"You can go as far as you can see, when you get there, you can always see farther."
Marika and I first met at Ballys’ Total Fitness, where we both worked as personal trainers, in late 1999. As the twentieth was coming to a close, we had no inclination that the ensuing 15 years would bring such adventure, triumph, failure and heartbreak. If Marika had known then what she knows now, I’m not sure she would have signed up for the journey. Me? I would have jumped on board, but I would have asked for a quicker and easier route.
Family_2015I asked Marika to marry me in May of 2002. I had literally made the decision to ask her, got an engagement ring, and popped the question in less than 24hrs. However, my decision was based on all we had been through in the preceding year.
In January of 2001, Marika’s father had gone into the hospital for what we believed to be a routine operation, that is, if you can consider anything to be routine when someone has had T-Cell Lymphoma for seven years. On February 1st, Marika received a phone call at Elite Fitness, the gym where I was working at the time, telling her that we needed to rush to the hospital, her father didn’t have long to live. He passed away that afternoon.
Marika had lived the preceding seven years in fear of her father being taken from her too soon. Yet seven years wasn’t enough to prepare her for the seeming suddenness in his departure. Marika was only 21 at the time.
October brought another phone call bearing tragic news, this time the call would be for me. My mother and sister had been involved in a car accident, and both had perished. My three year old niece, Katlynn, and another little girl had been taken by Careflight to Cooks Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, my niece wasn’t expected to live.
We arrived at the hospital to find Katlynn unconscious, breathing via a ventilator, and her head partially shaved to allow for a bolt to be placed in her skull so they could monitor the pressure on her brain. She had multiple fractures and broken bones. The bones were not set or casted at this time, it seemed unnecessary in light of her expected fate.
Katlynn would spend the next six weeks at Cooks Children’s Hospital, being released with no plan from the doctors as to what the future might hold and no explanation for her being alive other than that it was a miracle. She was sent home unable to sit up on her own power, unable to speak, unable to see and unable to eat, except through a tube attached to a port that had been inserted in her stomach. The next couple of years would bring about significant progress, but it came in painfully slow increments.
By May of 2002, Marika and I had experienced more adversity and tragedy during our two years of dating than many couples experience in decades of marriage. We had shared pivotal life experiences, we had shared pain, we had shared grief, and we had shared depression and anxiety. There was so much of my life’s story that was already inseparable from her, I couldn’t imagine living out the rest of my story without her.
Mark Twain once wrote that “all you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, then success is sure.” Looking back, I can see that I had plenty of ignorance and confidence. I must have been blessed with an extra dose of ignorance, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the confidence to overcome my early lack of success.
Marika and I were married in September of 2002. In December we opened a small personal training studio while we began construction on the main gym, which would open in September of 2003. By our second anniversary; we had become small business owners, given birth to our son Preston and assumed full custody of my niece Katlynn. We were just getting warmed up.
In addition to ignorance and confidence, I also possessed a healthy dose of passion. The tragic events of 2001 had ignited a passion to help people get healthy and to “live a better story”.
My mother had suffered a heart attack the day of her car accident. She had collapsed while driving, causing the car to veer into oncoming traffic, resulting in the death of my sister and a traumatic brain injury to Katlynn. My mom had been overweight and had a family history of heart disease, with both her father and sister dying from sudden cardiac arrest. Her lack of health had impacted the health of her daughter and granddaughter. I realized that training people had significance beyond how someone looked in a swimsuit, it could really be a matter of life and death.
In 2005 we began opening additional Fieldhouse locations and welcomed the addition of our third child, Madison. Life was in perpetual motion trying to keep up with three kids and three gyms, and keeping up was becoming a struggle. By the spring of 2007 we were back down to two health clubs, but that didn’t mean things were going to slow down any.
If 2001 had been a pivotal year in shaping our passion, then 2008 would be the year that helped shape our approach to that passion. The tiny town of Clark, Texas (between Justin and Ponder) had just changed their name to DISH. In return for naming the town after the satellite company, the residents each received 10 years of free basic service. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Would they all become couch potatoes? Or could they become the Fittest City in Texas.”
That spring DISH was named Fittest City in Texas. We were contacted by officials from the Governor’s office and invited to Austin to meet with the Governor’s Advisory Council on Physical Fitness. It was there that I met Paul Carrozza, at that time he was serving on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness as well at the Governor’s Council. Paul told me that they had found people wouldn’t generally train for their health, but they would train for an event. They would train for vacation, marriage, graduation, divorce, or for a fun event like a 5K or marathon. I drank the Kool-Aid and have adopted this philosophy ever since.
In 2008 we produced three local 5k runs, including the inaugural NISD Reindeer Romp which raises money for Physical Education departments in local elementary schools. This year’s event is expected to draw more than 3,000 runners and raise over $15,000. 2008 also brought the birth of Jordan, our fourth (and final?) child and third daughter..
In 2009 we held our first Thanksgiving Day 5k in the parking lot of Cross Timbers Church in Argyle. This was also the first event in which we began “drawing outside the lines”. We had recently converted our Argyle gym into a CrossFit box. I was leading CrossFit classes and had created a workout that we called the Fieldhouse 5k. It was a 5k with CrossFit inspired stops every ¼ of a mile, where you would perform various exercise, such as; kettle bell swings, lunges, pushups, sit-up’s, squats and burpees. Our admission price was 5 canned food items. The Grub Run is now held at Texas Motor Speedway, this past year’s event drew more than 3000 people and gathered more than 12,000 pounds of food for the Tarrant Area Food Bank.
I frequently hear comments about how friendly everyone is at the Fieldhouse, often it’s described as a big family, and I’d have to agree. We have had the privilege of being surrounded by some of the best people you could ever hope to meet. It’s the people that make the Fieldhouse unique, not the building, equipment or classes. Without the help and support of this incredible group of people, there would never have been a Reindeer Romp, Grub Run or Jailbreak.
On September 17th and 18th of 2010, nearly 10,000 people ran the inaugural Jailbreak, raising enough money to drill eight fresh-water wells in India, helping thousands Break Free from the cycle of poverty and disease caused due to a lack of clean drinking water. Before the first Jailbreak, we had never had more than 250 runners at one of our events, now we were running 300 people every 30 minutes, for two days! To say we were “in over our heads” would be a gross understatement. Thank God for the folks at the Fieldhouse!
We often joke that our first few events were produced with smoke and mirrors and held together with duct tape and bailing wire. The truth is the events were held together by dozens of volunteers from the Fieldhouse, who worked tirelessly and selflessly for hours, or even days, to make the events a success. Without a big family that was willing to pitch in and help out, we’d have been stuck in the mud, literally!
The Jailbreak moved beyond DFW and we went on to host events in Austin, Houston, El Paso, San Antonio, South Padre Island and Corpus Christi. It has led to other events as well; Dirty Rascals Adventure Run (an obstacle course for kids), Color Me Loco (a 5k color run), Dude Just Tri (a sprint triathlon targeting first timers) and the South Padre Marathon.
The Fieldhouse is more than a gym. It’s a place where people dream big, and then work hard to achieve their dreams. It’s a place where we rejoice with each other in our triumphs and mourn with each other in our sorrows. It’s a place where you can find inspiration, but more importantly, it’s a place where you can be an inspiration to others.
Marika and I realize that a gym shouldn’t be confined to the walls of a building. Fitness is meant to accentuate life, not be life. We train so we can handle all that life throws at us, and to take advantage of all that life has to offer us. We train to be fit, we train to be useful.
The story of the Fieldhouse is the story of a real life “The Little Engine That Could”. Not every attempt has been successful, but we keep trying. The metal building on the side of the road, just south of Justin, Texas, has inspired and challenged thousands of people around the country to live a better story. It has fed thousands of North Texas families, provided scholarships and school supplies in South Texas and brought fresh water to people half a world away.
So what does the next chapter have in store? I have no idea, I couldn’t have imagined the chapters we’ve lived so far. Marika and I have learned to go as far as we can see, and we know that once we get there, we can always see farther.