Fitness

UTusk: Health and Fitness Just Got A Little Easier 5/5 (6)

If you wanted to get healthier, what should you do? Eat a low-carb diet? Run more? Lift more? Drink protein shakes? Take pills? None of the above? All of the above?

There is an overwhelming amount of information out there to tell you how to “be healthy.” The free access is a blessing and a curse; it’s increasingly impossible to figure out what information works, let alone works for you. Plus, 9 out of 10 places are trying to sell you the next “miracle,” rather than give you the tools you need in the first place.

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Steve Downey, a vet looking to loose a few pounds, saw this and had an idea.

Steve (Right front) poses with several friends at the Summit For Soldier: 2016 Everest Basecamp Trek for Veteran Suicide Awareness
Steve (Right front) poses with several friends at the Summit For Soldier: 2016 Everest Basecamp Trek for Veteran Suicide Awareness

“I’m disgusting.”

Steve initially didn’t have his sights set on the military.

“I wanted to swim in college… and my parents said no way because I was a partier, right? I was a bit wild… [so] in protest, I said, ‘I’m gonna join the Army!’ and I thought, ‘There’s no way my mom would let me join the Army.'”

“When I told them… they called my bullsh*t…My mom called a recruiter and had him at the house two days later,” he told us.

It didn’t take much work on the recruiter’s end. Steve’s family history did the heavy lifting.

“My whole family served in the military… we were all Army. My grandfather stormed the beaches in Normandy. He was part of all five major European battle campaigns,” he said. “I fell in love with the idea. I talked with my grandfather and he inspired me, and told me what it meant to serve.”

Steve’s career in the Army was fulfilling, but it came at a cost. During his service in Iraq as a combat medic, he suffered not only the losses of several friends but the loss of his mother to cancer. He received a Red Cross message in the field and was sent home in time to say goodbye, before heading back overseas. Those losses stuck with him once he re-enlisted and went to Washington D.C. to work at Walter Reed. He gained a lot of weight in a short amount of time.

Once he got out of the military and into school, his weight continued to climb, until he was 265 pounds. He finally decided that something had to give.

“You just look in the mirror and you’re just like ‘I’m disgusting.’ And I say that very bluntly, to be very blunt about it… you need to be able to look in the mirror and say ‘I’m not eating right,’ or, ‘I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing; I need to make a change.'”

 

Too much information, not enough guidance.

Steve quickly felt overwhelmed by the amount of information he was able to access for weight loss and muscle gain. Although he had the basics built into him from the military and the discipline to do what needed to be done, he still felt lost when trying to navigate the literal universe of “wisdom” out there.

“I saw how disjointed information was… and as over-served as all these ‘fitness’ apps are, they all sucked,” he said.

As he navigated his own journey to health, he also began to foster a vision in his mind; a single destination where people could find and customize the information they needed to reach their own fitness goals, without being worried about scams or product pushing.  UTusk was born from that vision.grunt-style-gif

“We’re a social platform; we’re not necessarily a ‘fitness app’ as much as we’re a knowledge sharing app. It looks and feels like existing social media. So when you sign up, you go through and tell us what you’re interested in… based on those interests, we provide you what’s called a ‘fit feed,’ it’s like your Facebook or Instagram news feed, but it’s fitness and nutrition coaches that are refined by your interests,” he said.

It’s a win-win for coaches and consumers alike; app users can further refine their fit feeds by subscribing to “premium” content from these coaches, to further help them with their goals; or, they can simply stick with the free content without penalty. Coaches get to set their own fees and keep a large majority of the profits from their subscribers, removing the desire to push any “miracle” products. You can customize your feed to match your interests; topics can range from weight loss, to running a marathon, to increasing flexibility or strength, to gaining more ability in a sport.

Why the name UTusk? Steve wanted something less “aggro” when it came to fitness; he wanted the app to appeal to bodybuilders and beginners equally. Also, as he put it, “My wife loves elephants and I love my wife.”

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Steve presenting his vision for UTusk (Courtesy)

Embrace the Suck

Steve was eventually able to lose the weight, and graduate with a double major from college. He was hit by the entrepreneurial bug while he was in school, and hasn’t looked back since. That doesn’t mean that the life of a business owner isn’t without its downfalls.

“Being an entrepreneur sucks. Period. Anybody that’s telling you ‘being an entrepreneur is rainbows and butterflies’ is lying to you. Being an entrepreneur – I love it, I breathe it. It is all I want to do. But it sucks… you have to embrace some very, very hard work,” he said. “What you think you’ll accomplish in one year, will really take you three; and what you think you’ll accomplish in five years will come much sooner than that. You have to stick it out.”

But it’s precisely that environment that speaks to him. He blames his military background for that. “Veterans have this ability to just go; it’s time, you just go… it’s discipline, it really is,” he said. “You embrace the suck to accomplish the mission…The amount of veterans being dispersed out into the civilian community, I think, are going to fundamentally change the fabric of society…”

What’s the future of UTusk? Ultimately, Steve wants to build a platform that can not only help people with their physical health but their mental health as well. He wants to expand the platform and reach out to veterans in need, so they can get the knowledge and guidance to get through reintegration without fear or stigma. When we asked him about his vision of success, he simply said this:

“Success is in the people impacted, not the money generated.”

 

 

You can learn more about UTusk here.

 

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Sylvia Gaenzle

Sylvia Gaenzle

Sylvia is the storyteller-in-chief at American Grit, with over 200 articles written and 1,000 edited. A photographer, videographer, and avid reader, she believes that stories are the most powerful way to inspire, educate, and motivate others.