PEORIA, Ill. — One of the lines in the Veterans’ creed is “I continue to serve my community, my country, and my fellow veterans.”
That’s exactly what FitOps, a non-profit which aims to equip veterans with important life skills and community, is doing for veterans across the country.
Training a veteran costs the organization around $3,000, but because of donations, it is absolutely free for the veterans.
“At its core FitOps is a certification program for veterans to go through as they transition out of the military to help them find purpose through a career in the fitness field,” said founder of FitOps Matt Hesse.
One of the veterans to go through this program was Army veteran Randy Lloyd.
“I know for a fact, that this organization is saving lives,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd served in the Iraq war and was part of FitOps’ first class to become CVFOs (Certified Veteran Fitness Operatives).
“The way Matt and I met was three years ago at the Mr. Olympia competition, the expo there. Previously to that I had found the best form of therapy and what I could utilize to combat a lot of my issues with PTSD, depression, and anxiety was through the gym,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd and Hesse both agree one of the hardest things after returning from deployment, is finding community and meaning in life.
“One thing I was really struggling with, even though I had found a great source of therapy in the gym to combat a lot of these issues, I was still struggling with purpose. I couldn’t quite see any future for myself as far as what’s next,” Lloyd said.
“What Fit-Ops has done for me, is help me find that purpose. It’s a program that not only encompasses all the things I’m passionate about and being able to do as a profession but has also given me a sense of community again,” Lloyd added.
“One of the biggest challenges for veterans is finding something as purposeful as serving in the military. Which is a pretty challenging thing to do,” Hesse said.
But through FitOps, Hesse is looking to help veterans secure jobs after their service, where they can now serve others back at home.
“Our ultimate goal is to end veteran suicide through the power of fitness. We believe that between the purposeful career as a personal trainer and the power of fitness as mental therapy, we believe this is a recipe for it,” Hesse said.
Lloyd says FitOps has helped him meet lifelong friends.
“Once they get out of the military and life goes on for our soldiers, our marines, life goes on. And you don’t have that community anymore. And ever since Fit-Ops I’ve been able to build quite the community. I’ve got people in my life I couldn’t imagine not having in my life,” Lloyd said.
And now after being trained through FitOps, Lloyd has been able to give back to the program by returning to ‘camp’ multiple times.
“Since the first class, I’ve been fortunate enough to go back three times. We set it up in squads. We have four squads, and each squad has a squad leader and those are the ones that take the purpose in leading and giving direction on how the program works. So I’ve been fortunate enough to go back three times to be a squad leader to help other veterans be able to become CVFOs,” Lloyd said.
Hesse said these camps help veterans clear their minds by getting away for a few weeks.
“Ultimately, we want to take veterans away from the chaos of an urban market, take them out of the wilderness, clear all the distractions away, and allow them to spend almost a month connecting with each other and learning how to be a personal trainer, how to build a clientele, how to apply for a job,” Hesse said.
“Where else can you go for three weeks and not only learn a new skill but also get connected with veterans who are probably dealing with 99% of the same issues you are?” Lloyd said.
Currently, FitOps does not have a personal location, but the training programs have moved throughout the country. The most recent being in Bentonville, Arkansas.
“FitOps is currently being run out of local Boys Scouts camps. We’ll move it around. We’ve rented out about 7-8 different camps. Trying to get a feel for where the full-time facility should be built,” Hesse said.
FitOps formed in late 2016 and started running camps in 2017 and 2018.
“It captured a lot of attention, John (Cena) visited that camp. Once he was on camp and spending time with the vets, he was hooked as well,” Hesse said.
Now FitOps has gained a lot of national attention.
CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell highlighted FitOps on Veterans’ Day during “Profiles of Service.”
WWE Superstar and actor John Cena has also been a huge supporter of the company.
Cena began a donation campaign and said he would match donations up to $1,000,000, he announced on the Ellen Show. That goal was reached.
If you are a veteran or know of a veteran, Hesse says the easiest way to get involved is by visiting the website FitOps.org.
“There’s also the opportunity that if you know a vet that’s suffering and you want to sponsor that vet, we can reach out to the vet for them and say ‘Someone has sponsored you to go through our camp, and we’d love you to invite you to our next camp.” We’ll do the hard work of getting them into the program,” Hesse said.
Hesse and Lloyd say even if fitness isn’t your main priority in life, FitOps can still benefit your life and help you start a career.
“There’s some things out in the veteran community now that are topics people are talking about. One of those is that veterans don’t want pity, they want the opportunity to thrive like anybody else. We don’t come out of the service with specific skills that are always perfect for a specific job, but the one thing I can tell you about veterans is they have skill sets that make great employees in say my company. Those skills are accountability and leadership and their ability to adapt under pressure,” Hesse said.
“Once I really started to put big precedence on making that an everyday part of my life, I could place everything else so much easier. It’s like I could see things through clearer glass, it wasn’t so fogged anymore,” Lloyd said.
“My favorite part is the fact that a lot of these veterans are finally finding the purpose they’re looking for and I’m lucky enough to be a part of it,” Lloyd said.
“The mission is for current or former U.S. military service-members. You have to apply, interview and be selected for FitOps. We’re looking for veterans with a passion for fitness, a drive to achieve their best, and ready for this next chapters of their lives,” is the mission statement on FitOps’ website.
“This program is well-suited for – but not limited to – individuals who may have struggled with substance abuse, PTSD, and difficulties in transitioning into civilian life. FitOps replaces alcohol, drugs and hopelessness with endorphins, community and professional success through a passion for fitness,” the statement continues.
Hesse said he has a lot of veterans come from the Chicago-area, and if any veterans from central Illinois are interested in attending camps and becoming a CVFO, to visit the Apply page on the website.