At the start of a world-wide health pandemic, Justin Fuchs took a leap of faith and opened Iron Backs gym to share his love of health and fitness with the valley. From the beginning, the mission of the gym has been to offer an environment of support and encouragement, where anyone could feel comfortable showing up as they are in the present moment at an affordable cost. Justin expressed, “I wanted less people without dads and granddads because of health issues. That’s something we can control . . . health and fitness we can absolutely control.”
Simultaneously, the Kole Wright Foundation, a youth mentorship program focused on creating positive mental health through fitness and other avenues, was struggling to stay running due to program restrictions and difficulty finding mentors and volunteers. Founder, Terra Wright, said, “At the end of 2020, our board had disbanded, we were going to shut down the foundation for good. Something kept stopping me saying, ‘No, just wait, just wait’. So we came into early 2021 and I was like, we are done.” However, she could never bring herself to push the button on the computer that would cause the final closeout.
In May 2021, Terra and her husband Chase, started attending Iron Backs gym and talking with Justin, who was in the process of qualifying for a non-profit to sponsor young athletes who couldn’t afford the monthly gym fee. His goal is to help as many individuals as he can, which is why, from the gym’s opening day, he has offered a discount to first responders and veterans; it is why he and his fellow coaches have offered a free class for special needs youth for nearly a year. Several patrons have been told to just come and use the facility if they can’t afford it. The purpose of the Iron Backs Barbell Club would be to help cover some of the costs of these benefits. However, as Justin and Terra continued talking, Terra realized that she knew why she couldn’t officially close the foundation and thus began the collaboration and combining of the entities, all under the Kole Wright name.
Terra reached out to the disbanded board members to determine interest in coming back on with the new charter; two of them joined up again. With Terra, Chase, and Justin on the board it was now full and the foundation immediately began working towards its new mission. Terra shared, “My goal always with the foundation had been to turn it into a CrossFit gym setting. Now we all have the gym space, someone leading the way with the business model, and we can focus on mental health through fitness.” Probably the largest shift in the forward movement of the foundation is the expanded focus from youth only to encompass adults as well. Terra mentioned that this filled a void, allowing her to keep the mission as steadfast as possible.
Both Justin and Terra appreciate the benefits that exercise has offered them, not only physically but mentally as well and they are excited to share these benefits with anyone that needs it. According to the CDC, physical benefits from exercising can include: decreased risk of heart disease, slowing down of osteoporosis or prevention, help with warding off certain cancers — including breast and colon, regulation of blood sugar and weight to inhibit development of type 2 diabetes, increase agility, and strengthens the muscles and bones1. There are also many mental health benefits from exercising like; reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety; alleviating stress and increasing the body’s ability to adapt to it; boosting self-esteem; improving sleep; and strengthening memory and delaying cognitive disease2.
Veterans, in particular, are a special focus and the foundation is excited to participate in Tactical Games, which are “obstacle courses paired with shooting challenges; basically a Spartan race with guns.” Terra and Justin are both veterans and hold respect and honor for our country and those that fight for it. They have a passion for helping Veterans who often get released from their service and struggle with PTSD and the loss of being part of a team. Many struggle finding their place outside of Military service; having knowledge and incredible skills that may have less application in the civilian world — hence the Tactical games, which will allow them to use some of their skills in a fun and competitive yet collaborative environment. Not limited to Veterans, the foundation will also largely focus on all First Responders and Special Needs individuals. However, the sponsorship will not be limited to these groups. Anyone can apply to be considered, and the foundation will help as many people as possible. Eventually, they want to expand the services offered to include counseling and other forms of therapy for those that may need it.
The foundation has been funded, to date, through community fundraisers and businesses; the plan and hope is for that to continue. Terra spoke about the support that the Foundation has received over the last couple of years and how grateful they are for it. They will continue to hold the Spring Clean and other CrossFit competitions as well as an annual dinner and silent auction where they will showcase the accomplishments that the participants have achieved throughout the year. Their 2022 focus and hopes for expansion include, finding recurring sponsorships and a larger gym facility to accommodate the growing numbers of members for both the Kole Wright Foundation and the Iron Backs gym. What a wonderful blessing it is to have people who work hard to create a healthier mental community, who share such a passion for it, right here in the Heber Valley.