Q&A With CrossFit Champion Rich Froning – Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast


Hey, welcome to the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. Today’s guest is a world-class athlete, a role model to millions, and a leader’s leader. He is the first person to win the Fittest Man on Earth four times. Get ready for a powerful interview. Today, we’ve got Rich Froning. (uplifting music) This is the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. I’m super honored you joined us again for another episode of the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast, where we honestly believe that everyone wins when the leader gets better. If you’re new with us, we’ll draw up a brand new teaching on the first Thursday of every month, and I would love to invite you just to subscribe. That way, the podcast will come directly to you wherever you consume the content, and if you’re interested in diving deeper into the content, we have a leader’s guide that’s available to you. You can go to life.church/leadershippodcast and just give us your email. Then, every month, we’ll send you questions and more content that you can go over if you have a group of people or just wanna study it on your own. Now, I believe that leadership is holistic, and today, we’re gonna talk to somebody who is one of the most elite athletes in the world. We’re gonna learn how not only to get better physically, but there are principles that will bleed over into our leadership, so I got to sit down recently with Rich Froning, so sit back, get ready to take some notes, and let’s hear from one of the best of the best. Hey, Rich, it’s a massive honor to have you with us. Four-time world champion CrossFitter, is that right? That’s correct, yes, sir. And also, four times in the team competition as well. Yes, sir, yep. Just wrapped up the fourth about two weeks ago. So, I’m crazy excited to talk to you. As an athlete and as a guy that also is passionate about trying to maximize the potential of my body, and just as a leader, I don’t think I’ve been more excited to talk to anybody, so I appreciate you taking time to inspire us today. I’d love to dive into a couple of your quotes, and then just kinda see where this goes. One of the things you said that I love, Rich, you said, “The human body is an incredible machine, “but most people only get out of the machine “what their minds allow them to.” Can you unpack that a little bit for us? Yeah, I think, of all the success that I’ve had competing, there’s been guys or girls that are probably fitter than I am and have had more, I guess, genetic talent than I did, but they didn’t have the mental capacity to push to those limits. I think that’s something that is either learned over time or something that you’re born with, and some people just can’t handle that, and that’s something that I’ve had, I guess, the perfect storm of upbringing and everything else, all combined into one, that’s helped me get to this point. So, the way I always said it kind of in teaching is that your body is capable of more than your mind understands. How do you…
For sure. What do you say to yourself when your mind, to push your body beyond what it’s done before? Yeah, you know, it’s actually funny. There’s almost like a transition that’s happened. You know, in the beginning, you kinda run from that pain and try to stay out of it, just because it’s not a comfortable position to be in. I’ve been doing this for 10 years, but I’ve been training my body physically since I was, what, 12, 13 years old? And so, as you gain some knowledge and some experience in those particular feelings, that you just know that, hey, when it hurts, that’s when the good stuff happens. I’ve had a couple, two years ago, I tore my meniscus, and so it took a while to heal and it was frustrating, and the pain was not a pain that was a good pain, you know? I found myself, this season, being able to push hard and enjoy the physical pain of training because I didn’t have the physical, stabbing pain in my knee. I was almost thankful that I got to go to that point, that I knew I was getting better because I didn’t have the pain in the knee. And so, it’s a cool maturity level, to kinda look back at the different levels and the different things that I have kind of led one into the other, getting to this point. I love going to the gym. I worked really hard on my diet, and I read that you actually eat some pizza. Yeah, I do eat pizza every once in a while. A lot of people talk about, in a documentary where I was also, I think, at that time, what was I, 27, 28, something like that? So my metabolism was a little better. The last couple years, I’ve realized I’m 32 now. I’ve had to reign in that diet a little bit, but yeah, there’s definitely some days that I enjoy some pizza.
So, listen, man, I’m 51, and I’m not listening to that 31 whining stuff, so, man, you just don’t even. Keep going, lifting your little weights, and quit your whining, all right? I got it, I got it. Yep, yep, all right. I understand. I’ve worked out with some CrossFitters, and I’m actually never trained consistently in CrossFit, but what I understand is that the community aspect really seems to be a driving force behind it, that we’re in this together. You said this, Rich. You said, “Strong people don’t put others down, “but they lift them up.” Tell me how that works in leadership and in CrossFit. How are you helping other people get better as a leader? That’s definitely the draw of CrossFit is the community aspect of it. The combined suffering, the day in and day out of having people that are gonna push you, but also people that are there that have your best interests in mind, and so, for me, personally, when I stepped aside from individual competition, you know, I grew up playing team sports. That was my deal. I never really played any individual sports, so for me as an individual, it was tough, and moving to the team side when we had kids, that was a big driving force in that, but to be able to share that with other people, you know, the highs, the lows, the day in, day out. You see the sacrifice, the gist. You know, everybody’s moving towards a common goal, and for me, personally, my leadership style is more of a lead by example, or I’m gonna be right there with you, suffer with you. I’m never gonna ask anybody to do something that I wouldn’t do myself, and so, my parents were the same way growing up. We had chores, and at the time, I hated it and was frustrated. You know, when I’d have friends over, my parents usually, they didn’t care. My friends were gonna be out there helping us, but my parents were always right there next to us doing the same thing with us, so I couldn’t really fault them, so I think that’s really transferred over and been my, I guess, driving force of the type of leader that I am. Well, it seems to me that is such a great strength of those in the CrossFit community, is that everybody’s getting better, and that’s the thing about leading teams. We always say everyone wins when the leader gets better, and I’d love to kind of get into your mind and have you help us. You’re obviously one of the most disciplined people on Earth. Your training regimen is scary ridiculous discipline, and you said this, I like this quote. You said, “In training, you listen to your body. “In competition, you tell your body to shut up.” Can you talk about how you grow in that kind of self-discipline as a leader? Yeah, I could probably grow a little bit better in the listening to my body side of things. You know, it’s taken me a couple years to kind of figure out, hey, when things start to ache a little bit, maybe I should have those things looked at or taken care of ahead of them turning into an actual injury, but I’ve done a lot better of that in the most recent years. But yeah, in competition, you’re gonna bleed and you’re gonna do whatever you have to to win, and sometimes the body wants to tell you to slow down a little bit, but you gotta kinda push through. And luckily for us, the type of training that we do and the incredible athletes that we have here push each other to levels higher, a lot of times, than what we do in competition. You know, this past year, I feel like the group that we had, it was a lot of selfless individuals, a lot of high-caliber athletes. Every single day was some type of competition, and we wanted to beat each other so bad that, when it came time to compete against other people, we were light years ahead of everybody else. So, you know, you just, some people are born competitors, and I was one of 32 first cousins on my mom’s side. 25 of us are boys, and literally every family get together was some type of competition, and that definitely laid the groundwork for the type of competitor I am today. Well, I think your wife said that you’re kinda crazy competitive, that anything you do is a competition. Yeah. Let’s say there’s someone that’s more of a collaborative leader, but they actually would benefit from being more competitive. What advice would you give to someone who’s coming to the gym or maybe in their first time as the leader, what would they do to see the benefit of competition and use it in a way to make a real difference? Yeah, that’s something that’s tough for me. You know, the last couple years, I’ve had to step back and try to figure out a way to relate to those type of people, ’cause for me, competition is just who I am, whether it’s in athletics or in business. Competition, it’s just the way I was grown up, and so, for my wife, is one of those that she could care less about competition, so it’s something that I’m still actually working at, trying to relate. One of the ways we talk about it here when we’re working with people is sometimes a common enemy unites, and so, if we can find something that we are combating together, that’s one of the greatest forces of uniting a team. And then, in competition, too, like in our leadership, that doesn’t necessarily mean that someone loses, but what we wanna do is we all wanna win, so if we can get better than we were, that kinda helps us drive us with that competitive nature. I like one of the answers that you gave in an interview question a while back, when someone asked you what are three tips to improve their strength, and so, what are three tips? And you said, “Consistency, consistency, and consistency.” I think that’s true in every area of your life and leadership. Tell me, just very practically, what does consistency look like for you in your life? Yeah, I think it’s finding, it’s almost that, you know, we were talking about earlier, being uncomfortable. Find things that are going to challenge you every day and consistently get into those things that challenge you. For me, one of the biggest things, stepping outside of athletics, was public speaking. I can’t do it. I hated it in the beginning. You know, 10 years ago, if you’d have told me, even we were doing this right here, I would have told you you’re probably crazy, interviews, anything like that, but you know, it took a couple years of doing those things and not turning down, whether it was speaking to small groups or speaking to kids or whatever it was, doing those things, and it’s helped me in many other areas as far as business goes, and I think that’s consistently getting outside your comfort zone and doing those things that you don’t wanna do is gonna help ya. So, Rich, one of the things I admire about you is that you’ve stayed at the top of your field year over year over year, which is really, really hard to do, but then, you shifted from just competing individually to competing as a team, and you certainly recruited great, world-class athletes, but there are other great, world-class athletes you’re competing against, and yet, somehow, you brought the best out of them and you won year over year over year. What would you say that you did consistently to inspire them, to bring the best out of them? If you’re talking to a leader in any field, what do you do consistently as a leader to get the best outta your team? Yeah, I think consistently, like I said, we had good people around, so that wasn’t the problem, that wasn’t the issue. You know, nobody really had egos. Everybody had the same common goal, and so, really, I think it’s that they understood that I wouldn’t ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do, and it kinda comes back to a question we talked about earlier, but I really think that is one of the biggest things, is you’re not gonna, you know, there were days that we didn’t wanna train or people didn’t wanna do things, but they knew. And that also goes back to the consistency piece. I was there, day in and day out, and like I said, even on the days where I wasn’t physically, we all weren’t in the same spot, you know, I was telling them exactly what I was doing, and they knew that the work was gonna get done. And so, I think it’s more of a lead by the front, lead by example type. That’s my leadership style, when you boil it down. That’s what it always comes back to. Yeah, I think it was John Wooden who said, “The most inspirational thing you can do “is lead by example.” It’s close to his quote, and it’s obviously what you do. I’m gonna ask you a question that might be hard to answer, but I love any time that I get to talk to someone who’s at the top of their field, which you obviously are, and you’ve been there for a long time, there’s more than just talent, and honestly, there’s more than just hard work. There’s some intangibles that set the very best apart from the others. Without feeling like you’re bragging, can you tell me, like in your own life, what is one or two of those things that sets you apart, or you might even say in other leaders or top athletes you’ve seen. What are some intangibles that take an equally talented person and allow one of them to stay dominant for longer? Yeah, I think, for me, personally, it was a perfect storm of all those different things. Like I said, I’m one of a ton of cousins, and it was always, I was bred in a competition environment. That’s been my entire life. My parents were incredibly, they’re the hardest workers in the room, no matter what room you’re in. I had an incredible high school baseball coach, high school baseball experience, where we ran and trained harder. We joked that we ran more than the track team, but my baseball coach was all about mental toughness, you know, like getting us in hard situations and seeing how we performed, and I think it’s just, you know, I was a firefighter, also, for four years, so there’s just a lot of things that all of those things lined up. And then, kind of the icing on the cake is my faith. My faith is a huge part of who I am, and all of those things, I think, kinda combined into the type of athlete I am, the type of competitor I am today. I couldn’t really pull one thing outta there that really sets me apart. I think it’s just really kind of a mix of all those things and how they all work together to create the athlete or the leader that I am now. Well, you’ve had, really, an unparalleled run of success, but you didn’t always win. Can you tell me, Rich, about a time where you really were kinda crushed by your own disappointment and how you responded to it? Yeah, we don’t really talk about those second places very much. We try to hide those, but the first year, I found CrossFit in 2009. I had a professor that showed us CrossFit.com. We started training in July of 2009, didn’t really know there was a CrossFit games. Soon found out that you could compete in this stuff, and me and my cousin who started CrossFit together were like, “Hey, we should give this a try next year,” and the next year, I went to Sectionals, and it was one of the qualifiers and you had to be top 15 to go. And it was kinda on the way to spring break and it was one of those deals, we were like, “All right, if I’m not in the top 20 “after day one, we’ll go ahead “and get an early jump on spring break,” but we show up, and there’s 75 guys that look like they’re out of the movie “300”. And so, I’m thinking, “All right, we’re gonna get an early start.” After the first event, I’m crushed. I feel like I’m dying, and Darren walks up. He’s like, “Hey, I just checked the leaderboard,” and back then it was just a whiteboard, no crazy cool graphics or anything like that, and he goes, “You won that workout.” I was like, “All right, well, “I guess we’ll hang out for a little longer, then.” And so, I ended up winning my sectional, so I won my sectional, went to Regionals. That was kind of my goal that year, was to make it to Sectionals, or to Regionals. I ended up winning my region, went to the games, and going into the final event, final set of events, I was in the top, or I was winning. I was up by a couple points, and so, you know, I’m pretty fired up. The final event was this three-part series of different workouts and three separate scored events. Well, before that, they’d taken the top, I think it was 18 men and top 18 women, taken all forms of communication, locked us in this room, and six people would disappear and never come back, and it’s the first year. You’re starting to play a little bit of mind games. You know, I get out on the competition floor, and basically, the director of the CrossFit Games just smashed us for 30 minutes, three separate workouts. You know, I won the first workout, the only person to finish the workout, started the next workout completely trashed ’cause I went way too hard on the first, and then make it to the third workout. And so, that’s kinda where the story gets real good. There’s actually a YouTube video for anybody who’s following along that wants to watch this. It’s the final of 2010. And so, you know, I do the burpees part of it, and then the next part is the rope climb, and growing up, climb trees. We had a rope in our barn. I rappelled off of a cliff behind the house with a a garden hose at like 14 or 15, so didn’t think anything of it. Well, I go to climb the rope, and arms are completely shot. No arms left, and I’m like, “All right, let’s gather ourself.” And I’m watching around and people are using their feet, and the only thing in the back of my head is my dad told me growing up that using your legs was for sissies, so I never learned how to climb a rope with my feet. Thanks, Dad. You know, so I’m trying to climb the rope, fail, trying to climb the rope, fail. There’s people in the crowd trying to show me how to hook my feet into the rope, and finally, I had rested, I guess, long enough that I make it up 20 feet, touch the beam, and as I’m coming down, I make it like one or two hand over hand, and then I’m like, “Oh, I’m pretty close to the ground,” and I just let go. Oh! And you know that feeling, that you fall and you’re like, “Okay, I’m about to hit the ground,” and you don’t hit the ground? That’s what happened, and so I’m pretty sure my pride hit first, then my feet, then my butt, and I ended up making it up the rope two more times. Finished the workout. They take us back, don’t tell us anything. We have no idea what the score is or anything like that. They take us back into another small room and make us go through a drug test, and so, I’m sitting there, mentally, mind games. You know, did I do enough on that first event? Did I not? Walk out of the drug testing to the awards ceremony, and the first time that I see that I got second, and I’m, in my mind, failed, as I see on the $25,000 check that Graham Holmberg had won the CrossFit Games. And so, for me, it was a tough pill to swallow, you know? For at least, to that point, 10 years, physical fitness, competing had kind of become my identity. CrossFit had become who I was and I’d put so much into that. People might laugh at this, but getting second was the most miserable experience I’d had in competition to that point, and for the next couple weeks, couple months, I didn’t wanna compete, I didn’t wanna work out. And so, to have that thing that I had put so much into taken from me was tough for me, and so, not to get super in-depth spiritually or faith-wise, but luckily, I had a good group of guys and some people that asked me some hard questions. You know, why was I living the way I was living and what was I living for? I had let my identity become a worldly thing, and so, after that, I kind of re-prioritized everything and put it into my faith and saw that the gifts that I’d been given, my way to give back was to glorify God in all that I’d done and tell as many people as I can. And like I said, not to get too in-depth faith-wise, but that’s really what turned it around. Well, that’s just so powerful, and so, you won, you won, you won, and then you wouldn’t win, and it’s a crushing disappointment. Your identity’s wrapped up in it. Can you talk to a leader right now, Rich, that’s discouraged and maybe feels like, you know, I was top of the game, now I’m not. I’m falling behind, I’m too old, I don’t have what it takes? What would you say to them? Maybe something like you said to yourself that allowed you to regroup and come back even stronger? Yeah, I think it’s really taking kind of an introspective look and looking at those things, and trying to figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing, and are you doing it for the right reasons? For me, personally, if you can get outside of self and do it for somebody else, for me, that works great. Try to figure out what are those things that motivate you, but also, like I said, what’s the end game of why are you doing what you’re doing. This isn’t your identity or who you are. It’s moving forward. Yeah, that’s powerful, I think that’s hard for a lot of leaders really to embrace, because we tend to project our identity into what we do, into our performance and such, and then we have to manage the expectations. I imagine you’ve won so many times that there’s probably massive expectations people put on you. How do you deal with that external pressure of outside expectations? Yeah, I think external expectations are hard, but I feel like the internal expectations that I put on myself and our team are even greater. You know, every year, I train to win the CrossFit Games. That’s the one and only goal. It’s a blessing and a curse. You know, we finished the CrossFit Games two weeks ago. The next day, I’m already thinking about, all right, what’s the plan for next year? How do we get back to this point? It’s almost hard for me to enjoy even finishing and winning, you know? But that’s not an external pressure. That’s an internal pressure, and so the external pressure is just something you deal with. But for me, personally, the internal pressure is even harder and outweighs the external pressure. So, I’d love to get in your mind, Rich, and let’s say you’re at the end of a competition, it’s really, really close, you think you’ve got what it takes, but it’s really gonna take a special effort. Can you tell me what goes on in your mind? We all have kind of an inner monologue going at different times. What do you say to yourself? Yeah, for me, I know that, throughout the year, we’ve trained or I’ve trained as hard as physically possible, as hard as I, you know, this year, especially this year, this last year has been, I’m gonna use that as the example, but I know for a fact there’s nothing more that I could have done. There’s nothing more that we could have done as a team, so knowing that is pretty freeing, in that it’s the outcome. As long as we do exactly what we know we’re capable of, it’s gonna be okay, and like I said, I keep coming back to it, but the faith perspective of it. It matters. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. How I finish doesn’t define me as a human being. It’s hard for me, maybe, in that moment to realize that, but I know, down the road, it’s something that it’ll be okay, and that’s not what defines me as a human being. However, I’m not, like I said, I’m not the greatest of losers, and so, I’ve said it a couple times, it’s not that I enjoy winning, it’s that I disdain losing more than probably anybody. For me, it could be one-on-one and nobody else is here watching, but it’s embarrassing to lose at anything, and so, it’s just who I am. Well, your faith inspires me, and on our podcast, we have listeners from all different backgrounds, different spiritual beliefs, but when I look at you, I look at a guy that really is secure in doing what you’ve been created to do, and so, there’s joy in it, there’s fun in it, there’s life in it, and your success in whatever you do, that ultimately doesn’t define who you are. And it really shows in what you do. I have a theory, and as a leader, what I wanna do is I wanna bring my best in everything, so I wanna be always growing mentally, I wanna be growing spiritually. I need strong relationships. I actually believe, I’m 51, and I wanna bring my best physical game, meaning I need every bit of physical endurance, strength, stamina to do what I do, and so I don’t wanna do it half-heartedly. We’ve got a lot of listeners that email and ask questions like, “What’s your diet like? “What’s your workout like?” What advice would you give to somebody who says, “I really wanna improve physically, “but I don’t even know where to start.” Give us something tangible to get our mind around, and we’re gonna take the first step. What do you say, Rich? Yeah, so, I mean, for me, personally, obviously, I’m a huge proponent and huge supporter of CrossFit. I do believe in what it is and how great it is and how accessible it is to most people. However, I understand that some people either that’s not what they wanna do, and so, my thing is find something that you enjoy that is physically active. That’s kinda the first step. You know, there’s gonna be something out there for everybody. You know, like I said, you may not enjoy CrossFit, but you may enjoy Jiu Jitsu or yoga or something like that. Like I said, I’m not one of those that says there’s only one way to get fitness. I think, personally, as long as you enjoy it and as long as you’re getting some physical benefit out of it, then let’s go ahead and do something. So, for me, personally, that would be my number one goal is try a couple different things. If you find something, stick to it. If CrossFit is what you’re wanting to do, there’s so many different. You know, if you’re not comfortable enough to do it at a gym, there’s a lot of people, including ourselves, that we do online, at-home programming. There’s all kinds of videos on YouTube. CrossFit.com’s a huge wealth of knowledge of that type of thing. And then, if you wanna find a gym, go looking for an affiliate. If you type in CrossFit, I’m sure in whatever town or city you live in, there’s probably one or two, and go kinda watch. Well, as a pastor, what I try to do is lead people spiritually, and I know that any real success happens in community. It seems to me that CrossFit really excels in creating that community, so I applaud what you all and all your peers have accomplished in helping get people in better shape, because a win in any area of life compounds into wins in other areas, and I honestly believe you improve your diet, it improves your confidence. Improve your workout, improves your confidence. Read a book, improves your confidence. And when we win in one area, it helps us win in all areas. I’d love to ask you, really, just a couple final questions. Before I ask you the big one, if people are looking for you, wanna find out more about you, where’s the best place for them to get in touch with you and follow you? Yeah, I mean, obviously, social media’s a huge part of life nowadays, whether we like it or not. So, Instagram, it’s just @richfroning, Twitter, the same. I don’t do as much tweeting, I guess. And then, we have a YouTube channel that’s probably, if you wanna see daily insights of kinda what’s going on, that’s a little bit more frequently updated than all my other social media. It’s just CrossFit Mayhem on YouTube. And then, crossfitmayhem.com. Like I said, there’s all types of things that we do on there as well. I admire your faith. I admire the way you care for your family, what you’ve done with your children, great marriage. Any time someone stays at the top of their field, the best of the best of the best for multiple years, that takes something really, really special, and so, hats off to you. There’s a drive, there’s something in you that really is admirable, and out of all that you’ve accomplished, which is so much, I’m curious. In the gym, out of the gym, on the field, off the field, wherever, what would you say you’re most proud of or most thankful for? I mean, really, three things if you look at it. It’s my faith, obviously, ’cause I would not be where I am without that faith, and faith in Jesus and that He died for us, and that’s my go-to, is that, I said earlier, my talents that I’ve been blessed with are from Him and my way to glorify Him is that. And then, also, like you said, my wife, she’s an incredibly supportive, incredibly humbling. You know, I have the tattoo, Galatians 6:14, “May I never boast anything “except for the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, “which has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” And I say that reminds me every day, when I see that in the mirror, to stay humble and not to boast in anything, but my wife also reminds me daily how awesome I am not, and so she’s a good judge of that and keeps that great. And then, my kids, you know? There’s nothing like, just before I came over here, I was working out in the basement, and Lakelyn looks at me and she’s, “Can I work out with you, Dad?” And I’m like, “Of course,” and you know, I’ve never once. She’s five, so I don’t tell her anything to do, but she just wants to do what I’m doing, so she’s running around on the treadmill, swinging on the rings. She’s got a little kid’s barbell, and she looks at me and she’s like, “Dad, pretend it’s the CrossFit Games,” and I’m like, “Too soon to pretend it’s the CrossFit Games, “but yeah, honey, let’s go.” And so, you know, it’s incredible and incredibly rewarding to see the things that they pick up on that I’ve never once told them to do any of that stuff. So, it’s pretty cool. And then my son walks in, and he sees me picking up and putting down the barbells, so of course, he just picks it up and throws it, picks it up and throws it, and he’s two, so that type of stuff are the things that I live for. Yeah, well, congratulations on being successful in the areas of life that really count most, and not just being one of the top elite athletes of the world, but being a great man, great friend, great dad, great husband, and your humility shows and I appreciate the way you inspire so many of us. So, thank you for being on today. Appreciate it. And I wanna tell all of you, hey, let this inspire you. If you’ve got something that you wanna do, something you wanna try, go ahead and take that step. If you get better in one area, you’ll get better in every area, and I wanna tell you, thank you for being a part of our leadership community. If you’re new with us, we will drop new content on the first Thursday of every month, and get out there and mix it up. Have confidence that there’s more in you. You can make a real difference, and don’t feel like you have to be perfect. Don’t feel like you have to get it right. We always say this, that people would rather follow a leader who’s always real than one who’s always right. Thank you for joining us at the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. If you wanna go even deeper into this episode and get the leadership guide or show notes, you can go to life.church/leadershippodcast. You can also sign up to have that information delivered straight to your inbox every month. In the meantime, you can subscribe to this podcast, rate and review it on iTunes, and share with your friends on social media. Once again, thank you for joining us at the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. (uplifting music)

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