Roaring Fork CrossFit owner provides ultimate lesson in perseverance
When Vince Shimp threw a grand reopening party this month for his Roaring Fork CrossFit in Basalt, it closed a chapter of an ordeal he endured for five years.
Shimp faced all the usual uncertainties and hardships of establishing a small business — during a recession, no less. But building the valley’s original CrossFit affiliate into a successful operation took an unusual toll on the powerful-looking and easy-talking trainer.
“I put an awful lot of blood, sweat and tears — and even a limb, literally — into it,” Shimp said while taking a break after leading a class through pull-ups, squats with heavily weighted barbells, dead lifts and various other weightlifting and cardio maneuvers.
Shimp lost his lower left leg as a long and painful result of a construction accident while finishing the interior of his first gym five years ago. He fell off scaffolding that was only 5 feet off the ground but he shattered his heel. This unfortunate incident turned worst. After “seven or eight” surgeries, “two or three months” of cumulative hospital stays and battles with infection over two years, Shimp said he made the tough decision after consulting with various doctors to have his leg amputated below the knee in November 2011.
The infection had ravaged the bone. His choice was gritting through pain, having limited use of the damaged limb and keeping his leg intact or getting the amputation and recovering mobility with a prosthetic.
The avid skier, cyclist, runner and gym rat went with the latter. It took a year to find a properly fitting prosthetic, regain his conditioning and adjust his balance. He has no regrets.
“I’ve got my life back,” Shimp said.
He skis and bikes at least as well as he did before, he said. He participated in a grueling Tough Mudder competition in Snowmass Village in the fall. He’s leading the CrossFit routine as always.
Roots in a garage
Shimp discovered CrossFit on his own, before it became a national fitness phenomena. He was searching online for a special workout to accommodate back-injury issues. He bought some weights and other fitness equipment for personal use in his garage at the Blue Lake subdivision in the midvalley in the mid-2000s.
“Over the course of time, I had friends join me,” he said.
The small group decided in 2007 it would be cool to become an affiliate of CrossFit. There were only 300-plus CrossFit gyms then, compared with more than 10,000 now, according with Shimp. But he and his friends did it strictly for novelty.
“I had no intention of training people or collecting money,” he said.
But word of the hobby spread, and Shimp was fielding requests from people to join.
CrossFit features high-intensity workouts, often with heavy weights. It promotes improvement of functional movement and boosting of performance rather than aesthetic results, according to Shimp. In other words, it’s designed to help people perform well when they are skiing, hiking, biking or even just hauling packs of topsoil into their gardens.
“There’s nothing really fancy about what we do,” Shimp said. “It’s not for everybody. Not everybody likes to get uncomfortable.”
After word spread of the garage workout warriors, he and a partner rented 1,000 square feet of commercial space at the intersection of Willits Lane and Park Avenue in June 2009. They started with 11 customers.
Shimp’s misfortune didn’t derail Roaring Fork CrossFit, even though his injury “was sort of like getting hit with a sledgehammer, at the time,” he said.
He led classes on crutches while fighting through the pain of the fracture and eventual infection. His trainers at the time played a huge role in keeping the gym going. (He had split with his partner soon after opening the space.)
The business continued to grow, so Shimp rented additional 1,000-square-foot spaces on both sides of his original site. His customer base grew to about 150.
That loyal legion also helped him get through the tough times and rejoice in the recovery. Shimp is back leading several classes per week and grunting through the same tough routines as his clients. When asked if he is an inspiration to his customers, Shimp hesitated before saying, “I’ve had a number of people tell me that.”
Mike Taets of Basalt has been a Roaring Fork CrossFit customer for more than five years and saw Shimp experience his entire ordeal.
“Obviously, he is a very determined guy. He doesn’t give up,” Taets said.
The gym customers also enjoy a special camaraderie, according to Taets. The more experienced ones look after the less experienced to make sure they don’t get hurt, for example. That social bond grew even stronger as the customers watched Shimp battle his injury, decide on the amputation and recover, Taets said.
Judy Sullivan, a CrossFit customer for four years, said she and others are motivated by what they see Shimp accomplish.
“No question. You see him box jump, it’s incredible,” Sullivan said.
But Sullivan said it’s Shimp’s personality and positive attitude rather than his athletic prowess with a prosthetic that is truly inspirational. “His leg is a non-issue, really,” she said.
Settling into a new home
After his recovery, Shimp, 48, and his family — his wife, Susanne, and their kids, Jared, 17, and Carly, 15 — made the decision to secure the business’ future. Shimp found a space to buy near his original gym at the Midvalley Design Center. He purchased just less than 3,000 square feet in the neighborhood of Valley Lumber and Woody Creek Distillery.
He and helpers moved all the equipment the four or so blocks to the new space. Sullivan noted that customers integrated moving equipment by foot to the new space as part of their fitness routines.
Shimp said the opportunity to buy his own space was too good to pass up. He’s already settled into the new digs.
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