You made some questionable choices growing up in Virginia and then followed your mom to Iraq to work on logistics as a civilian contractor. How did that experience change you?
That’s putting it lightly. I started smoking cigarettes at age 9, pot at age 12, and drinking at age 13. It escalated from there, and when I was 22, I went to Iraq after my mom, who took a job there a year earlier, convinced me that it would be a “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” So I gave it a try. After two weeks I had an epiphany during a mortar attack. I decided that I may die in some situation that I have no control over, so I should start taking responsibility for my own life.

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What is it like being under fire?

It sounds like when a car backfires, except you realize it’s a rocket and you have no idea where it’s going to land. Your cortisol levels are off the charts—I did everything wrong the first time. I jumped out of bed and realized that you should always sleep with clothes on. So now I’m trying to put clothes on and have no idea where to go. The sirens were going off, my walkie-talkie was going off, and I just stood waiting to figure out what was going on. I learned very quickly what to do.

In your book, The Badass Life, you talk a lot about forming good habits. What is the key to sticking with a routine?

You have to think about it positively. You have to see food as something that is going to nourish you and make you feel better and make you perform better. Versus, “I can’t have that.” Also, when you’re going to try and stick to a schedule, recruit a buddy for accountability. Go ahead and put those class times in your schedule so it’s set. And bring your workout clothes to work so you eliminate any opportunity for you to bail out—no excuses come with preparation.

You’ve been involved with CrossFit training since 2006. How has it influenced your life?

I can push through a lot more than I thought I could. For example, it’s a big thing in CrossFit to fall down after a workout. I don’t. I call that surrendering. You’re not allowed to fall in my gym—CrossFit Invoke in Raleigh, NC. Occasionally, I’ll add something in at the end of the workout that’s not on the board, and I’ll hear, “Oh, my God, Christmas, that wasn’t on the wall!” And I’ll say, “Exactly. That’s called life.”

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Can you remember the moment when you adopted that mindset?

The 2010 CrossFit regionals were when I discovered my ultra-competitive side, or as I like to say, it was the day my baby monster was born. The event was a kettlebell snatch and muscle-up combination, and I was in the zone. I wasn’t worried about anything or anyone else. All I wanted to do was consume the soul of the workout.

So are your parents superfestive people?

I was actually supposed to be named Jessica Brooke. But my mom had a really hard pregnancy with me and afterward told the nurse that I was her Christmas Joy, since I was born on Dec. 20.

What’s the best Christmas-related pickup line that a guy has ever used?

My girlfriend and I were at a bar one night, and an older black gentleman introduced himself. I said, “Hi, I’m Christmas,” and he goes, “I’ve never seen a white Christmas before.” I laughed so hard. His next drink was on me.