alex wisch holding sign about mental health
Alex Wisch promotes mental health (Credit: Alex Wisch)

Picture a ceramic bowl. While relatively strong, drop it on a hard floor, and it’s likely to break.

That bowl is emblematic of a person dealing with mental health issues, like our featured adult athlete, Alex Wisch. Alex suffered debilitating mental health struggles throughout his life.

Now, picture that same ceramic bowl, but put the broken pieces back together with gold. Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that does just that–it celebrates imperfections and believes they create an even more beautiful and resilient design than the original piece.

Alex is like that ceramic bowl, but instead of gold, his more beautiful and resilient self was born from making himself a better athlete and an outspoken proponent of destigmatizing mental health challenges.

Things Are Not Always What They Seem

If you met Alex at a party, you’d probably think he’s the type of guy who’s had everything go his way in life. His outward confidence, good looks, and physically fit body veil his past of being bullied and suffering from anorexia, profound depression, suicidal ideations, and other struggles.

Alex fought and clawed his way through the dark tunnel of his childhood and early adulthood to the present. He is now an elite athlete and a mental health advocate who offers executive and performance coaching through his company, Wisch Fit.

In 2021, Alex created and participated in something he called Unbreakable Mission, sponsored by Spartan Race, where he completed 1,000 strict pull-ups, 2,000 pushups, and 3,000 squats in 10 hours. Yes, you read that right.

While that is a feat in and of itself, Alex upped the ante and wore a 24-pound vest to symbolize the weight of mental illness.

He also leveraged the visibility he knew this challenge would bring to raise more than $37,000 for a charity that supports veterans’ mental health.

A video of Alex’s Unbreakable Mission feat

Alex’s Early Life

Alex grew up in Massachusetts, where his parents let him experiment with playing various sports.  He also spent part of his childhood living on a boat. That made entering the sport of sailboat racing at age seven a natural progression.

He also jokes about his time living on the boat shining a light on both his ADHD and his athletic abilities.

“My dad would try to make [me and my brother] do work on the boat,” Alex explains. “My brother would do the work, but I couldn’t sit still. So I probably first learned my agility skills from dodging my dad.”

Early Struggles

Alex’s first real challenge with mental health began around sixth grade. He describes himself as a heavy kid who was bullied, which spurred body image issues. Those body images turned into a bout with anorexia.

Foreshadowing how he would deal with things as an adult, Alex turned a negative into a positive. He got into weightlifting and to build muscle instead of fat.

“There was this kind of switch where I’m like, ‘If I’m going to put on weight, I’m going to put on muscle.”

Creating An Outlet Through Sports

Adding muscle encouraged Alex to try a new sport–wrestling. Wrestling and sailing became his two main sports, each providing Alex with a different source of pleasure. Wrestling was a great physical outlet for any pent-up anger, while sailing was an absolute passion.

“Sailing was my biggest outlet in life. When I went sailing, I could go in the water and be away from all triggers–from anything–and it was just a whole different world. And that’s what I loved about it,” Alex shares.

Enter The Season Of Darkness

At the surface level, Alex’s life appeared perfect. He was 18 years old, ranked third in North America as a sailor, and was attending college at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania with a 4.0 GPA.

But by his sophomore year, he was also burnt out. And depressed. And suicidal.

“I found myself so depressed that when I went to go sailing–the thing I absolutely loved doing–I was literally having thoughts of wanting to end my life,” Alex shares.

It was then he realized he needed to drop out of school and get help in order to save his own life.

“If I couldn’t get enjoyment–actually the complete opposite–for the thing that brought me the most joy in life, something is super, super wrong,” says Alex.

Climbing Out Of The Darkness

Alex Wisch indoor rock climbing to battle mental health issues
Alex Wisch rock climbing (Photo credit: Alex Wisch)

Alex sought therapy and eventually found his way back to sports. His climb out of depression was both literal and figurative. 

Sailing didn’t give him the same joy it once had when he tried to return to it, so he tried something new–rock climbing. 

“With sports, you have such a sense of community. And when you’re pulled out of that, you lose family,” Alex says, referring to the sailing community he was no longer part of.  “You lose a lot of your identity because your identity is not just tied in with who you are, but who you’re with.”

But Alex found solace in the mental and physical aspects of rock climbing, and especially in his newfound community. He credits that community with further improving his mental health.

Going The Distance

Recognizing the transformative power of sports and exercise, Alex continued blazing his path. He became a personal trainer, using what he learned in his healing process to coach others not only physically but also mentally.

Alex did everything when it came to athletics, from participating in and training other athletes on American Ninja Warrior to competing in obstacle course racing (OCR), including Spartans, and even winning ultramarathon OCRs.

But there was a cost to training so hard. Alex tore both adductors, forcing him to sideline his efforts.

He felt the familiar pang of depression. But he didn’t let it get the best of him this time.

The Resilient Pivot After Setbacks

“Resilience is super important. Learning how to pivot, having resilience, and looking at things that might be seen as adversities as opportunities,” Alex says.

With that mindset, he pivoted and got back into sailing. Now, Alex relied on his upper body to sail and train with the America’s Cup team while still recovering from his adductor injury.

The team didn’t raise enough money to compete, so he pivoted again and got into CrossFit. Then COVID hit, and he pivoted once again and began training for the Unbreakable Missions challenge.

What’s Next For Alex?

Fitness Will Remain A Constant

Alex plans to continue pushing the limits of his athletic abilities. His current goals are to deadlift 600 pounds and to break a world record by rock climbing the most vertical feet in 24 hours.

“When you’ve gone through the darkest of dark places–and I know I’ll never go back there again,” starts Alex. “But when you have such contrast in your life, and you choose to do something physical that causes pain, the idea is that I get to choose. I’m not forced into a dark hole.”

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Alex continues, “Regardless of the physical pain, the mental pain I went through for days and months on end is not comparable. That’s my edge. When it comes to fitness, I know I can push myself through almost anything.”

Alex Wisch doing pull ups
Fitness is an outlet for better mental health (Photo credit: Alex Wisch)

Promoting Mental Health Will Also Remain A Constant

Alex plans to continue his coaching work well into the future, giving his clients the counseling and the tools they need to remain on track with their career and athletic goals.

In the next couple of months, Alex will also launch a podcast titled “Death By Pretzel: The Untold Story of Mental Health.” It will feature interviews and discussions about topics like psychedelics in the treatment of mental health.

Alex says, “It’ll be educational, destigmatizing, and entertaining all in one.”

Alex sitting at a chess board with a glass of whiskey in a suit
Alex offers executive and performance coaching to help others (Photo credit: Alex Wisch)

You’re also probably wondering what inspired the name of the podcast. Alex was eating pretzel sticks while watching a movie where Vin Diesel killed someone with a teacup.

“I’m in such a dark place in my mind eating pretzel sticks and literally thinking about how I could end my life with a pretzel stick,” Alex explains. “It goes into the absurdity of how twisted the mind gets. There’s no logic behind it.”

But in typical Alex fashion, he’s turning a negative into a positive.

If you’re interested in reaching out to Alex, you can find him on LinkedIn or through his Wisch Fit coaching website.