How It All Started

The other day someone asked me why I chose to name my business “The Fitness Nut House.”  I have only told a few people the reason and decided to share the story with you all.  So here it is.

October 1996
After finishing graduate school I moved back home to New Hampshire.  A year early I was working for the United States Olympic Committee as one of the strength coaches. But it was for a 2 year work period. They do that so that other students can get a chance to work for the USOC and get experience. A year later I got a call from my supervisor at the USOC. He offered me a full time position at the USOC as the head strength and conditioning coach for one of the training sites.  As much as I was honored that he wanted to hire me, something inside of me just didn’t feel right.  I struggled with this feeling for a couple of weeks. Most guys in my situation would have been ecstatic and would have immediately said yes. But I was being pulled in another direction.  Everything I worked for was to become an elite strength coach for professional athletes. Now that I had my chance I had to turn it down.  After I turned down the position, I met a person who told me that they have a connection to a physical therapy clinic in Vail, Colorado that is looking for an Exercise Physiologist.  I immediately thought about the possibility of skiing in Vail while working a decent job and decided to take the person up on their offer.  The decision felt right and for the first time I felt excited to be moving away and starting a whole new challenge.  That is when my whole life changed.

I packed up my truck with more weight equipment than clothes and headed for Colorado.  As I mapping out my route on paper, I thought that it would be easier to travel straight across the country (I70 I believe). But for some reason I felt an urge to want to go south.  So I made plans to travel down through Tenn, Ark, Ok,Texas, New Mexico into Colorado.  It was much longer this way, but I felt compelled to go this way.  I remember driving for hours accompanied by endless tracks of U2 (which was pretty awesome I must say.  If you ever travel across country, listening to U2 will make the trip more enjoyable).   I didn’t think much about anything while I was driving.  Then my life would change.

I was driving through New Mexico and there wasn’t a car on the road for miles, there were very few places to stop, and distant towns.  I was on one particular part of the highway that seemed endless. I was glad I had enough gas because there wasn’t a gas station for miles.  I remember reading signs that stated “no trespassing military orders” along the sides of the road.  After about 3 hours driving on this deserted highway, I was in a dreamlike state, you know what I am talking about. It is the kind of state where you feel like you are hypnotized. In some cases you feel like you don’t remember how you got to point A to point B after driving for so long.  While in this sort of hypnotic state ALL OF A SUDDEN I heard two big explosions. The noise startled me and I swerved my car off the road and back on.  I instantly went into a sympathetic nervous system response. I looked over the windshield to see two American fighter jets, I believe F-16’s I am not sure.  They were right over me and I could see the pilots faces, that is how close they were to my vehicle.  It seemed like they were about 20 feet above me.  It was a good thing I didn’t have to go to bathroom, because I probably would have crapped my self. I thought they were bombing me.  Turned out that they must have been playing around with me for training purposes, because the boom I heard was the sound of jets when they break the sound barrier.  Most states ban jets from breaking the sound barrier, but in New Mexico they are allowed to. 

Once the blast and excitement ended, it wasn’t more than about 1 minute that I had a vision of “THE FITNESS NUT HOUSE.” I immediately began writing down my thoughts and it was like I was a secretary transcribing notes from a boss.  I just kept writing as if I was listening to someone.  It was a very odd experience.  But I ended up writing in a notebook, a story about “Ollie The Fitness Nut” and having a facility named The Fitness Nut House.  For the next 4 hours I developed a business plan. It was if the sonic boom jolted my consciousness.

Then I arrived in Vail.  Once I got to Vail. My thoughts of the Fitness Nut concept were placed on hold.  I worked in the hospital in one of the best knee rehab clinics in the world.  I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in the clinical setting.  All the time that I was working, my life was unsettled. I felt this insatiable desire to pursue the Fitness Nut concept. I never did fit in with the job at Vail.  At first I thought I was living the dream, free skiing at one of the greatest mountains in the world and working at both the hospital and the Vail Athletic Club– two stable jobs. But I still felt something was missing in my life.  My desire to pursue the Fitness Nut concept became more intense. After a year I left Colorado and moved back home to New Hampshire. 

Once I got back home I got a good job as the Fitness Director of a local gym.  I began working on the Fitness Nut idea.  My original intent was to develop a wellness character named Ollie the Fitness Nut that would help people understand the complex concept of nutrition and fitness in a non-intimidating way.  I wanted to develop programs and literature for kids.  Obesity is an epidemic in our country and it is brought on by poor education starting with young kids.  Rather than watching silly cartoons and shows about violent and negative characters, I wanted to develop a character that was positive and educational at the same time.  With the help of my uncle we began to draw up the character and a kids story.  When I was in Vail I met a woman who owned a leading marketing agency in Minnesota.  One time, while I was helping her through her knee rehab, I told her about my idea.  Not realizing that I didn’t have any legal protection of my idea, I confided in her.  She loved the concept and invited my uncle and I to her agency in Minnesota. They paid for our expenses and invited us to present the Fitness Nut idea to the company.  My uncle and I worked hard in providing everything they wanted.  Needless-to-say once they got all the information they dropped us and never spoke to us again.  We had given them all of the information and idea without signing any contracts. We couldn’t afford legal representation.  I trusted the lady and she ended up blowing us off and taking our idea.  Feeling a bit discouraged and betrayed, my uncle and I stopped pursuing the Fitness Nut idea for kids. 

A few months passed and I ended up meeting my wife Joy.  While on a date, Joy and I went to a place for lunch. At the restaurant there was a convention going on. Being curious Joy and I went in. It was some type of psychic convention.  I am very skeptical about psychic’s and felt that it was a waste of time. But I am open minded and figured what the heck.  Not telling too much to the dude, because they have a way of manipulating information from you to make them appear psychic, I stayed pretty much reserved. He began telling me that I would be working in fitness in some place named Connecbunk or in a place with the initials ME, and that I would be driving around in a blue truck that had a cartoon character on it.  He also said that I would be successful at helping people in health.  Now the crazy thing was, was that I never gave any information to the guy regarding what I did for a living, where I was currently working–nothing. I just gave him my name and where I was born, and that was it.  I left the meeting confused and wondering what a joke.  This guy was thinking I was going to be living in some place called ME and driving a blue clown truck, whatever.  I never thought about it again.

I eventually got a job in Lenox, Mass at a place called Canyon Ranch which is a premiere fitness resort in the Berkshires.  I thought that this was where I was going to be settled and successful.  But after a short 7 months I decided it wasn’t the right fit for me. The money was great, the job was great, but I kept having this burning desire to pursue the Fitness Nut concept.  Joy and I got married and moved to Kennebunk, Maine.  We both liked the area and were both close to where we grew up.  So we thought it was a good place to settle.  I got a job in Lewiston Maine at a rehab / wellness clinic.  Again I thought that this was where I was supposed to be.  But it never felt right and I decided to look for other options.  Then after praying about it for so many weeks, a “door” opened up.  Ironically, while going to get some Dunkin Donuts coffee for some guests (not for me) who were staying with Joy and I noticed that the store next to Dunkin Donuts was going out of business.  It was a small space about 1900 square feet.  I instantly got the butterfly feeling in my stomach and began to light up.  Then I took a chance and rented the space and called it the Fitness Nut House.  This name seemed the most logical for me. One, because I was known as the Fitness Nut, and two, Ollie the Fitness Nut. I had all the trademarked logos and materials already.  I could have called Dary’s Gym, Daryl Conant’s Sports and Conditioning Center etc. But the purpose of the business was to have a non-intimidating character that was fun and happy. That anyone ages 7-107 could come to.  I didn’t want to limit the population. So in a Nutshell that is how the Fitness Nut House came about.

Daryl Conant, M.Ed

tags: daryl conant, the fitness nut house