Jockey’s Show ’Em campaign isn’t your typical marketing schtick. The idea behind it is to show what’s literally and figuratively underneath—way more than skin deep—particularly incredible people. Case in point: Chris Van Etten, a US Marine Veteran turned business school student (and future entrepreneur—he wants to open his own California-based gym!). But before he jumped from the Marines to B school, he lived through an explosion in Afghanistan that took both of his legs—and his comrade and best friend. Chris is the true definition of perseverance. (You can hear his story in the Jockey campaign here). Part of what he credits his mental tenacity to is his fitness routine. “When I started working out, I’d read an article about the endorphins you get from the gym and that’s what initially prompted me to go there,” he says.
Then, he had a fateful crossing of paths at the gym with a woman who’d been observing him from the treadmill. Later that day, a friend showed Chris the woman’s Facebook post—knowing it was Chris she was referring to: I was at the gym, feeling really down about myself and there’s this twenty-something-year-old amputee war veteran working out. “She said that it really made her realize how much she had to be grateful for and that what was going on in her life maybe wasn’t as bad as she thought and that it was motivating to watch me,” Chris says, recalling her Facebook post.
That was his “light bulb moment.”
“It made me realize, ‘Hey, I can use what happened to me to inspire others to keep going.’” He told her: “Thank you for showing me the gift that I had to give to people.”
Now, with the help of Jockey, he’s doing just that—motivating thousands of people just like his now Facebook friend from the gym.
“I really want to emphasize how anybody can really do whatever they put their mind to,” Chris says. “If there’s one thing with the Jockey campaign that anybody takes away from any of my stories, it’s that determination overcomes everything.”
Keep reading to hear more about Chris’s incredible mental tenacity, what his workouts look like, his plans to start a gym—and more.
Men’s Fitness: How has your mindset and mental tenacity impacted your day-to-day life and also your fitness and your workouts?
Chris Van Etten: For awhile there, I was actually pretty depressed and I hated it. I hated being like that. People want to be happy. It’s a road that I don’t ever want to go down again. Even on my worst days, I really try to stay motivated and remind myself what I’m fighting for not just physically, but mentally as well. That’s just at the forefront of everything that I do.
In my opinion, the physical and mental challenges go hand in hand. If you think you can do something and put your mind to it, you can do it. If you doubt yourself, you’re not going to be able to do it.
MF: How did you find that positivity and that optimistic outlook that helped you do all the things that now you’ve accomplished?
CVE: The biggest thing that I tell people is they just have to find something that they’re passionate about, something they can really dive into and work on. For me, in the beginning, especially after I got out of rehab, I was just in limbo. When you have all that time and you’re not dedicating it to anything, that’s when you start going down a bad path. I started working out and that really took all of my time. As I progressed and started noticing improvements, it helped my overall well-being.
MF: Speaking of workouts, what are your workouts like now?
CVE: They’re not much different. I have to modify a few workouts. Instead of doing a standing position, I’ll do seated, but I try to do the same workouts.
MF: Do you have any specific fitness goals right now?
CVE: I used to be more focused on trying to get bigger. Now I’ve been focusing more on conditioning. I play wheelchair lacrosse in San Diego. That’s a lot of fun. I love it but requires a lot of endurance. I still want to build strength, but I’ll try to alternate my weeks. One week will be lighter weights, higher reps, and the next week, more weight, less reps.
MF: What are you doing to build that endurance in the gym that you use for lacrosse?
CVE: Some of the gyms that I go to will have those little hand cycles, so I’ll use that, but really I’ll just do regular workouts. Instead of lifting heavier, I’ll just drop down the weight and do fifteen reps and minimize breaks.
MF: With the Jockey campaign, you’re obviously changing the game for people who are working to overcome obstacles. At Men’s Fitness, what we’re focusing on now is Game Changers. Tell me how that feels to you to know that you’re making such a difference and you’re really just changing the game in this space.
CVE: It’s extremely humbling. To be a part of the Show ’Em campaign with Jockey and to use that to promote this message of determination and perseverance is awesome. The fact that so many people are responding so positively to it just makes it that much better.
MF: Is there any specific positive feedback that you’ve gotten that’s just really moved you?
CVE: Well, it’s all been awesome, but if I’m going to pinpoint one time in particular, it was actually my mom. When the campaign first came out she was one of the first ones that I showed it to, she just started crying. She said, “You know what? I stopped showing up and I stopped trying. Your commercial reminded me that I just need to keep pushing.” She had breast cancer when I was in high school so she’s been through a lot in her life. To hear her say something like that was awesome.
MF: So, I heard you’re opening your own gym? Can you tell us about that?
CVE: In the next five years, I’m hoping to open up a gym. I’m actually going to business school to begin the process. I’m hoping to design it so anybody can come in and get a good workout. I want to specialize in having a program that helps not just wounded veterans but really anyone who’s had some sort of physical disability, major surgery, paraplegics, whoever wants a healthy, fit lifestyle. We’ll have specially trained people that can work with them and teach them how to work out safely.
MF: It sounds like you have a ton on your plate between this campaign and business school and you’re thinking about the gym. Is there anything else that you’re up to these days that you want to tell our readers about?
CVE: Well, I am about to get married as well.
CVE: Thank you. We’re busy with that, too. Other than that, I try to keep myself busy, but at the same time, I don’t want to overload myself. I make sure that I take some time for myself and keep everything in order.
Check out our interview with Chris at the Men’s Fitness Game Changers Party at the Sunset Tower Hotel in LA on 10/10.
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