Vancouver fitness entrepreneur Rob Williams says he wants to help young athletes avoid what happened to him. And if a pending sale of his downtown health and fitness companies occurs in the next couple of months, he will have ample opportunity to do this in the future.
Williams, owner of Mixx Fitness Studio and Performance Posture Clinic near Coal Harbour, told the Georgia Straight in an interview that he is close to finalizing a deal to sell these businesses for an undisclosed price to Vancouver-based mining executive Scott Cousens. He will bundle these facilities into the MultiSport Centre of Excellence.
The 146,000-square-foot training and sports-medicine facility in Burnaby is funded by the MultiSport Centre of Excellence Foundation.
According to Williams, Mixx and Performance Posture Clinic will become the downtown campus. “The whole facility is designed from the ground up to provide an unbelievable level of seamless integration of the highest calibre of practitioners and services surrounding athletics,” he said.
Sitting in an office at the posture clinic, Williams described how his career as a football player was cut short by injuries. He played soccer while growing up in Williams Lake, but with his size and speed, he knew that football was his ideal sport. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a high-school league in his area of the province.
So when he arrived at Simon Fraser University, Williams decided to try out for the Clan. “I was 240 or 250 pounds—and fast,” he recalled.
Even though he didn’t know how to put on the pads at first, he still made the team as the starting nose tackle on the defensive line. As a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the SFU Clan competes against high-level American teams. This meant that Williams had to try to bust through 300-pound offensive linemen to reach the player with the ball. Sometimes he ended up being pulled and pushed in opposite directions, resulting in intense pain.
After he couldn’t play any longer, his doctors thought he had suffered a groin pull or a hernia. Then, he said, there was a suspicion that he had endured an abdominal tear. Only after pushing for a bone scan did Williams learn that he had severely torn ligaments in his pubic symphysis. This is the area where the two halves of the pelvis come together. It was no wonder he had such trouble walking.
“I was thrown in from soccer into high-level football in a unique position, and my body wasn’t ready,” he recalled. “I came apart at the seams.”
The diagnosis came almost a year after his injury, which put an end to his football career. After graduating with a degree in kinesiology, Williams decided that he wanted to bring a high level of technical skill to the fitness industry to help people avoid getting hurt while exercising. He opened one studio and then created another facility in the Vancouver Club, which caters to the downtown business community.
Seven years ago, he opened Mixx. When space later became available on the same floor, he leased it for Performance Posture Clinic, a multidisciplinary health facility offering chiropractic care, massage therapy, podiatry, dietary counselling, and other services.
He said that proper posture is an integral component, and his company takes photographs of clients to educate them in this area. “Fifteen years ago, I just saw that the majority”¦had some physical issues, whether it be an overuse injury or a weakness or a poor performance variable that they weren’t happy with,” Williams stated. “We related those negatives very clearly to alignment.”
In recent years, this work has attracted attention from the medical community. Earlier this month, Williams was invited to Chicago to provide a presentation and conduct posture screenings at an international conference hosted by the American Medical Association. “The response to that approach was the same response that I’ve had for the last 15 years with new clients,” he stated. “Because we know that if your posture is faulty, your movement is faulty. You can’t have efficient movement if you’ve got poor alignment.”
This year, Williams’s career took an abrupt turn when he agreed to sell Mixx and Performance Posture to Cousens, who doubles as the chair of the MultiSport Centre of Excellent Foundation. It's a registered charity launched with a $23-million contribution by Cousens. It's funding the $54-million project in Burnaby will include a 60-room, 120-bed dorm-style athlete-accommodation area.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Cousens said it will also feature an NBA-designed gymnasium, a human-performance laboratory, and facilities for a range of sports-medicine experts, including dietitians, podiatrists, chiropractors, dentists, psychologists, sports-vision specialists, neuropsychologists, and sports psychologists.
“Our focus has always been on completing the main facility in Burnaby on the corner of Sprott and Kensington,” Cousens said. “But we always knew that we would have a downtown campus. A lot of our practitioners train and work in the downtown-Vancouver area.”
According to Cousens, the foundation has $26 million, which includes $3 million in pledges. He said that construction began in early 2008 but was halted because of the global financial crisis that developed later that year. He expects that work will resume later this year to complete the partial shell of a building, suggesting that others could be prepared to come forward with more donations.
“There are different naming opportunities associated with the project,” Cousens added, citing the Burnaby building, the gym, and the downtown campus. “We would be more than happy to talk to local corporate community leaders.”
Williams described the Burnaby facility, which is expected to be completed in 2012, as the “mother ship”, whereas his 10,000-square-foot downtown business will be suitable for use by executives. He noted that the sale of his downtown health and fitness companies is subject to the foundation raising sufficient capital.
As part of the deal, Williams will join a group of practitioners that includes Jack Taunton, the chief medical officer for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and Rick Celebrini, who was Vanoc’s manager of medical services and the chief therapist for the Games. Others include Brian Day, a surgeon and former president of the Canadian Medical Association; Los Angeles Lakers athletic-performance coordinator Alex McKechnie; and Lynda Cannell, president and CEO of SportMedBC.
Williams said that Celebrini, whose client list includes NBA star Steve Nash, is already treating people in Williams’s downtown multidisciplinary clinic. Taunton, who is based at UBC, is also available on-site, according to Williams.
“This will be a sport lab in the interim,” he added. “It doesn’t mean we’re only treating athletes.”
Cousens pointed out that the foundation will generate more than $2 million in revenue per year from leasing space in its facilities to various practitioners. He said that this will enable the foundation to disburse $1.9 million a year into the Canadian sports system to fund nationally carded athletes and to conduct research into preventing injuries.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Cannell said that her role will be to create programs. As an example, this could involve creating assessment tools that will assist young athletes’ physiological development, mental training, and nutrition. In addition, she said, parents should be able to find all the services they need to deal with their child’s sports injuries under one roof rather than scheduling appointments with experts at different locations. “It’s a multidisciplinary approach, with the athlete at the centre,” she said.
Cousens said that back in 2003, he planned to focus the facility on soccer because he was so impressed by Burnaby’s Roman Tulis European Soccer School of Excellence, which his son attended. However, the mandate expanded after Cannell and other sports-medicine experts got involved.
Cannell said she invited McKechnie and Celebrini to participate in the MultiSport Centre of Excellence. McKechnie helped recruit Day, and Celebrini encouraged Taunton to join the team. Cannell noted that Williams joined later, after she introduced him to the others, saying his expertise in training would complement the physiotherapy work being done.
“What we really want to do is work with kids,” Cannell stated. “Over the years, we’re going to build a better, healthier, stronger, more complete athlete.”
Like Williams, Cousens said that his football career was also cut short by injuries. He acknowledged that by the time he had a tryout with the Calgary Stampeders after playing junior football, his body was already riddled with problems, preventing him from going pro. “I had lost a full step already by the age of 18,” Cousens recalled.
Part of his motivation for funding the MultiSport Centre of Excellence is to use charitable disbursements from the foundation to help young athletes learn how to avoid getting hurt, thus prolonging their participation. He emphasized his strong belief that sports help young people create entirely different paradigms of thinking, which benefit them throughout their lives and make them better citizens.
“By keeping kids active and healthy and involved and engaged as long as we can, we create confidence for them,” Cousens commented. “That’s probably the biggest thing for me: the ability to know that you can set a goal for yourself. You can work hard with the right mentors and coaches and accomplish something you never could have done for yourself.”
Williams said that he is looking forward to educating young athletes about how proper posture and movement mechanics can prevent the sort of trouble he experienced at SFU. “Could I have gone on to play in the CFL?” he asked. “It looked like I could have. A guy I started playing with went on to play multiple years. If I had an accurate diagnosis at the start, I wouldn’t have pushed this to the point where it took years to get back from.”
Experience can be a great teacher. By learning from the specialists at the MultiSport Centre of Excellence, B.C.’s next generation of sports enthusiasts just might prevent the types of injuries that prematurely cut short the athletic careers of Cousens and Williams.