Serving more than 35 successful years in the fitness industry is noteworthy on its own merit. Being among the first career personal trainers before most even knew they existed, and before access to any formalized education or certifications, also deserves credit. Making the successful shift from personal trainer to owner of eight gyms, easily justifies recognition. Receiving multiple internationally-recognized awards; appearing on local and national TV; authoring best-selling books; keynoting at several renowned conferences; pioneering a specialty fitness certification and receiving unsolicited testimonials and endorsements from well-known celebrities and countless individuals; starting a global non-profit organization, without a doubt, is also remarkable.

But when someone fundamentally changes the trajectory of life for men and women facing the realities of living with an incurable, and debilitating disease like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), there is no award, no amount of global recognition and certainly no amount of business success that adequately recognizes the immeasurable value of giving someone hope for a better life.

Meet David Lyons. The achievements and accolades listed above only give a glimpse into his life and experience, both professional and personal.

In 2006, at 47, David was diagnosed with MS. His diagnosis came with a picture of a grim future painted by doctors of rapid physical deterioration and daily life that would likely mean he would be bound to a wheelchair. David found himself at the crossroads of giving up to what is the reality for so many with the disease or rising up and battling the disease for a more hopeful, healthy life.

For people like David, however, the question of whether to give up or rise up isn’t a question for long. The answer is obvious. David was determined to battle the disease doing what he knows best: fitness and bodybuilding. Not only did he commit to battling the disease in the gym, but he challenged himself to compete – successfully – in an NPC bodybuilding competition.

David’s quest to conquer MS didn’t stop at trying to defy the odds for himself. He elevated his determination to serve a greater purpose. Alongside his wife, Kendra, a registered nurse, they founded the MS Fitness Challenge, a non-profit that provides those with MS – at no cost – access to a certified fitness professional for a 12-week program focused on training and educating them in the benefits of exercise and nutrition along with a free gym membership. The 12-Week MS Fitness Challenge has expanded its impact globally, offering MS patients the challenge in countries including the UK, Australia, Germany, Canada and South Africa.

Here is a more personal look into how David’s determination to be stronger than the battle paved the way for his ongoing journey to success.

How have your experiences in your early days in fitness impacted your career over the last 35-plus years?

DL: I originally entered into the fitness industry as an “instructor” at what was the largest gym chain in the ’70s to early ’80s, Jack LaLanne Health Spas. There were no certified trainers at that time in the industry. As I continued in the business, I earned a B.S. in nutrition while I achieved my black belt in Taekwondo. I then opened my first of 8 gyms in the mid-80s and expanded from trainer to trainer/gym owner.

The interpersonal skills I learned over the many years interacting with so many clients and gym members were, and to this day, priceless. Learning how to adapt fitness programs to give individual results gave me the ability to ensure that all clients I worked with reached the goals they set out to achieve. Continuing year after year to engage in as much education on the science and physiology of fitness and the trends of the industry were of utmost importance to my career. These skills, education and real-life experience have enabled me to grow as a fitness professional in all aspects of this industry.

Now, as a fitness/trainer educator, I know the value of education as well as life lessons that only 35-plus years in this industry can bring!

What are your proudest achievements to date?

DL: I have had many achievements in my years in the industry, but the most important ones began after my diagnosis with MS in 2006. That adversity laid the groundwork for the most important accomplishments I have had in fitness. I had to make a choice to give up or rise up and I chose to conquer this disease inside the gym and out. [My] achievements have been realized since that diagnosis. I have become a stronger fitness professional both as a trainer and an educator because I was placed in the public eye and I became even more accountable for my role as a positive example in the industry.

When you think about your journey as a fitness professional, what stands out most?

DL: Before my MS diagnosis I was a gym owner and trainer who worked with hundreds upon hundreds of personal training clients and thousands of gym members for more than 20 years. As a trainer with MS, I have helped thousands of people worldwide through their adversity of dealing with this incurable and often times crippling disease while still living and battling my own MS every day of my life. And as a trainer educator, I have helped trainers worldwide experience the unequaled feeling of changing the lives of these MS clients.

There is not a day that goes by where I do not receive an email, message or call from someone who has been touched by what I am doing or by what I have achieved. The testimonials from some of my MS clients who have benefited from fitness through my charity are overwhelming. This is evidence that I and the trainers on our team, our Trainers with Heart®, are positively changing lives.

The accolades I have received may be under my name, but they reflect the amazing accomplishments anyone who puts their heart into this industry can strive for. I am living proof that the fitness industry is the most rewarding industry anyone can be part of. I am a walking testament that fitness can be used to be a tremendous example of positivity in the lives of those who chose this path.

After a diagnosis, it is often said that one “battles” the disease. But not everyone goes into battle the same way. Some give up. Some rise up. David Lyons made the choice to rise up and be stronger than the battle. David’s story inspires because he didn’t rise up just for his own survival; he made the choice to be stronger than his battle in order to empower thousands of others to be stronger than their battle, too.