By Susan Hamilton
I had the opportunity to spend a morning at the Adaptive Training Foundation, the brain-child of David Vobora, a 5 year NFL veteran. After a shoulder surgery in 2008 and dubbed ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ by the NFL, today he is anything but.
I won’t tell you too much about his journey. You can find all that on the Adaptive Training Foundation YouTube channel and website. What I will tell you is my experience with the men and women of ATF only a couple of weeks ago that has forever changed me – challenged me – to take the limits completely off my life.
I walked into the facility not knowing what to expect. I had been under deadlines for the last week and a half and had not come up for air to research this appointment. I was going at the request of one of our sponsors, Dr. Luke Arnett, and I was told it was important that I see what this place was all about.
I expected to see veterans, I expected to see a training facility – but that can mean many things. I did not expect the first sentence that registered to be, “We just had a quadruple amputee lift 600 pounds.”
Right out of the gate I got to speak with Blake Watson, the marketing director for ATF. At first glance I thought, “He’s young, and he’s in a wheelchair. But that’s the sweetest smile under that red hair!” Blake is a Marine Corps veteran, and on December 14th, 2010, he knelt down on top of a pressure plate IED and it blew his left leg off above the knee.
It also took a lot of tissue and muscle from his right leg and he had to have his left elbow fused. Two years and 10 months later he was discharged – only he took a serious pain pill addiction with him. Nothing seemed to help. It wasn’t a big stretch to try harder street drugs like heroin – he would do anything he could to stop the pain and forget the torment he’d been through.
When he started coming to ATF, he had half his heart in it. It was hard. He made excuses for about 4 weeks, but like everyone else who experiences the energy, enthusiasm, and support these trainers pour out – he was challenged to become more of himself than he had ever been before.
“It was great to get back into the physicality again, and to be a part of an elite group. This place has become my sanctuary.”
He is now completely clean. “Getting in physical shape helps confidence,” Blake says now. “THAT’S what really makes you feel good.” He had just leg pressed 600 pounds, “For a guy with one leg, that’s pretty good!”
Executive Director, Steve Luppino, says their motto is ‘Redefine Your Limits.’
“This is about constantly seeking that next ridgeline,” says Steve, “We’re recalibrating carnivores here.”
The Adaptive Training Foundation is relatively small, staffing only four employees. Every nine weeks they get 10 new athletes and 10 to 15 guests show up every week. No athlete ever pays for training, and it costs $4500 dollars to sponsor just one. But if you go to TeamATF.org, you can cover an athlete for only $22 a month. 22 represents the number of veterans who take their lives every single day, and ATF KNOWS they can do something about it. So can you.
Your sponsorship, whole or in part, is tax deductible. Of course, larger sponsors to cover the salaries and overhead of this team are also greatly appreciated and will go a long way to support their end game – an ATF facility alongside each and every VA in America.
“Vietnam and Korean Veterans hang out at the VA every day – and not because they have an appointment. They’re looking to belong, they’re looking for commonality. With ATF, everyone’s been through really traumatic experiences and everyone can bond through that,” says Blake Watson.
Physical training on this level has so many benefits, and the tribe that’s built from the journey to complete recovery is nothing short of spiritual. This is a family gym, and husbands, wives, and young children are welcome to experience and support the discipline and effort each of these athletes pours out. Mental illnesses and addictions melt away as men and women discover hope – triumphantly kicking defeat in the face.
“I thought it was about the physicality, but it was about the hope.”
“ATF is not rehab. ATF is designed to provide quality, individual and customized training that will help each athlete create a sustainable lifestyle change,” Vobora states in his bio. “The program now offers a 9-week intensive training to restore, recalibrate and redeploy these athletes to inspire others to achieve the impossible.”
They’re constantly looking for trainers who can help support the workload. If you have the skills to step into a training position and support an athlete, you can also sign up at TeamATF.org.
Business owners can make all the difference in the world, not only through sponsorship, but through employment. This intensive program breeds able employees, who desperately need and want to work.
“Veterans don’t want hand-outs,” says Watson, “they want jobs.”
The Adaptive Training Foundation empowers athletes to new levels. “With or without limbs,” says Executive Director Steve Luppino, “you have the power inside yourself to compete. I’ve got a bunch of ass-kickers coming out of this gym, and they don’t need special accommodations.”
“When there’s a triple amputee and a quadriplegic bench pressing 300 pounds, tell me how you feel bad about your day.” What a fine young man. Blake Watson, that red head of yours has changed my life.
“Don’t let what you can’t do affect what you CAN do.”
Susan Hamilton, editor-in-chief of The OffBeat Business Magazine, went on location to meet David Vobora and visit the Adaptive Training Foundation for interviews with their marketing director, Blake Watson, and executive director, Steve Luppino, for this article. Visit TeamATF.org to sponsor an athlete, sponsor their organization, meet your next new hire or volunteer your services. Call 214.432.1070 or email firstname.lastname@example.org today.
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