For nearly a decade, Jim Kirwan has been a part of the tight-knit fabric of Charleston's growing fitness community.
The transplanted Irishman founded TrySports in Mount Pleasant with the mission to get people to, well, "try sports," and ultimately lead a healthier lifestyle.
And while Kirwan came from a banking and human resources background and approached the mission as a businessman, he walked the walk and went well beyond making a buck.
Kirwan's and TrySports' community influence has been widespread. The store has, and continues to be under new owners, engaged in getting people to move via training camps and weekly group runs and rewarding successes with gift certificates.
He and his family - wife Maureen and children Megan and James, who grew up in Mount Pleasant - also played an integral part in building the Mount Pleasant Track Club, encouraging children to develop a love of running and exercise.
Kirwan also became a part of the Medical University of South Carolina's "Healthy Charleston Challenge," a 10-week fitness and weight loss challenge that is now being emulated across the nation.
He succeeded in accomplishing the store's mantra, emblazoned on thousands of shirts, of "Believe Achieve."
So earlier this year, when news that he was selling TrySports, which had grown to four other locations, it was news and caused all sorts of speculation in the local weekend warrior community.
Although Kirwan is out of retail business of selling running shoes, wet suits and bikes, his mission of helping people lead healthier lives is set to start a new chapter in 2014.
Get America Moving
When he first emailed me about his plans to start a "30-Day Exercise Challenge" called "Get America Moving," I was skeptical.
If it hadn't been him pitching it, I would have hit the delete key. But the guy has credibility, even though his program hits on very familiar formulas.
Kirwan started the sit-down interview with a declaration. TrySports was a "stepping stone."
"I started it because I wanted to help people get involved in sports and to get in shape. ... That hasn't changed."
Starting Jan. 2, he will launch the free 30-day challenge for those who sign up on his website, www.getamericamoving.com, which is expected to be live no later than Dec. 17. Once signed up, participants will get information on choosing a program.
Kirwan says his target is people who are truly sedentary, including older people and those who make up the 35 percent of obese and overweight people in the United States.
Reflecting his emphasis on exercise, Kirwan prefers to call the nation's problem an "inactivity epidemic."
As part of signing up for the challenge, Kirwan will provide another free gift, the Exercise BASICS Formula, to help people choose a longer-term program involving baseline activities (such as chores and climbing stairs), aerobic activity, strength training, interval workouts and stretching. Those who sign up will receive four informational videos and support PDF documents.
Similar to other designed fitness programs, the acronyms don't end there.
The first product for sale in January will be 5XFT, or the 5X Fitness Transformation, which will be $250 for a 52-week fitness program with daily and weekly guidance and supporting videos.
His second product will be "Anyone Can Run," a $125 training program that taps into his experiences from the last 10 years and using his "unique approach" to start running. He may work with the Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk to give people a goal.
He anticipates both of the programs will have free gifts, such as a free entry into the Bridge Run.
Local street cred
To me, the Internet, with its websites, blogs, online videos and social media, is the modern day Tower of Babel. Too many voices with too many thoughts.
Kirwan, himself, sees the need for some clarity to all the confusion. But with all the competing voices, I'm not sure how someone based in Mount Pleasant, who is not a celebrity or trainer of celebrities, can get his voice heard.
Janis Newton, interim director of the MUSC Wellness Center and the driving force behind Healthy Charleston Challenge, thinks it will be heard.
"I respect and admire Jim's involvement in the community and his desire to educate and help people in their pursuit of better health and physical activity. With Jim it has never been about 'visit my store and buy something.' His No. 1 interest was to motivate people to reach their goals," says Newton, noting his speaking skills and ability to inspire people.
From the heart
If I hadn't known Kirwan, I would chalk all this up to a sales pitch by a savvy Irish businessman, but his heart seems to be in the right place.
When he first started working with the Healthy Charleston Challenge, he recalled talking to the group about his father and how he gave up rugby, and all exercise, at age 32. His father ended up dying from a heart attack at age 47. At the time, Kirwan was only 20.
During the speech, Kirwan got choked up. And at the next Healthy Charleston Challenge, he was hesitant to talk about his father again. Someone at the first session asked him why. Kirwan told the person it was because it made him emotional.
Even during our interview last week, Kirwan still got choked up remembering what turned out to be the last night he saw his father alive. Kirwan had not told his father good-night and he never had another chance to say good-bye.
"We were just beginning to have an adult relationship, but that never happened," says Kirwan. "That's a driving force behind what I'm doing."
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.