The first time I met superstar performance coach Todd Durkin he was on his bike, slinging a newspaper across my family’s front lawn. Then his sister and I married a couple of Bricktown brothers and we became family. Last week, for the second time in two years, one of Durkin’s clients led a team to victory in the Super Bowl.
In an interview with Yahoo! Sports this week, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers talked about what a tough and effective trainer Durkin is. In the forward to Durkin’s new book, The Impact! Body Plan, last year’s winning quarterback Drew Brees credits the trainer with helping him grasp the elusive trophy. While Durkin expresses gratitude to these and other professional athletes for helping to make him a success, it’s his family and legendary Brick Dragons football coach Warren Wolf who get top billing in the acknowledgements.
Not only have I known Todd Durkin since he was a child, but I’ve also been to Fitness Quest 10, his San Diego Health and Human Performance Center. When these elite athletes sing his praises, they’re telling the truth. He really does have a unique gift for animating untapped potential. In the off season, they really do work out side by side with home-makers, high school athletes and senior citizens. Durkin says 50 percent of Fitness Quest 10’s clients are women, but he and his staff also work with nine NFL quarterbacks and professional athletes from a variety of other sports. Men’s Health recently named Fitness Quest 10 one of the top 10 gyms in the United States.
So how did this hometown boy become a trainer to some of the best athletes in the world?
When Durkin was playing professional football in Europe after he graduated from The College of William and Mary, he studied massage therapy in the off-seaon. After a career ending injury, he came home to heal and was hanging around his sister Patti Durkin's Therapeutic Touch Center for Well-Being in Bay Head.
He was introduced to Michael King, co-chairman of King World Productions, which produced The Oprah Winfrey Show, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy! Durkin moved to Los Angeles and became King's personal trainer. He also began working toward a masters degree in Exercise & Nutritional Science at San Diego State University, but was still in severe pain from his football injury and dependent on Vicodin. His sister Patti convinced him to meet with Dub Leigh, a trainer who was teaching a technique called Zen Bodytherapy in Los Angeles. Over the course of ten intensive therapy sessions, Durkin's pain and Vicodin dependency disappeared.
He was offered a college teaching position. Spurred by King's dynamism and Leigh's technique, he turned it down and opened a small personal training studio in 2000. In his book, he writes, "I turned down salary, benefits, stability, and potential tenure to become an entrepreneur. I took action. Ready, fire, aim. No money, no clients, no business plan. No problem!"
Durkin’s first NFL client was the league’s 2006 Most Valuable Player, LaDainian Tomlinson. He has worked with Rodgers for three years and Brees for eight. When I talked to Durkin this week, I asked him how these athletes motivate him.
He says, “We have over 30 NFL athletes now and about 20 major league baseball athletes. I think the things I consistently see with my athletes is the commitment, the dedication to be the best. I see a mindset of the will and desire to be a champion. That’s motivating.”
Their altruism equally impresses Durkin.
He says, “They’re utilizing their talents not only on the field, but they’re leveraging their talents to be an impact here in the community.”
In a video clip on his website, Durkin talks about how much he loved growing up at the Jersey Shore, so I asked him how his Jersey Shore roots have contributed to his success.
He says, “There is a certain work ethic that I was surrounded with in New Jersey, a certain level of toughness that I learned that certainly helps me even now in what I do training high level athletes and running a business. I think if one could take the Jersey mentality and come out west and keep the same work ethic, and mindset, and authenticity, I think it’s a real winning combination.”
Durkin also says the business principles he learned on his paper route are the same ones he employs today.
“I look back and it taught me some of the same responsibilities of running a much bigger business now: number one, making sure your finances are straight and you’re collecting your money; two, making sure your customers are happy, that you’re delivering a great service and that you’re on time, and you’re doing the little things that it takes to deliver a special experience.”
When I visited Fitness Quest 10 in 2006, mega-church pastor and former San Diego Charger Miles McPherson was at the gym. We later attended McPherson’s church together. So I asked Durkin what role spiritual life plays in fitness.
He says, “I think it’s important for everybody. I talk about it all the time: our physical energy and our spiritual dimension are two of the most precious things that we want to foster. One of the things I recommend to all my clients is having that time in the morning to, as I call it, ‘get your mind right.’”
He calls this time “the holy hour,” but says it doesn’t necessarily have to be prayer time.
“It’s a time to reflect on your inner self. I believe the more we can fuel our inner self and the more we can challenge our physical bodies, the more focused we will be and the more energized we’ll be, and that’s going to lead to great results in all areas of our lives.”
Todd Durkin reminds me of the importance of nurturing the potential we see in those around us, especially children. He reminds me that discipline, determination, hard work, and consistency in the off seasons of life are what lead to success all year round. He reminds me that how we treat people on our way up and down the roads we travel says more about us than all of our successes and failures combined.