In the blink of an eye, one of the most influential people in my adult life is gone.
Back in 1990, I was working in a bike shop that has since gone out of business. This monster of a guy would come in every once in a while and talk to Todd Schmidt, one of the racers/mechanics at the shop. One day we got a delivery: a brand new Colnago Master X Lite frameset. It was the coolest bike I had ever seen. Turns out this was a bike Todd was building up for the big guy, Jeff Littmann. Jeff was still transitioning from bodybuilder to serious cyclist, so he looked like the Incredible Hulk compared to all the other noodle-armed cyclists we knew.
Todd introduced me to Jeff, who was running all of the Vic Tanny clubs in Wisconsin. This was the pinnacle of the 90’s fitness craze, and there was no doubt Jeff was a rock star on the scene. I asked Jeff if I could interview for a position at one of the clubs, and a few weeks later I walked into Vic Tanny in Cudahy for the first time… as the Manager.
Jeff taught me about personal accountability and responsibility. He was a man of few words; you knew you were doing things right when he didn’t say anything, and if he opened his mouth, you were in trouble. The few times Jeff did say something positive to me, it stuck like glue, and I hung on to it for weeks. He walked the walk; working in the Clubs around the clock, 7 days a week. If the toilets in the club were dirty, he cleaned them – then whoever was supposed to have cleaned them got an earful. He was a polarizing person, everyone had an opinion about him, but he was always Jeff. I have met very few people in my 20 years since then that are that true to themselves. Jeff taught me to stand up for my values, and be true to myself. Jeff giving me that chance also allowed me to meet my best friend, Mark Lampe – a guy cut from the same cloth.
Littmann began training with Kurt Kuettle, a trainer at the clubs who had been a strength coach for the Brewers. Jeff would bring in a seat post with his seat on it, and you’d see them wheel a stationary bike into a tiny office and close the door. Minutes later Kurt would be screaming at Jeff as he put him through interval after interval after interval for what seemed like hours.
Over the years, Jeff’s 100% commitment to fitness never wavered. His life revolved around it until his very last memory. I’m certain that I will never meet another man like Jeff – the world truly lost a superstar today.
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