New location, same attitude for breck-wahp gym owners
“One of the coolest things to me when we first moved here was Vance Johnson walking in and telling me a story about Chad, then Chad starts to train his son," Tracey said. "It’s so interesting to me that these men that were older than Chad or the same age have come back around to share these stories and think we are the best place for the job.”
Next Level has served a variety of clients from young hockey players to 80-year-olds working out well into the twilight of their lives. While the gym is all-inclusive, much of the training is geared towards the hardcore athlete looking to continue their sports career and enter unique fields such as body building and mixed martial arts. NLP is home to Golden Glove boxing champion Braydon Olson, champion weight lifters Brandon Thiel and Bailee Heitkamp, and MMA fighters like Wyatt Meyer, Dennis Booke, and Jacob Thiel. Those fighters compete in North Star Combat, ran by president and former UFC star Stephan Bonnar.
Thiel and Booke have poured their time into the mixed martial arts arena with their personal brand “Elite MMA,” doing so under the radar for the most part. They built a training cage in the back of NLP, equipped with an area for heavy bag and speed bag training as well.
“Those two are amazing and don’t really get much recognition,” Desjarlais said. “They have full-time jobs, families, and still make time for our fighters and MMA fitness in general. They were really interested in continuing to fight after their high school wrestling careers and they’ve pushed that into instruction for the young guys, competitive guys, and people who just want to get in shape. They have 10-15 members and about four or five who compete.”
Chad’s journey into physical fitness started around age 12, when he got into a little bit of trouble and his mother sent him to Coach Larry McDaniel’s summer camp at NDSCS to blow off some steam. Chad’s love for the gym was reinforced in high school by legendary strength coach John Bell, who was lauded by the 1988 Breckenridge state championship football team for his instructional skills in the weight room.
“My freshman and sophomore year under Coach Bell I was actually the assistant strength coach, before leading the program my junior and senior year,” Chad said. “John (Bell) was an inspiration because he used all of his own funding and formed a powerlifting team from the area that went all over to compete, traveling in his personal RV.”
When COVID-19 came sweeping through the nation, the Desjarlais family was forced to move from their location, causing a sense of uncertainty for a duo that was gaining traction in the community.
“Law enforcement came over and told us the governor was shutting us down,” Tracey said. “We closed our doors just like every other business. We were laying in bed and got a phone call from our landlord telling us we needed to move. We had a really good relationship with the owner so we weren’t expecting a move and we were really devastated and blindsided by it.”
The couple initially scoped out the old Pamida building just west of town for a new location, but ultimately honed in on the vacant Sears building next to Family Dollar.
“I hated it at first. I wanted to go to the old Pamida building but there was way too much work to get started there,” Tracey said. “There was still appliances in the Sears building and I didn’t like the space, but as soon as we walked through the double-doors everything changed. We went from 4,500 square feet to 6,800. This put us right on main street and made a big difference with visibility, too.”
Tracey handled the transition and renovation single-handedly, kicking her husband out of the new space for 45 days until they were allowed to reopen. When Da Bull finally touched down, he was chomping at the bit to get back to work with the NLP Family and reconnect with them as individuals.
"We’re really a family here. Our members will come in not only to talk about lifting and things like that, but about school, relationships, their new job, anything important in their lives. So it’s really a place of counseling too and we take pride in the mental aspect of our gym,” Chad said.
The gym hosts “Savage Saturdays and Sundays,” where members come home for the weekend and train viciously to attain new personal records. Some of the members do miss the basement at the old facility however, as they could see the ceiling caving in from how heavy they had been lifting upstairs.
The Desjarlais power couple works as a team to keep operations rolling during these crazy coronavirus times, offering different dynamics to those who walk through the door.
“Tracey does a lot more of the business management part. I’m more into the hardcore individual training,” Chad said. “I always wanted to have a gym that was open for everybody — runners, traditional athletes, lifters, every aspect of sports. Making sure we push people to go to a higher level is huge. When I was coming out of high school, our coaches didn’t really take that second effort to prepare you for what’s to come at the next level. We want our athletes to be prepared if they are serious about playing at that level.”
Chad’s experience playing for the Bison and professionally before blowing out his quadriceps and hip during a powerlifting accident, adds an aura of experience when it comes to the stresses of continuing a sports career. He had dreams of making it to the NFL before realizing his purpose was in preparing younger generations to take the mantle.
“The physical part is the fun part but the mental part needs more understanding,” Chad said. “The coaching is tougher, the locker room dynamic is tougher. Studying, workouts, meetings, a lot of kids don’t understand the level of things they are signing up for.”
Tracey is always willing to lend a hand, or an ear, as an active listener for NLP athletes.
“Often times I’ll be holding court with our athletes and figuring out why they aren’t playing sports anymore,” Tracey said. “Chad’s grabbing them in a way to find out what they can do to get better and I’m a little more therapeutic. He’s the bull in this house and I’m here to facilitate his and their dreams.”
In the age of hustle and bustle, where the compassionate parts of fitness life get caught up in the “Grind” mentality, Next Level Performance is the family we need. To Chad, it's not just a figurative family, it's a fitness family.
“It’s almost like it’s your own kids going off to college, and it’s emotional when they come back to see how much progress they’ve made and to see them doing things they probably wouldn’t have done if they never walked through these doors.”