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  • Writer's pictureTom Vachet

From Boardroom to Bench Press: My Journey as a Senior Executive Turned Strength Coach

Finding Strength Beyond the Suit

For over two decades, my identity was enveloped in the polished shoes and tailored suits of a corporate executive. I walked the halls of power, negotiated deals that moved millions, and made decisions that affected the livelihoods of thousands. Yet, as I climbed higher on the corporate ladder, I felt an unmistakable pull towards a different kind of strength—a more personal and primal sort.

It was in the fluorescent-lit rooms of a modest gym where I found my new sanctuary. Initially, the weights were mere tools for physical wellness, but they quickly became symbols of a deeper transformation. Each lift, push, and pull mirrored the challenges I faced in the boardroom but presented a kind of clarity and immediate feedback that corporate life seldom offered. The gym became a place of meditation, where the only deals negotiated were with my own limitations, and the only outcomes that mattered were personal milestones of strength and endurance.

The Leap of Faith

In 2000 I was 48 years old and a member of the merger team in Washington, DC, joining GTE and Bell Atlantic in a $2 Billion dollar deal. Our effort created the new entity named Verizon. At the conclusion, I returned to my permanent home in Manhattan Beach, California. I contemplated retirement as I had long ago set the age of 50 as that goal. However, I quickly came under recruitment, first to Global Crossing, then to a promising tech startup as an investor and partner.

But then, in 2001, as we were seeking venture capital, the tech bubble burst. As I wrestled with the fact I was certainly now permanently retired, I considered I was facing being a half century old, and I not only looked it I felt it. I knew then, absent a career, I needed to turn my attention to my health.

The Stirrings of Change

It began with a simple habit: morning workouts before the break of dawn. Initially a means to handle stress and maintain health, it evolved into a passion for the art and science of strength training. I became fascinated with the transformation that occurs when someone commits to becoming stronger—not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. The gym, once an outlet in my younger years, became my sanctuary.

I joined an upscale fitness club, and hired a Personal Trainer so I would have a commitment to keep. I changed my diet. I changed my sleep and rest periods. Three months into my new regimen, feeling stronger, healthier, and more physically confident, an idea emerged. Some years back I had read an article in a prominent men's magazine about people who had made dramatic life and career changes. One profile was about an executive, similar to me, who had gone from being an executive to a physical trainer. And so, I thought, why not me?

Following a period of contemplation, I approached the club manager, and pitched my idea. She initially discouraged me, explaining the compensation was not commensurate with my education, experience, and prior income. I was however persistent. And in the end, she conceded.

Forging A New Path

Making the leap from a secure senior executive role to that of a gym trainer was as thrilling as it was terrifying. However, life sometimes whispers to us through our passions, nudging us towards our most authentic selves. I listened to that whisper, and it roared into a decision that would redefine my purpose.

I dove headlong into certifications, studying everything from exercise physiology to nutrition. I apprenticed with seasoned coaches and volunteered my time to learn the ropes. But most importantly, I connected with the stories and struggles of those I helped to train. These connections solidified my resolve that this radical career shift was more than just a new job—it was a calling.

The Common Thread

At first glance, the corporate world and the gym floor may seem worlds apart. However, I discovered the core skills that propelled me in the boardroom—leadership, strategic planning, and effective communication—were invaluable in coaching. Empowering clients to push beyond their perceived limits required the same level of commitment and focus I once applied to board presentations and team management.

It Is Often Hard to See the Road Ahead Until You Get There

Two years following the launch of my new career, the company that had hired me offered me a management position of their cornerstone club, a 205,000 square foot luxury fitness club in Manhattan Beach, California. There I began to make the acquaintance of members from the professional sports and entertainment industry. And these became my training clients.

Two years following my arrival at this club I was approached by a former Los Angeles Laker player, now playing in Oakland, who had suffered injuries through the last three years of his eight-year career. He was ready to retire but wished for one last good season. I assessed him, found the issue causing his injuries, and referred him to a physical therapist who fixed the problem. He returned to Oakland and enjoyed the best season of his career.

That athlete and I worked together exclusively for the following three years, and I was compensated with a $250,000 per year salary, close to what I had previously earned in French cuffs and carrying a Tumi briefcase. What followed was a nearly twenty-year career as a professional strength coach, working with dozens and dozens of professional, Olympic, and collegiate athletes. I finally retired for good in 2019.

Shaping More Than Bodies

Men's Health Magazine dubbed me "The Muscle Whisperer". This because I was able to improve my client's performance in their sport, reduce their risk for injury, return them to their sport following an injury, and extend their careers. What truly captivated me was the metamorphosis that occurred in the people I coached. Strength training goes beyond bigger muscles and less body fat; it shapes the psyche. As my clients grew stronger, they stood a little taller, played more confidently, spoke a little clearer, and carried an air of confidence that transcended the physical. It was in these moments I found the profound connection between my business and health vocations.

Reflections and Revelations

To those entrenched in one career, contemplating a dramatic switch can seem daunting, if not outright foolhardy. But there's merit in the audacious act of chasing what fills you with zeal, regardless of the age or stage in your career. If there's anything my transition has taught me, it's that reinvention is possible—and it can be deeply rewarding.

This blog post is for the executives pondering their second act, the fitness enthusiasts curious about the industry's ins and outs, and anyone who’s standing at the precipice of change, hesitant to take that next step. I'm here to tell you that it's worth the jump. Your muscles—and your spirit—have more strength than you know. And sometimes, it takes more than just a smart strategy or business acumen; it takes a different kind of guts—the kind you build one rep at a time.

Final Thoughts

My transition from a senior executive to a strength coach could have been a story of lost status, but it became one of gained fulfillment. I urge you to follow your instincts, leverage your, experiences, and maybe, just maybe, I can inspire you to find an unconventional path to your own version of strength.

Remember, muscle and might, in all their forms, are not just forged in the gym—they’re also honed in the heart.

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