About a year ago, Matt Hesse, the CEO of Corr-Jensen Inc., quietly launched the FitOps Foundation, a nonprofit created to train military veterans to become elite personal trainers. For Hesse, who served in the Army from 1995-2000, FitOps became a vehicle “to give back in a way that demonstrated how the military helped me,” he says. “By the end of the year we’ll have put 300 veterans through our month-long live-in program; our graduates leave with a personal training certification and find work at gyms or GNC stores. By 2020 we’re aiming to have 10,000 Certified Veteran Fitness Operative trainers in the market.”
We caught up with Hesse to learn more about the FitOps mission, and how to support the cause.
Men’s Fitness: What was the goal when creating FitOps?
Matt Hesse: We felt that creating a movement for veterans to find purpose, community, and recovery through fitness would be a great way to transition them back into civilian life. While that wasn’t a struggle for me, I've seen a lot of men and women who leave the military and get lost.
What do you mean by “get lost”?
Many of the veterans get lost post-service, and there isn’t always a clear path for them. For the first time many of them are alone without the support and structure they had when they were on active duty. Unfortunately, many are also dealing with other pressures such as PTSD, which, unfortunately, for too many often escalates to substance abuse. While this program is not about treating drugs and alcohol specifically, I would say a good third of the veterans we receive into the program have struggled with some sort of addiction.
What is your strategy for outreach?
We want to help veterans transition to the next chapter of their life through the transformative power of health and fitness; the goal is to be the insertion point when they're leaving the service. We bring them into the program, help them build a business strategy as a Certified Veteran Fitness Operative, get them certified and qualified to start training immediately, and help them find a new job.
Does FitOps help with job placement?
When they graduate we don’t just turn them loose—we have a community with a support system and a network. While at camp we also help with things like interviewing, creating a business strategy, and how to use social media; then our network of hiring partners helps match qualified candidates with personal training jobs in their communities.
What about after they’ve been certified?
Our commitment to veterans is not to merely open doors to personal and professional success as expert personal trainers, but to welcome them into a lifelong community of support and camaraderie. If a [FitOps graduate] ever finds themself in a tough spot, we're one phone call away and we have the resources to pick them up and get them back into service. That service post-certification support, for us, is as important as getting them certified.
What does it cost to put someone through FitOps?
It’s only $6,500 for one veteran to go through our three-week program, which we cover 100%. This includes their travel, food and accommodation, and certification. After that 23-day period they’ll be certified and qualified to be a trainer. In FitOps you get certified with a test; you get qualified by hands-on training at our FitOps camp in Dallas, TX.
How can the fitness community support the cause?
On FitOps.org there’s a donate button at the top of the page. Also, on Saturday, November 11—Veteran’s Day—we will live stream an event in New York City where I will do 2,222 pushups to recognize the 22 veterans that commit suicide each day. That live stream will have a donation component that allows people to pledge money for every pushup I do. Keep an eye on our social channels for more information to come.
What is the plan of attack for getting the word out?
We have created what I call the “Virtuous Circle” at Performix, Corr-Jensen’s sports performance brand. The idea is that as an organization grows, it produces profits to be able to support causes that run parallel to the business. And so the bigger the business gets, the more that we can support and get the word out—through partners who champion our mission and from graduates themselves and their amazing stories.
Want to namedrop any supporters?
From a fundraising perspective, GNC has donated about a quarter of a million dollars to the program this year, and it'll continue to support. The company is also raising money in-store for the month of November—which is Veteran’s month—and it’s hiring our veterans part-time, so, please, if you feel the desire to help, pop by a GNC and buy a FitOps shaker cup; 100% of the profit margin is donated to FitOps.
We’ve also partnered with the folks at Equinox, Men’s Fitness, and the National Physique Committee. In fact, [NPC and IFBB Professional League President] Jim Manion has generously donated free NPC memberships to military veterans. Now, when our guys graduate from FitOps, they can compete in NPC shows. We'll be at more than 300 physique competitions this year as a sponsor in one way or another, and so the entire bodybuilding and fitness community is seeing FitOps in these channels.
Where do you take FitOps from here?
This year, our Performix brand has donated more than a million dollars to get FitOps off the ground. And as Performix continues to grow, we will continue to support. But, to serve the number of veterans that are in need, we will raise money all through next year and find even more great partners.
To make a donation to fitops, please visit: http://bit.ly/FitOps