Friday, July 20, 2012
A shared goal
Once rivals on the football field, Carlton Weatherford and Jon Copper now work together on a healthy game plan for SML.
Photos by SHERESE GORE | Laker Weekly
Carlton Weatherford Jr. (left) and Jon Copper competed against each other on the football field in high school and in college. Now, the former Hokie and former Wahoo work together at SML Wellness and Fitness.
Weatherford was recruited as a fullback by the Hokies while Copper accepted a linebacker position for the Cavaliers.
For Virginia Tech fullback-turned-personal trainer Carlton Weatherford Jr.,and wellness coach Jon Copper, former University of Virginia linebacker, it's all a matter of teamwork at Smith Mountain Lake Wellness and Fitness.
School rivalry aside, the former athletes share a friendship centered on faith and football that began nearly a decade earlier. They also share the common goal of keeping lake-area residents healthy at the fitness center.
Weatherford, having grown up on his father's farm in Danville, was accustomed to pain and hard work.
"I remember getting up real early in the morning at 6 a.m. and working on the farm until it was time to go to football practice," he said. "Go to football practice during the summer and come back and finish your day's work at the farm."
On humid mornings, the tobacco was soaking wet, Weatherford said. And when straining to carry bundles of the wet leaves while bending over, he said, "Your back's aching by the end."
Weatherford's love for football began early. Thanks in part to his father, a Virginia Tech graduate and longtime fan who taught his son how to run and the different aspects of the game.
While Weatherford was slinging tobacco, Copper was living a "normal, suburban life," in Roanoke County. Life revolved around sports, church and family, he said.
In the second grade, his older brother started playing football and "like any younger brother, I wanted to do what my older brother was doing,."
Linebacker was a natural fit for the big kid: By age 14, Copper weighed 160 pounds.
"I tell folks that prior to the eighth grade, my three food groups were white bread, sugar and meat," he said.
Those food choices later would play a role in his choice of career.
Suffering for years with ruptured eardrums, earaches and sinus infections, Copper had six operations before he turned 6. At 16, his ENT specialist informed him of a possible milk allergy at a point in his life when he was drinking more than a gallon a day, he said.
"That's when I started thinking, 'OK, this isn't just I'm going to be a better athlete. There's health to be gained or health to be lost based off of what people eat and put in their bodies.'"
Weatherford and Copper met for the first time in 2003 at a high school all-star game in Virginia Beach, quickly forming a friendship. After the game, they kept in touch, both participating in Athletes in Action, a Christian sports ministry.
But being friends did not stop the two from gridiron combat.
"We had some battles; he's a pretty strong, big guy," said Weatherford.
Weatherford was recruited as a fullback by his beloved Hokies while Copper accepted a linebacker position for the Cavaliers.
But playing for rival schools brought Weatherford and Copper together again.
"So we would have these collisions where we would both be running full speed and just hit each other and boom - a stalemate," said Weatherford.
Graduation sent the friends in separate directions once more. Weatherford, who graduated in 2007, landed a Virginia Tech graduate assistantship, followed by a trainer opportunity in Atlanta, Ga. Copper, meanwhile, was getting a taste of corporate life in Charlottesville after graduating in 2009.
In Atlanta, Weatherford worked at Competitive Edge Sports, teaching college football hopefuls how to run drills and getting less-than-svelte NFL players back into shape.
"They'll go in sometimes and just really tear up the buffets and the fast food," Weatherford said, "And they'll come to us and we'll get them on a diet. We'll get that weight off of them."
But the city life was not for Weatherford. He wasn't keen on Atlanta traffic and the distance from family. He moved back to Virginia two weeks before his marriage to Sonya Milstead on May 26.
Post-graduation, Copper had worked at State Farm in Charlottesville.
"A corporate job, which I'm not wired for," he said.
It was during this time that Copper heard about a weight-loss contest sponsored by a local organization modeled after NBC's "The Biggest Loser."
I can do that, Copper told himself.
With the help of a friend and "a pretty good network in the Charlottesville area," he started his own version, eventually founding the Biggest Loser Roanoke in 2012.
The nine-week contest has about 150 participants, he said, with five prize divisions based on total and percent weight loss. Participants' weights are monitored at an initial and final weigh-in and, every Saturday there's a workout and a conference call.
"The emphasis is to make long-term lifestyle changes, and the contest is a draw to get people engaged in the process," he said.
His father, Jeff, got Copper in contact with Rob Jordan, owner of SML Wellness and Fitness. In the process, both Copper and Weatherford would come together again, this time in a working relationship.
While Copper was offering nutritional advice as a wellness coach at the gym, Jordan needed a personal trainer, and Copper had the perfect person in mind.
Removed from the glare of stadium lights, Weatherford and Copper have put away any athletic differences to team up and provide fitness and nutritional guidance to the Smith Mountain Lake community.
"It's interesting," said Weatherford. "The roads you take and how people connect sometimes is kind of crazy."
Smith Mountain Lake Welness and Fitness: 65 Westlake Road, Hardy. 719-0008. smlwellnessandfitness.com/