At one point, in the early days of Ambitious Athletics, I actually considered having "self made" tattooed across my knuckles when I thought I had "made it".
Then I woke the up and realized that "self made" and "making it" don't exist.
The reason I bring this up is because last week (4/20/16) marked our one-year anniversary at the Ambitious Athletics training center at 2021 K Street NW Washington DC.
And with any kind of anniversary or milestone comes reflection.
I couldn't have ever made it this far by myself.
And with that, I'd like to take a moment and publicly recognize the team of individuals that provided me a helping hand along the way.
That goes for you too - thanks for checking out this post. I appreciate you.
I graduated college in May of 2006, moved to Washington, DC in late August to start my first job out of college. Mom and Dad were proud of me. I earned a four-year degree from Penn State University and landed a corporate job with benefits in the big city. I come from the old school, so benefits were clutch.
Just two months later, on October 19th, after working hard to recover from an aortic dissection, my Dad passed away.
As you can imagine, I didn’t have a lot any accumulated paid time off, but the company’s policy for grieving was 5 days off. As if that was anywhere close to being semi helpful. I had to reconsider where I was and why. Just two months later, I put in my two weeks' notice without having another job lined up.
Fortunately, a colleague also quit around the same time and picked up a temp job doing paralegal work that paid well, so I followed suit with zero intentions of going to law school. Honestly, I had no idea what paralegals even did. So I began redacting documents in the basement of a firm on I Street, in a storage closet. Seriously.
That’s where I met Zalman Shapiro (Z) – my “first client” – he was the guy who planted the seed, believed in me, and told me that this is my calling that I needed to follow.
Down the hall from the storage closet was the building’s gym, and that’s where I worked out at lunch. Z was an overweight dude who noticed my unconventional training methods, attention to detail, and structure and asked if he could be my training partner. From that moment on Z and crushed a workout everyday together until we were let go 7 months later. Z lost 40+ pounds and became a different/new human being. I’ll never forget him telling me that I needed to do this for a living, help other people rediscover themselves, train smarter, and write a book. I laughed and said, “get paid to workout for living?” Thank You, Z.
You see, after my athletic career ran its course, my mind was on to the next one - my sights were set on working in the business world, developing products, working in the field, meeting with execs, and building relationships for a fortune 500 company.
So I brushed off Z’s praises as just another after-workout high and never really put a lot of thought into it.
Z went on to law school, maintained his fat loss plus some throughout school, and went on the open his own firm practicing in NY, PA, and FL, as well as representing Ambitious Athletics pro bono for life.
While working in the basement of the firm, I took on another temp job with a company that had us doing fan based market research for the Nationals as they prepared to move out of RFK stadium and into their current location. We’d ask fans a series of questions about their experience at the ballpark and what they’d like to see at the new park. We would have to complete 20-25 surveys then have the opportunity to stay and watch the remainder of the game. During one of my working days, I decide to forgo my seats and head for home. On my way out of the stadium I was heckled to spin a wheel for a free gym membership at a local big box gym. I declined and kept walking until the woman behind the wheel said “have you ever thought about being a personal trainer?!?!” That’s when I met Elena Enjetti, Personal Trainer Manager at the Washington Sports Club in Glover Park.
Hesitant to take a pay cut, I stayed in touch with Elena, as I continued to redact documents in the basement and workout with Z. When the temp position came to an end, much like the movie Friday, I wasn’t even in town when Z called me to let me know that the project was up and we weren’t needed anymore.
Without a job or direction I stayed at home with Mom for about six weeks, jobless, trying to figure out my next move. My only income was Thursday night Bingo with Mom and her friends at the local Knights of Columbus.
During this time I re-interviewed with a couple of companies that had offered me a job while I was still in college, only to turn them down again. Whoops. Bridge severely burned. Thought about grad school (like most people who don’t have a clue) and spoke with the people I looked up to most. My bro was the one who gave me the permission to fly. So I did. I called up Elena to ask her if the offer was still on the table.
So it began.
And that’s when I met Walter James (Dub), my first mentor in the fitness industry, a seasoned vet who I came to find out used to star in step DVD’s back in the 80’s.
Walter’s step game was mean and his training style matched it. This dude delivered results. When I first saw Dub training people I knew this dude was going to be my friend and somebody who I was going to look up to. Dude was doing things back then that people are trying to recreate now. That was 2007. Can’t knock the hustle. Big thanks to you, your confidence in me, for taking me under your wing, being a father figure when I needed it most, a ride or die best friend, fuel to the fire, and so much more. Thanks for helping me locate my path.
It was during my time at the club that I began to wonder about human movement, why some people could do things and others couldn’t – what happened to these people?
So I began to think backwards, asking my clients what kind of exercise they did in college, high school, middle school, elementary school, and further, having the beginning in mind, trying to figure out what went wrong, and when.
Each and every one of us began on our backs in a crib, kicking our legs and swinging our arms around, then we found rotation, giving us the ability to roll over, then we crawled, found the coffee table, and maneuvered into a squat to then extend our legs locating a new world above the floor. We found mobility, then stability, strength, balance, then the squat, and so much more.
As I performed my own research in the gym, I looked all over the interwebz in search of youth development. That’s when I stumbled upon Brian Grasso (BG) via PT on The Net, speaking on some choppy audio clip before podcasts were podcasts, sometime in late 2008. The first time I heard BG, was like the way children used to gather around the radio to listen to their favorite programs pre television. I was hooked. I needed to meet this dude.
Little did any of us know, BG was on his way to creating the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA) with his friend Kwame Brown, a neuroscience graduate out of Georgetown University.
Miraculously, BG and Kwame would host a pre-summit youth workshop at the club’s yearly fitness summit in New York City. I sat front and center and raised my hand every time they asked for a participant; I had found the tribe that was speaking my language.
Both BG and Kwame would go on to teach me about the art of coaching, play, and motor skill development, and so much more. To this day, these two continue to be great friends and role models. Mindset matters most.
I needed to take my newfound knowledge to high school athletics.
As I began talking to different people about youth development a friend from the club put me in touch with a private high school strength and conditioning coach at Landon School in Bethesda, MD. After volunteering for a summer I was brought on for little money to assist the head strength coach with all sports: basketball, baseball, lacrosse, cross country, soccer, water polo, golf, rugby, hockey, as well as general physical education. Soon after I became the assistant coach of the sixth grade baseball team.
Three years later, I knew it was time to began segmenting my time and working on the essential, Ambitious Athletics – not just high school athletes, but everyone who has the desire to get better, to learn or relearn movement. I wanted to fully expose people to their own capabilities - their inner athlete.
Luckily among the BG / IYCA circle was Pat Rigsby, a business mastermind who helped grow multiple businesses and was well on his way to helping grow the IYCA into something big. With Pat’s help I was able to learn how to organize, systemize, and market my business so that it would run like a well-oiled machine. But more importantly, I was able to gather the knowledge to put the puzzle pieces together in order to tell my story and what Ambitious Athletics is all about.
Athleticism. Community. Authenticity.
Those were the three words that I’ve kept close to me while growing Ambitious Athletics.
Knowing who you are and what you stand for will always make your decisions easier. Keep your vision, morals, and values in check and stay on your path.
And let’s not go discounting hard work; this cool story wasn’t a cakewalk. I worked at the Cheesecake Factory as a waiter for like two shifts, walked dogs and did other forms of pet sitting during my midday breaks for about 2 years, went without health insurance for 3 years, tried to fit Ambitious Athletics into three prior locations before landing on K Street, was burned by real estate group that dragged me through the mud for 11 months before pulling the rug out from underneath me, lost the K Street deal after 3 months, renegotiated and finally locked it in after 9 months, all while paying myself super minimally in order to keep the majority of the money in the business bank account.
Speaking of hard work and hustle, I met Tyler English at the first IYCA Summit back in 2009. I think it was the first time I actually saw someone with two cell phones. Tyler was in the same position I was: tons of ambition, fed up with the big box gym atmosphere and ready to open his own training facility. When I think of Tyler, two words come to mind: relentless and hustle. This dude worked his ass off to open Tyler English Fitness in Canton, Connecticut. Since our first meeting, Tyler has always been extremely welcoming. When I was having trouble structuring Ambitious Athletics he would make himself available to me and open his doors up for me when I would travel to Connecticut to shadow his daily operations, ask questions, etc. Tyler is also a pro natural bodybuilder and author of the Men’s Health Bodybuilding Bible. Respect. Thanks a ton, homie.
Jason Ferruggia reminded me of what I stood for and what I was out to do. He was the one who taught me all about program design and how it's important to simplify. Jay is one of the few people I actually respect in this industry – it’s because of people like Jay, that I have no desire to try and create something new, but only to be an extension of the great people that helped clear the path for me to walk on – I’m not talking about the guys pushing you at-home-workout-some-other time- DVD’s. I’m talking about the coaches that actually help people be stronger, bigger and better inside and outside of the gym. Jay introduced me to those types of people; guys like Dave Tate of Elite FTS, Louie Simmons of Westside barbell, Ed Coan, Bill Kazmaier, and others. Jay, like BG and Kwame, speak my language of simplicity. When I found Jay’s website, it was like finding more members of the tribe.
And I’m not the only one who has been influenced by Jay’s training approach, how do you think Lori Lindsey and I became best buds foreva?
Jason, Tyler, and I were in Chicago to see Pearl Jam play at Wrigley Field when we posted this photo on twitter.
Lori Lindsey saw it, clicked on my profile and saw that we both lived in DC. Some time later, Lori messaged me to ask if we could meet and talk shop.
When I told my wife that a pro soccer player reached out to me to pick my brain about fitness, her response was “why does a professional soccer player want to meet with you?”
Lori and I met for coffee during her second to last season with the Washington Spirit before she took off for Australia. This is when she mentioned to me that she was nearing the end of her career and would continue to live in DC, looking for something in the fitness field. The rest is history.
I couldn’t be more grateful to have Lori a part of my life and Ambitious Athletics - there is no other person that I’d like to spend 6 long days a week with. There aren’t many people who understand the hustle, the effort, the energy, or have the desire or passion to help others better themselves on and off of the field. Much like my actual wife, my work wife Lori makes me better and happier.
Trust and ambition only go so far, and that’s why it’s important to surround yourself with special and trustworthy people. People in the same field who collaborate, share, and help each out. As cliché as it might be, the old saying holds true: “if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.
In the case of self-improvement, a coach is key. You need a coach for accountability, to bounce ideas off of, to learn from, and help you to avoid pitfalls. I’ve never met a coach that wishes failure on his players. I have met a lot of snakes though. That’s why I’ll continue to reiterate that surrounding yourself with likeminded individuals is your key to success. Huge thanks to everyone listed above for taking the time to answer my questions or show me how when I had no clue or was just slightly off. You helped me bring clarity to a vision so that I could help others see it.
And then there are all of the people who aren’t listed above who bought in to this idea of a structured training program that would resemble a collegiate strength and conditioning program- a program that prides itself on cutting through the bullshit to provide a practical and smarter, not harder, training system and education to a community of like-minded people with open hearts who would soon become teammates in the gym and friends outside the gym.
But Ambitious Athletics wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for Michael Veltri, owner of DC Aikido in Woodley Park, the Dojo where Ambitious Athletics group training began, with 3 women, two of which still train with me today. Thank you Meliss and Morg.
In 2010 with the help of Pat Rigsby, I formed the game plan to find an indoor location to begin Ambitious Athletics group training. I held out on calling it Bootcamp for the longest time because of my respect for the Military. It made me squirm inside that exercise enthusiasts would have the nerve to call an exercise group “Bootcamp” when those that actually do go through Bootcamp are doing so for the sake of others, not because they wanted to lose fat and get in shape.
Anyway, I’m old school, so I knocked on the Dojo door and introduced myself and asked the instructor if I could speak or schedule some time with the owner. Long story short, Michael was beyond kind enough to lend me some time and give me a key to his business. Ambitious Athletics 5:45am group training began.
Of the three women who started group training with me at 5:45am, two were friends of friends, the other one came from a flyer or some sort of postcard I hung in my old apartment building. It must have looked decent and trustworthy, and for that I have to give credit and thanks to Phoebe Smith, Ambitious brand manager and one hell of a ping pong player.
In 2009, when I was doing my Personal Training at the gym, I also coached a noontime Bootcamp Class on Capitol Hill. Phoebe bought in to my style of coaching immediately and was a full time regular for the class along with many others. One day after class we got to talking about Ambitious Athletics and my vision when I handed her my business card. She basically laughed at it, and said “you’re gonna need my help.” Phoebe and her team are the ones behind everything << Ambitious >> all the way down to the colors of the gym.
Side note: Ambitious Athletics first went by Ambitious Athletics and Fitness – here’s the original logo, inspired by Travis Barkers apparel line, Famous Stars and Straps. Yeah, I know. Save it.
And not to be discounted, but there are many others not mentioned or bolded in the story above that are just as important to the success of Ambitious Athletics. Thank you.
It’s the people who operate behind the scenes that are often the fuel to the fire – the ones who tell you to keep going, who believe in you, who if they did have money to invest, would, who brainstorm with you, who ask if there is anything they can help with and mean it, who take you out to dinner or buy your groceries because they know you’re short on money and time – your support system. Thank you.
But let’s be real, without the people that have put their trust in me to help them better themselves - to become stronger, healthier, mindful, and either more athletic or better athletes - Ambitious Athletics wouldn’t exist.
It’s every single person that let me help them through a fitness journey that didn’t insert cheap tricks or fancy gimmicks as part of some sales pitch to keep them as clients - just a real, honest, and structured service that produced results. It’s been every single Ambitious member that has contributed to the success of this community that has inspired me to give more, try harder, stay up later, wake up earlier, and be better as a person. Shout out to the Originals who were able to make the transition from Woodley Park to K Street: thank you.
And lastly, my wife Rebecca. To have a partner who supports your dreams financially and emotionally is a partner for life – it’s knowing that whatever happens, it’s on us, not just me, not just her, it’s a partnership, it’s love. Thank you so much for your unconditional support and for never letting me give up and cave in. Thank you so much for allowing me to use the dinner table as an office. Thank you so much for editing blog posts, emails, welcome packets, meal plans, and so much more in order to help continue to drive this ambition in order to help me and so many others. Not once did you ever question my decisions in an effort to persuade me in a different direction. You have supported me from the start and helped me better understand myself and the right way to go about certain situations. Thank you for making me a better person.
If you have a dream, believe in yourself, talk about it, be about it, share it with others, look for collaborators, seek others that share the same interest, talk, introduce yourself, be authentic, and I can assure you others will follow suit. From there, together you can make educated decisions together grow and further your vision in order to have a great impact on your customers.
Self-made doesn’t exist.
Conor McGregor knows what I'm talking about.
Everything, regardless of the situation, is always better together.
Here's to our health and happiness. Be Ambitious.
PS. We’re just getting started here at Ambitious Athletics. We recently started Student Athlete Strong - a separate training program geared to student athletes from the ages of 12 -20, (from the middle school roster all the way to the collegiate roster). And soon, we’ll take our Ambitious Athlete programs online to our out of town peeps looking for structure and support. Be in the know, jump on our mailing list - become an Ambitious Insider.