By Dan Harrison
---- — Strength and conditioning guru Pat Downey has spent years trying to perfect the way he approaches training athletes.
In that time, the former NFL player from Beverly has learned two major things. First, you have to train the mind as well as the body. Second, there’s no place Downey would rather train athletes than on the North Shore.
Downey has partnered with Leap Fitness owner Herve Sedky and is bringing his new program, Vantedge Performance, to the area. Vantedge is Downey’s nationally recognized sports performance and nutrition program that will be launched inside their state-of-the-art sports performance center located inside Leap Fitness in Marblehead.
“I’m so jacked up being back on the North Shore. I’m a North Shore guy, born and raised in Beverly. My parents still live there and it’s the reason why my wife and I moved back here,” said Downey. “We’ve lived all over the country, but we came back because we love the North Shore. These are our people, so I wanted to be able to bring this to the student-athletes. It’s my passion not just to help them physically, but also as human beings and to develop them as people.”
His program offers injury prevention, speed training, agility, plyometrics, power/explosiveness, strength development and nutrition education.
Vantedge performance will run out of Leap Fitness, located at 46 Tioga Way in Marblehead. The sports performance center located inside Leap Fitness features indoor athletic field turf, Olympic platforms, power racks, battling ropes, plyometric equipment, Kettlebells and more.
Part of the big picture
Downey, who now makes his home in Marblehead, began Gridiron Training — a football-specific strength and conditioning program —back in 2010. It originally started in the weight room of his alma mater, Bishop Fenwick High School, bouncing around to a few other locations before ending up in Woburn.
After realizing how many more athletes his program could reach, Downey reached out to Jules Hindman, one of the top nutritionists in the country who has worked with guys like Mark Ingram of the New Orleans Saints and Eric Fisher of the Kansas City Chiefs. The two became partners on a new endeavor, which turned out to be Vantedge.
“I met Jules at a convention a couple years ago and she was incredible. She’s part of the big picture. So I decided, let’s take this thing (Gridiron Training) to the next level,” said Downey.
“Vantedge combines advanced innovative sports training with nutrition. We’re able to not only teach athletes the proper way to train, but also educate them on the proper way to eat and fuel their bodies. It’s cool to say your nutritionist has worked with guys like Mark Ingram and Eric Fisher, but at the end of the day our true passion is working with youth and high school athletes, both boys and girls,”
Hindman is at the top of her field, something Downey said he requires from the members of his staff. All trainers working under Downey hold degrees in applied exercise science and exercise physiology. Every trainer is certified with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Making a positive impact on young lives
Having taken his career all the way to the big time — Downey was with the Chargers, Patriots, Redskins and Falcons of the NFL, as well as the Arena Football League — he obviously knows everything it takes to become successful on the football field. But working with more and more athletes over time made Downey realize many of the principles, especially the ones that focus on the mental side of athletics, cross over into all other sports as well.
His five core principles focus on providing athletes with a sense of identity and community where accountability, discipline and integrity are main points of emphasis. Whether it’s a football player, cross country runner or swimmer, Downey believes these principles will carry each individual to success.
“The most rewarding thing for me and our coaches is working with youth and high school kids, because they’re so impressionable,” he said. “We know that as coaches we can make a huge, positive impact on their lives.”
It’s essential that Downey surround himself with the top professionals in the field as well as people who share his passion not only for training, but for the North Shore as well. He believes he’s found both in Sedky, who is originally from France but now lives in Marblehead.
Sedke was sending his young children to Woburn to train with Downey and immediately noticed the energy and effective training methods he brought to the gym every day. Just like Downey, Sedke wanted to make that kind of training more accessible to the student-athletes on the North Shore, so he approached him about a possible move and Downey jumped at the chance.
“(Sedke) is the real deal. He’s been in this industry a while and been around the block. This guy is 100 percent invested in the children, both youth and high school, on the North Shore,” said Downey. “The fact that he’s willing to partner with me and invest a lot of money into putting a state-of-the-art performance center with new equipment ... that says a lot.”
‘Self confidence is your greatest weapon’
Downey’s program has been nationally recognized being voted the ‘National Gym of the Month’ by Bodybuilding.com, the No. 1 fitness publication in the country. The program has been featured on the HBO show ‘Hard Knocks’ among many others both locally and on the national scene. Some of the athletes who have trained with Downey are New York Giants running back Michael Cox, Toronto Blue Jays draft pick Tyler Beede, Baltimore Ravens safety Jeromy Miles and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Emil Igwanegu.
But it is the work Downey has done with high school athletes that he values most.
Take the recent undefeated Super Bowl champions from Bishop Fenwick, for example; 30 of those football players trained under Downey last summer. So did 74 members of the Central Catholic football team out of Lawrence, which also won a Super Bowl crown.
Downey loves telling the story of how he came to meet Nick Bona, the tough-as-nails quarterback and linebacker for Bishop Fenwick. In the eighth grade, Bona waked up to Downey while the former NFL player was training some college athletes at Bishop Fenwick. Downey told Bona he wasn’t old enough to take part, but the youngester wound up joining anyway. By the end of the training, other kids were asking Downey what college Bona played for.
“I believe — and always have believed — that self-confidence is your greatest weapon. And I don’t mean just for sports, but for life,” explained Downey. “If I’m able to build these kids’ self-confidence, for me personally and for all our coaches, that’s the home run.”