Travis Barnes discovered his passion for fitness at an early age. At just 5 years old, when most kids are learning how to tie their shoes, Barnes set out to emulate the physique of his heroes at the time: Hulk Hogan and Rocky. Armed with his Hulkamania workout set, he was ready to take on the world.
Fast forward to today, and Barnes is the founder and franchisor of Journey 333. He is an ACE-certified personal trainer and author of Journey Fitness and co-author of 52 Amazing Journeys. Barnes is also an international presenter and teacher of FitBiz Mastery. It was exactly where you’d expect someone with his passion and drive would end up.
But in-between the time he was that enthusiastic little boy until now as a successful entrepreneur, Barnes faced adversity that would have derailed many others. During that time, there was drug use and 10 years of incarceration followed by unemployment and living in a FEMA trailer after his home was flooded by a tropical storm — and that is just a brief summation of what he endured.
Despite all of this, Barnes never threw in the towel on his dream to succeed in the fitness industry. If anything, these obstacles made him even more determined to follow his passion. We recently sat down with Travis to learn more about his experiences and what motivated him to keep going.
How did you get started in the fitness industry?
Before I tell you about my start in the fitness industry, let me first begin with when I first discovered my passion for fitness. I was a young kid growing up in a broken home, searching for male role models. This is when I discovered Hulk Hogan and Rocky. I saw these guys and I thought they were awesome. I wanted to be fit like them so I started working out at about age 5 with a Hulkamania workout set. I discovered being fit on the outside helped me feel better on the inside and so it became my way to help myself through some difficult years. I also enjoyed sharing that discovery with others so I always took friends to the gym. You might say I was a bit of a trainer even in my adolescence.
At age 15, we traveled to Las Vegas to visit my brother who was attending UNLV, and while there I visited the Gold’s Gym to work out. At this gym, I met some impressive professional bodybuilders and it became my dream to work at that gym. I began studying for my ACE certification before graduating high school. I moved to Las Vegas at age 19 and got my first fitness job at that same Gold’s Gym. NOW FOR THE BIG TWIST…
Things don’t turn out how you imagine and unfortunately this dream became a nightmare. The professional bodybuilders that I thought so much of were involved in illicit drug use and being an impressionable kid, I became involved as well. This took me on a downward spiral that eventually cost me 10 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense.
What was that experience like for you?
During my 10 years of incarceration, I re- discovered my passion for fitness and it was once again a therapeutic experience helping me through some difficult years. I provided personal training services to other inmates in exchange for tuna and stamps (this is prison currency). I also taught Adult Continuing Education on how to become a certified trainer and other classes on nutrition. While in prison, I began to dream of coming home and having my own gym.
What came next for you?
In 2010, I came home and landed a job at a local gym as a trainer. This was a huge accomplishment because I didn’t know if anyone would hire me given my prison record.
I am a passionate, hard worker so I quickly rose from trainer, to manager to Chief Operations Officer (COO). As COO, I helped open multiple locations for the company. Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, there came a point where the owner no longer wanted to have me run his fitness company for him and so he terminated me.
Once again, I was met with adversity. There could not have been a worse time to be let go. I was living in a FEMA trailer because our home had been flooded to the second floor in the flood of 2011. Now it was November 2012 just days after Thanksgiving, basically Christmas time, and I had a wife and daughter to think of.
This is when my wife and I became traveling trainers traveling to clients’ homes. We struggled to get by on unemployment and what little additional income the in-home training provided.
In early 2013, I was contacted by my father who was insisting I come and see a commercial space owned by Rosa Giammichele, who was a woman he went to church with. I really only went to appease him. I did not think that a commercial space was a real opportunity for me. I had no money, resources and my nearest client lived 30 minutes away. When we toured the space it was evident that this woman was a spiritual person. She had Christian music playing and quotes on her walls. When the tour concluded, I told her what I had previously rehearsed which was, “You have a nice space but we are living in a FEMA trailer on an unemployment check so we really have no money. If that changes we will reach out.” To which she replied, “I don’t care about that. All I know is God told me you are supposed to be here.” My wife and I were blown away by this blessed opportunity and so we took it.
With the help of a couple months free rent, a high interest loan for equipment and some advertising on credit we, began Journey Fitness in April 2013 in Elmira NY.
Journey quickly grew to five locations in four years, and most recently we rebranded and became a franchise. We are now Journey 333 and we have locations in New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Florida.
In 2015, I published Journey Fitness with forward written by Todd Durkin which is my story of overcoming adversity and living my dream. In 2016, I created FITBIZ Mastery to help fitness professionals systemize their business for success and was named the Todd Durkin FitPro of the Year.
The following year, we released a book that I co-authored with our coaches called 52 Amazing Journeys which includes the stories of 52 of our members overcoming their adversities and accomplishing their fitness dreams.
Over the years I have presented for such organizations as IDEA, IHRSA, Perform Better, Portugalfit and SCW Mania. Now in 2020, we are releasing a podcasts called “Overcomers,” where we highlight people like us who have overcome certain adversities.
Have you had a mentor or someone you’ve looked up to?
Todd Durkin has been my greatest mentor in the fitness industry. I applied shortly after starting my business to become part of his exclusive P10 Mastermind group. Over the years, he has given me a wealth of fitness business knowledge, but most importantly, he has believed in me. It wasn’t long after I was accepted into his group that I felt the need to disclose my past. I shared my disclosure in the form of an unpublished biography which I intended to name Journey Fitness.
I remember leaving Todd with a copy one night when the P10 group was all staying in a hotel together, and I asked him to just read the first few pages. I had no idea what the next morning might be like for me after Todd found out he had let someone in his group that spent 10 years in prison. The next morning when I saw Todd at breakfast he greeted me with a hug and so much grace and acceptance that it was overwhelming. It was as if he had thought even more of me after reading my book.
We all need people to believe in us and Todd has been that person for me. More times than I can count he has reminded me that I am special and he has pointed out the special perspectives my life has given me. It is such a gift when someone helps us to see our adversity as our advantage. It is an amazing revelation when someone helps us see that our past has built muscles rather than scars.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made? How did you remedy that mistake and how has it made you better?
The biggest mistake I made was starting a restaurant inside one of our gyms. I lost over $100,000 before I learned to stick to what I do best and let others do the rest. There were many things I didn’t anticipate such as how the smell of food would negatively impact the members or how the loud music from group training would negatively impact the restaurant. I knew nothing about the restaurant business and the investment that it takes to make one successful.
What’s the best thing you ever did? How did the decision to do that one thing re-route your career?
The best thing I ever did is marry my wife, Cyndy. Somehow I managed to do that during my wayward years. As life would have it, shortly after I committed my crime we found out that we were having a baby. Cyndy visited me for 10 years in prison. She came to work with me after I was promoted to manager in the first fitness business that I worked in after my release. She left with me when I was terminated, meaning I got fired and so she quit. She trusted me and started the business with me on an unemployment check while living in a FEMA trailer. We all need supportive people in our lives and Cyndy definitely has been my most supportive person. Todd Durkin calls her Saint Cyndy for her supporting role.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Follow your passion. It will lead you to your purpose. And when these two things collide you will be walking in your God-given destiny. To succeed, you will need tools. You can’t read enough books. Read 10 books on any one subject and you will know more than 95%. To be in the top 1% look for ways to spend time with those who are top in your field. Go to conferences, join masterminds, attend seminars. Seek people out who are doing better than you at what you want to do. “You will become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”
What do you think is the greatest opportunity in the fitness industry right now?
The greatest opportunity is no doubt online coaching. The pandemic has taught us that we must incorporate this component into our business if we are going to survive. There are those now who want to work out with a prerecorded video and those who want to work out virtually. As fitness professionals, we all need video streaming platforms like Zoom and we all need an online membership platform such as an app where our clients can access our live and recorded workouts. The most successful fitness businesses will be super clean gyms with safe exercise zones and online coaching services.
What is in your future?
Our vision is to franchise across the country and eventually the globe. We know that if we have 1,000 locations that means 5,000 to 8,000 coaches waking up every day to change lives. We know that when we reach 1,000 people that have gone through each location that it will be 1 million lives changed. We know if the average weight loss is just 10 pounds that it will be 10 million pounds lost. Just a 5% reduction in bodyweight is enough to change your vital statistics, reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars which equals people getting off medications and living longer because we were here.