by: USA Games Correspondent, tynan gable
The most basic rule of being a Game Changer is simple; make it a priority to promote inclusion in all that you do. Phillip Stevens, better known as “Phil,” is this week’s nominee for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games #ImAGameChanger campaign, and he consistently exemplifies the aims of Special Olympics in his everyday life.
Phil is the owner of Strength Guild Topeka, a weightlifting gym located in Topeka, Kansas. He trains teams of athletes who compete in regional weightlifting competitions as well as more unique events, such as the Highland Games. Several national champions and Topeka-area sports teams have benefitted from Phil’s expertise over the years.
In addition to the high-level athletes Phil trains, there are now also seven powerlifting athletes from the Topeka Shawnee Program of Special Olympics Kansas who work out with Phil, free of charge, multiple times per week. James Turner is the father of one such athlete, Rodnel Turner, who has experienced tremendous improvements in his maximum lifts and overall health and strength as a result of training with Phil for the past year.
“Phil is one of those really quiet, humble leaders. He has produced some very accomplished weightlifting athletes, but he never overlooks the potential of any of the Special Olympics athletes that come through his doors,” explained James.
Now located in a 100-year-old warehouse, Phil built his business from the ground up. At first, he was offering weight training out of the back of a pickup truck. With very little effort put into advertising or recruitment, the growth of Strength Guild has happened organically; through word of mouth and the ever-growing interest of the community in what he has to offer.
Phil’s rules are very simple: show up to the gym, work hard, and do what he says. These three simple steps have been critical to the success of every athlete he trains. And for the Special Olympics athletes, Phil has incorporated life lessons into his trainings beyond the high discipline he demands.
Phil is sure to discuss nutrition, long-term health, appropriate decision-making and how to lead active lifestyles with every one of his Special Olympics powerlifters. In addition, he encourages these athletes to control stress and frustration from the day until it can be used as fuel for their training sessions, thus confronting some of their behavioral challenges.
“Phil is understanding, compassionate and flexible when it comes to working with people with intellectual disabilities,” said James. “It is rare to find a weightlifting coach who incorporates life lessons into his training sessions to encourage better life choices and the establishment of healthy day-to-day habits.”
Taking it one step further, Phil also has a way of breaking down the science behind health and fitness to make it understandable by anyone. This allows all of his athletes, both in and out of Special Olympics, to gain a better understanding of the consequences of their training and actions on the way that they feel and perform.
“Phil is a great motivator and has found a way to provide these athletes with the ability to make educated decisions both inside and outside of the gym,” said James.
Compounding his efforts to improve the individual circumstances of the Special Olympics powerlifters he trains is Phil’s goal of integrating these athletes into the general community of Strength Guild Topeka. As a result, people have been able to see more generally that there are an unlimited number of ways in which inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities can be practiced.
“He makes it clear that the primary goals of weightlifting are constant for all of his clients: building strength and improving maximum lifts,” said James.
And due to the inspiring impact of his own work, Phil now has plans to further grow his involvement with Special Olympics Kansas. He has recently applied to start his own delegation of Special Olympics, in which the foundation of the training for athletes in all sports will lie in lifting weights and building strength.
He has expanded the offerings at his facility through the acquisition of new equipment and staff, and he is prepared to further incorporate athletes of all levels and backgrounds into Strength Guild in the near future.
“Phil genuinely loves what he does,” explained James. “And all of the athletes he trains admire him for it.”
Phil is a visionary when it comes to the future of Special Olympics athletes. And because of his dedication to the Special Olympics movement and his game-changing mindset, Phil will continue to build a community of athletes who are strong both in and out of the gym.