Sports and fitness always played a role in Hayden Parsons’ life. His parents were both physically active: his dad was a professional bull rider and his mom was a dancer. When he was just four years old, his uncle, a semi-pro hockey player, helped Hayden’s mom get a job with a hockey team in Memphis, Tennessee. Hayden remembers sitting in the weight-lifting room with his uncle and all the team players cultivating his first genuine interest in sports. When he was finally old enough to participate in team sports around the age of six, he went straight to playing hockey, football, and baseball until he was about 16 years old. Though playing sports was fun for the most part, he felt the pressure and the toll on his body were becoming too much. Hayden decided to take a year off playing sports to focus on his high school grades and being a typical teenager.
Although he enjoyed the time off from sports, he remembered a goal he set when he was younger. At the gym his mom worked at, there was a poster of Jay Cutler, Mr. Olympian in 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010. Hayden recalls: “I told my mom that I was going to have my poster one day. I didn’t know what it was going to be for, but I knew I would have one.” Thinking back on that goal motivated Hayden to get back into fitness, but this time he chose a solo sport – boxing. Typical of most boxing gyms, his coach offered Hayden a spot as an assistant coach in exchange for free membership. While he was training to compete, he was also teaching new boxing students. Hayden understood the intimidation most first-time boxing students feel when they step foot in the gym, and he worked to welcome students and motivate them.
After an unfortunate health issue put his competing on hold, Hayden wanted to continue training and coaching others. To achieve this goal, he decided to start his own gym in his mom’s garage. Using social media as a way for him to post fitness progress pictures, Hayden began getting some traction from neighbors and friends who were looking for help with fitness training. Hayden also helped establish a new fitness program at Refuge, a women’s homeless shelter in Memphis where he volunteered.
During this time, Hayden had started searching for colleges to increase his knowledge and skills. He knew he wanted to be a coach or a personal trainer, and he focused his search on schools with personal training programs. After receiving several acceptance letters, Hayden narrowed his decision between two options: a program in Hawaii or Bryan University. After thinking about his decision and praying about it, Hayden decided the flexibility of the online personal trainer program offered at Bryan University was the right choice for him. It would allow him to study what he was passionate about without giving up his new endeavors.
Hayden feels that his educational experience at Bryan U has been outstanding. He connected with the instructors’ methods of joining the course material with real-life applications. Hayden appreciated that nearly all his coursework focused on the area he is most passionate about while also giving him the necessary education for an entrepreneur like him who was running his own program. He states: “At Bryan, it felt more personal. Throughout the whole process, I was treated as a person, not a number. It was always comfortable to email a professor and they would get right back to you. Some would even give us a number that we could text them at.”
Hayden’s fitness program at Refuge led to another opportunity at a non-profit in Memphis called Juvenile Intervention with Faith-based Follow-up, also known as JIFF. JIFF works with kids who have gone through the juvenile court system to empower them with strategies to become more resilient and self-reliant. Hayden brought his fitness and boxing training to JIFF to give the kids in the program different opportunities through fitness. While the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person training sessions, Hayden took to TikTok to continue providing his students training and fitness motivation. He feels that the benefits these kids gain from fitness are more than getting their heart rates up: “Boxing will teach them to respect time and respect others. Just helping people improve their lives in one aspect such as fitness can then branch off into other things. I think it’s that little push to help someone improve their entire life that is the most fulfilling thing for me.”