Orthodox Therapist Goes For a Million

Michael Neuman on the “Million Dollar Mile” obstacle course. Courtesy of CBS

Miami Beach resident takes his shot Saturday night on CBS’ ‘Million Dollar Mile.’

Prior to competing on the CBS show “Million Dollar Mile,” Michael Neuman asked his rabbi a million-dollar question: If his yarmulke fell off in the middle of an obstacle, should he stop and pick it up, even if it cost him a victory?

“I had to know the answer,” said the 25-year-old, who will appear on Saturday night’s episode at 8 p.m. “I once did an [obstacle-course] Spartan Race where [my yarmulke] fell off and I stopped to get it, and I lost because of it. The answer was that on the show, I’d have to stop and pick it up if it fell. It’s better to be a Jew first and an athlete second.”

On “Million Dollar Mile,” the show developed by NBA star LeBron James, competitors have to complete six obstacles over a mile in order to win the full prize money, but they have the option of stopping after each one to collect some cash.

“To be on TV is so important,” Neuman said. “It’s great to show that Jews are proud and strong and can be top athletes.”

The Miami Beach resident was inspired to do obstacle course competitions after hearing a Holocaust survivor speak. He said he asked her what to do about new waves of anti-Semitism. Her response? Speak up and do something that is a kiddush Hashem, or a public act of a good or honorable deed that is a sanctification of God’s name.

Ring cycle: Neuman in training. Courtesy of Michael Neuman

He began competing in Spartan Race, a competition that varies in length with such obstacles as wall crawling, crawling under barbed wire and others which include carrying heavy objects. He said he was the first Orthodox Jew to finish in the top three in one of the races.

“My mom came to watch my first race, and I was carrying a big bucket of rocks — like 100 pounds — up a mountain,” he said. “My mom says, ‘He can carry this bucket but he can’t take out the trash.’ Since then, I made it a thing to take out the trash.”

Neuman was home schooled by his mother. He said the experience was unique and empowering. He earned his master’s degree in social work from Barry University and developed what he calls Movement and Active Psychology, which he uses with his clients. He believes traditional therapy in an office is often not enough.

“Why are we applying psychology on a couch, when we can go for a run or throw a football around?” he asked rhetorically. “Why are we talking to a kid about being bullied instead of taking him to a gym to do curls and push-ups and then talking about it? When someone can talk about something difficult from a place of strength and positivity, the sky’s the limit for healing.”

He said he was greatly inspired by his father, Gary, a psychotherapist, a rabbi and a noted author who has appeared on “Oprah.”

Neuman said he basically had no life while training for the CBS show and was determined to make the most of it. At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, he was in the gym six hours a day for six weeks and ate almost no fat other than some Greek yogurt. He’d burn about 2,000 calories during each workout, he said.

“The odds of being an Orthodox athlete are not that high,” he said. “Hashem only gives so many of these opportunities, so you have to do the work. It was very tiring but it was worth it. I’ve been lead on a cool and exciting journey I could never imagine. And I am super grateful to make a kiddush Hashem. I hope to inspire kids that are watching.”

Neuman follows Akiva Neuman (no relation) and Jesse Orenshein, two observant Jews who competed on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.” Neuman said that while the episode will air while it is still Shabbos, he knows some will DVR it or watch clips online after.

Courtesy of Michael Neuman

He said he is a terrible dancer but at weddings, when the bride and groom sit on chairs and people honor them by doing a wild move, he has a go-to move.

“My shtick is I get a jump rope and will do a push-up and jump up when the rope goes under me,” he said. “It’s a fun thing. You gotta make the chasan and kallah [bride and groom] happy.”

Neuman is single and says that speaking to people about dating, there is an important thing to remember.

“Dating can be like an obstacle course,” he said. “You prepare, you work hard and sometimes think you fail. With shidduchim, people get so stressed they sit with their arms folded and sometimes forget to have fun. People should always learn from their experiences and shouldn’t look at themselves as failure’s but rather it all being part of Hashem’s plan.”

Neuman said he’s unsure if being on the show will help his dating prospects.

Would he ever take a date to an obstacle course gym? “I don’t know if it would be appreciated, but if she was up for it, I would be down,” he said.

Neuman said despite the physical power needed for obstacle courses, the mental battle is the toughest. “You just want to quit,” he said. “You’re in pain. You’re wheezing. It’s hard to take. But you have to have the mental fortitude to push through and have the mental grit. Do you quit or keep going?”

He said he briefly spoke with host and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who he said “was very cool and very nice.”

Neuman isn’t allowed to say how he fared on the show, but can divulge one secret: “I had about eight bobby pins and two clips,” he said of his effort to secure his yarmulke.

Million Dollar Mile

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