10 Years of Underground Gym
"If you want to do something, you will find a way. If you don't, you'll find an excuse." I don't know why, but I've always seemed to have a burning passion driving me, for as long as I can remember. To never rest. To excel. To thrive. I've been fortunate to hold this fire in my heart, keep it lit and use it to ignite others through Underground Gym. We are celebrating ten years of business this year and it's time to look back at how we got here and give thanks to everyone involved.
Underground Gym was just a far off notion at some point, talked about, but never taken too seriously by anyone who would hear it. I believed in it, and I just knew people would buy in once they just saw. "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. I wanted to carve that new trail and not unlike the rest of my life up until that point, I had to go about it with that same fire...
At 14 years old I started researching professional wrestling schools, at 16 I selected the legendary 8 time Worlds Heavyweight Champion Harley Race as my future career to "shadow", although heavily frowned upon and ridiculed by my teachers. As soon as I graduated I drove the 150 miles to go train at the wrestling academy for four days each week, 8-10 grueling hours a day, I'd sleep in my truck every night then drive back to work some 50+hrs in the remaining 3 days of the week to deliver pizzas and mow lawns to pay for food and gas. With that extreme dedication I became the fastest to ever graduate the academy in just over 2 months, and I became a professional wrestler at the tender age of 18.
That same first week I drove down to wrestling school I also signed a bunch of papers to enroll in a university college full-time, papers that I had no idea what they meant, as many times as I read them. I was just guessing and hoping I was doing the right thing. When I got to the university I didn't see any school counselor or have any help enrolling or scheduling. For example, I unknowingly took a senior-level class that you can only take your final semester...but somehow I made it all the way through until the professor asked me something about graduation. When I said a date that was four years from then he looked at me puzzled, but he couldn't do anything but pass me because I had an "A" in the class...as a freshman.
I wrestled professionally for three years while going to college full-time, on the road either training to hone that craft or to and from the next show town nearly every single night, the other nights I was at a local college bar earning a measly $5.15 an hour...to pay for my tuition, gas and food by bouncing kids "just like me" out of the bar, ironically. Getting beer bottles thrown at my head. I hated it, but it was the only job I could get.
At age 20 I became a WLW World Tag-Team Champion and wrestled four different times for World Wresting Entertainment. Later that same year I also underwent serious reconstructive surgery on my shoulder and rehabbed it for nearly 12 months to make a complete recovery, against doctors orders.
During that time of rehabilitating, unable to do anything very physical, and in addition to my already packed college course schedule I started studying on the side. Those studies were for my first personal training certification, which I passed at age 21, officially becoming a Professional Trainer. With all that I still graduated college on time, cum laude, earning a bachelor's degree at age 22, the first and only person to have ever gone to college in my family.
At age 23, by myself, I bought my first house with primary intentions of using it to open my own business, Underground Gym. It was misunderstood, not unlike it is still sometimes today. "What do you mean, your gym is your house?" is a typical remark. Within the first week of taking possession of the house, I started gutting the lower level, opening it up to begin constructing one of the most unique gym's the world has ever seen.
That was the start. It's been ten years now.
I tell all this not to brag or boast, but rather, to share how Underground is a passionate extension of myself. I want to share it's humble beginnings, and tell you that you too can see your vision through.
That first year building the gym I'd sleep until noon, but I'd be up working until 5am doing drywall. I'd never done drywall before. I was going to figure it out. In fact, I'd never done plumbing, electrical, tile, rubber flooring, mirrors, trim, metal refurbishing, upholstery...none of it before, but with a lot of help from mainly my brothers, we figured it out. My dad used to build houses, he taught us a lot as kids.
My mom sewed the upholstery for the gym. I covered and stapled it. I designed the logo. I even bought a giant HTML coding book, read through it and tried to teach myself how to build and write the first website. I figured it out.
I had always loved reading about how Arnold Schwarzenegger built the first gym he had ever worked out in, in the small unknown town of Graz, Austria. There was no gym or equipment for him to use, it was unheard of. So in true Terminator fashion, he himself fabricated and crafted the machines to build up his body, and build up that one of a kind gym. I'd look at photos and videos of Dorian Yates' Temple Gym, the small, dungeon-like basement space hidden away in England. Or the small town Total Package Gym connected to the Harley Race Wrestling Academy in Eldon where I first dug in, got serious and put on fifteen pounds of muscle that first summer after becoming a wrestler. These were models and influences for Underground Gym.
I financed the gym completely by myself. The only monetary help I sought was taking out an American Express credit card with no annual percentage rate for 15 months and maxing it out immediately. This was 2008. I bought a laptop and a set of pro-style dumbbells. That's all I had to begin with.
Those first years, to make ends meet, turn any profit and to continue to build the gym and business, I would train clients at 5am then go work 8-10 hours at a construction job, then back to my gym to train clients late into the evening. I watched very patiently online governments auctions, I'd place bids then I'd drive across the country, several different times, to pick up machinery and equipment for the gym. I slowly put the gym together, piece by piece.
Not long after that I was still struggling, hustling hard, trying to pay my mortgage and bills, but I didn't want to show it. I was approached by top executives of a large company, asked to meet with their head doctor and scientist. This meeting was at the top of the biggest and fanciest hotel suite in all of downtown Kansas City, to discuss partnering and building a supplement line. I remember I spent my last $250 I had to my name on a suit for that meeting. Needless to say they were charlatans just flashing imaginary power and money and disappointingly at the time, I had to walk away.
Soon after that I spent a year and a half filming, editing, publishing and posting as a one-man army to UNGD.tv. I was making the video library, not sleeping hardly at all in that time, painstakingly building the back-end to provide for clients and customers a new service and experience. I've had my hands on every aspect of this gym to some degree, you name it. I literally built this gym.
I wanted to make a place "underground" away from all the mess and big corrupt gyms I'd been involved with in the past. As many as I'd tried or worked for, they were just revolving doors, only focused on the number, putting a dollar sign on everyone's head, members and employees included. They gave shallow promises, took advantage of people in need, desperate or gullible people, good people...all to make a buck and turn profit. I hated it. I was tired of it.
It's not hard to treat people good, give great service and results, and just overall look out for and help people. For some though, I guess it is. In these past 10 years I've seen every gym in the area switch owners, close, re-open, switch names or trade hands time and time again, a never ending loop....not unlike strip clubs. We keep away from both.
"The worst thing I can be is the same as everybody else. I hate that." I've always wanted to be different. Underground Gym has become just that, different; almost an exclusive membership. The environment that has been created here breeds strength and success within everyone here. I've reminisced about the actual physical building and the foundations of this company, but I want to be clear, it's not about the gym...it's about the people and the unique culture that's been formed, the lifestyle. These people and positive attitudes, beautiful minds are what make this company.
It's crazy to think about the thousands of clients we've had in these past ten years, here at the gym and now more overseeing online. Not ever wanting to be bound by a single location, answering the convenience accessibility for our clients, and with appointment spots seldom open due to higher demand, that's led to more and more online coaching and programs, yet still holding the same tenets, values and results. It's been such a pleasure, and it's only growing, continually getting better and better.
I sought out setting a whole new standard, not to survive, but to thrive, to excel. Never stopping, ever. The UNGD.tv logo has now become a symbol of hard work, respect, discipline, trust...represented in each and every customer and client. I am so thankful, so grateful for what it has become, and for each and every single person that has made it this way. Thank-you. If this gym is anything, it's proof that you can carve your own path, make a difference, follow your dream, see your vision through, reach your goals...and that above all, if you want something bad enough, you'll find a way.
Here's to the last and next ten years...
Enjoy this video: From the first piece of steel in 2007, all the way to the tiniest heir lifting that steel in 2017, take a small glimpse into the different stages and growth throughout the years.....
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