Our co-founder Dale King recently gave a Ted Talk documenting his experience being in the military and becoming an entrepreneur.
Check out the video above or below you can read the transcript of the speech:
BELIEF IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN EVER GIVE TO SOMEONE.
On the contrary lack of belief can be the most devastating disease to ever enter a human body.
Fortunately I know a lot about both of these…
I grew up on the OHIO RIVER in Portsmouth Ohio. Growing up that River used to be a source of strength - a source of pride.
My people are the River Rats - people who fight hard - laugh harder- and love the hardest.
Our river transported steel made from our mills.
It moved out grain from the farms.
It shipped out products made from our factories.
We rode bikes, played in the woods, and cruised the strip. It was such a great place to grow up.
After finishing high school and college in a post 9/11 world I found myself along another river - the Tigris River in Iraq. People often ask what it was like in Iraq, but it’s a tough question to answer. Personally for me, I had never felt as much pride in my life.
While deployed I served as an intelligence officer supporting a Special Forces unit and I had the honor to learn from the best and brightest minds in the military.
During the 04-06 timeframe at the height of the insurgency, we were fighting an enemy whose main weapon was fear. Terrorists would commit unspeakable acts of violence against the Iraqi people. What the enemy lacked in the form of conventional weapons they made up for in psychological weapons. Fear was their main tool in getting the Iraqis to lose hope and belief in a better way of life and a better future.
The way to fight against this fear is to empower confidence and capability - to ultimately regain belief. This is exactly what small Special Forces teams do. Their tools of battle are more often trust, compassion and hope than a rifle or grenade.
They are experts in Foreign Internal Defense - building, developing, training and fighting alongside a foreign army. The end goal is to build a capable and confident fighting force in order to create a safe, stable, and peaceful country - ultimately instilling a sense of belief.
I had seen the impacts that evil can bring to a population. But the main lesson I learned is what a tribe of good people can do to fight that evil and the hope it can bring to people.
I’ll never forget those days. More importantly I’ll never forget the lessons learned to fight against an enemy who thrives on using fear and lack of belief.
When I left the Army - I followed the natural pathway to a job with the federal service close to my hometown. From the outside it looked like I had “made it” - great job - plenty of money, retirement, and benefits. However, inside - I had lost a sense of meaning - of purpose - of community - looking back I had lost belief that I was living a worthy life.
Soldiers without a worthy fight can start to feel useless. Depression can set in, weight is gained, capability starts to diminish. It’s not a matter of PTSD - it’s a lack of connectivity and it’s a lack of a cause to fight for.
It turns there was a massive insurgency going in my backyard and my river town was ground zero.
Starting in the 90s the factories and mills starting closing down. Half of the population left the area creating a massive void.
In the midst of that void a doctor saw an economic opportunity to create a new kind of mill - the pill mill.
He literally found the magic pill - an opiate - a highly addictive prescription pain killer. He then saw the perfect market - a population of people where belief in better days was abandoned. People now had replaced pride with emotional pain and this doctor had just the cure.
The steel mills had closed - and pill mills now took their place selling scripts for cash.
In the process Portsmouth became “the town that led the country into the opiate epidemic, ground zero in the pill mill explosion.” - Sam Quinones
My hometown became ground zero for the worst public health epidemic in our country’s history. During my time away, the Drug Enforcement Agency named Portsmouth one of the worst places for prescription drug abuse and the county led the state in overdose death rates.
That same river - that source of pride and belief that used to pump economic blood to the area now became clogged with a sludge of opiate contaminants.
There was now a new mission - a new fight to believe in.
So I did what any sane and normal person would do - I started swinging kettlebells. Fitness took me out of my funk and cleared my mind and spirit. It lead to me opening a gym - a gym that would forever change my life and the lives of others.
In the Army I had learned that physical fitness bonds soldiers together in the belief that great challenges allow for great opportunities.
I wasn’t interested in exercising just for the sake of fitness. In the early days there was no money to even justify the business - our first location had no A/C, the kettlebells would freeze overnight, and the gym would flood every time it rained.
But to fight any insurgency you need a base of operations - a training ground and you need a tribe willing to fight. I wanted to jump start an epidemic of belief that could only be earned from within the mind and amplified by suffering and ultimately conquering challenges alongside other people - working together.
Our gym’s motto is a quote from Henry Rollins:
“Pain Is Not My Enemy - It Is My Call to Greatness”
In a town devastated by weakness and pain we needed to train and equip people with strength to fight that weakness. We needed to get them to believe in themselves first on a micro level so they could believe they could make a difference in the community on a macro level.
From my days in Iraq, the lessons of foreign internal defense had come full circle.
Opening that gym was the first positive domino of belief that tipped over - but soon others came naturally.
The next domino would be the creation of a non-profit called Team Some Assembly Required. Team SAR is comprised of adaptive athletes (men and women who are missing arms/legs who still compete in fitness based competitions) .My college/Army buddy Derick Carver and I started this group of adaptive athletes as a way to broadcast a message of motivation and belief across America. That was 2014 and since then Team SAR has grown to over 25 athletes from all over the nation and have competed in over dozens of competitions.
More important than the physical activities from these athletes is the message of belief they’ve broadcasted throughout the country. These men and women are walking embodiments of grit - that no matter the circumstance you can choose to always adapt and therefore always overcome.
This is Logan Aldridge putting his bodyweight over his head with one arm. He isn’t able to do this because he is gifted. He is able to because he refuses to accept the conditions society has given him. He is able to do such things because of the daily adversity he overcomes. Have you ever washed and folded laundry with one arm?
It’s the same thing for Tanya. She was born a child of Chernobyl - without both legs and hands not fully developed. She was a castaway in Ukranian society, luckily she found her way to the US and found her way into running shoes.
Since then she has run countless races and her nuclear smile has radiated the hearts of several people. Each step she earned and she appreciated because she know what it feels like to not take those steps. She believed she could and she did.
This is my college/Army buddy Derick - the same guy I mentioned before that started this team. He lost his leg and his identity in Afghanistan in 2010. Through years of rehab, surgeries, blood transfusions - he found himself again and became the World’s Strongest Adaptive Athlete.
He did so by NOT chasing pain pills with antidepressants prescribed by the VA.
Through all the darkness he found a flicker of light. His strength is a result of the suffering he’s endured. The strength came from a new mission - honoring the men who died by his side by living a full life worthy of their sacrifice.
A few years after Team SAR was established I started to notice the significant rashes and blisters the athletes would encounter when their limbs rubbed against their prosthetics. At the same time, one of the members from my gym had started making all natural lotions and creams and was selling them to the female members at the gym. I approached her one day and asked if she could develop an all natural first aid ointment for the athletes on Team SAR and to be sold to the members of the gym.
She came up with a prototype - the next day we signed a napkin in my kitchen and became 50/50 partners in the summer of 2015. Exactly a year later we were in Hollywood filming an episode for the TV show Shark Tank for a company we would call Doc Spartan.
Two kids from the poorest and most drug addicted area in the state made it ot the big stage for entrepreneurs.
What you guys really need to understand is that we had NO business going on the show, we didn’t apply - it wasn’t a goal - and in the spirit of the full disclosure we had no idea what we were doing (still don’t).
But what we did have was belief - we believed that if we went on the show we could show other businesses in our town that it can be done on the river - that if you work hard and believe harder you can open up a business and make a difference. Commerce and the creation of opportunity to fight poverty.
Luckily a Shark by the name of Robert believed in us too and gave us a shot.
Since that time we’ve manufactured, sold and shipped tens of thousands of units all across the world and Robert Herjavec has named us one of the top 3 best deals he’s ever made on the show.
More importantly our downtown is experiencing a boom with several new restaurants, shops, and festivals opening up where there used to be nothing. On our last count there has been 9 new businesses in the historic district where the gym and Doc Spartan are located. And also civic organizations are springing up to literally take back the streets - next Saturday they are litterally setting a Guiness world record for the most plants planted in one day. On the same streets where people used to line up for prescriptions - flowers will now be planted.
Finally I want to share with you an incredible story of belief that occurred inside of the gym:
Meet Michael - Michael was one of the first clients when we opened in the old warehouse. When I first him, he was a 280lb smoker. I actually didn’t think he would last past the first week. But beating after beating he continued to show up - not only show up but show up and smile the entire time.
Before I knew it - years had passed and Michael had dropped 80lbs and now he was on staff full time as a trainer at the gym - he believed in his capability and now he wanted to share that belief with others.
A man that was in need of belief was an English professor by the name of Dale. Dale was going through some rough times. He had recently lost a son. His son had died of a drug overdose in Mexico. There was no way of identifying the body in person so Dale had to by looking at photos over email. The body was transported back in ashes.
He was in pain - he was overweight, depressed, and chased his pain with medication and alcohol. He had lost belief - lost hope of finding happiness in a world after his son had died.
One day Michael walked into Dale’s English class as a student. After a few weeks, Michael convinced him to join the gym as his client.
Dale had never gone to a gym before let alone a CrossFit gym. He was a little unsure but each session that Michael trained him he gained more confidence and lost more weight.
One day in English class the assignment for the students was to write about a transformative experience in their lives. Michael chose to write about the day he almost lost his life.
When Michael was 19 he and his buddy were out partying one night. Michael was the passenger in the vehicle that his friend was driving. Upon crossing a bridge, the driver lost control and the car drove off the bridge and ended in the creek. His friend would ultimately drown and die that night. The only reason Michael would survive is because a stranger found him, pulled him out of the creek and onto the bank.
After the accident Michael felt guilt and tremendous pain for what happened. To help make sense of it all he turned to drugs for several years. He eventually decided he had enough and decided to turn his life around. But he always thought of the man who saved his life that day - he had never got the chance to thank him.
As Dale read the assignment - he too remembered that night - because he was there. He was the man who had pulled Michael onto the bank - ultimately saving his life. He had often wondered what happened to that kid and spent time searching for him. But now here he was - his student - and also now his teacher and trainer.
Dale had saved Michael’s life - now Michael was returning the favor. Some three years later- Dale is down over 70lbs, off all of his medications, and is in the best shape of his life. More important is the fact he has regained his life, he found a way to believe in himself again.
Now more than ever we all need to find a way to believe - to believe that the greatest of challenges lead to the greatest of opportunities.
Don’t fear the pain - don’t look to the painkillers to numb it - confront it - head on.
Remember Pain Is Not Your Enemy - It could just be your call to Greatness…
Go Find the fight in your backyard - arm yourself through your training - find your tribe and go to war. Your town might just be looking to you to believe.