Dynamic Duos

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Atomic Athlete

Jake Saenz & Tod Moore

I close my eyes and exhale, buying a final moment of solitude before walking into the coach’s office at Atomic Athlete. I rehearse my talking points in my head, running through the preparation I’d done for an hour-plus of intense conversation on training techniques and mental strength. You’d be stalling, too, if you were about to spend time alone with the men behind the slogan “Stronger. Faster. Harder to kill.”

Tod Moore, one of Atomic’s co-founders and lead coaches, greets me at the door with a warm handshake and a big smile, slapping me on the back like we’re old friends. Bald-headed and red-bearded, Tod is wearing a black sweatshirt, black shorts, and flip-flops as he leans against his desk, a cool figure of relaxed authority—nothing like the austere, hulking guy I’d expected. Make no mistake about it, though: the guy could crush me in an instant.

Tod wasn’t your typical gym rat growing up. Sure, he liked to lift weights as a high schooler in La Porte, a small town in East Texas, but that was about it. “I was just a fat kid growing up, wasn’t very athletic,” he says. “I pretty much just liked to work out because I enjoyed the suffer component of it.”

All of that changed when he met Jake Saenz a few years later at a mutual friend’s surprise birthday party in Austin. “Jake showed up and I immediately thought to myself, ‘I like that guy!’” Moore smiles, his hearty laugh filling the room. They began working out and running together, and their friendship took off from there. Eventually, they moved into a house with a few other buddies and became virtually inseparable.

“We’d have these ‘man dates’ where we’d get up and ride our bikes down to our run group with Paul Carozza (formerly of RunTex), come back, do another workout, and then get back on our bikes,” he says. “We were nonstop.”

Seconds later, Jake bursts through the office door, smiling as if he’d been waiting for the perfect time to enter. A former Army Special Operations soldier, he’s clean-shaven and bald, and is wearing a red T-shirt and beige pants. Like Tod, he has an air of unassuming confidence and is quick to crack a joke. It’s obvious how at ease they are together—more brothers than friends.

Jake grabs a seat as he and Tod lead me through the progression of their personal and professional relationship. When they first met, they were in their mid-late 20’s and bartending to make a living. Both felt like there was something missing and wanted more concrete direction.

“That was the genesis of all this,” says Tod, gesturing around the room. “We were both looking to evolve out of juvenile life habits and were in an open-minded, pliable place in our lives.”

Jake laughs for a second and shakes his head, gathering his thoughts. “It’s so funny to look back 10 years ago—bartending, a bunch of dudes living in a house, training together,” he says reflectively. “So much has changed since then but we still carry the training habits and the relationships we’ve forged with us every day.”

I step back from our conversation for a moment, processing their contemplative statements. These guys aren’t meatheads, they’re pioneers—and Atomic Athlete’s staggering success speaks for it. Over the past eight years, Tod and Jake have grown their business from a ragtag outfit leading parkside workouts (well before the proliferation of Camp Gladiator’s outdoor workout model) to a close-knit community of athletes and competitors chasing one common, elusive goal: to sharpen and prepare their bodies and minds for anything that comes their way.

This may sound grandiose, but Tod and Jake aren’t selling gimmicks. They’re advancing science. By combining the methodologies behind strength training and endurance conditioning—two schools of thought that have been traditionally kept separate—Atomic has become a nationwide leader in online workout programming and evaluation. They also lead a variety of multi-week sessions and lecture-heavy seminars for Army Special Forces soldiers. Combined, these two efforts represent Atomic’s push to be as influential and scalable as possible.

 If this sounds a bit dense or confusing, it is. “It’s like drinking out of a fire hose,” Tod admits. “Most people don’t understand until they’re several sessions in.”

Though their curriculum is intricate, there aren’t any hidden secrets to what they do. Their training model is based on a deliberate and calculated approach stemming from a simple question: Why? “So many gyms rationalize unnecessary and dangerous workouts by arguing that they’ll make you mentally tougher, which is ridiculous,” Jake says. “Everything we do is intentional. We don’t waste our athletes’ time or endanger them; we empower them to expand their aptitude in whatever field they’re in—whether they’re a collegiate athlete, a hunter, a soldier, or outdoorsman.”

Thanks to their expansion into the online realm, Tod and Jake haven’t felt the need to grow Atomic Athlete through marketing campaigns or opening multiple locations. As a result, they’ve been able to keep their membership to roughly 250 people a month, preserving Atomic’s casual environment. This consistency and predictability—a rarity in the gym business—has given them the freedom to explore areas of interest beyond the confines of traditional fitness regiments, like shooting, hunting, and jiu-jitsu. “This is really just the beginning,” Tod says.

As I walk into the parking lot, I can’t help but laugh at how drastically my perception of Jake and Tod changed from our brief time together. With one final look at the front door, I step into my car with Jake’s words still ringing in my ears: “This isn’t just about the gym—it’s about building a skillset focused around discipline, endurance, strength, and awareness. We’re helping people become greater assets to their companies, families, and communities.”

 

EPIC Provisions

Taylor Collins & Katie Forrest

The word ‘epic’ isn’t reserved for the ordinary. It’s the rallying cry for the adventures that are too good to describe, those you-had-to-be-there experiences that still give you goosebumps years later. It’s for the people who’d rather live by doing than watching. To truly understand what EPIC means, though, you’ll need to meet Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest, the spousal combo behind the meat-based product line that’s challenging mainstream food trends and infiltrating supermarkets across the country.

It’s an unusually cold January morning in Austin, Texas (below 40 degrees, if you can believe it) and Taylor’s pacing in front of his South Austin home. But he’s not nervous, he’s trying to help his five-week-old daughter, Emory Scout Bear-Forrest Collins—‘Scout’ for short—fall asleep. “The best way to get her to fall asleep is walking her outside,” Katie explains. “It’s the only thing that calms her down.” Considering her parents are triathletes and avid nature junkies, Scout’s going to fit in just fine here.

The waters around the Forrest-Collins household are calm, but they weren’t always. Six years ago, Katie and Taylor’s lives were in flux as they tried to navigate their early-mid 20’s and find their callings. Taylor was working as a physical therapist in Austin, while Katie was in school for counseling psychology in Dallas. Both were miserable. 

But rather than standing pat and settling for more conventional—and more predictable—life paths, they decided it was time to shake things up. Katie dropped the doctoral program she’d spent years working toward and moved back to Austin to be with Taylor, who eventually followed in her footsteps and quit his job, too.

“It was terrifying, but we never doubted we were making the right decision,” Katie says as we sit at their kitchen table, their chocolate lab, Lakota, by her side. She’s wearing a white sweater and a black coat, her hair neatly pulled back. She’s only five weeks removed from pregnancy but somehow looks more put together than I have in years. “Happiness comes from being able to evolve and find what brings you joy in any given moment.”

Taylor’s standing close by, donned in a blue t-shirt and an EPIC snapback while gently rocking Scout in his arms. “We’ve always believed there’s no pathway or repeatable playbook to living a happy, prosperous life—whether that’s regarding a business or a relationship,” he adds, never taking his eyes off his daughter. “We’ve always followed our instincts and listened to our guts.”

Shortly after Katie moved back to Austin, they did just that. Stricken by crippling gastrointestinal pain and the anxiety that ensued when doctors couldn’t identify the cause of her ailments, she and Taylor—longtime vegetarians and raw food vegans at the time—decided to make their most drastic life change yet: eating meat. Almost immediately after adopting what is commonly known as the ‘paleo diet,’ Katie’s symptoms disappeared. They felt stronger and more energetic than they ever had. 

“Changing our diets and tackling that together taught us so many lessons about teamwork and open-mindedness,” Taylor smiles. “That was a huge challenge, but it was well worth the reward. Katie’s the healthiest she’s ever been since we made that change.”

This switch was an existential shift for both. Soon after, in 2013, Katie and Taylor founded EPIC Provisions with hopes of altering the landscape of food consumption, and placing grassland restoration at the forefront of conscious, healthy living. “We’re challenging the narrative that raising livestock is degenerating the earth,” Taylor explains. “We want to empower people to make better purchasing decisions while supporting ranchers who care for their animals, employ practices that sequester carbon through grasslands, and mitigate climate change.”

People have answered EPIC’s call for a food revolution. Over the past four years, their product line has grown from their staple meat bars to include a variety of trail mixes, beef jerkies, bacon bits, animal oils (like duck fat and pork lard), bone broths, and much more. This enables them to use every part of their animals—a key company value. But this belief isn’t isolated to Katie and Taylor, nor is EPIC part of a niche market. In fact, it was acquired by General Mills for an undisclosed sum early last year. Despite the big news, their company roles and worldviews alike haven’t been impacted by the acquisition. They’ve made it a point to live like they always have—modestly and without excess. “We still want Scout to grow up like we did,” Taylor explains. “We want her to struggle and have to overcome challenges.”

EPIC’s success hasn’t changed him and Katie, but parenthood certainly has. For much of their relationship, Katie wasn’t interested in getting married, let alone having kids. But as time passed, she realized if she were going to do those things with anyone, it’d be with Taylor—the boy she used to lock eyes with in the halls of Austin High School, before dating at Texas State University. She’s still getting used to the whole motherhood thing, but she loves it. “Scout has turned our work-life balance perspective on its head,” she grins. It’s obvious their daughter’s presence has changed them—a process they’re more than accustomed to. But this is different. It’s bigger.

This summer, they’re hitting the road for a trip through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas. Taylor and Katie owe it to themselves after years of tireless work, but it seems more like a trip for Scout—a type of family initiation process. Beyond that, though, there’s still plenty of uncertainty in their world, which is just the way they like it. “We’d be really boring if we already knew what was coming,” Katie laughs. “Life should be unpredictable. All we know is she’s [Scout] getting bigger by the day.”

My prediction: Taylor’s going to be a hell of a lot stronger when he’s rocking Scout back and forth this time next year. 

 

PHOTO BY DYLAN O'CONNOR

Practice Yoga

Rey Cardenas & Struan Vaz

It’s my first time interviewing anyone in this kind of setting, and I’m nervously awaiting their arrival at a classy local dinner spot. Two men approach the hostess, and just by the looks of Struan, I’m confident they’re the yogi dinner dates I’m set to meet. Rey goes in for the handshake, almost as if for a hug. He’s gentle, clean cut, and tall—like someone I've seen around town but have never formally met. Struan greets me next with distinct energy and warmth. He has billowing, long, dark hair, a groovy patterned shirt, and a smile like Buddha. They immediately make me feel comfortable as we sit, more interested in my life story than sharing theirs. The manager of the restaurant comes to say hello, and it’s evident they’re known and beloved here. Everywhere, really.  

Rey and Struan tell me how they met while attending yoga classes around the city, occasionally running into each other serendipitously at Whole Foods between workouts. This feeling of destiny seems to ooze out of these men, their life stories, and their interactions. After only a few minutes with them, I’m convinced they’ve been duly rewarded in business and life for their kind, thoughtful nature. Well, that, and a lot of hard work.

Rey is a born and raised Austinite. His interest in yoga originally began with playing Wii Fit, helping him transition out of an online poker phase that left him feeling out of shape and unsatisfied. He recognized the ways in which practicing yoga enhanced so many aspects of his life, especially his mental health, spirituality, and interpersonal relationship skills. “Like yoga,” he explains, “you have to be able to put yourself in an uncomfortable position and still relax and be present through it. My practice expanded my capacity to be present in any given moment.” This is the moment in our conversation when I become aware that Rey is actually the yoga extraordinaire of the two. 

I turn to Struan, now even more curious about his life story considering my business role misjudgment. He also loves yoga, but spends a great deal of time as an active microchip engineer (with an impressive background in science and mathematics). He proceeds to praise Rey for his strong people skills and emotional intelligence, which starkly contrasts his analytical nature. “We think completely differently, which is hard sometimes because it causes friction,” he says. “But that’s the secret sauce. Those differences really are our strength.”

Just like that, these unlikely friends conceived an idea to take their passion, mutual appreciation of yoga, and way with numbers to the next level. With Struan’s experience in startups and some calculations far beyond my own comprehension, they were able to ensure that all of the pieces would be in place to make this dream a reality. In less than three months, Practice Yoga was born.

This is when the sauce becomes a four course meal. “Group effort” is reiterated adamantly as we discuss the rollout of their new business, in regards to both themselves and their teachers. They’re quick to deflect any praise for their successes, instead making the conversation about Practice Yoga’s energetic and spirited teachers. Struan admits that keeping a mentality on community and passion for the practice is essential, but it was particularly important in the early stages of the business. That, and having a good time.

Having fun when starting the studio was crucial, to our spirit and to business.” Struan relays. This sort of openness and connection is incredibly defining of the Austin community as a whole, including the idea that the pursuit of wellness should be accessible to anyone. “You walk into our studio and it feels like a safe place, a community. Accessibility means you can afford this, and feel comfortable here; that was our game plan.” 

It’s clear Struan and Rey are approachable and care for their clients, but I’m more curious about the less conventional side of their work. Other than being two men operating in a female-dominated industry, I inquire about what sets their studio apart in our increasingly saturated city. They preface their answer by emphasizing the need to grow Austin’s yoga community as a whole, explaining that competition isn’t their goal. As a result, they aren’t brand or subscription-centric—which allows them to honor and fund exceptional teachers instead. “Every day the yoga has to stand on its own, otherwise people don’t come back,” Rey says. “That’s where our slogan, ‘absurdly high quality donation yoga’ comes from.

As the conversation progresses, I’m increasingly stirred by their passion and ask what advice they have for people who are intimidated to jump into yoga. Given his story, Rey believes there’s no shame in testing the waters through online video tutorials. Struan agrees, humbly bragging how one of Practice Yoga’s teachers, Adriene Mishler, is one of the most popular online instructors worldwide. While YouTube channels like Adriene’s and other yoga gatherings can certainly be a stepping stone, Struan encourages potential yogis to venture into a studio for the full experience. “Energy evolves by practicing in a studio because the nature and consciousness of yoga is absolutely contagious and powerful.”

In just an hour together, I’m inspired and enlightened on a personal level—and we didn’t even set foot in the yoga studio. If this is how I feel leaving dinner, I think it’s about time to give a class at Practice Yoga a shot.

 

Circus Picnic Studios

Jefe & Kelly Greenheart

​As a small group of Lycra-laden men crowd around posted results from The Rookie Triathlon, I can’t help but think of how similar they look to a group of giddy and anxious students waiting to find out who got the lead in the school play. The weather was iffy for a sprint tri—gloomy and drizzling, far too cold for May in Austin—but first-timers and veterans alike showed up in good spirits prepared to swim, bike, and run. 
“Dude! Jefe won. No way—Jefe, you won your age group!” exclaims one of the team members.

This group of thirty-something year-old men, who made up the majority of the JuiceLand triathlon team (with the exception of Jefe’s wife, Kelly), swarm Jefe Greenheart with embraces of love and support. It was his first triathlon and he had won his highly competitive men’s 35–39 division. He breaks through the crowd to find Kelly. She’s not hard to spot; her toothy smile is genuine and inviting, and her red lustrous hair would make a mermaid jealous. Jefe beams with pride as he informs her that she also did exceptionally well—placing fourth in the women’s 30–34 division. 
He stops abruptly, stricken by an idea, shifting from the celebratory huddle. 

“I’m going to juggle on the podium! I need to find some fruit.” 

After rummaging through JuiceLand's tent for a moment, he picks up an orange. “Hmm, this could work,” he says, grabbing two more items that don’t seem to be standard juggling material: a banana and a pineapple. And yet, when the race emcee calls his name, Jefe’s fruit selection goes airborne nonetheless. 

Although it was Jefe and Kelly’s first triathlon, they are no strangers to the spotlight. In fact, juggling is what brought them together. Kelly had co-founded a circus gathering that regularly met in Zilker Park, and in just two summers it grew from four to 400 people, becoming a sanctuary for playful locals wanting to learn and skillshare circus arts. 

“One day, I juggled at Barton Springs and this guy said I should go to this circus gathering. I was always the weird kid who juggled and did flips but never had community around it,” said Jefe. After a miscommunication about the location, Jefe finally stumbled upon the circus jam. “It was like I had found my long lost family,” he recalls. And then, he found Kelly.

As I pull up to their house for this interview, there's no doubt I'm at the right place. There’s a slackline in the front yard and a vibrant art car, painted like a psychedelic rainbow and adorned with the mantras “Real magic exists” and “Awaken your imagination.” The hood sports a portrait of Kelly’s grandmother, Joy—the previous owner of the car and inspiration behind its name, The Joy Ride. When Jefe and Kelly greet me at the door, I take notice of the purple vertical stripes painted on the entryway walls and feel like I’m stepping foot inside a funhouse. We settle on the couch, where I have a clear view of their trampoline in the backyard. (Of course.) As a kid, this was the kind of place I'd dreamt of living in.

There's more to these two than juggling and carny culture, though. Shortly after their meeting, they spent a week connecting with each other at Burning Man—where multiple strangers asked how long they’d been married. Rather than resuming his cushy corporate television job, Jefe quit to travel around South America for seven months making documentaries with Kelly.

“I said, ‘Look, I’m leaving for South America in two weeks. Now is your chance. Come with me or not—but I may never come back,” Kelly says.

The Amazon was as challenging as you’d imagine; but sharing a small cot, running out of money and living barefoot (all while spending every minute, every hour, every day together) enhanced their relationship. This environment forced them to work through their issues rather than run from them.When they finally touched down onto U.S. soil, Jefe and Kelly headed straight to where it all began: Burning Man. This time, they formed a new love. 

“We decided to combine everything we love into this company. And that’s how Circus Picnic Studios started. It was the platform for our video production company, as well as our performance entertainment company,” says Jefe.

The company has two sides: for-hire interactive talent and video production. The first side features everything from jugglers and stilt walkers to acrobats and fire hoopers, making it the perfect attraction for festivals, parades, and corporative parties. The experiential entertainment troupe of Circus Picnic is the go-to source for performance needs. The video production side of the company has afforded the couple some unbelievable opportunities to travel around the world. Clients and collaborators include Wanderlust Yoga Festival, Lance Armstrong and Rip Esselstyn, Jim Carrey, National Geographic, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, and MTV, to name a few. Jefe is also the director of photography for Austin City Limits Festival and Lollapalooza. There is one project, however, that’s been about five years in the making—and it’s picking up some serious momentum.

As the ultimate integration of everything the Greenhearts do, Jefe and Kelly conceived the idea to produce a children’s television show. Inspired by PeeWee’s Playhouse, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Captain Planet, Hook, The Goonies, and even Cirque du Soleil, the result was Mr. Greenheart’s Treehouse. Not only does it aim to provide quality programming to children, but it’s also intended to bring families closer together.

“I believe we have a responsibility to feed our families nourishing media that helps us all grow and thrive together,” Jefe says in their Kickstarter campaign video, which surpassed its fundraising goal with $35,000. Jefe and Kelly play Mr. Greenheart and Violet, respectively, in roles that aren’t too far off from their true selves. The pilot, which will be pitched to networks in early 2017, was shot at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours, a treehouse haven in Spicewood Springs. 

Uncertainty lies ahead for Jefe and Kelly, but that’s never stopped them before. Emboldened by their adventures in the Amazon and beyond, the Greenhearts hope to make their mark on the current media paradigm—an especially impressive feat considering they don't own a television.

 

Blenders and Bowls

Erin Downing & Kara Jordan

If anyone knows what a fantastic blend is, it’s Erin Downing and Kara Jordan. They’ve perfected the Blenders and Bowls menu with a diverse offering of hearty smoothies and bowls—but beyond that, they’ve mastered the challenges of running a business as best friends. 

Chances are, you’ve crossed paths with Erin and Kara. Maybe you’ve caught them behind the counter at their cafe in Wanderlust Yoga, or perhaps you’ve dropped into the Westlake store and noticed one of them catching up on e-mails. You wouldn’t know it though, because this best friend duo plays it low-key—staying humble in the face of their growing success. In spite of multiple encounters and introductions, I still have to do a double-take to spot Erin, who often sports a hat.

We're sitting at their spacious Westlake store, surrounded by natural light and buzzing high school girls who have claimed it as their hang-out spot. As I inquire further about their friendship, I come to find out that this is a different kind of love story—a platonic love story. Erin and Kara met in the 7th grade and hit it off immediately. They've had an unmatched bond ever since. Despite putting the Pacific Ocean between them during college years—with Erin at California State University in Chico and Kara at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu—nothing could interpose their friendship. 

Erin and Kara would only stay apart for so long, though. Once they finished school, Erin moved out to Hawaii to reunite with her BFF. The two women shared a cozy apartment in Oahu until they were ready for another move: Austin. “I don’t remember who brought it up first, but a year later we made the decision to do it. I don’t remember talking too much about it, but just agreeing on it,” says Kara.

Surprisingly, this is how they handle most decisions—and it works. They reveal that most business conversations happened on their couch over a glass or two of wine. And when asked about divvying the responsibilities, Erin says, “It’s weird, we never had a full conversation where we decided ‘you do this, and I do that.’ The tasks have just been naturally divided.” The Santa Barbara natives attribute the strength of their brand to this attitude and their casual Californian confidence. “Good vibes, laid back. If, behind the scenes, it wasn’t like that, it’d be harder to translate that into what we’re trying to do,” Kara says. 

The idea to start a business based around acai bowls—a thick smoothie-like Hawaiian staple that's typically topped with fruit, granola, or peanut butter—came to Erin and Kara shortly after they settled in Austin in their mid-twenties. What started as a simple craving turned into a search for a remedy unfound, and ultimately led to what they considered a no-brainer. The fact that Austin is hot and its residents are active was a bonus; it’s as close to being a beach town a landlocked city could be. 

The duo spent an entire month perfecting the menu—a tedious task for people who had no experience making acai bowls. They knew the three most important qualities in an acai bowl were the thickness of the blend, quality of the granola, and freshness of the ingredients. With that in mind, it took plenty of trial and error before they perfected the three bowls that would go on their flagship menu.

In July 2011, the Blenders and Bowls food truck was born. “The hardest part about the business to date has been trying to figure out how to open up a food truck. We had to jump through so many hoops with permitting,” Erin says. “Plus, we were working in such a tight space together, all the time. It made us close as business partners, but it set us up to be able to work in any situation.” Incredibly, the women swear there's never been a blowout fight between them—even after so many years spent in close quarters together. 

They finally cleared every clerical hurdle, and set their sights on what they believed was a strong niche for acai bowls: fitness events. Their first venture, The Rookie Triathlon, was indicative of their success to come. As time went on, Blenders and Bowls picked up a breakfast route where they’d deliver breakfast to start-ups and agencies around town. One cold November day, Erin and Kara had an odd encounter with some customers. 

Kara still remembers it vividly. “They came with their car, bought a bowl, ate it and then came right back. They said, ‘We’re opening a yoga studio and we want to have a café in it. We love your products and we love that it’s run by two girls.’” The customers, turned out to be the driving force behind Wanderlust Yoga Austin. In true Erin-and-Kara form, they briefly discussed the offer, confirmed they were in agreement, and signed a lease at the Fourth Street location in 2012.

Fast-forward five years, when everything on the business side has undergone major changes—including a rebrand and the sale of their original food truck—but the dynamic between Erin and Kara remains unchanged. (Up until last November, they were still roommates.) They opened their own brick-and-mortar last April, just a stone’s throw away from Westlake High School, and now they’re on track to open a store on the East side of town in early 2017. 

“Our No. 1 priority is still making sure the bowls are delicious. But we also care about making sure everyone else sticks to the processes we started so long ago,” Erin says. “We are both still cc'd on every email. We're in the loop on everything so there are no surprises.” 
It’s safe to say—to no surprise, of course—that this platonic love story will end happily ever after.

 

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