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Sports training with a purpose: Inside the walls of Innovative Athletics Sports Performance

Ryan Smith's goal with Innovative Athletics Sports Performance is to bring together athletes with different perspectives and backgrounds as they become their best.

GRIMES, Iowa — Finding confidence and building relationships, all through athletic training. That’s the goal at Innovative Athletic Sports Performance in Grimes.

In that gym, every teenage athlete is pushing their limits and finding a family in the process. 

Football star Kadyn Proctor is home on break from Alabama and has been training at IAP for five years.  

“When I first got here, I didn’t know who I was honestly,” Proctor recalled, noting how welcoming the trainers are. “I come here and it’s just a safe space for me.”

The people here have grown his confidence. 

“It’s like a family environment. I can come in here, get my work in, and have relationships with people from other schools, that I don’t see at my school on a daily basis. And to come back from Alabama, we all love each other. We’re like-minded.”

That’s the vibe founder Ryan Smith is focused on.

He’s a former defensive lineman for Abilene Christian University in Texas.

“It doesn’t matter if you go to southeast Polk or if you’re going to DCG or if you’re going to Waukee, Waukee Northwest, right?” Smith explained the inclusiveness. “There’s a community that’s being built and a culture that’s being built, invested in all types of relationships and friendships that will last for a long time.”

He created this gym to bring kids together who otherwise wouldn’t connect.

And it gives them a space to train in the off-season when some can’t afford a gym membership.

Former Iowa State defensive lineman Brent Curvey has trained around the nation. The need for facilities like this in the Midwest – brought him to IAP.

“I’m originally from Texas, so we got to see a lot of guys, top-tier athletes training together,” Curvey said. “But in Iowa, you don’t necessarily see that as much. It’s not a year-round opportunity so seeing Ryan kinda bring this opportunity here, as a space to train year round, it changes your game drastically.”

Training an extra three months a year is helping these athletes keep up. Yet, there's a deeper impact here. Students are learning from each other’s diverse perspectives.

Olivia Gehrke started training her sophomore year and quickly found inspiration. 

“There’s younger girls here all the time, and I think that it’s super influential to see somebody like that looks like you or doing something that’s older than you that you wanna do," she said. "I think that’s my favorite part is showing that it is possible to run with the big dogs even when you think it seems impossible.”  

Smith wants the gym to be a space where teens can be vulnerable, not a word usually said in gyms. 

“These are kids that are going through things that have had mishaps like family members killed,” he explained. “Diseases, cancer ... we’ve had some kids just come workout, train, then they pass away. Those things have happened, so what can we do to provide a platform where these kids can truly get opportunities that everyone else is getting?"

This approach is a game changer. IAP athletes have gone to states nationwide and have collectively been offered hundreds of scholarships.

Gehrke has seen herself go next level.

“My best and hardest workouts are here because I’m being pushed by so many better athletes and different types of athletes.”

Curvey talks more about the difference this gym has: "It’s the energy. Everybody has the ability, but when you have the confidence to match with that, it elevates your game beyond whatever you could imagine. You’re around good people, iron sharpens iron.”

Pryce Sandfort started coming in seventh grade after Smith came to his school to work on stretches.

“I’ve lost a couple championships and that’s always really hard. You don’t really know how hard it hits until it happens to you, especially how far you have to go to get to that stage just to lose it, it can really hurt," he said. "But coming here to work with Ryan, he’s always there for you to talk about it. Get back to work, and get better so it doesn’t happen next time. He’s really transformed me into a better athlete overall and a better person.”

Smith says a big reason the gym is more than workouts is the faith-based perspective.

Proctor, like many other athletes here, says Smith has changed his life.

“I really didn’t believe in myself to go to Alabama or anything, or have this confidence that I do now. He’s more than a brother, brother, uncle, mentor.”

Smith also runs a nonprofit to empower disadvantaged youth. To get involved with the gym or learn more about the nonprofit, click here.

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