Overcoming Adversity and Addiction: The Story of Strength Coach Jason Brader | Part 1

Overcoming Adversity and Addiction: The Story of Strength Coach Jason Brader | Part 1

Fitness For All Podcast: Episode 20

Welcome to another edition of Fitness for All with Cam Jenkins, sponsored by Lebert Fitness.

In this episode, Cam talks with Jason Brader. He is the Director of Sports Performance at Albright College. Brader is handling all strength and conditioning duties for the 24 varsity sports teams on campus. Brader comes to Albright following stops at Louisiana Tech and Alabama.

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*The following podcast has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Show Notes - Episode 20

Welcome to another edition of the Lebert Fitness for All podcast.  Of course, it is always sponsored by Lebert Fitness. I'm your host Cam Jenkins and today on the show, we have Jason Brader, and he is currently the Director of Sports Performance at Albright College. Jason, welcome to the show. 

Thanks for having me Cam.  

So, Jason, just so our listeners can get to know you a little bit better. Can you tell them how your journey led you into sports performance?

Oh boy. Well, it goes all the way back to my high school days. I was a football player. I'm from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and I eventually went off; I became an All-American running back in college and I really enjoyed working out. I enjoyed the physical and mental preparation that was involved in becoming an elite athlete. I always wanted to do something as far as creating a gym or a workout environment that was conducive to creating elite athletes. I wanted something that would work on speed, agility, strength, but most importantly, the mental aspect of training. There was nothing like that around where I'm from. 

Jason Brader - Director of Sports Performance

So, the person, this man Ed, trained me during my college days and that stuff, and he did speed agility. He was the man. Basically, when I graduated, I partnered up with him and I traveled to Pittsburgh. I worked with Pitt's football team and did the speed agility part of the training.  From there, I got hired to teach psychology. My college education was in psychology, and I coached track and field. During that time, I was basically training athletes on the side, creating state champion and national class sprinters and jumpers, and a lot of people were contacting me. They were like, hey, would you train my son? Would you train my daughter? And from there I basically created FASST Performance, which stood for Functional Athletic Speed and Strength Training. I named it that because I wanted the training to be functional. I wanted it to transfer to the field or court.  I started that inside my basement, and from there, I went to a baseball academy. So, I was teaching during the day and at night I would coach track and field, do the strength training at the school I taught at. Then I would go to this small spot that I would train these kids. From there it expanded and then it eventually grew to an over 5,000 square foot training facility and I worked with athletes from youth all the way to the pros. It became the place to be. Everything that I imagined; it actually eventually became. So it was really exciting. Really great.

You mentioned that you went to school for psychology, I believe you said.  I know you've trained lots of professional sports players, can you talk about the mindset and the psychology behind it and how important that is in today's world when we talk about mental health?

Yes. So, when I was a junior and a senior in high school, my mom and dad passed away from cancer and my background was really rough. I came from a tough past, a tough background, my father was an eighth grade dropout, and we were rock bottom poor. During that time I really was struggling. Athletics really kept me in check, and I had a lot of coaches and mentors and friends that really helped me when I lost my mom and my dad. The mental toughness, being able to push through adversity that tough guy mentality, was something that I fostered from a younger age because I had to, it was like a “survival of the fittest” type mindset. When I created my facility, one of the things that I really molded my training around was, “if you bet against us, you're going to lose” just that unshakable mindset. When the athletes would come to me, I would get a lot of kids that were going through hardships. A lot of parents that came and they might not have had the money to pay the full freight, but they worked hard, and it made me think about myself growing up and how bad I wanted it. 

One of my top athletes, a man named Kevin White.  Kevin White was a high school athlete and was pretty good, but he didn't really start to blossom until his senior year in high school.  He called me and said, “hey, look, I have my brother and I, and I have a few friends that would like to train, and I know that you've worked with a lot of top athletes around where we're at and specifically wide receivers. I would want to come in and train.” Kevin comes down and his brother, actually both of them and a few friends, and right off the bat, this kid had it. He jumped out the roof, had a great physique, six foot-three, body chiseled. He looked at me and said, “look, I can't pay the full freight, but we all work at McDonald's and what we'll do every month, we'll come in here and we'll each pay you a hundred dollars.”  Right off the bat, I'm like, I like this kid.  Every month, like clockwork, he would come in, he would pay a hundred dollars and they would line up and they would say, thank you, shake my hand and then eventually he was my best salesman. I asked him, Kevin, where are you going to college? And he's like, well, I, I didn't have really good grades. I don't have offers, but I'm, I'm willing to work. So, I'm looking at this kid and it just baffled me how he didn't have a chance to play college sports.

I went to a junior college in Scranton, Pennsylvania called Lackawanna college and the same staff that coached me was still there, so I contacted them, and my good friend Coach Granding said, well, we looked at him and we're really unsure about this kid. He looks okay, but he's not quite there yet so we bypassed him.  I told Charlie, I'm like, look, coach Granding, that's bull. You need to take a hard look at this kid. So, the coach comes down, a few of their staff comes down to my gym and we go out back and we're thrown around in a drainage ditch and the drainage ditch has rocks and all, you know, it's not flat. He’s making unbelievable catches one hander, over the shoulder, diving and after he was done there, they're like, look, we're going to sign him.

He goes up there, he gets hurt and he had to come home and they're like, look out for them. So, Kevin comes down, he's training and he's doing the whole nine and he eventually goes back, becomes an All-American there, gets offered by West Virginia, finishes up there becomes a Nicholl Finalist, and eventually the number seven pick by the Chicago Bears.  Kevin White’s his name, right now, he's playing with the San Francisco 49ers. He is just an example of a guy who came into my gym with the chips stacked against him and he really bought into the whole, me against the world, back against the wall mindset; something that I really relished and something that I instilled in all my athletes, basically teaching them, being uncomfortable is what's going to help you thrive not only in sports but life as well.

Jason Brader, MS, SCCC, CSCS


That's a great story of somebody who just came into your gym and could have quite so many times and didn’t and is now living their dream of being able to play in the NFL. That’s a great story. Let's move on to your business because you did talk a little bit about your FASST Performance business. Can you talk a little bit about that company? I know that you invented a couple of things as well. Maybe talk about that and your overall experience of your business that you did have up until 2019.

Yes, I started fast performance back in 2001 and I started from the ground up.  A lot of times, people who start a business think that they need to have a business background. They think that they need to go to college for that. I never did. I've always been entrepreneurial. I enjoyed making my own money thinking of ways to earn. When I started it, I started out from my basement, and I would purchase a few items at a time, and I would gradually purchase more. I would take 0% cards and I would have a year to pay off big ticket items. I would buy squat racks. I would buy barbells. I would purchase weights and I would slowly chip away and when the (credit) card would come due at the end of the year, I would have everything paid off. So, I gradually just purchase things. As I brought in more clients, I would expand what I was doing. When I taught, my teachings salary, I live with.  My training. I would purchase more and more equipment and I never use that as like really extra income to build my lifestyle. I wanted that to be the expander for what I love to do, and that was coach and train. So, eventually I owned everything inside my gym and I was able to really just be concerned about the rent and insurance and all that. It really was a great model. I did very well, and I was really able to market to the elite athletes or younger athletes that wanted to be in a tough environment and I kind of molded my business around that.  I didn't need to have a pretty place. I didn't need to have mirrors. I didn't need any of the glitz and glamor because I didn't market that. It really helped me cut down on costs. I think it's very important to be very lean not to have a lot of expenses and basically never bite off more than you can chew.  I learned that when I was a young kid being poor, I had to be very smart, I had to be creative and that carried on to creating my gym.

I have some of the same values instilled in me by my parents where they're saying things like you can't pay off the credit card then do you really need to purchase whatever that is? You need to be able to pay off your credit card every month to try to manage my money as well. So, I understand where you're coming in from the lean perspective. Now you are also a podcaster and you've also written a book called “Why Not Me?” Can you tell the listeners a little bit about the book as well as how you came to choose the title of “Why Not Me?”

All right. So Why Not Me? is based off of my life story. As I mentioned earlier, I lost my mother and my father to cancer when I was in high school and basically I endured taking care of them and seeing them suffer from my freshman year all the way until the day they passed away. I really never was able to express all the deep down emotions and feelings that I had, that I was never able to overcome after they had passed away. I had a very self-destructive lifestyle. I wasn't a drinker in the sense that I would drink every single day, but when I would drink, I would drink on the weekends. I would binge drink and I loved playing blackjack. I loved going to the casino. Back in 2009, I had gotten laid off from my teaching job. At that point, I expanded my gym, and I had a lot more time on my hands and what happened was the casino moved into my town. 

At first, I went in there and I could play casually and kind of have a good time and not overextend myself. But soon I would leave my gym, I would have a few drinks and I would always make my way to the casino to gamble. I would rifle through thousands of dollars and being such a conservative guy, being a frugal person, I didn't understand how I was able to have a limit of $2,000 a night that I would basically say I was all right with losing that. And that sounds completely absurd to a casual person, a regular Joe on the street hearing somebody would be willing to lose $2,000. When I was drinking, it didn't bother me, but the next day when I would wake up, I'd be hung over, I’d feel that I neglected my family and just the remorse and the sadness. Just that, that feeling of being an inept father and husband just was killing me, and I lived this way for years, I would go to my gym, and I would train these athletes. I could inspire them and I could give them pep talks. I would go around and speak about my hardships that I encountered as a kid. I did all these things, but I was living a lie. 

So, back in 2017, my daughter was about to turn 12 and the night before I went out, I drank, I went to the casino, I gambled, and I lost.  I came home and I know that I told my wife numerous times, and I was going to stop drinking, I wasn't going to gamble, and I came home, and I woke up and I said to my wife, I'm done, I'm finished. I'm tired. I'm sick of feeling like crap every single day, waking up feeling like I've let everyone down, but more importantly, I was letting myself down because I knew that I had so much potential. I did so much good up to that point, but there was just this empty feeling so, that day I said to myself, I'm done. I went to AA and I went for 30 straight days and I didn't have one drink and I was starting to feel good. As I sat there, I saw a lot of men, a lot of people that struggled for years, 20, 30, 40 years, and they were attending AA every day, every single day for 10 15, 20 years.  I said to myself, there's no way with all the goals I have and all the things that I need to get done, that I can sit here and go to AA for all these years, so at that point I stopped going and I haven't had one drink, not a sip since that day.

After about a year sober well, it was actually about eight months. My wife and I would talk, and I was just unhappy with my training, my gym and I needed change, and I wanted to become a college coach, that's one thing that I always wanted to do. The way you needed to approach that was by really taking a step backwards, going backwards and I needed to get to a college and become an intern. I contacted about a hundred schools and from a hundred schools, I had gotten contacted by, I think my age, I was 41 or 42 at the time, and nobody wanted a 42 year old intern. That's the same thing as being the 40 year old, if you've ever watched it, the forty year old virgin. 

I was the most experienced first real guy in the entire world, and it just bothered me. I'm like, I reached out to these guys and why am I not getting a hit still? Eventually at that time, I'm substitute teaching, I have my gym, I'm doing that, and I received an email from FAU. Florida Atlantic contacts me, Lane Kiffin who's an outstanding coach, was the head coach at the time had just gotten there, and I thought to myself, wow, this is a younger coach, this guy’s got a lot of passion, this may be a great fit. So, I tell them that I'm going to go there and coach, and just before I was about to leave the University of Alabama contacts me and they asked me, they're like, hey, would you like to come here and help us out? And if you know about American football, Alabama is the place to be they just won the national championship this past month. A lot of those guys, I helped train. 

jason brader conditioning coach

So, I decided to go there. I told Florida Atlantic that I wasn't going, and I found a place and I went there.  I originally thought that I would go there for the summertime. But instead, they asked me to stick around, and I was away from family, I ran my gym back home. During that time, I kept a journal and I wanted to chronicle my journey where I was, where I had come from and where I was trying to go. And every day I would just take notes about the people, the feelings I had, how I felt about not being around my family, how I was fighting addiction. Everyday I'd write. So, the fall comes around, the football season comes and goes, we get to the national championship game and lose to Clemson at the time. And they asked me, they're like, hey, would you like to stay for the spring?  Now a four month journey became eight months. And my wife and I talked and she's like, Jay, you're doing so well, you have to do it, and without sacrifice, you can never experience success. During that time, I'm just struggling and thinking about my past and how I was able to overcome so much, and I just really got locked in on the day. So, I'm writing, I'm planning, and I’m moving closer to becoming a college coach and all the while there I'm not being paid. Most people, my age with the family with a gym up north would need to have something coming in, if you're going to take that risk. But I was paying for two places to live and I just found a way to win. So, eventually I got hired by Louisiana tech, and they have one of the top strength coaches in the entire world, a man named Kurt Hester and Kurt Hester is your atypical person.

He's a guy who’s a lot like me, he's a grinder. He's a tough guy. He's someone that goes against the grain, and he gave me my first chance to become a hired coach. What was a four month experience was now leading into over a year. So, I go to LaTech in Ruston, Louisiana which is this tiny town. During that time, I'm writing this book and I would run the stadiums and I would do all this stuff and what people don't know, too, I was 251 pounds in January of 2019. I was always in very good shape, but then I got a little bit heavier every year and I got to a point where I was just too big so, I decided to lose weight. When I went down to Tech, I was really losing all this weight. I was running. I was training and feeling really good.

Every morning I'd wake up at four, I'd run the stadiums and I'd run a few miles and eventually I got down to 203 pounds. So, I'm writing about this journey, this great journey, and it always came down to one thing. Why not me? I saw all these great coaches, legendary coaches, like Nick Saban, Scott Cochran, who was a legendary strength coach at Bama, who's now the special team’s coordinator at Georgia. These are men that I wanted to follow, men that I wanted to emulate, men that I wanted to really become, and I knew that I could, and I was finally living that dream. Even though I wasn't getting paid the same as those guys, in my mind, I would ask myself why not me? So, that's why I titled the book that, and I explained my journey of overcoming alcohol addiction, gambling, and taking risk and giving the strategies that have helped me get to this point. Now I'm back home, I was able to get a job, now I drive an hour, but I'm with my family and I'm always moving forward, and it feels good being alcohol free, having a clear mind, having great health and all the things that I wanted to be. The way I picture myself for all these years, who I wasn't and the facade that I had, the masquerade that I was playing, all that's behind me and now I'm really fulfilling my life goals, so why not me?

That's an amazing story. And you're such a great storyteller and you mentioned about how there was a hole, or a void and it sounds like that hole or that void is now complete and it's not there. Is that fair to say?

Well, I think there's always a hole. I think everybody has a hole that they're trying to fill up, whether it's financially, emotionally, spiritually there's something that we're trying to overcome. There's always something that we're trying to fill in the gaps and I'm never a content person. Once I reach one goal, I always ask myself the same question. Why not me? Why can't I do that? I see something and I'm like, wow, that's a challenge. Let's try to get there. So basically, I'm never really settled, but the difference is, I don't try to fill that void with emptiness. So, you can't fill a void with empty space. If that makes sense. A lot of times people who will reach out, want to kind of say, well, if I can do this, I'll feel this way, and maybe if I don't feel this way, I could do something else that's going to help me feel better, but I can do it without putting in the work. I think now I realize that life isn't easy and once you figure out that life isn't easy, it becomes easier. So, I don't need to reach for a bottle. I don't need to try to avoid tough conversations or tough experiences. I can just go and attack it. Basically, I think there's always a void, but I think that's a good thing because if you don't have any holes, any voids within your life, you're not being challenged, and you can never grow.

Part 2 of this podcast coming soon.

Key Takeaways From This Episode: 

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