His positive energy is boundless, an inspiration to everyone he meets. The image of health and fitness, at total ease with his body, Jordan Levin seems a natural for his current vocation: running “kick-butt” fitness classes in his own gym. To watch him at work, you’d never imagine the trauma at the start of his life. Born three months premature, weighing in at 31 ounces, Jordan has been a fighter since the moment he drew his first breath.
Against the odds, Jordan survived a series of operations in his first year of life. It was not until he turned two that he was diagnosed to be profoundly deaf. Experts said he’d never talk and never read beyond the level of fourth grade. Yet even as a toddler, Jordan had an innate and uncanny ability to read lips. With the encouragement and determination of his parents, Jordan learned to speak, attended school with hearing peers, competed and excelled in sports, and worked to help others achieve in a world he, himself, could not hear.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Michigan State, Jordan pursued a number of entrepreneurial ventures before finding his calling as a motivational speaker and fitness trainer. Jordan is owner of CrossFit Bloomfield, an independent franchise business that he launched in his parents’ garage in 2009. Jordan’s wife, Hillary, joined the business in 2010 and together the couple devote seven days week to helping people become more physically fit. They also run the Jordan Levin Childhood Obesity Foundation, a charitable organization working to motivate young people to overcome challenges and to live healthier lives.
On his start in life
myJewishDetroit: Jordan, your start in life was an “adventure” to say the least. Your story is well documented in your father’s memoir, We Were Relentless: A Family’s Journey to Overcome Disability. Relentless is the word that seems to describe your own philosophy of life. What does relentless means to you?
Jordan: For me, being relentless is never taking no for an answer. No matter what obstacle is thrown at you, you push back and you learn to adapt to the situation and move forward. Relentless means reaching one goal, finding the next, then the next.
Success for me isn’t about money. It’s personal. It’s the satisfaction I find doing what I do for people right here in my gym: teaching members how much they can do when then take just one positive step at a time. When they say they can’t do this or that, I say, “Sure you can! Try it this way first, how does that feel? Then next time try a little bit more weight and resistance. Take the previous experience and train from there.”
myJewishDetroit: Knowing when to push seems like a good skill for a fitness trainer. Do you think that’s something you learned from your parents? What role did sports play in your childhood?
My dad was a good athlete; he played hockey and skied. I just picked up his enthusiasm, I guess. Growing up with sports helped me be independent and stay focused and involved with school.
Both my parents were adamant about giving me every opportunity to reach my potential. Their goal in life in was to help me be as normal as possible
But it took a lot of work. And believe me, when my parents would say “jump,” I was encouraged to jump. But the difference was that they were always there, they were the ones who jumped ahead, to push me and catch me.
On life lessons
myJewishDetroit: Jordan, as anyone who meets you can see, you’ve well exceeded your parents’ goals for you. How have your challenges inspired you and how do you define “normal?”
What is normal? Well, deaf is my normal. My hearing impairment was never a disability because by the time I realized I was truly different, I had conquered most of the major obstacles. As I became aware of my deafness, I knew that I couldn’t change the fact, and if I were going to be successful, feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to help.
Most kids don’t get the kind of support that I did from my parents. I would say that my childhood was happy, because my father and mother did all the worrying for me. They would go to my teachers and insist that they treat me just like everyone else in the class. Then they’d come home and ask me, “Hey, Jordan what did you do in class today?” And I would take out the lesson plans and we’d go through everything covered in class for the day — all over again. Over and over, they asked how much did I actually get.
My parents taught me to read, not just in school, but to read for pleasure – to learn more vocabulary. It wasn’t until high school when I used the word ‘flabbergasted’ that they relaxed and realized I was actually learning stuff on my own. And, they got a real kick out of that.
myJewish Detroit: You have a gift for reading lips. How did you learn and perfect that skill? What do you see that most people cannot?
Lip reading is something that came naturally to me. Over the years, I’ve learned how to ask people to make accommodations. At MSU, I once had a professor who had a thick beard and a thick accent and it was very hard for me because I couldn’t read his vocal chords or his facial expressions – so I tried to get out of that class. I found a different professor– and took a seat in the front of the class so I could see what was going on.
It’s all about being able to adapt to situations. Here in the gym, I’m with different people with different backgrounds every day. Sometimes it can be hard to understand them. Actually, we all have that problem, don’t we?
On fitness training
myJewishDetroit: You graduated from Michigan State with a B.A. in Business, and recently received “The Outstanding Alumnus Award.” Back in college, did you imagine you would run your own fitness facility. How did you start?
No, I never envisioned this in college. I had been a personal trainer for eight years and was doing a lot of one-on-one training when I came across CrossFit. My brother in Miami called me and said that he had just gotten the workout of his life in this gym called CrossFit. I checked it out, inquired about training, then got my certification in Toronto. Two weeks later, I set up a gym in dad’s two-car garage. That was in 2009, the same year Hillary and I were married. In 2010, Hillary became a certified trainer, and here we are: five trainers running fitness classes for all levels of ability, seven days a week, in a 6000-square-foot gym in Bloomfield . . . 200 members strong and growing.
myJewishDetroit: How is CrossFit training different from other workouts?
We teach people how to move better, how to exercise more efficiently, more effectively. We teach them body awareness instead of mindless reps. We stress functional movements from the standpoint of picking things up and putting them back down, taking these movements and bringing them all together. And most importantly, we teach that fitness and strength training can be fun.
On making your mark in Detroit
myJewishDetroit: An advocate for children with special needs and a frequent speaker for Federation’s Opening the Doors Program, you have a special interest in helping kids meet their potential. What inspired you to start the Jordan Levin Childhood Obesity Foundation?
The idea behind the Foundation is to help economically challenged families make healthier choices – to fight obesity one child at a time. What we do is network with a number of local hospitals that already have obesity prevention programs. The Foundation provides the funding to send overweight children to into various clinical weight management programs to achieve their weight loss goals. There’s a program going on right now where we’ve sponsored a few children participating in the “Active U Just for Kids Obesity Project at the McLaren Oakland Children’s Clinic. We do what we can do, but we need more resources for putting it all together.
myJewishDetroit: What inspires you, what’s next for you?
Jordan: The sky is the limit. I am living proof of the advice my mentor, Ciwa Griffiths, gave my parents, “If someone tells you that your hearing impaired child can’t do something, don’t you believe it.”
I think of the line in the prologue of the book, We Were Relentless. There’s the quote from Satchel Page, “Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.” For me, it’s about giving all you got. Waking up every day with a smile, to tackle the day and go for it. Each day is not going to go as planned. You are going to have to run with it. I tell my wife that all the time.
Hillary joins the conversation: Everyone who walks through our doors has their own goals and journey to push through. We are on that journey with them every day. As young people are coming back to the city of Detroit, we feel we’re part of the resurgence, building a community right here in our gym, which has actually become an extension of our family. It’s such a wonderful, supportive community. People are so encouraging of each other, people who might not have known each other, people from all walks of life, come together to workout here. And watching that on a day-to-day basis is so rewarding.
Jordan: At the end of the day — I always tell Hillary — it comes down to who can we help. If we can help one person – someone who didn’t know how to eat right, or who never worked out – if we can help that person achieve a goal or improve by some small measure every day, I’d say we’re doing our job. It’s not about the money aspect, it’s about being able to go to sleep at night and knowing you kicked somebody’s ass, but you helped them.
Restaurant: The Root, White Lake Michigan; Ellen’s Bakery, Sylvan Lake
Building in the Detroit skyline; The Fisher Building
Workouts: 3 to 5 hours weekly
Best Healthy Meal Recommendations: We always try to eat real foods. Generally, we think in terms of Protein, Carb and good Fats. Examples: A protein shake for breakfast; a salad for lunch; chicken, sweet potato and avocado for dinner. However, we have to have our dark chocolate everyday.
Jewish food: Chocolate covered matzoh
Alex Cross Run, by James Patterson
Opening the Doors Celebrates its 18th Anniversary Year
An evening of celebration in recognition of the families, educators, friends and supporters helping to Make a Difference for nearly 1000 children with special needs in the Jewish community. Recipients of the Opening the Doors Make a Difference Award are Mary Must, Madelon and Lou Seligman. Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, Southfield. There will be a light buffet, program and Dessert Reception. Donation: $18