I often get asked how I got to where I am now. The road to gym ownership is not an easy one. And to start this story, I have to start with my road to learning to love strength training and fitness.
I began lifting for sports (mainly football) early on. I was shaped by my dad working out while I grew up, but I did not get really into lifting at all until high school football. It was late in my high school career that I began to find the weightroom to be my passion. I had 4th period weight training which in the spring would roll right into staying after school to continue lifting. Before I could drive, I would lift in class and then drink a Gatorade on the bus ride home and then go into our apartment gym to work on more lifting (which was just mostly pump sesh on machines) and then do some plyos and agilities on the tennis courts. Transition to college life, and getting into my Freshman year, I really found that training was becoming more and more important to me. As the year progressed, I happened to stumble upon some Exercise Science research and that sparked my passion and led me to transfer to study that specifically at Appalachian State (instead of being a basic Biology major where I was at). This was a pivotal moment and one of the best decisions in my life.
During my time at App State is when I found strength sports and my real love for training. I had come off of a major-ish knee surgery and hung up the football cleats and was buried in classwork. One of my classes was a Practicum, or I just say “mini-internship” in which I worked at Stratiform S&C in Boone, NC. I wanted to find out what running a gym would be like and also experience the “more serious” training environment than in the campus gyms. This is where I met the owner and now one of my best friends and “big brother” Travis Gardner. Travis has helped me out so much and taught me a lot and has been a level head of guidance for me over the years. Along with Travis, we had an amazing training crew that took me in with open arms that are not only friends but have been great mentors as well. There is a special Thank You to all these guys that can never be met. Derek Wilcox, Justin Lovingood, Garrett Huffman, Jared Skinner…along with the rest of the Strat crew as well as the Tribe Powerlifting crew and the Biltmore Fitness Powerlifting crew and the Jeff Crouch Throwing Family have all helped spot, load, give advice, push, lift up, motivate, and guide my strength sport journey. I learned about and competed in every strength sport in this time with the Strat OG crew, and found a love in the Highland Games as well.
Fast-forward to graduating grad school at App State. Uh Oh. Now what. Well I ended up moving home to live with the parents to finish up my actual course work with an internship at a local high school. That summer I was the head strength coach for all sports but varsity football and had a blast with it. If only it paid! During that time, and some through college, I began collecting some equipment and my dad and I had put together a small garage gym. I began training some clients on the side and continued to do so after the summer internship. Starting that fall, I filled up most of my time working at a commercial gym all while continuing to train a few clients in the garage. Below is the start of it all – a 1-car garage gym setup.
But we still were getting it done! The commercial gym experience was really eye-opening to how “messed up” the general population really is. Being our most-qualified trainer in the gym, I was fortunate (sarcasm and not) to be given the “hard” clients, or the clients that presented the most issues when signing up. Now I did have some clients that were perfectly ok, but I was challenged daily to broaden my knowledge and work on the fly with a lot of my clients. Before my time ended at the commercial gym, we had moved to adjacent neighborhoods and my parents allowed me to upgrade to the 2-car garage! More space brought more and better equipment.
I learned so much in this year in the commercial setting but I felt that I was not supported enough by the higher-up staff and decided to branch out on my own. With my parents letting me work in the garage full-time, they then also allowed me to essentially have the full 3-car space. We had some storage for tools, yard work equipment, and various other garage things, but it truly became the gym. Being in a smaller space and trying to add more and better equipment was a challenge. However, this has molded my gym environment today. Everything gets put away properly and everything has its place. You have to do this in a small space constantly. It is also more professional. Here is what the 3-car space ended up like near it’s end.
During this 2-year chapter of being self-employed, I also had the good fortune to be asked to intern with the Carolina Panthers as a part-time strength coach. for 2 seasons. Coach Kenn is an amazing strength coach and has been in the game a long-time. He has probably forgotten more training knowledge than I have had the chance to learn. It was an experience that will take another post to capture and one that I will never forget. It was a huge time of growth for me as a coach and business owner. And it led me to a major crossroads and now probably the biggest decision in my life to make – what to do with my life.
At this time (beginning of 2017) I had lost a lot of sleep trying to figure out what direction to take my life. I was offered a more extensive position by the Panthers but my personal business was what was paying to bills and was needed to pay the bills. However, my parents were moving and I needed to try and salvage the business for find other means to pay the bills to supplement the schedule that I would have had with the Panthers. When it came down to it, a future in either collegiate or professional strength coaching with possible unforeseen job changes and moves was not the move I was ready to take at this point in my life. 2-5 years earlier and I might have been in a different mindset. So began and also ended the search with finding my first actual location for what is now Strength Empire Gym. This is an entire post on it’s own (or more) for what it is like finding a suitable location, as well as cost and all the other factors involved in this decision-making process. But I have tried to now turn Strength Empire into a facility that can as closely resemble what my dreams are as possible with the resources and budget at hand. It has really grown into something awesome. It’s hard to put into words when people or new potential clients and gym members ask. The environment is professional and welcoming – the gym members all help each other out and everyone wants to help being out the best in everyone else at the gym. We have a great equipment setup as well as plans to grow and support our members. I love this gym family and can’t wait to see what it will grow into in the years to come.
If you have read to this point in this post, I thank you for your interest. I hope you enjoyed this and are ready for more content like this in the future. And I hope to see you in the gym!
Strength Empire Gym – Competition Tested. Record Proven.