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by Ryan Freebing
Mike Bires is the owner of Nutrition Faktory, Munch Meals, Ambition Threads, and a host of other start-up companies in the Nashville area. He’s seen tremendous growth in a short period of time, opening 11 Nutrition Faktory stores in less than 16 months. But it didn’t always start out that way.
Mike grew up in a small town in northern Ohio with roughly only 13,000 people with a dad who worked his tail off at Ford Motor Company to provide for him and his sister. At a young age, Mike followed in his dad’s footsteps by getting a job at the local plastics factory hoping to save money for college. He started as a temp but a year later they interviewed over 100 temps for just 3 full-time openings, and Mike was one of them. “When I got that job, I thought, I’ve just gotten my dream job and I’m still thankful to have had that experience,” Mike remembers with a laugh.
“I have been fortunate my entire life,” Mike recalls, “and it started there at that factory. The supervisor at the plastics factory took me under his wing, and I tried my best to be a sponge, learning everything I could about the business.”
“Early on, I started breaking records on the factory floor, getting good feedback from my superiors and it looked like I was going to be there for the long haul, but one day I overheard a conversation about how the business was being run and it made me think a little differently. Essentially, even though I was doing great work, busting my ass and putting in long hours, if some of the guys in the ‘front-office’ weren’t, I could lose my job. So I quit and went to school. I didn’t want someone else’s actions controlling my destiny.”
“To earn some extra money while I was in school, I went to work at a local health food store and was blessed to have another great boss and mentor. The owner, Barry, taught me everything he knew about the industry.”
“Funny enough, people respected Barry so much that while I was still learning, when a customer asked about a particular supplement, I would just say, ‘Well this is what Barry recommends and they were good,” Mike laughs.
“I’ll never forget the one day an elderly woman walked into the store and was looking for something to help with her arthritis pain. I could tell she was in pretty bad shape. So I told her, ‘Well this is what Barry recommends.’ And I sold her a few items.”
“About a month later, the same woman came back into the store and asked specifically for me. Barry was shocked because no one had ever done that before. The woman said she was feeling much better, thanked me for the recommendation I had made and said that I had ‘changed her life.’ She had been going through a rough time and said she felt excited to get out of bed again. This was crazy to me that I could change someone’s life for the positive by simply ‘doing my job!’ This was the moment I fell in love with the industry.”
“Shortly after, Barry was so impressed with my willingness to take ownership and learn the business that he asked me if I wanted to help open another store. I was honored, said yes and within a few months this new store was already breaking sales records. A few months later, I bought the store that I had built and a few months after that I bought all of Barry’s stores. I was in my mid 20s and owned three nutrition stores in Ohio.”
“Eventually I decided to test what I had learned and packed up and moved to Southern California. It was a big culture shock, but I settled in soon and opened my own supplement store in SoCal. My goal right out of the gate was to sell national brand products at wholesale prices.”
“After some early success, I became good friends with the CEO of a top chain of nutrition stores in SoCal. He offered me the VP of Operations position over all of his stores in Southern California. I was ecstatic and I learned a ton about the industry while running 30+ locations, and I eventually became interested in the ‘brand’ side of the industry. Luckily I had great relationships in the industry and I became National Sales Director of a top brand.”
“This was another amazing experience as I learned so much about building a company and a brand. I also traveled all over and got to visit the top retailers in all of the top cities. It was great to be able to learn from the best retailers across the country. But again, I wanted more out of my career and I wanted to be a part of building a special culture.”
“At this point, I had to ask myself what I really wanted out of life and a job, so I quit in 2014, not really having a plan in place. All I knew was that I wanted the freedom and stability to work closer to my family in Ohio while controlling my own destiny and building my legacy.”
“So in October of 2014, I sat down with two of my closest friends to discuss working together on a brand, Motiv8 Performance. We started with one product and slowly grew from there. At lot of supplement companies were focused on the NPC and bodybuilding world, which is a great, hard-working group of people. But not many were offering products to people that also needed them, the ‘everyday’ person. We celebrated everyday people that were transforming their lives and were willing to share their stories with us. This resonated throughout social media so much that we had contestants from TV’s The Biggest Loser and American Ninja Warrior join our team. It was a great time.”
“I eventually found Nashville because one of Motiv8’s top retailers was based in this area, Mid 10 Nutrition. We came out to visit them and my girlfriend, Sonia, fell in love with the city and said ‘Let’s move here’ very nonchalantly one night,” Mike recalls. “Two months later, in December of 2016, we packed up and found a place in Murfreesboro.”
“When I got here, I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to do more to give back to my community. I noticed it was hard to find the top vitamin and supplement brands at low pricing here in Tennessee.”
“Given my experience, I opened a supplement store in Murfreesboro called Nutrition Faktory. I was buying direct from all the brand owners that had become my friends from my days in southern California, so our prices were much lower than the local competition and we even beat internet pricing.”
“Then on Black Friday 2017, I had someone come in and want to open a Nutrition Faktory store of their own. I loved the idea and our first franchise location opened in Smyrna in May 2018. Then our third store in Hendersonville opened in June 2018. Our fourth store was an acquisition of Mid 10 Nutrition in July of 2018 in Nashville. Then came Cool Springs shortly after in December and Cookeville in January 2019. We were really on the move.”
“Since then, I’ve met so many great people that I felt I could help which has led to other successful business ventures such as, Munch Meals, Ambition Threads, Ruck Nutrition, and the Protein Shack Shop. All have seen significant growth in just a short period of time. I owe all of that to the support of my team and the people that originally launched each business.”
“Overall my experience here in Middle Tennessee has been nothing short of unbelievable. Tennesseans are the best people I’ve ever met and they are the reason that we have built something so special in such a short period of time. I can’t wait to see what’s next, but I know this is crazy ride is just beginning.”
Throughout his time in Nashville, Mike has used his experience to better his community and those around him, whether they be in or outside of the supplement industry.
“We just want to be known as one of the better companies in town that surrounds itself with good people. The rest will take care of itself. That’s why we like to offer unique giveaways to our customers like Titans football tickets or we will take all of our ambassadors to a Predators hockey game. We’re a community, just like the rest of the fitness industry in Nashville and that’s what makes us grow. We want to offer the best service and best pricing to the best people we can.”
Like most of us, back in 2014 Thomas Stephenson was a typical 21-year-old. He loved playing sports and being active, was focused on school, and was anxious to show the world his talents and ambition. In many ways, Thomas had his whole life ahead of him. A cycling enthusiast and triathlon competitor, Thomas was in his final semester at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He had just finished managing a number of political campaigns for the election cycle that November. Despite big plans for a bright future, Thomas’s life would change on December 11th.
On December 11th, 2014, Thomas was involved in a fatal car accident when his truck was struck head-on by an oncoming vehicle on I-840, south of Nashville, Tennessee. Thomas’s truck burst into flames and flipped down the interstate the entire length of a football field before coming to a stop.
“Clearly in shock but conscious, my first instinct was to check my surroundings and see if I could get myself out of the car. When I tried to move, I realized much of my lower has been crushed during the collision and wasn’t cooperating,” Thomas recalls. A full diagnosis would later reveal Thomas had shattered his spinal column, crushed both feet and ankles, as well as sustained a broken femur, sternum, and clavicle.
“Thankfully, a good Samaritan, whom I still speak with to this day, helped pull me from the wreckage moments before my truck was fully engulfed in flames.” At 21 years old, Thomas had suddenly gone from a healthy and active triathlete to a trauma victim.
Thomas was immediately transported by LifeFlight to Vanderbilt University Medical Center where he underwent surgery to fuse his spinal column, a separate surgery to put a titanium rod through his femur and subsequent reconstructive surgeries on his feet and ankles. After the surgeries, Thomas was told by his doctors that his life would never be the same. “They told me I would never run, play sports or be active again. It was safe to say my budding triathlon career was over, and I would never be able to cycle again,” Thomas recalls.
In the coming months, Thomas’s injuries were so severe that he would struggle to stand or walk. The pain and swelling through his feet and ankles would continue and he would feel excruciating pain when he would sit for extended periods of time. Thomas’s life would be dramatically different from now on, and he would spend the next few months undergoing rehabilitation in the form of physical therapy.
While Thomas was in the hospital, his legs had atrophied considerably, so his rehabilitation focused mainly on moving his legs and feet to regain normal levels of muscle mass. Thomas recalls, “I just tried to take it day by day. I remember thinking, ‘Would there ever be a time when I would be back to normal again?’”
The stress of the physical therapy would not be the only pain Thomas would feel day in and day out though. Thomas was suffering from emotional trauma as well. “I remember feeling helpless, different, and also hopeless some days. I would feel inadequate at times too. Like things would never be the same again.”
To add to an already intense emotional situation, by the time Thomas left the rehabilitation facility and had gotten back home to Bowling Green for his Spring semester, his insurance-paid physical therapy visits were running out. Thomas’s recovery was incomplete, and he had no choice but to pay for the remainder of his physical therapy out-of-pocket.
“Luckily, I was blessed with a family that could afford to pay for the remainder of my physical therapy. Not everyone is this fortunate unfortunately,” Thomas admits. “Because my family was somewhat financially stable, I never had to concern myself with the stresses of not being able to pay for recovery. I can’t imagine someone having to go through this, on top of an already emotional situation.”
As his physical therapy sessions continued, Thomas continued to progress. He was building back lost muscle and was able to support his body weight, and finally, after countless bouts of hard work, frustration, and determination, Thomas hit his biggest milestone. Thomas was able to stand again.
Feeling accomplished, Thomas’s attitude soon changed, and he would go on to progress even further in the coming months, but learning quickly that he needed to begin athletic and strength training to focus on movement, endurance, and flexibility if he was going to see even more progress.
Today, thanks to ongoing therapy and strength training, Thomas is even more active than ever and was even able to achieve a life-long goal of becoming an Ironman triathlete in 2018. It takes great tenacity to fight through constant mental, physical, and emotional pain and come out on the right end.
Through his fight, Thomas realized that not everyone has the same resources he had access to during his recovery. Wanting to help, Thomas created TENNACITY, a non-profit organization designed to help trauma survivors lead active and fulfilling lifestyles. Thomas knows full well what it feels like to face the reality that your life may never be the same after a tragic accident such as his own, and he’s determined to make sure no one has to feel this type of trauma nor that anyone should have to bare it alone.
TENNACITY recently launched and will help facilitate access to physical therapy and strength conditioning for trauma survivors who may not have the financial resources or access to recovery.
As this article is being written, Thomas and a friend are planning a 24-hour ride through the Natchez Trace Parkway on October 26th. The end of this ride will coincide with a celebration and the launch of TENNACITY at Fieldstone Park in Franklin. This will be Thomas’s first 24-hour ride. “And hopefully my last,” he admits with a laugh. A fitting start to a bright foundation.
Siobhan Morse is nothing less than a positive bright light in every conversation, but her vibrant personality wasn’t always at the forefront of her life. She has learned to approach life, time and again, from a perspective of gratitude and delight. Although, as it often does, her appreciation for life came at a cost.
Siobhan currently serves as a voluntary adjunct for Baylor Medical College and is the division director of clinical services for Foundations Recovery Network, the addiction services division of Universal Health Services. She finished 271 in her age group in the 2018 Crossfit Open, which put her in the top 5 percentile. She is training relentlessly to compete in the 2019 Games and pursues a better version of herself in aspects of fitness, health, and her profession daily. However, she has another consequential reason to celebrate life. Going on 12 years of sobriety, Morse is in perpetual recovery from opioid and stimulant addiction.
Born and raised in Miami, Florida she has always been an athlete, particularly in the sport of diving. In her younger days, she recalls being “wild”, but those associative traits eventually took a turn. Forced to deal with adverse childhood experiences like trauma and life circumstances, she recognizes these episodes were affiliated with the conducible habits of her addiction. “Addiction is a progressive disorder,” Siobhan states. And starting in her 20s and dominating her 30s, she lived on the street, homeless, using, and immersed in her substance abuse. At 40, Morse entered a treatment center due to state recommendations. Here she says, “I began to understand the disease concept of addiction and learned to deal with my past.” She was educated on her particular issues, and because of her time at the treatment facility, she grew into a master addiction counselor and was ultimately offered a job leading her to Nashville.
In Music City for 6 years now, she spent the first 3 earning her position as the division director of clinical services. Before that, she earned a master’s degree in health services administration from Florida International University. While at FIU, she participated in a number of research projects, focusing on the severely and persistently mentally ill. During her time as an adjunct professor at FIU, she taught program planning and evaluation for the College of Urban and Public Affairs. In addition, Morse received her certification as a clinical research coordinator (CRC) from the Associates of Clinical Pharmacology, working with major pharmaceutical companies to investigate new and promising treatments. She holds certifications as an ARISE interventionist and as a master addiction counselor. Morse has several current publications in research journals and has presented at global conferences on substance use and co-occurring disorders. She even wrote the chapter on exercise in recovery that is used today in given treatment centers.
“Recovery is recovery is recovery,” Siobhan says, “we are all recovering from something.” Her education might have earned her certifications and degrees, but what it really taught her was how to recover her own identity. “Recovery can cause a lot of shame and guilt,” she admits, “but that was yesterday.” She commonly asks herself, “Who do you want to be today?” and “Can I face my past, make amends, and move forward?” In the process of recovery, we have to understand and accept it is likely going to hurt, but once we get through it we become a better person on the other side. She believes the center of everything is rooted in the recovery process, but the gains illuminate in all aspects of life. “You have to tell yourself that you may have been wrong, but you learned from it,” she explains, “The only way to do that is to accept it and own it – you need to establish your integrity again and again.”
Morse also heavily works with Heroes in Recovery, a movement that connects focus groups and promotes a better understanding of addiction and mental illness. People often think, “Can’t you just stop?” or, “If you didn’t do this you wouldn’t be in this situation,” but Siobhan wants them to comprehend these issues as a brain disorder and sickness, just in a different way. On the outside, it may not look like a broken arm or a fever, but it is an illness nonetheless. She explains, “It is a chronic relapsing brain disorder and I believe people are starting to understand that more and more about mental health.”
Everything Siobhan does revolves around recovery. “I do two things in life,” she claims, “help others in recovery through my job, and I do CrossFit for myself.” Beginning in 2015, around the age of 50, she placed well in the 2016 CrossFit open and progressed into an athlete that views her recovery and her chances as a competitor seriously. CrossFit grew to be something different than other sports and today it is where she leaves her heart and her problems daily. She admits, “I’m not a good sit-still mediator, but when I lift heavy weight over my head, I am in that moment.”
Siobhan struggles with body image, specifically body dysmorphia, where one sees themselves as the way they use to be when in reality, they have physically and mentally changed. However, she says CrossFit made her feel empowered. She finds the beauty in being surrounded by others working hard and working to be better, instead of focusing on looking good. It gave her new movements that in turn translated to a new mentality. He describes, “It changed from simply doing exercise to how I looked and felt. Now, more prominently to what this body can do.” After 12 years of realizing the abuse she submitted her body to, she says, “To be where I am now – that is the place where miracles live.”
She has learned life can get pretty messy, but you have to move through it, and she is willing to let go of things that hold her back in order to push herself to a positive place. “I am embracing the mess that comes with CrossFit and with recovery,” she says. Although she didn’t know anyone in Nashville prior to moving here years ago, she says CrossFit Old South has become fellowship and family and full of love supporting her everyday intentions.
This year, Siobhan has learned another aspect of recovery – how her body needs to heal and recover between workouts. Her focus remains on competing every day, but not just for the CrossFit Games. She competes with herself to embrace the lasting issues brought on by her past endeavors and practices that diligent mentality every time she is in the gym, thankful it has translated to her daily responsibilities. The knowledge she gained and the opportunities she received all stemmed from a sickness she was forced to face head-on. She continuously uses that knowledge to educate others, while still celebrating her personal growth.
Born and raised in Nashville, Chase Akers has a quiet strength about him. On the surface, some might describe him as shy considering he is usually behind the music as a local Disc Jockey. However, his humility is a genuine representation of removing any ego, seeing as he has had his fair share of hardships. “It is me vs. me – always,” he asserts. “If I start comparing myself to others, dark thoughts seep in. It’s no longer me against myself and it becomes me against the world – that is a weight too heavy to bear.” Instead, he says to himself, those thoughts are unnecessary and remembers the embrace of love and support.
Born three months premature, Chase’s neck suffered too much pressure during delivery and caused a stroke. After a month in the hospital, he came home weighing one pound and fitting in his father’s hand.
Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by abnormal development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance, and posture. For Chase, it was the nerve damage at birth caused by the excessive pressure on his spinal cord. CP varies from invisible to completely immobile and is a permanent movement disorder that appears in early childhood. Chase’s CP was recognized when his parents noticed his inability to crawl during infancy. Often, symptoms of CP include poor coordination, stiff muscles, weak muscles, or tremors. While symptoms may get more noticeable over the first few years of life, underlying problems do not worsen over time.
Chase’s specific case is called spastic diplegia, a form of CP where muscle tightness is the exclusive impairment and have neuromuscular mobility issues (rather than paralysis). Certain movements or poses will cause spastic episodes that Chase describes as “very painful”. Spastic diplegia is usually in the muscles of the lower extremities, such as the legs, hips, and pelvis, as the case for Chase. “This is why I train in multiple fashions,” Chase explains, “I want to wake up those nerves so they know they can do this.”
Although he will always deal with spastic diplegia, at the age of 5 he underwent 8 invasive surgeries. These surgeries would pull and stretch the affected muscles, the bones would be broken and reset, and he was placed in a lower-body cast to allow the extensive process to heal. His muscles were forced to be lengthened and the bones meant to realign in the hopes his lower body function would become manageable in his later years. His recovery consisted of 3-5 years and the entire first year was spent in a cast. The remaining few years of recovery were in multiple braces. “It was nothing to be afraid of,” he expresses, “I am not fragile, just a normal person that had a stroke at birth.”
“I grew up thinking, ‘I’ll turn 21 and grow out of this,’ like acne or something,” he explains. “But then I’d wake up and it would still be there.” At 24, Chase came to the unsettling realization that it wasn’t something he would outgrow. He recalls that concrete moment when his retrospect shifted to a positive outlook despite any previous dismay. He woke up from a haze of inhibition and distinguished he was overcompensating his physicalities with an abrasive personality. In his clarity, he no longer felt the needed to be excessive. “I didn’t need to be this presence that said, ‘Please validate me!’” he says and thought, “‘Why are you trying to be someone you weren’t made to be?’ There are a million other things I was made to be, so I had to shift my perspective. The things I could be were more important than the things I was not.” He had his body, his mind, and his heart and allowed himself to be weak and vulnerable, but he wanted to be more for himself. “I’m not just someone to embody CP,” he says.
Once he discovered this feeling, he says it felt like the world around him supported the effort. It wasn’t optimism, Chase says, it was empowerment. He says, “You can be optimistic about everything in the world but still not feel empowered by community and knowledge,” and elaborates, “The first two steps to any kind of change is community and knowledge.”
His first experience with community support started at a college Pilates class. He claims, “I was still chubby and weak, but I forced myself into company so I could learn from those around me.” Here, the instructor would help him move into selective positions and while grimacing from the pain she would say, “I’m proud of you.” It might have ignited those nerve sensors into discomfort, but Chase says it changed various negative thoughts into positive affirmations. His feelings of inadequacy transformed into a new movement with new meanings. Essentially, Chase’s body was recovering through movement, but so was his mind.
“I reminded myself ‘I can do all things,’ as my mother told me as a child.” His mother’s biblical reference of Philippians 4:13 would become a mantra in many ways. “When you say ‘I can do all things’, it means I can do all things,” Chase explains. But Chase isn’t referring to skydiving or squatting 200 pounds, “I mean I can feel love – I can look in the mirror and love and accept myself.” He says, “It doesn’t have to mean surface-level things. I can have a community and go to a gym and not be afraid or intimidated. I can love my life and myself for exactly who I am and the things I am capable of.”
This affirmation has now become an everyday approach. As he aged, those words became less biblical and more of a vow he latched onto. “My family didn’t see me as their disabled son,” he notes. Therefore, he learned to see himself as they did. He says, “I was going to do the things I wanted because that is what they wanted for me.” Chase says he is closer to his family because of CP. It was a circumstance they chose to fight together and with that adversity came a special bond. Although, he admits it made him “grow up humble” his stance remains, “My family championed me from day one,” and he believes CP was a driving factor in his biggest support system.
“CP doesn’t necessarily get worse, but I do believe it can get better,” Chase says. Most people can rehabilitate whatever the battle may be, but Chase’s disability is incurable. There is no cure for CP and his acceptance of that fact helped in accepting himself – that was and continues to be his true recovery.
This is why Chase’s recovery story is a little different from the rest. His journey was finding something he never had. Growing up with a multitude of limiting factors, he had to overcome an implemented mentality. His recovery process is of course physically demanding, but his real recovery is in its mental feat. The dark place was a series of thoughts and phrases that spiraled into depriving his own life and questioning self-worth and ability. His mental battles consist of “what if’s” and negative self-talk, but with the help of a community providing love with no limitations, Chase patrons the healing process.
“What makes it more challenging is that I’m recovering from not knowing what I want, who I am, or what I am capable of. I have to keep working to progress my mental challenges while acknowledging the physical ones.” Chase’s recovery is learning how to live with the life he has been given and all of its factors, but still setting himself apart as an individual. Ironically and quite beautifully, Chase gives a lot of this credit to becoming a part of something bigger – his community.
Recovering from a disability is unmasking the odds and the person it makes you become. Chase admits, “We spend a lot of time hating ourselves because of limitations. The biggest part of my recovery story is uncovering just that.” We can all relate to finding our way in this world, it’s called growth, but by no means is it easy. It begins with acceptance and continues with overcoming the negative self-talk. Chase replaced his self-deprecations with memories of the words, “I’m proud of you,” and “I can do all things,” and believing them instead of giving into self-preservation. Chase’s message illustrates an invaluable lesson to us all. “Any wall you put up will harm you more than any wall you will ever let down, and the walls of self-doubt will destroy you more than any disability ever could.”
Will Bartholomew is one of the rare Nashville natives. He is most commonly known for playing college football for the University of Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville as a fullback. Beginning in 2001, Will is now CEO of D1 Sports, where today hosts 36 facilities across 25 states and according to sources, brings in $20 million a year in revenue. Although there was a time when Will couldn’t foresee his own bright future, at 22, his plans to succeed in the NFL blocked any view beyond that horizon. When his professional football dreams were crushed, he chose to battle his way back to a slightly different journey – one you might be surprised to know Will accepted with an open mind, but also with the same grit and determination as his rehabilitation required in his playing days.
Will attended local high school at Montgomery Bell Academy where he says, “This is where I fell in love with the weight room.” He particularly remembers his strength and conditioning coach playing a large role for his love of the game, especially in high school. “He would quote scripture to me while we worked out together,” Will recalls, “I found a lot of inspiration in those words.”
Much of that inspiration would guide him through the following years of rehabilitation, adversity, and recovery. His first true test in playing setbacks faced a young 8th grader with a torn ACL and cartilage. Although, the hardest thing to overcome was the news he wouldn’t play football anymore. Doctors explained the major surgery would be risky, seeing as young, teenage boys are still significantly growing. Nonetheless, after surgery came rehab and so did Will’s lack for any expectation on how the future of his knee would turn out. All he knew was the feeling that “things had been ripped away” from him.
With rehab and a lot of extra work, he had years between his injury and college recruitment to safely harbor the recovery process. “Having that injury at that time was a blessing in disguise,” he maintains. It gave him an education in patience, trust for the process, and he learned that working hard could get him back to the game he loved. Will says all he could think about during the recovery process was, “get in the weight room, work hard, and be the strongest most disciplined athlete I could be.”
Although the knee injury was nothing casual, occurring at a young enough age gave him time to grow, continue to rehab, and strengthen the muscles around the knee for his future career. He also began to understand the level of dedication recovery requires. He says, “Life has to do with patterns and a lot of them depend on how you respond.” Life will always have obstacles, but how we recover sequentially depends on our outlook and the patterns we choose to repeat. Along with the haunting memories of potentially having it stripped away, he left his younger days of football with a gracious perspective.
The University of Tennessee at the time hosted major talent in every aspect. “My goal was to play special teams,” Will admits, “I didn’t even think I could start.” Not only did he quickly earn his way to a starting position, but he also took on the role of team captain and won a National Championship title.
As an undrafted free agent, Bartholomew was set to play in the National Football League for the Denver Broncos. Unexpectedly, Will’s fate circled back to his knee during training camp, when his career looked to be over yet again suffering another injury. This time, the recovery would require multiple surgeries. “At that moment, I thought, ‘How do I respond?’ and I had to go back to that pattern,” he recalls. The approach would need to be in a similar fashion. “I made my response be the same as before – work as hard as I could to come back and be the best athlete I could be,” he remarks. Although, this time, the process of recovery led him to starting D1.
He signed a settlement with the Broncos and moved back to Nashville to seriously rehab his knee. He needed a place to train like an athlete – one that had the caliber of resources but could also be ready him for a return to the NFL. He needed the opportunity to reach his goals and he needed them in the shape of a space with coaches and programming like he’d previously known. Instead, he found himself working out at a community center. “I was powerlifting and being loud, I guess, but the general manager asked me to leave,” Will admits. When he realized his available options were not quite up to par, he created his own and named it D1 Training.
The vision for D1 Training was to contrive fitness facilities that provide custom sports-based training programs to help people achieve their sports and fitness goals. Lining the walls of all D1 Training facilities are the words that say “Iron Sharpens Iron,” and ring true to create the mentality that one person strengthens another. The D1 environment is meant to support you through the process of recovery or the exertion of elite exercise and along the way, you become stronger because of the people that surround you.
A year later, Will had the confidence in his recovery work to return to football. He had a new found strength and new business so he decided it was time to head back to the Broncos. The first thing standing in his way was a mandatory physical. To everyone’s surprise, Will was diagnosed with another torn ACL. “Whether I tore it again or it never really healed didn’t matter,” he claims. Something had already shifted in Will’s mindset. “This time it felt more of a confirmation that God wanted me to put my heart and soul into something else,” he clarifies.
High-level athletes often come to a point in their career when they have to accept the cards they are dealt. Will described the change in mindset as a “stamp on his life” that said, “this is done, it’s time to move on.” He acquired the acceptance of a new process – one that felt similar to healing an injury. “You have to be realistic,” Will says, referring to playing the game of football, but he could just as easily be talking about injury or doubt or hardship. We often forget to remind ourselves that this temporary pain will not last forever. He affirms, “You can always work through it. There will always be a way – even if that means changing your plans.”
So while Will was training for his NFL comeback, a bigger plan seemed to surface. He had been pouring his heart and time into the D1 business. “My faith has been my backbone – of the business and me – it’s who I am,” Will describes, “but there is something bigger at play than just my story.” Trusting his faith and choosing to stay on the course of growing D1, his recovery would now focus on being the best in the business. Recovery became less about his knee and more about his life choices. “The one choice you will always have is your outlook,” Will says. This stage of his career would open up new roles needing the same amount of attention his knee had once required. It would still take dedication, but it was nothing he hadn’t gone through before.
“It goes back to those moments in 8th grade, doing rehab, sitting there listening to someone else tell me how it was going to be,” Will conveys, referring to the doctors saying he would never play football after his first knee injury. “But that wasn’t what I believed. I believed I would recover and I believed in my mindset.” A positive mindset and overall attitude are some of the few things we actually can control according to Will, and he says, “It translates to business owners too.” In both business and recovery, perseverance, discipline, and work ethic will build character. “You are going to have setbacks,” Will plainly states, “and when you do, how are you going to respond? Will you have that mental fortitude?”
Sports psychology is embedded in athletics today and programs recognize the importance of the mental game. Will says, “I think the same thing applies to sports as it does to training as it does to rehab. You have to develop the mental strength because you are going to face adversities.” When we are forced to slow down and are placed in the discomfort of an injury, life, business or whatever it may be, our character carries us through it. Will defines character as our backbone or rather, who we are and what we are made of. In fact, also displayed on the walls of D1 Training is the quote, “Character is who you are when no one is looking.”
Through football, recovery, training, family, and business, Will has always managed to have a great outlook on life. He is one to keep positivity at the forefront of his endeavors. “I want to always be working towards progress,” he explains. Through his recovery journey, Will has worked hard to achieve his goals as they have changed over time. “I’ve had massive gains and massive losses,” he admits, “but both have equally helped shape my character.”