A will to improve oneself through hard work, crush the competition, and achieve victory on the day of competition. This was how the spirit of Project Deliverance was conceived.
Soon after my graduation from eighth grade, I received a letter in the mail from the head football coach at my high school requiring my presence at summer football strength and conditioning. I was excited and intimidated as well about the idea of visiting my new high school where I had not made any new friends or acquaintances. The only person I knew was the head football coach who spoke to me at an eighth grade visitation earlier last fall.
As we started calisthenics and drills at practice, we were separated into groups according to position. I remembered telling Coach Hill that I wanted to play quarterback the night we met. Prior to high school, I had always played quarterback in various flag football leagues and had developed quite an arm and love for the game. Coach threw me a football and instructed me to start throwing to our receivers. Almost instantly, I was a part of a team of like minded athletes… even though I barely knew anyone. We then proceeded to the weight room where my new strength coach proceeded to expose my apparent lack of strength and experience. I knew I had a lot to learn after that first day. Later that evening, I felt a soreness unlike anything I had ever felt in my life after experiencing a set of drills called “plyometrics.”
As the summer wore on, I forged friendships, and suffered alongside my fellow freshman teammates. In late July, we were set to start something called “two-a-days” where we had two practices throughout the course of each day. This was a new concept for me as I had never been a part of a full contact football team before. I showed up early for the first day and met a new teammate who possessed speed and explosive ability unlike anything I had ever seen in a guy my own age. His name was Nate Oatis. From the first time I threw this guy the ball, I knew I was going to get to know him very well. Next came the tackling drills. He hit me so hard and with such force that I actually grew to fear facing him in “the ring.” As the year wore on, I learned much from Nate. He taught me how to hit, tackle, block, and he made me faster.
As our high school careers progressed, we worked hard, suffered, and even though football seemed to be a continual struggle, we were very successful in track and field. We forged an attitude of hard work, dedication, and we embraced pain because it made us better. As I look back from this present day, this is truly where the spirit of Project Deliverance was conceived. We trained in a small, cramped, uncomfortable weight room which carried more barbells than anything else. Even though we lacked the proper instruction on most of our lifts, the spirit we cultivated in that old weight room is the essence of our attitude at Project Deliverance.
At the end of our senior year, we graduated at the pinnacle of achievement: The Missouri Track and Field State Championship. I was personally at a loss because I did not know where I would train anymore and I did not want to lose that spirit which we worked so hard to cultivate over the years. Fortunately, I was allowed to train with my underclassmen comrades for one more summer after my graduation. My good friend Phil Scanlon and I worked extremely hard that summer to improve ourselves for the next football season. Phil was a fellow quarterback and was a year younger than myself in high school. I’ll never forget the times I spent with him for three years. He was one of the craziest athletes I have ever seen. His madness drove him to training sometimes two to three times a day. This is how bad he wanted to better himself and win. Phil also graduated and continued his career in football at William Jewell. He possesses the kind of fire that all of our trainees have here at Project Deliverance. He never gave in and never tapped out.
After my freshman year of college, there was no way I would be able to return to my high school’s weight room to continue training. I was on my own for good. Just before making the transition from football to track, a new movie of epic proportion opened in theaters. This movie was “300.” After seeing the movie about six times with my good friends, my dad sent me an email with the subject line reading: “Gym Jones.” He explained that these were the guys responsible for training the actors in the movie “300.” My friends and I read every word and examined every aspect of the training performed at Gym Jones. It was extremely inspiring for me to finally find a group and gym that shone of the same passion for training as myself. I knew that at last I was not alone in my madness to achieve great things by working hard and suffering. Everything from the rough training environment to the brutal training protocol screamed the same vibe as my old, rough high school weight room. It was a place of hard work and reverence.
Inspired by what I had seen on the internet, I made a few phone calls to some friends. I then decided that we needed to start a gym of our own where we could express the ideals we had acquired and refined through our time in high school. Unfortunately, we had no equipment, no location, and very limited funds to subsidize our gym. We pulled a few dollars together, and Jeff Schmidt donated his 200# Gold’s Gym weight set to our cause, and we set up shop in my garage immediately after school ended. I then decided that we needed a name. My friends and I pulled the name “Project” from the movie “Fight Club” because Tyler Durden developed the infamous “Project Mayhem” to combat the mediocre ways of society. We then chose the name “Deliverance” because this was going to be liberation from the bondage of society. This was deliverance from the apathy of everyone around us in the world. We were going to cultivate a special attitude here and make it invitation only to protect the integrity of our gym. We invited the people who resonated with our attitude… or who we wanted to crush through our unusual training methods.
The first summer of Project Deliverance was an experiment to see what would happen as a result of our hard work. Our programming was suspect indeed because at first, we had no idea what we were doing in terms of how hard to work and when to rest. We showed up everyday, worked as hard as we could, and achieved a level of fitness that was unlike anything we had ever seen. I had not been very good friends with a number of the athletes who trained at our location when the first summer began. Now, because of shared hardship and suffering, we share an unbreakable bond of friendship. We support each other in training, competition, and in life. The gym itself quickly became a huge hit. We trained a large number of athletes that first summer and decided that coaching and training was what we really wanted to do with our lives and professions.
Our methodology quickly became more advanced as we read books, tried new ideas, and studied. I switched my major from Business Administration to Athletic Training, then ultimately to Exercise Science. Myself, Ryan, and Matt attended a Basic Barbell Certification under the instruction of Mark Rippetoe just before the beginning of our second summer of Project Deliverance. We learned how to perform and properly teach the back squat, front squat, deadlift, power clean, strict press, and bench press. This has been an invaluable tool in our arsenal of expertise at Project Deliverance. We increased our strength and conditioning greatly that summer and built a foundation for Project Deliverance as a business.
In December of 2008, I was given the privilege of being able to attend a Gym Jones Athletic Development Seminar. I was finally going to be given the opportunity to meet the man, the myth, the legend, Mark Twight. For over two years, myself and everyone at Project Deliverance had idolized and looked up to Mark Twight at the Gym Jones organization in general for added inspiration for our gym. In late 2007, Mark had discovered our operation through the internet and a few of his colleagues. We had plagiarized their material, stolen their workouts, and started a gym in the spirit of Gym Jones sharpened by our own experiences in collegiate and high school sports. Worried, I sent Mark and email about our operation and confessed to have used his material without his consent.
His response was the following:
All Hail Project Deliverance.
Infringement? Shut it down? Hell no. Buy more plates. Make taller
boxes. Wreck more prospects. Do more overhead sit-ups (or whatever)
with the car wheel. Watch form closely.
Stealing? Hell yes. No one originates any training ideas these days.
If it’s being done now it was done a long time ago, and harder. People
used to be crazier. Now we are too reserved, too scared, and want to
have our hands held too much. Or worse, to buy our results in a
bottle. If you aren’t willing to do the work then you don’t deserve
Large revenue? If you figure out how to earn it by asking people to
work hard, to suffer, to overcome their own fear, to show up every
day, not to quit … you’ll be way ahead of anyone else.
The Gym Jones Staff
After receiving the support of the Gym Jones Staff, we were more determined to improve ourselves and make this gym a long term reality.
When I attended the Gym Jones seminar, I learned much about how to improve our protocol and methodology at Project Deliverance, most importantly, the fact that there is no “one” protocol that works for everyone. There are as many programs as individuals. What works for one athlete may not work for someone else. This helped shape and mold our training into what it is today. I had the chance to meet one of my idols, Mark Twight, and I forged a new friendship with someone who would make me mentally tougher, more competitive, and a better man. His name is Rob “Maximus” MacDonald. Rob’s assistance to me over the past year has been invaluable. He has sponsored me with training, advice, and offered me a chance to return to Gym Jones for additional training after my junior year in track and field. That is another story for another article.
We received another note from Mark after my attendance at the seminar:
When a friend first pointed me towards the PD website and said, “you
have to shut these copycats down” I surfed the site and had an
absolutely opposite reaction. I thought that if what we are doing has
inspired a group of high school/college-age kids to better themselves
through commitment and hard work then we are doing what we had hoped
to do. Seeing how hard you work there, and then meeting Matt and
recognizing his energy, willingness to learn, and the results he
experienced by putting the ideas to work made us want to work harder
as well. It was a treat for us to have him visit. I wish I had a
similar opportunity, or at least similar inspiration when I was his
(and your) age. Simply knowing that there was someone out there,
somewhere working and practicing and learning while the rest of my
friends were getting busy with wasting their lives would have meant
feeling less like an outsider, would have driven me harder. If this is
the result of our work and the window into it then every drop of sweat
will have been worth it.
I am very proud of how our “project” has progressed over the three years we have been in existence. Since the creation of our gym, I’ve watched the same high school kids who entered my gym back in 2007 mature into well learned athletes. Ryan Benson has gone from being just a kid fresh out of high school who wasn’t sure of what he really wanted to do with his life to being one of the best strength coaches I have ever met. My sister, Sarah, has completely changed her attitude toward training. She is not the most gifted individual in terms of athletics, but she has become physically and mentally very strong since she joined Project Deliverance for our second summer of training. My good friend and teammate from high school, Nate Oatis, joined us in 2009. It has been such a blessing to have him join and support Project Deliverance. Since his decision to pursue a career in Mixed Martial Arts, I think he has found what he really wants to do with his athletic career and having him training at our gym has been just like the old days back in high school. The athletes are what make Project Deliverance possible. The attitude they exhibit in “the garage” is something special that is found in very few places around the world. Guys like Brad Gutting, Jeff Schmidt, Ihtesham Gohar, and the rest who train and live with such intensity make our gym a very special place.
So what about the future? This article is entitled: “The Process” because Project Deliverance is truly an ongoing process. Upon my graduation from college, we are going to move out of the garage and into our own facility. The gym will finally take on a space of its own. When this happens, we will be able to accept more athletes to our facility who are very serious about their endeavors. The gym itself will remain invitation only because we want to protect the integrity of our attitude and work ethic. I am only interested in training people who are willing to lay themselves on the line, break themselves down, and then have the self discipline to recover adequately. I will educate and hire additional trainers who have been with us for awhile as the need arises. Our long term goal is to become the most well known and dominant training center in the Greater St. Louis Area. We train high school, collegiate, and professional athletes who are very serious about their performance. Within 2010, we plan to open our first seminar to the general public to help generate revenue for our new space. Currently, Project Deliverance as a business generates revenue from our athletes to help subsidize our organization. It is not much money, but it has met our needs. I am very excited to see what Project Deliverance becomes in the coming years. Our passion and drive brought us up basically overnight from basically nothing. There is still much work to be done, training to accomplish, and competitions to win in the coming years.
God has a plan for our lives and especially for Project Deliverance. He brought us up, showed us a way, and has helped us prosper in ways we could never imagine. I pray everyday that I will make the right decisions and lead us to where God wants us to go. We have the power to change the lives of so many people not only physically and mentally but also spiritually. God raised us up three years ago and gave us a purpose, He surely has great plans for what we will do next after our college years have passed. Each and every day, I wonder where we will be in two, three, or even ten years. I do know one thing for certain, if we keep God first in our lives, continue to work hard, and never quit… we will be successful.