PGN: You’ve made quite a splash in the Philly area. Are you from here?
WV: No, I was born in Connecticut just outside of Hartford, but I’ve been in Philadelphia for about 15 years. It’s home.
PGN: Tell me about the family.
WV: I’m the youngest of four. My dad and a brother and sister are still in Connecticut and my other sister is in Louisville, Ky. My father was a teacher and my mother was an office manager.
PGN: What was life like growing up?
WV: It was rough. Typical 1980s suburban life for the most part, but I was the only gay kid in my school — that I knew about — and I got bullied a lot. It was just as people were learning about HIV/AIDS so there was a lot of fear and insensitivity.
PGN: How old were you when you came out?
WV: When I was 15, I came out to some friends and I came out to my family when I was 18.
PGN: That was pretty bold — there weren’t a lot of 15-year-olds out of the closet back in the ’80s. Who was the first person you told?
WV: My best friend, who I had a huge crush on!
PGN: Did you tell him that part?
WV: [Laughs.] He figured it out.
PGN: What were indications that you were gay?
WV: Well, I was always the sensitive one. I was the one always involved in the theater. And I was horrible at sports, which makes it really ironic that I now own my own gym!
PGN: Who was your celebrity crush?
WV: My first celebrity crush was Shaun Cassidy. My favorite celebrity crush would be Jason Statham who starred in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” among other films, and he was also an Olympic diver.
PGN: Name your favorite class and favorite teacher.
WV: English was my favorite class. My father taught English, so I always had an affinity toward that. And I had a great English teacher, Mr. Casswell. I never discussed my being gay directly but I think he understood what I was going through. His classroom always felt like a safe haven for me.
PGN: What incident sticks out in your mind?
WV: I remember one time I got pushed into my locker and it started a fight. I ended up getting suspended for three days, but the funny part is that the principal later congratulated me for defending myself!
PGN: Did you go on to higher learning?
WV: A little. I had some college, but around that time I wasn’t getting along with my father very well and I just wanted to get out of the house and start a life of my own, so I started working so I could get my own place.
PGN: What was that first job?
WV: I had three. I worked at a McDonald’s, I worked at a movie theater and I worked for the local AAA, all at once. I was working about 16 hours a day, which didn’t leave much room for school.
PGN: How did you end up in Philadelphia?
WV: When I was working for AAA, they were working on developing new software for the auto travel department and I came here to learn about the programs. While I was down here, I met some people in the community, one of whom became my partner for a while, and fell in love with the city and the people. After a year or two of traveling back and forth, I bit the bullet and moved down here.
PGN: [Laughs.] When you first said you worked for AAA, I had an image of you out changing tires! What did you like so much about our fair city?
WV: I liked that it was a major city but still had a very neighborhood kind of feeling. Anywhere I went, from neighborhood to neighborhood, it was like being in a small town. You could get anything that you needed taken care of in that one little area and everyone seemed to know each other. And Philly was really friendly compared to other cities I’ve been to.
PGN: What was the first gay bar you ever went into?
WV: The first one was up in Connecticut; I don’t think it’s there anymore, but I went there the night of my senior prom. I snuck in with my prom date. The first bar here was Woody’s.
PGN: Wait, back to prom night. You took your date?
WV: [Laughs.] Yes, we were good friends. She was basically my hag. But the interesting thing was that I saw a friend of my brother’s there. It kind of freaked me out. Though it was nice to know I wasn’t the only one in my town who was gay.
PGN: So how did you go from being the un-athletic kid getting pushed into lockers to owning your own gym?
WV: It was a long journey. It started with my sister wanting to run the Hartford Marathon in 1999. She wanted someone to train with her so I said I would try it. We worked hard and did the marathon and it was amazing. I never in a million years thought I’d be able to do something like that. I finished and did fairly well for someone who had never done anything athletic before. I was hooked: The next day I signed up for another marathon. I did it for several years until I had an injury. I pulled my hamstring right before a race and I tried to run it anyway. I had to drop out and ended up injuring myself more than I should have because I was so stubborn. It was devastating. My doctor suggested that I add some core strength and conditioning to my running routine to prevent future injuries. I joined a boot-camp program that was very similar to the one we have here. Within a few months not only was I healed, but from then on I was injury-free and was performing better in my races than I ever had.
PGN: What kind of things will people find here?
WV: Olympic and power lifting, basic gymnastics, moving kettlebells, running, jumping rope, you name it. And they never know what they’re going to get until they walk in and see the white board. It can be scaled down for someone who’s never exercised before or pumped up for an elite athlete. We try to run a well-rounded program. We run a boot camp as well as CrossFit programs and personal training.
PGN: And how did Fearless Athletics come about?
WV: The person who did the boot camp moved out of town and some friends of mine started working out on our own in a park. I ended up being the one who organized everything and planned all the workouts and I really enjoyed it. I started working with new people outside of my circle of friends and, as I was training people, I started noticing the looks on peoples faces as they accomplished things they never thought they would be able to do. It immediately took me back to that first marathon and a whole host of other firsts that I’ve accomplished since then. I knew this was the right thing for me. Long story short, I decided to make a go of it, and after a few sputters along the way, here we are. I wanted this to be a place where people could come in, uncertain of what there were capable of and have them start discovering amazing things about themselves. We want people to not only achieve physical strength and well-being, but also to achieve personal growth, self-discovery and to find their innate power — staring down demons of self-doubt, self-limitation and fear in the process.
PGN: What would be a good example of that?
WV: Wow, there are so many. One of our members, Beth, joined us about one-and-a-half years ago. She’d just gotten engaged and wanted to prepare for her wedding. At the time she was about 80 pounds overweight and wasn’t able to do much: Everything was so hard for her. But she had a goal. She came here every single day and gave it her all. I got to watch her grow and blossom and she’s now lost over 80 pounds. She went from not being able to run half a block to competing with a team just last month in a competition that we held with 22 different teams from around the area. Her team came in eighth, and lot of that was because of her. For the competition, she picked up barbells that were heavier than any she’d ever lifted and it was wonderful to watch. That’s just one story of many. Watching people’s lives change is something that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
PGN: What’s the one exercise that makes you groan?
WV: Well, I know my clients are going to read this so I plead the Fifth! I don’t want anyone saying, “But Wil doesn’t even like this.” So my answer is, I love them all!
PGN: You’ve been open for five years; how did you make it happen?
WV: Initially I had a business partner. We self-funded everything and the first several years we put every penny we made back into the business. I ended up buying him out and going it on my own.
PGN: Speaking of partners, are you single?
WV: [Blushes.] I just recently started dating someone.
PGN: Any hobbies?
WV: I’m actually a pretty quiet guy outside of the gym. I like to read and watch movies and spend time with my boyfriend and his family.
PGN: A favorite line from a movie?
WV: Any line from “The Princess Bride.”
PGN: Do you collect anything?
WV: I do. There have been so many things. Right now I collect Christmas ornaments; before that it was Disney memorabilia. It goes in cycles!
PGN: You’re a child of the late ’80s. What was your worst outfit?
WV: Probably my black and red MC Hammer pants with a muscle shirt ... and a mullet.
PGN: As the baby of the family, were you spoiled?
WV: No, though my siblings might have a different take on it! I think I had it the hardest because my parents had already figured out everything that could go wrong. They learned all of my brother’s and sisters’ tricks before I came along.
PGN: Tell me about a favorite relative.
WV: My mom. She was the first person in the family I came out to and she replied, “I was wondering when you were going to tell me.” From there on out she was like a best friend. She passed away from cancer about 25 years ago.
PGN: Are you a religious person?
WV: I grew up Roman Catholic and then switched to Episcopalian, because it was more welcoming, but I let it lapse. I’m more of a spiritual person now.
PGN: Something we should know about you?
WV: That I’m not as mean as I sound when I’m running a workout!
PGN: Have you made anyone cry?
WV: It can get pretty intense. I admit, I have had one person cry, not so much because of anything that I said, but out of frustration because she wanted to do better. I’ve had two people walk out but one of them came back and she’s gotten six other people to join, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. Most people, once they survive the first workout, they’re kind of hooked.
PGN: Ever think of sidelining as a dominatrix?
WV: Uh, no. [Laughs.] I wouldn’t want to mix business and pleasure.
PGN: You run a boot camp; ever go to summer camp?
WV: I did, I went to music camp.
PGN: What did you play?
WV: I sang.
PGN: Best and worst moments at camp?
WV: My best moment was doing a solo during our camp concert. My gayest experience was being crowned “Miss Laurel Music Camp.” My worst was my parents calling me while I was there to tell me they were getting divorced.
PGN: You’re planning an Olympic event. Which three athletes do you invite, alive or dead?
WV: Steve Prefontaine, Lance Armstrong and Jason Khalipa, winner of the 2008 Crossfit games.
PGN: What’s your parting advice?
WV: Anything you can do is better than nothing. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
PGN: What would you do with a non-athletic person like myself?
WV: I’d get you into one of the classes and find stuff that was appropriate for you, so if there’s anything you weren’t physically able to do, we could use a substitution or different progressions to teach you how to do the movements. But the most important thing is finding a supportive group of people rather than worrying about what you can or can’t do. Once you have that, everything else takes care of itself.
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