Which Pat Fellows do you know? Is it the salad shop guy? High school or personal running coach? Blogger? Rock star hopeful? Husband and father? Hugs + high fives creator? King of snark? Fitness and health advocate? FreshJunkie race guy? Dude who wrote a hilarious ad trying to sell a van? Writer of random text or Facebook messages (more on this in a minute)?
As I began envisioning this series and trying to figure out who I wanted to write about, Pat Fellows and his many hats came to the top of my list. I wanted to write about interesting people, and Pat is nothing if not interesting. Pat and my husband Brian go back to the early 1990s, when both worked at restaurants and ran in the same circles, so I’ve likely known of him, at least, for a while now.
I realized, though, that I don’t really know any of these versions of Pat very well, but he has a way of making you feel like you know everything about him. To wit: There is likely nothing I can write about Pat Fellows that he hasn’t already written himself. Nonetheless, I’m game to try.
He meets me at a local coffee shop one morning (I offered a Zoom meeting, to which he responded “In person. Please dear lord”). Human connections are important to Pat. Perhaps for this reason he assures me that the online version (and perception) of him is “much more snarky and harsher edged than I probably am. When you’re direct with no context, it comes across a little bit harsher.” He seems serious, and only minorly snarky. Definitely not as much as the online persona, but maybe he’s toning it down on my behalf.
I’ve read a lot of Pat’s blog posts, and I tell him how much I admire that he’s willing to put himself out there, to write about the tough stuff that many of us go through and think about but don’t put to paper: grief and loss, depression, a struggle to stay on track with fitness (or anything, really). Like most people, Pat feels that it’s easier to “write and share than it is […] to talk and share,” he says.
Pat’s written before about how men in particular don’t seek help if they’re feeling down, and part of what he hopes for in putting himself out there is to normalize these feelings. He hopes that readers can see him, someone who by all accounts has a pretty darned good life – he’s fit and active, with a job he likes a lot most of the time, and a lovely and loving family – and realize that these feelings don’t have boundaries.
“I’m pretty much an open book,” he says. “I truly do believe in putting it out there so that maybe somebody will read it and go, this is all right. It’s all right to feel this way.”
Pat hopes that his words might give someone pause and perspective. “It’s like you can be having the shittiest day in the world, and one little thing can make you stop and give you a ‘pull your head out of your ass’ perspective,” he says.
I want to know more about Pat Fellows, the writer. He says the first thing he remembers writing seriously was a stream-of-consciousness assignment in a high school English class. He cranked out five or six pages, writing for the entire allotted time, and he remembers the English teacher saying, “This is really good.”
Then, in 2007 or 2008, he started a blog, which he wrote off and on. Once, he says, he wrote for 27 days in a row, trying to build a writing habit. That started to feel like “status updates at the end of the month,” he says. “And I’m like, this is garbage. This isn’t what I’m doing this for.” Nearly a decade later, after his dad died, he took another stab at it, and in 2019 he wrote 200 longer blog entries. Now, he says, it’s “more on again than off again.”
He writes using an app called Flowstate, where you set a timer, and if you stop writing for seven seconds, what you already wrote disappears. (I’m breaking out in hives just thinking about it.) Some days, he says, he wakes up, writes whatever is on his mind, scans for typos, and posts. That’s it. “There is no plan; there is no writing it over two or three days and then expanding on it,” he says. “It’s a complete, concise thought. It almost always ends at roughly 500 words.” He adds that a couple of years ago when he wrote longer pieces, not as many people were reading them. (I wonder then, dear readers, if you have even gotten this far!)
That first blog came as documentation of what one might call an extreme athletic event. Pat is, after all, an all-in kind of guy. After spending the ‘90s “smoking nonstop, partying as heavily as I could, and [doing] every drug I was allowed to do without falling too far into the deep end,” Pat says he had kind of a wakeup call when he was 29, unfit, weighing 225 pounds. Rehabbing a snow skiing injury in which he tore up his shoulder, Pat returned to swimming, which he had done for a couple of years in high school.
And then, the epic event: Pat swam in the Gulf from Ocean Springs to Bay St. Louis, some 30-plus miles. Then, he became a triathlete. Thus began the chapter of his life that ultimately led to Pat the writer; the FreshJunkie salad shops; a race company that puts on a dozen races, including the Louisiana Marathon; and private and high school coaching.
Pat has a sort of anti-corporate, anti-establishment attitude that I admire (the genesis of hugs + high fives), and I ask him about it, about living life on his own terms, being willing “to just quit and do something else.”
“It’s like how [Americans] eat,” he says. “Everybody says, oh, well, this is just the American diet. This is how we eat. No, it doesn’t have to be like that. We go to work, and we work in cubicles. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“I’m passionate about people eating healthy,” he says. “I was a decent cook, and I figured out that I was really good at making salads, marinades, those types of things.” It’s really not about the salads, though, he says. It’s about creating a healthy lifestyle brand.
For Pat, coaching isn’t about the data. It’s about those personal connections I mentioned earlier. “Teaching them how to believe and teaching them to trust and be consistent, those are the things I think about as a coach,” he says. “And if I’m building a lifestyle brand, part of that lifestyle brand is enriching people and getting people to be better.”
Our talk turns to music, and, unsurprisingly, Pat’s desire to be a rockstar, even now at 50-something. “I’ve always wanted to be a rockstar. Even at my age, I’m like, I could still go on tour. It would be fun,” he says. “I love playing. I love performing. I think that’s a piece of me, the on display part” that he attributes to being an “only child and feeling like you needed to stick out.” Pat’s band, Meantree, was an alt rock band that played the LSU campus bar scene in the early 1990s, reuniting in 2021 to re-record their namesake album and a follow-up in 2022.
It’s the songwriting aspect of music that I’m curious about, having recently read Jeff Tweedy’s book How to Write One Song, which I mention. After teasing me that he picked Son Volt in the Uncle Tupelo breakup (it’s no secret that Wilco is my favorite band), Pat says that writing music is a “joy” and “completely different” from “regular” writing. There’s a technical aspect to it he describes, matching rhyme and meter and “do the words sound right in the count?” He adds that the combination of music and words helps to convey a feeling “without the words ever saying what that feeling is or what it’s about. One of these songs that I’m thinking of in particular, when I’m singing it, the feeling that I’m trying to convey is still coming out during that part of the song, regardless of what the words are.”
Sometimes, Pat’s writing is prompted by a word or phrase that sticks in his mind. Either he woke up thinking it or something conjured it up, like the time he was in Huntsville, Alabama, and an address popped into his head. “It was the address of this girl that I went to swim camp with when I was in fifth grade,” he says. And in true Pat Fellows form, he followed up that thought by reaching out to that girl, and by writing a blog post about it. Human connections.
There are all these facets to Pat Fellows, I say. Are they disparate, or how do they all work together? “In my brain, they’re all interlocked,” he tells me. “I don’t know that I’ll ever call myself an artist – titles for things kind of bug me as it is – but I think that anything you can pour creative energy into is making stuff and making something that people want.”
I ask Pat what it means to him that his son, Ian, is going off to college to run track, while his daughter Paige is a talented musician. “My wife and I are very thankful,” he says. “I mean, how special could that be? The two things that I have a huge passion for, I get to share with my kids.”
What else does he envision as a legacy, I want to know? And that human connection bubbles to the surface again. “If I think of you or I think of Brian or I think of anybody passing down the street one day to send that text to somebody, ‘Hey how you doing?’ Even for people I don’t know because everybody wants to feel like somebody’s thinking about them. And I think that if you have that to give that little snippet of a gift in a day, I think that’s a super cool thing,” Pat says.
“I find great joy in helping people improve in some way, shape or form,” he adds. “Whether it’s writing something they can resonate with, whether it’s helping them achieve a goal, whether it’s thinking about them driving through Huntsville and sending them an unsolicited message, because everybody wants to be thought of, right?”
Pat Fellows’ writing can be found on Substack: https://patrickfellows.substack.com/, with older posts here: https://www.patrickfellows.com/
Getting to Know is a series of human interest stories by Gail Suberbielle.