By Michele Alperin
When pro football player Kevin Johnson tore his Achilles tendon, he had three kids, and realized he needed to make a decision that was personal as well as professional. He remembers thinking, “You’ve got to stop being selfish. Do you continue to chase that dream around the country, or is it time to step up and be a man? It’s time to stop chasing things for me but be that dad, that father.”
He realized he needed to “figure out his purpose on earth,” which, he concluded, “is something you can do extremely well that takes the least amount of effort. I wanted to be involved in sports and fitness.”
A fitness center was the core of the idea that eventually developed into the larger Team85 campus that combined medical and fitness activities.
“I was trying to recreate a professional team atmosphere, which was sports, medical and physical therapy, in a whole one-stop shop situation,” Johnson says of the fitness and wellness center. He saw it as similar to a professional team’s headquarters.
The 120,000 square foot Team85 Fitness and Wellness center will include all the standard fare as well as party/craft rooms, a women-only section, children’s after-school and camp programming, sports performance training, indoor spaces for team sports and practice including a 45,000 square foot indoor turf field, batting cages, gold practice stalls, two adult and one kids basketball courts, an indoor track, physical therapy, a salon and spa, and a café.
From a trainer in Birmingham, Alabama, where Johnson had surgery on his Achilles tendon, he got the idea of marrying fitness and medicine in the campus he decided to build.
Looking for real estate in New Jersey, he found the 32 acres formerly the site of a Growmark fertilizer plant in Bordentown. “The key thing is location—how can I get to the highway, to the Interstate,” he says of the property. “It’s right on 130, and near 195 and 295, in a three to five minute drive of accessing major arteries.”
At first Johnson thought about tearing down the silos on the property, which seemed like an eyesore. But because they are an important part of the local community, with local farmers still using them, he decided to paint them a nice blue, to blend with the sky, and then use them as a kind of a billboard for Team85.
Central for Johnson, who grew up without a lot of money, was making the facility affordable—“how to take this phenomenal environment and make it for everyone.” So he decided to find tenants whose rent would subsidize the charge for fitness center membership.
For Johnson, this investment was risky, and not really about money, he says, noting that although everything has gone well, it could have gone the other way. Johnson says, “My goal is to be that role model, be that person for individuals to look at—if he did it, I can do it too; if I went to college from my humble beginnings, then you can do that as well; if I could stay patient and work hard, you can take that and do it in your life.”
Johnson puts up with being in an office only because it’s necessary to realize his vision. “I definitely want to work with kids, adults and athletes; for me, it’s all about having fun and being out there with people.”
Abel Gutierrez, a staffer with Johnson, says that the fitness center should open fourth quarter 2015. In the meantime Johnson, whose high school lacked equipment for athletics, is planning to donate a full line of commercial fitness equipment to high schools in Mercer and Burlington Counties, and has started with Robbinsville High School. “Typically what is cut from programs is athletics and physical education,” Gutierrez says. “It is a way to engage kids in a healthier lifestyle.”
Johnson gave careful thought to bringing in businesses with strong relationships to fitness and medicine, noting the potential for shared data to the benefit of patients. St. Francis Medical Center will have physicians on site, offering services like cardiac rehab, a pharmacy, and oncology, and the hospital’s building will have special walls to support radiation treatment. St. Francis will also have a 60,000 square foot PACE adult daycare facility on the site.
The businesses who have already opened offices on the campus express enthusiasm about being there.
Percy Naranjo, CEO of Performance Spine & Sports Medicine, met Johnson when the project was in its early stages. He got one of the flyers Johnson had sent out to recruit interest in his venture, and Naranjo’s boss asked him to investigate whether it was a good opportunity for their business. “Slowly but surely we discussed many aspects of how both companies could help one another,” Naranjo says, “and we were able to stay loyal to one another and were able to achieve this goal we have together—to truly build a platform where there is an affiliation between a fitness and wellness facility and PSSN.”
PSSN’s full-service medical practice, which offers orthopedics, sports medicine, acupuncture, physical and massage therapy, and chiropractic services under one roof, also has what they call a transitional fitness program. The idea is for patients not to go back to the lifestyle that brought them pain, sciatica or hip and knee issues once the medical treatment stops.
After seeing a patient three times a week for a couple of months for treatment and physical therapy, Naranjo says, “let’s clear out a way to cement these behaviors for the rest of their lives.” They do this by sending the patient to a gym and carefully coordinating to ensure just the right level and right kind of physical activity.
Dr. Rick Daniels of Daniels Vein and Cosmetic Center has known Johnson since their sons played football together on the Junior Greyhounds about five years ago. “He was the coach, and the kids really respond to him,” Daniels says of Johnson. When Johnson told him about his campus, Daniels was immediately interested in joining.
Daniels, who also has offices in Philadelphia and Toms River, treats varicose and spider veins, does facial cosmetic procedures such as botox and fillers, does a noninvasive fat removal procedure called Cool Sculpt, and does anti-aging. “It is not only about living longer but about extending the portion of your life when you’re healthy and feel good,” he says. “Anti-aging is a combination of hormonal replacement both for men and women, supplements, dietary advice, and healthy weight loss.”
He was particularly impressed that Johnson, a “non doc” had come up with a vision “where all aspects of health and wellness come together.”
Even Fulton Bank, which employs close to 30 people, has a health connection. “People’s financial situations cause a lot of stress,” Gutierrez says, noting that the bank can offer lending and investing seminars, which may contribute to people’s well-being.
Tim Losch, chairman of the Central Region Advisory Board for Fulton Bank of New Jersey, has known Kevin since he started the project and reached out to the bank to invite it to put a branch on the campus. Critical for the bank was sufficient traffic, and when St. Francis signed on with its two facilities, they were satisfied on that score.
The bank also saw this as an opportunity to open a branch in the Bordentown market. “It is a gateway to Burlington County for us,” he says. “We have offices in Hainesport and Mt. Laurel, and it helped us bridge that gap.”
The fitness center itself, Losch adds, brings in two sets of attractive customers: young people and retired folks.
Johnson estimates that the campus will create 400 to 600 jobs, Gutierrez says, from administrative work to nursing, strength trainers, athletic trainers, physical therapists, physicians and bank staff.
Johnson, the youngest of four children, was 12 when his father died. His mother, who worked at St. Francis Medical Center and later at Helene Fuld, told him when he was a kid that he had to choose one sport because that was all she could afford. So in elementary and middle school he played football for the local PAL (Police Athletic League) in Hamilton.
Noting that growing up he was never really sure how good he was at football, because friends and family are inclined to be complimentary, he says, “It snowballed as I got into high school.” After a year of freshman football, he played varsity through his senior year.
Johnson had a strong religious upbringing, regularly attending Saint Phillips Baptist Church of Hamilton with his family. “We were always taught to go to church every Sunday and pray and do the right thing,” he recalls. “If you believe in God and do the right thing and treat others the way you want to be treated, then good things seem to come your way. That was the foundation of who I was and my family was.”
At the same time, as a youngster whose family didn’t have a lot of money, Johnson developed twin goals of wanting to be wealthy and to play football on television, goals that strongly motivated good behavior. “I was always afraid to do anything negative because I was afraid to go to jail,” he says, adding, “I never smoked or drank because I wanted to be perfect to position myself to be on TV.”
So he developed a strong work ethic, at least regarding football, but school was a different story. “I hated school,” he recalls. “I was not growing up around a focus on education from the standpoint of saying ‘Go to school and you can grow up and be a doctor or be a lawyer’—it wasn’t a reality in the environment I grew up in.” Success for his community was measured more as graduating from high school, going to community college, getting a job, and buying a row house, he says.
But the TV idea stayed on his mind, and he was told that if he managed to keep a 2.0 grade point average in high school, he could play in college and get on TV.
Looking back, he jokes, “My GPA was 2.6, so I overachieved.”
He had colleges all over the country looking at him, and he chose to go to Syracuse University. But when he got there, reality struck. “As good as I thought I was, as good as people led me to believe I was, it just wasn’t so,” he says. “I didn’t play right away; I didn’t have the ability to play at that level.”
When he left high school, he says that he weighed 168 pounds and was neither big enough nor strong enough. “I had a lot of skill but wasn’t a grown man at that point from a physical standpoint,” he says. “The coach told me, ‘You have to sit on the bench’; I had never been told that before, and it was humbling.”
But in the last two years of his five-year scholarship, he improved to the point where his coaches told him he had a chance at the pros. He was drafted in April 1999 and played for eight years.
Even though football didn’t go so well early in college, Johnson’s competitiveness did spur him on in a different realm. “You get the idea, ‘I’d better focus on my schoolwork now,’” he says. “You don’t want to go back to New Jersey and you don’t want to say you’ve wasted five years of your life and you go back and become what the naysayers say you’re going to be.”
At first the academic work was very challenging. “The standards were much higher than I was really used to,” he says. “You get in that atmosphere and you either swim or you drown. I was forced to ask people questions, forced to learn. When things are not going well on the football field, what you can control is what is going on in the classroom.”
Graduating with a history education degree, Johnson minored in African American Studies and in business, because he wanted to be able to manage the money he expected to earn playing pro football.
Playing in the pros brought its own challenges. “You’re 22 years old and you just became an instant millionaire—now what do I do with this stuff?” he says, recalling the peer pressure. “Being able to have anything you want, go anywhere you want to go—that lifestyle thrown at people at such a young age.”
But he was able to get through it. “You need to be grounded and have good people around you—or you can lose yourself in that environment. You have to go back to your religious beliefs, your foundation, your core,” he says. One of those was his wife, who had been his high school sweetheart.
Losch, who has known Johnson for more than eight years, says that in fact he is a family guy who wants to give back to the community. He says, “He’s a guy who made it big playing football but has come back to his hometown and wants to give other people the opportunity he had and build a legacy business.”