in not a good place in his life. In three months, he ended up losing like 60 pounds. He got through his divorce, and he found a new girlfriend. His whole life changed. I was like, “This is awesome.”


Then another person came along, and another person, and I kind of became this life coach, workout partner for these people. I think the big differentiator on why I got so busy quick is the hospitality part.


I would listen to these people. I would take them out for tacos. I would chat with them on the weekend. We’d go have a drink. It wouldn’t be, “OK, sit there. Watch, and do curls for an hour.” I would physically workout with them. I would physically take them out to eat. It was a whole experience.


It’s fun for me. I didn’t feel like I was working. It turned one thing into another. Some of my videos online started getting reposted, whether it was Barstool or ESPN, and some of these bigger accounts, and my following started growing.


I never intended to be an “influencer.” I was just posting my workouts, and I think they were untraditional, whatever the word is. They’re just different. That’s what caught people’s attention.


Overall, I have a fitness-driven lifestyle. Fitness is always going to be a part of my life. I think it should be a part of everyone’s life. That’s the point I want to get across. You can be a part of multiple businesses. You can continue to do your job. You can continue to do whatever you want in life.


Just like you brush your teeth every day, you need to focus on your health every day. You need to work out every day. It needs to be a non-negotiable mentality. You can’t try to convince yourself that you’re not doing it. It needs to be implemented to your brain that you’re doing it every day. That’s just my mindset.

David TaoDavid Tao

You don’t necessarily need to be bear-crawling a marathon to make it a part of your lifestyle. You can start in a more accessible way. Although, folks are oftentimes more capable than they might assume starting on their fitness journey, if it hasn’t been baked to them from a young age, as it was with you.

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

Everyone can get implemented. It’s just when, where, and how. I don’t think there is a certain way to do it. There are so many different ways to move around, sweat, and be healthy, whether it’s ballet, or Muay Thai, or weightlifting, or boxing — whatever it is — soccer.


There are so many different ways. You just have to find your rhythm, so try it out. Try as many different ways to move around. It might be hot yoga, whatever it is, just try it out. It’s fun.


I’m involved in quite a bit of businesses. Fitness is still a top priority regardless how busy I get. It’s a benchmark for who I am. I think it should be a benchmark for how a lot of people live their life.

David TaoDavid Tao

What are some of the business pursuits that are in fitness or correlated to fitness that you find yourself spending a lot of time on now?

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

Anything health and wellness, I like to hear more about. That’s where I get excited about. I’m not too excited about learning about the human body, to be totally honest.


I’m more excited about the marketing perspective and psychology a consumer thinks about, and how they buy a product, how they use a product, when they use a product, and how they’re going to talk about the product.


I come into companies with that perspective — how they’re marketing it out, how high their conversion rates are, how we can convert more, how we can better the product.


There’s two sides to it. You can market it from top of funnel and get a ton of people into a product. Then they convert. But if the product is not good, then you’re not going to have that returning customer. It’s looking at it from both sides, and that’s what I like to do.


Super Coffee does a great job. I just got involved in that company. We’re helping from top of funnel, driving people to the product. Then they get the product, and Jimmy, Jordan, and Jake have done a great job making a healthy option for coffee.


Promix, same thing. Promix, a supplement company Albert started. Great, great, great product. Coming in, helping him from a top-level perspective, top of funnel, and driving more traffic to it.


Whether it’s getting more influential people involved, whether it’s doing more partnerships, business development, stuff like that, helping out strategic partnerships with retailers, etc., helping out that top of funnel.


Same thing with Arina. Arina is going to be a fun, little project I know you talked to Albert on. Same thing. It’s top of funnel, driving people into it, and giving people a good product at the end of the day.


I try to test all products out for at least six months before I even get involved with them. That means tasting them, throwing them, trying to break them, as if I’m a consumer in Middle America, I’m a consumer in the middle of the world that knows nothing about health and wellness.


I’m going to try to break the product. I’m going to test, I’m going to try to find flaws in the product before I try to promote it. If you start pushing a product and you put all your eggs in one basket, and then all of a sudden the product is shit, then it’s a bad look on your reputation. I think your reputation is the most valuable thing that you have.


I try to test everything out for a minimum of six months before I push it. That’s what I do.

David TaoDavid Tao

I can imagine you during the training leading up to the bear crawl marathon, thinking of growth hacking and how to create consumer funnels while you’re trying to take your mind off of the pain for the next mile. That’s what was going through your head.


Then, you’re done with the training session. You’re like, “I got to write these ideas down.” That’s what I imagine happening.

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

You literally hit it right on the head. That’s all I would listen to. I would listen to a couple podcasts here and there. It was mainly books and different ways to market products better, to improve products, to get inside a consumer’s head.


I find it so intriguing and interesting. It ties back to hospitality. You’re doing it on a different scale. You want to make people happy. How can you make people happy from a marketing perspective and a product perspective?


That’s what it is. Rather than feeding them a burger at a restaurant, you’re sending out 10,000 units of something and you hope that 10,000 people are happy with those units. It’s on a different scale. That’s what makes me happy.

David TaoDavid Tao

I was very curious as to your educational background because you can always tell a boarding school kid by the intensity. I’m a boarding school kid myself. I went to a boarding high school. It wasn’t a military school at the time, but it was decades prior to when I went there.


There’s always a certain level of whenever someone’s like, “I went to college, and I partied a little hard. I let the beast loose.” I’m always like, “Are you a boarding school kid?” Because you can tell them from a mile away. I’m glad we mentioned that because it was something I was specifically going to ask you and you preempted it. You’re two steps ahead of me.

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

You’re definitely not excited to go to a boarding school. I wasn’t pumped about it when I was 16 when I went. I was crying when I went. [laughs] I was like, “Why am I going here?” Overall after the two years there, it sets you up for…It’s a different mindset.


You’re listening to someone that’s not your parent. Someone that you haven’t grown up with, a complete stranger, for two years, and you hope they’re right. You develop different relationships. You develop deeper relationships with people.


You become a little bit more cultured, especially at the military school I went to, because kids are from all around the world. You get to learn all these different cultures, so your mind opens up a little bit. Then your social skills, it obviously helps with that.


Military part helps from an organization standpoint, and time management. [laughs] If you’re late, you’re in trouble. You’re doing tours or you’re marching around the [indecipherable 29:24] fields for hours, which sucks. [laughs]


Attention to detail is probably the biggest thing I learned for sure. There’s no stone unturned. You have to focus on the littlest, tiny things. We had to make our sheets perfect every single morning. If you didn’t, then you’re in trouble. The attention to detail has definitely helped carry over into business ventures for me.

David TaoDavid Tao

Where is the best place for people to keep up to date with what you’re doing, the next way you’re going to challenge yourself? I’m not going to put you on the spot and ask what it is, but I know you’ve already gotten something cooking in the back of your head. I can see the gears turning.


Also, what’s the best way for people to keep up to date on business ventures, any other projects you’re involved with?

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

Yeah, for sure. You can follow my personal Instagram, which is my first name, last name. For business stuff, it’s DML holdings, you can follow that Instagram, or dmlholdings.com.


I’m constantly putting up new innovations we have with companies we are involved in, or new products we have coming out, or athletes we bring on-board, etc. Those are probably the two best spots for sure.

David TaoDavid Tao

Devon, I appreciate you taking the time. It’s been fascinating to learn, again, not just about what you’re doing but the reasoning behind it, a bit more about your background, a lot of which I didn’t know. I went into this on the same level as our listeners. It’s been a real pleasure. Appreciate it, man.

Devon LévesqueDevon Lévesque

Dude, I really, really appreciate you having me on. You have a great thing going with your podcast and your company and everything.


Your community is awesome. I hear nothing but good things and I’ve told a couple of people I was going on your podcast, and everyone was ecstatic about it. Congrats on all your success as well.

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