The combination of creativity and seeing how far you can push the envelope mentally. How far can you make someone push themselves to the edge. Or, oh this is fun let’s see what the next challenge is.
Lashay Marks + Phoenix Evolution
Creator: Lashay Marks
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Words of Wisdom – Have faith. You’re always going to have the “Crab in a Barrel” Syndrome where you try to get out and all the others try to pull you down. When you’re trying to build yourself and a business up, there are people who will try to get in the way of that. Just have faith that you’re doing the right thing.
We all hit a breaking point. At least, I think so. It’s a blessing in disguise, but at the time it’s one of the most painful experiences we have to endure in order to see the bigger picture or ask ourselves one very important question,
“What is it that we want?”
There’s a saying I once read that,
“Rock bottom has produced more champions than privilege.”
Maybe it’s because when you are stripped of almost everything, you have one of two choices to make; completely throw in the towel, or go all in. One of the founding principles of Hustle & Deal Flow™ is to feature people who have experienced just that. They went all in.
I was recently introduced to Lashay Marks by a long-time childhood friend. In his words,
“You have to meet this guy. His team, his facilities, his company. All of this is changing my life and I think this is someone perfect for Hustle & Deal Flow™.”
Seeing that my close friend is experiencing an amazing transformation, I thought there might be something to this story.
He was right. I met Lashay and within minutes I knew he was different. Please understand that being “different” is one of the single most important characteristics you can have going for yourself.
Photo courtesy of Lashay Marks & the Painted Warrior
Lashay experienced one of those “breaking point” moments I mentioned earlier and his life has never been the same. Once a marine and in extraordinary shape, Lashay had gotten to a point where his lifestyle and his health choices almost cost him everything he had going for himself.
With the chance meeting of a new friend, Lashay began to literally run his race, becoming a Spartan Race Obstacle Course Runner, a sponsored athlete and creator of Phoenix Evolution, a training facilities for Spartans of all stages.
For those of you who are not well-versed in Spartan Obstacle Course Running, let me give you a few quick facts about this sport:
According to Wikipedia, Spartan Race is a series of obstacle races of varying distance and difficulty ranging from 3 miles to marathon distances. They are held in the USA and franchised to 14 countries.
The sport has become so popular that in 3 short years Reebok has come on as its event title sponsor, NBC Universal Sports has struck up a partnership for televising it’s championships heading into it’s second season and events have begun attracting upwards of 10,000+ athletes/participants in each city the race comes to.
So where does Lashay Marks fit into the bigger picture of Spartan Race?
About 42 races totalling 240 miles, 3 Top 5 finishes, sponsorships and numerous other accolades on his resume.
While speaking to Lashay, I learned that he created Phoenix Evolution (not named after the city, but the bird) as “a place for likeminded people to start training together, have a team and travel to all the races together. It evolved into something much more.” As it usually does when you build an idea around a need in the market and for community.
Lashay and I talked about hitting rock bottom, the need to make drastic changes, evolving as a person, creating a concept around community and taking a leap of faith. Here’s what he had to say:
HDF: Lashay!! I’m excited to do this. I hear all of this great stuff about you and Phoenix Evolution. Thanks for allowing me to come to your facilities and talk!
Lashay: Matt, no problem at all. Thanks for wanting to do this!
HDF: Can you tell me a little bit more about where you’re from, and how it came to be that you’re here in the lovely city of Phoenix, Arizona? What do you love about either?
Lashay: Well, I’m a country boy at heart, a former United States Marine and originally from Florida, which is an extremely laid back place. It was my home for a long time, but the Marines allowed me to travel all over the world. You name it and I’ve probably been there. I was mainly stationed in California, but I traveled 6-8 months out of the year so it never really felt like I was in one place for quite some time.
When I got out of the Marines, I went back home to Florida for a bit, but it wasn’t for too long. The time had come to leave so I picked up one day to move back to California to be close to my kids.
I just packed up my truck, had $1,000 in my pocket and began my journey.
Ironically, at the same time, the wife of an old Marine buddy of mine was trying to find all of us. They found me and asked me to stop by Arizona for a visit since I was heading their way.
I then went to California, but I couldn’t find a job. An interesting opportunity came up in Arizona while I was visiting home for Christmas. The company I’m with now asked if I’d be interested in an interview. I went that Monday and they hired me. So that’s how I ended up in Arizona for the past 8 years. I like it. There’s a good community here.
HDF: You know, I hear that a lot. I hear people say,
“I’ve got $500 and I just bought a plane ticket to Sydney. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get there, but I’ll find a job.”
And they usually do. It just goes to show you that if you put it all on the line and have faith, something’s got to happen. When you keep things moving, something’s got to happen.
Lashay: Take a leap of faith. That was the whole thing with Phoenix Evolution.
HDF: Now, I also read two quotes of yours. One on where your motivation comes from and the other you said,
“Mentally, spiritually, and physically we all are constantly evolving into the final product that the universe intended us to be.”
Actually, the quote kept going and I really enjoyed it. I feel like there were several key moments in your life that occurred before starting Phoenix Evolution OCR. Can you tell me about them? At least what you can tell me that you feel comfortable with.
Lashay: I basically got to a place where I was only about me. I was still a good person, but I wasn’t so much about having impact. Not just for myself, but my family, kids, etc. My feeling was,
“I’m just going to free fall around the world.”
I was having a good time in my life, partying a bit, etc. Long story short, the partying led to being around a few wrong people. Those few wrong people led me to some really scary moments legally, professionally, personally.
HDF: Yeah, those moments are scary. That’s when you stand up and say,
“Yep,it’s time to make a drastic change.”
Lashay: Yeah, I had also hit my highest weight at 245 pounds, had a gut, no mohawk (laughter), bald. I felt like I hit rock bottom with everything.
That’s when I decided to change. I’m also a firm believer in people coming into your life at the right time. This woman started working at my office and she was very complimentary to me.
She wanted to introduce me to one of her friends even though she knew I really wasn’t trying to date. She said no problem. This was just a good person to hang out with.
I come to find that this woman is a runner. I meet her and she says,
“I’m running this marathon, why don’t you run it with me.”
My first words,
“Uh, I don’t do that anymore.” (laughter).
Thankfully she talked me into it. I did a half marathon and the next morning I woke up with a 102 degree fever. I was out of shape, didn’t train for it or nothing.
So we hit it off, actually dated for a bit and then I started to become interested in Spartan Racing. It was interesting to me because I felt like this was my next challenge on a new journey. And it resonated because it was reminiscent of the military and the camaraderie of the people.
That’s the main thing I miss most about the Marines – the people and camaraderie.
HDF: So then how did Phoenix Evolution come into existence?
Lashay: Well, my vision with Phoenix Evolution at first wasn’t to open up a gym. It was just meant to be a place to get likeminded people together to start training, have a team and travel around to do races. It evolved on it’s own.
Photo with Chris Sterland, Jose Cornejo, Laura Messner and Stacy Brown.
HDF: It always does when you do things for community.
Lashay: Then people started asking,
“Hey, when is your next training going to take place.”
I really didn’t have an answer, so then I started getting organized.
Okay, this is going to be a business. And because of I have kids with different moms, I thought of this as a means to help pay for a lot of their needs and see them more.
But then, of course, something else happened. The mindset changed. I started thinking maybe I’m being selfish. It’s not just about me. I want to help other people.
That, and some people saw what I was building and thought that there was going to be serious monetary gain from this. The problem is, that wasn’t my primary intention. I wanted this to be something that could be a legacy to leave behind. I didn’t want this to be solely a monetary gain. I wanted to do this to actually help people.
It’s also funny because I wasn’t charging much. Many people thought I was underpricing. They couldn’t believe the fees and they kept trying to get me to raise them.
All I could think about is making sure we have a building, a place for people to come to have fun while training and feeling good about themselves, as well as keeping the lights on. That’s what I wanted to do.
HDF: I like that. Community is what makes something grow. You made something for a community of likeminded individuals and they have since supported all of your initiatives. Talk to me about the progression of that.
Lashay: Well, to answer your question about the formation of Phoenix Evolution, I was driving back from a race in Utah and I was literally beaten up because I really didn’t train.
We wanted to figure out how to train for these races. So, I started talking to Stephen (The Painted Warrior, a legend amongst the Spartan Races) and asked him if he had any tips or techniques to train. He gave some pretty good advice and this June 15th will be two years.
Photo by Jamie Hines
HDF: Lashay, I saw some of your videos on your website regarding your training facilities, holy sh-t! (Laughter)
How do you come up with all the different obstacles? Is it based on what you’ve seen in other races, ones you think might be applicable in the future or just a massive mix?
Lashay: It’s a combination of creativity and seeing how far you can push the envelope mentally. How far can you make someone push themselves to the edge. Or, oh this is fun let’s see what the next challenge is. Of course, we test a lot of this stuff out first.
I think a lot of people in the industry try to piggy back off of others, but I think the ones that are more successful are those that are trying to be more innovative. They think outside the box.
I also apply a lot of what was fun as a kid just playing and being creative. I have this one training exercise I created called the Tire Hockey Puck.
HDF: The what? (Laughter)
Lashay: : You take a tire and hit it with a sledge hammer to slide across the ground and you have to reach a certain number of yards.
HDF: You heard it hear first! (Laughter)
Lashay: Hey, well maybe someone will pick it up and that’s okay.
HDF: I see you’ve run about 42 races totaling 240 miles. What was the toughest course you ever faced?
Lashay: Utah, last year. Spartan Race – Beast. It’s 12.2 miles with 38 obstacles – elevation, mountains and hills after hills.
HDF: How much time does that take?
Lashay: The average fast guys were doing it around Hour and 50 and I’m a little bit slower than the fast guys so I did it around 2.50 to 3 hours.
HDF: Wow, that would take me about 3 days. (Laughter). Seriously, I’d have camping gear. I’d probably just tell you to go on man. Go on without me.
Now, don’t worry, I’ll finish. I always finish something, but that would take me a few days. (laughter)
Lashay: I had done this race before but this one was the toughest because of my mom. I dedicated the race to her.
She’s a double amputee because of diabetes and I wanted to run this one for her. About three months before this race she lost her second leg. Her health is deteriorating a bit and she’s had a lot of complications.
She was even in the hospital the day of the race. My family was trying to keep it secret from me, but my cousin sent me a video of my mom.
“I don’t understand what you’re doing jumping over those fires and climbing mountains, but if you’re happy, I’m happy.”
I think that’s where I get my fighting spirit from. They had told her she had a couple days to a week to live and nobody told me. Nobody wanted to worry me because I was far away and about to run my race.
Yeah, she’s definitely where I get my don’t quit, don’t die, never give up attitude.
She’s still here, doing okay and taking things one day a time. She definitely gets what I’m doing now and the impact it has on me and on others.
HDF: Wow, may she be blessed with continuous healing.
I also saw you donate a portion of all proceeds to “Feed My Starving Children” which I think is awesome!
I think it’s necessary that at all stages we give back no matter what. Sometimes that’s time, money, skill sets, anything. Can you tell me more about your initiatives with this organization?
Feed My Starving Children really resonated with me the most. I was like,
“Why are there so many hungry kids in the world. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
I really wanted to help cause growing up I didn’t eat all the time and I was hungry often. They help feed all 3rd world countries, as well as a few places such as the U.S. They had a warehouse here in Phoenix and you can pick times to go and pack up meals. We used to go as a group. It’s just an hour of packing up meals.
It’s kind of like fellowship and hanging out with other likeminded people who are trying to bring joy to others.
HDF: You’d be surprised at what it does for your races. For your mindset.
HDF: So, I recently learned quite a bit more about Spartan Racing and quite frankly I think it’s amazing! Where do you see this sport heading and how far would you like to go with it?
Lashay: I think it’s going to be great for years to come. Almost like X Games.
I know a lot of people want to see it in the Olympics, but there’s still a ways to go. There are a lot of people trying to get rich quick themes like,
“Hey, let’s create a mud run.”
But they’re not thinking about safety, or the average person who might not be conditioned. I think the sport definitely needs a governing body, which I believe they are trying to do. I see it staying around for a long time.
HDF: And you have some pretty cool sponsors, right?
Lashay: Yeah, currently I have Rickaroons, a paleo friendly, vegan cookie like a macaroon. It’s a really good pre-race performance snack.
I was originally sponsored by Xyience but they were acquired by Big Red and then they dropped all the tough warrior image type sports, Spartan Racing, UFC, etc.
HDF: It’s funny you were being grouped with UFC when Spartan Racing is not even close to the same thing. It’s about supporting each other and working through all terrain obstacle courses, while UFC is about MMA fighting with each other.
As a Professional Athlete, entrepreneur and creator of amazing training facilities, what’s the best part about “creating” for you?
Lashay: Definitely the connection and providing a place for people to have a sense of belonging so they can feel a part of Phoenix Evolution. I want everyone to be involved. Wherever you’re supposed to be in your evolutionary process, I want us to get there together. It’s all about us.
HDF: We all have obstacles. When I read some of the things you’ve been quoted, it resonated with me because my life has also had several pivotal moments, numerous more recent.
What obstacles have there been along the way, either at an earlier age or more recent, that have taught you your most valuable lessons and what lessons did you learn?
Lashay: Have faith. You’re always going to have the “Crab in a Barrel” Syndrome where you try to get out and all the others try to pull you down.
When you’re trying to build yourself and a business up, there are people who will try to get in the way of that. Just have faith that you’re doing the right thing.
HDF: How do you best describe Phoenix Evolution as a brand? If you could describe the essence of it, what would it be?
Lashay: Recreating yourself and evolving into the person you were meant to be. I always say, faith, focus, finish. A place where you can come and mold yourself mentally, spiritually and physically and just become that OCR warrior, All-Terrain Warrior and Spartan Racer.
HDF: Why a Phoenix? The bird, right?
Lashay: Yeah. It resonated with me because I’m always evolving. I don’t like staying stuck. I’m always trying to find a better way or process to better myself or other people. The Phoenix is a symbol for that to me.
HDF: What’s the best advice you can give someone just starting out in Fitness training, Spartan Racing, All-terrain running, etc.? Where do you begin with something like this? Or is it like anything else in the startup world – you start with one step and go from there? (Laughter)
Lashay: Just know yourself. Constantly seek self improvement. And if you want to get started, I’ll bring you in and throw you into the fire and see where you’re at. From there we’ll adjust to help build you the right way. Trial by error. Just start and go from there.
HDF: I see you’re fairly active with Social Media. How important has social media played in the building of Phoenix Evolution to date? How important do you think it will be as you continue to grow it?
Lashay: I was originally anti-social media. It makes you vulnerable and naked. I got to a point where I knew I had to in order to build this community and awareness, but doing this has been real healthy for me.
A lot of people think I’m this uber confident guy, but we all have insecurities. However, doing social media allowed me to branch out, be myself and build community for what I do want.
It’s led to awareness of my brand and our facilities. I’ve had people from all random parts of Phoenix who saw pictures of us on Instagram, Facebook, whatever and then would come by to check us out. It’s pretty interesting. The more they can see what we’re doing, the more they want to come.
HDF: Final question – What are some of your proudest moments with obstacle course training that you never would have thought happened? What are you proudest moments with Phoenix Evolution OCR?
Lashay: Being a sponsored athlete. I never would have thought that would happen. Especially if they pick me when there are so many great athletes out there.
One of my upcoming proudest moments is having my sister do a race. She’s coming here for a visit and she is going to do her first one.
HDF: Lashay, this was inspiring and awesome!! I love seeing how far Phoenix Evolution has grown and it’s continuing to do so. Many blessings for future success!!
Lashay: Thanks man!! This was a lot different than I thought was going to be. This was a lot of fun. Very conversational.