AUSTIN (KXAN) — A special kind of movement is building in east Austin. It’s a training ground that’s pulling people out of darkness, and it’s giving hope to some who are ready to give up on life: getting fit by embracing vulnerability.
“My journey to where I am now started when I hit rock bottom,” said Braydon Alley. He’s conquered some dark moments in his life. “I created a chain that was attached to my ankle, and it dragged me down.”
I met Braydon, or as he likes to be called “Bray,” two years ago in a southeast Austin gym. He was all smiles while training his client. From my point of view, a man in his 40s trying to get in shape, I thought Braydon had it going on; he was lean and fit. In that moment I didn’t know his story and the struggles he lived.
“I had a choice, a decision on whether I wanted to live or a choice to actually make a change.” For two years, every single day, Bray thought “Why am I here?”
“I was just disgusted with who I was, and I was pushing everything out of my life,” said Braydon, while recalling those dark moments.
“Eventually,” he said, while his smile grew from cheek to cheek and snapping his fingers, “I had to make a change. And for me that’s why I connected with health and wellness.”
Braydon organized and is leading free community workouts once a month at Squatch Frontier Fitness. It’s a team effort with his fellow community leaders Danielle Gertner and CJ Finley.
The trio is using their life experiences to remind people they are not alone.
“Come on, let’s go!” said Gertner during Saturday’s free community workout, with a voice so strong it can move mountains.
This is a tough week for Danielle. This Thursday will mark a year since she lost her older brother, Zachary Scott Gertner, to an accidental drug overdose.
“As you can imagine, it’s rocked my world, and it’s hurt my heart. It’s been a hard and powerful way to learn how to show up again with this new hole in my heart. It’s never going to go away,” said Gertner, while trying to hold back her emotions.
For Danielle, being open about her pain is getting easier by getting stronger with vulnerability. Think of it like being at the gym working on your biceps or on your squat.
“Vulnerability and authenticity are a muscle, and it gets strengthen over time,” she said. “The more that you lean into that vulnerability, first, it’s freeing as hell. When you are vulnerable with someone, you have a safe space and tell your story and allow shame or judgement to die. You free yourself.”
Outside of Squatch she’s a motivational speaker and ownership coach. She helps women take their power back and own it.
“Every time you hold something in, think of a pipeline, you’re creating gunk in that pipeline, it’s clogging you from experiencing a full spectrum of what you deserve: love, happiness and gratitude.”
Success is not measured by your career or money. Danielle said it’s all about living your truth.
“Find people who support you. Know that you are enough. Every breath you take is perfect. If you can measure the success of your life just on the presence of your breath, on the laughs, the memories that are made, you are always going to be successful.”
You can tell the theme here is about community and vulnerability. Thinking about it gets me emotional. As a young man growing up not wanting to admit I was gay, I feared what people would say; I felt that I wouldn’t fit in. At times I felt alone.
“At the end of the day, rising tides lift all ships,” said CJ Finley, a community leader and Thrive on Life podcast host. “We know that we can get so much better together not just in the gym but outside as well.”
Besides getting a good sweat session at Squatch, the next goal is to connect you with people to help you become a catalyst in your community.
There is no competition, no judgement here or weird looks while you workout. It’s a pool of people who want to lift each other up.
CJ met his best friend Noah Huisman at Squatch. Their friendship developed like wildfire. That fuel sparked Oasyss Sauna, a business that focuses on fire and ice: sauna and ice plunges.
CJ is passionate about life and lives every day by making every heartbeat count. He and his wife, Erin, are behind a movement called Thrive on Life. It began after both lost loved ones — Erin lost her father to a sudden heart attack, and CJ lost a family member to colon cancer.
“A lot of fitness is mental, and it’s how you treat yourself every day inside your mind,” explained CJ. “Are you confident, are you kind, are you empathetic, do you love yourself when you look in the mirror? Working out those muscles help you become a more empathetic kind and loving individual toward yourself, and you will bring that energy out to the world.”
Braydon almost lost himself when he allowed the chain attached to his ankle drag him down into the deep dark water. Today he’s above water. Bray found the path he was meant to thrive on and wants to help illuminate the path for others.
“These free community workouts are a way to create that for more people outside of our community. We want people to come with their torch, and maybe it’s not lit yet, and walk out with a lit torch. People don’t have to join our gym, we just want them to come here for the free workout, branch out and maybe this inspired them to create something like this somewhere else.”
Jose Torres is a news producer with KXAN. His blog will bring stories of hope and determination from others who have fought through their own health struggles and life challenges. He looks forward to sharing those conversations in future blogs.