It had been a long road for such a young man. He had returned from four years of service as an U. S. Army Captain, and, following a deployment to Iraq, found that he wanted to make himself a better man, both physically and mentally.
"It started in my back yard," said Preston who stands over six feet, sweating through his shirt, as he talks to me. "We just started lifting weights and off we went."
The back yard workouts began with several of his friends, many from Freed-Hardeman University. "We lived in a nice place but just needed room to do CrossFit. The back yard seemed like a good spot so we started there."
Another FHU alum, Joe Lynn (‘07), joined him there. "I got involved with CrossFit and Preston simultaneously. He had just been discharged from the army and moved into a house with a few other friends and me. He was doing CrossFit by himself in our backyard and I decided to join him one day. I canceled my YMCA membership the next week and haven't trained any other way since." Joe Lynn works as a trainer at CrossFit Nashville. Other FHU alumni began to join Preston and Lynn including Emma Rinks (‘09), Colton Mulligan (‘07), Tyler Pennington (‘08), Will Smith (‘07) and Rachel King (‘10).
According to Soechting, the idea to begin a CrossFit gym actually began with his brother.
"Preston and I both started CrossFit while we were officers in the U.S. Army," said Dustin. "I was a member of a small CrossFit gym in San Antonio and I really loved the fact that you got to know everyone who worked out there, as opposed to when I was a member of a Gold's gym where I didn't ever meet anyone. I couldn't believe the camaraderie and brotherhood that existed just from coming together to do hard workouts. It really reminded me of the kind of brotherhood and support I see in the church. Once Preston decided to get out of the Army, we decided to take a shot at opening a CrossFit gym.
"It was my brother Dustin (‘02) who had the idea," said Preston. "When I got out of the Army, I laid the groundwork and got the gym up and running while he was still in the military. We partnered up in the summer of 2013 and now own the business."
Dustin, who also is part of the FHU alumni group at CrossFit, had the idea, but is also one of the newest members.
"Preston and I discussed it and he just took off," said Dustin. "He has created a tremendous product here and I am so grateful to be a part of it."
Preston was born in Howe, Texas, and moved to Haleyville, Ala, when his father became a preacher. His first exposure to Freed-Hardeman University was in 1997 when he visited as part of RUSH weekend. Dustin attended Freed-Hardeman before Preston made the decision to come.
"My brother was at FHU before me, so I couldn't wait to get there," said Preston.
While at FHU, the brothers were leaders on campus. Dustin received his BBA degree with dual concentrations in finance and marketing. He went on to receive his JD from the Cumberland School of Law and an MBA from Samford University. Preston was a member of the prestigious Clayton Investment team while earning his BBA degree in marketing. Their degrees from FHU and intense training with the armed forces obviously gave them a great foundation to create this specific small business.
Beth Soechting, a 2003 FHU graduate and Dustin's wife, has also jumped into the new endeavor. But when it comes to her favorite part of the business, it isn't necessarily the workouts.
"The best part about this to me is seeing two brothers work together to build a business from the ground up," said Beth. "It is so fun to see how well they have done for themselves, and the growth of the gym."
"I have always been driven," said Preston. "With the business, I use the start small and expand when we need to philosophy. We only move every time we need to expand because we have too many members. We limited new memberships for three months in the summer of 2012 to ensure we could appropriately accommodate our members in a newer, larger facility. Our members know we value their experience at CrossFit Nashville above making more money."
When you ask Preston about his education and his time at FHU, the degree was important, but not the most important thing. "Relationships are the most important thing I took away from Freed Hardeman. Creating great relationships where people know that you care about them is so important to creating an awesome community of folks that workout together at the gym," Preston said.
"Those relationships were vital to beginning the successful business," Lynn said. "When Preston first started with CrossFit Nashville, he needed to build a client base," said Lynn. "The first people we contacted were friends from college, church and work. Now, almost three years later, we have about 15 FHU alumni who are members at CrossFit Nashville."
Both Preston and Lynn enjoy having a small FHU community in the gym. "It is very different since we are surrounded by so many people who do not understand the world that we came from at FHU, but interacting with people from Freed-Hardeman is awesome. There is a special bond we all share simply by having gone to FHU, and this bond is even with people that I did not know that well when we were in school together," said Preston.
"I have really enjoyed spending so much time with a lot of these people, most of whom I didn't know while in school," said Lynn. "It's always nice to have people around who understand your Makin' Music references."
In addition to all of the FHU alumni, Lynn also trains with another special person in his life, his mother. "Having my mother at CrossFit is really very cool," said Lynn. "Although CrossFit is designed for anyone to be able to participate, most people see CrossFit as young people lifting heavy weight and doing things that are ‘too hard' or ‘too extreme' for ‘any normal person,' which is simply not the case. My mom loves coming to the gym and it has been awesome to see her lose weight and get stronger and fit. It's also awesome to be able to have a legitimate conversation with your 59-year-old mom about working out, much to my sister's chagrin."
The success of CrossFit Nashville reads like a success journal in a small business journal. Now in their third facility, CrossFit Nashville boasts 270 members and continues to grow. Additionally, the CrossFit Nashville group has participated in several regional competitions and gains momentum through these competitions.
"I would say that one of CrossFit Nashville's most significant successes was last year when we sent two individual competitors as well as a team to the CrossFit Central East Regional," said Lynn. "It requires a lot of depth of talent in your gym and shows that our gym is among one of the best across the country."
The gym shows no sign of slowing. Since Preston's business plan does not have a prepared five-, ten- and 15-year plan, he will let demand dictate growth.
"I hope to grow as large as our current facility can comfortably accommodate our membership. I hope to continue to bring CrossFit to as many folks as we can. I haven't laid out a long-range plan and I am sure that would disappoint my FHU business faculty, but I would like to grow the business as much as I can. Our goal here is not about making more money or having the largest gym. It's about making our members' lives better and creating a cool community of people that work out together and grow together."
Given the approach by Preston, Dustin and Lynn, that could be in the cards. "At CrossFit, much like FHU, there is a great community of people," said Lynn. "People are coming to work out, but also to get to spend time with their ‘gym friends'. I love being a part of a community that are making a big effort to get in shape and be healthy. My previous job required me to travel a lot and CrossFit has not only provided new employment for me, but I've also enjoyed the freedom of being able to be involved with my home church every week. This place has been a true answer to prayers."