Making a Difference for Everyone who Wants to be Fit
Will Shields is a member of one of the most exclusive clubs: he is one of only 310 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A guard for the Kansas City Chiefs for all of his 14 seasons in the NFL, Shields has left his mark in this profession known for its athletic prowess. One of the top guards ever to play the game, Shields had 223 career starts and 12 Pro Bowl appearances.
Shields has racked up numerous awards over the years for both his athletic skills and his charitable work in Kansas City, including the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
While spending his first career on the gridiron working in one of the most elite fields, Shields is all about inclusion in every sense of the word. Today, the 46-year-old Shields focuses on helping people achieve their own level of fitness and wellness despite what challenges they face.
“Sports helped me grow as a person, and why not give that gift to every person?” Shields asks.
Shields incorporates this approach into every aspect of his “second career” as the owner of 68’s Inside Sports Fitness and Sports Training located in Overland Park, as well as his nonprofit organization, The Will To Do It Foundation. Shields firmly believes that you can commit to being fit, and he works tirelessly to help anyone willing to do so.
Shields philosophy is meeting people where they are and including everyone. Inclusion is the key word here.
“It means all-encompassing—from any walk of life,” Shields says in defining inclusion. “Providing people with the opportunity to better themselves whether it’s mentally or physically. Once you become more mentally stable, it helps your physical well-being. It starts with you making a decision to make a change and then having the opportunity to do it.”
Shields admits there are gaps in people’s abilities—people have injuries, disabilities they may have been born with or something traumatic that has altered their physical, intellectual or emotional abilities. However, it is all about meeting people where they are at when they start.
“It’s about doing something that helps you feel better about yourself,” Shields says. “I recently heard a young lady say that the word should not be handicap but handicapable. We are all capable of doing a lot of things. It is about finding those things.”
For Shields, helping others who face some sort of limitation goes back to his college days at the University of Nebraska. During the summer months, he lived in a dorm with a number of students who used wheelchairs. Shields and his classmates would often assist their fellow students at night getting to bed. It was an eye-opening experience for the then-young football player from Lawton, Oklahoma.
“It made you understand that life is what it is and life is what you make of it,” Shields says. “It made me realize there is opportunity to learn more and give more.”
Nebraska is also where Shields encountered Kenny Walker, a defensive lineman who was deaf. Walker, who could read lips, eventually went on to play in both the NFL and the Canadian Football League. But it was one day Shields will never forget.
“An unbelievable athlete. It was Kenny’s senior day, and when he came out we all actually waved hands up and waved our fists around, but the crowd was silent. It was a silent cheer for him. It gave me goosebumps,” Shields says. “Kenny never looked at what he couldn’t do but all he could do and everyone needed to catch up to him.”
Shields was inspired to pursue inclusion efforts after encountering a young woman named JoAnne Fluke. Shields and his wife, Senia, provided a scholarship for Fluke to pursue the cultural arts through their Will to Succeed Foundation. Fluke was born with a birth defect called caudal regression. It has caused her spine to stop at her waist, her legs are webbed at the knee, and she has no feeling from her waist down. Yet Fluke had taken up ballroom dancing and singing.
A lover of music and dance himself, Shields sang the National Anthem at a Chiefs game with Fluke. When Fluke asked her mentor about starting a ballroom dance program for those in wheelchairs called Grooveability, Shields gave it two thumbs up.
“We housed it in our facility, worked to grow the program,” Shields says. “It was an opportunity to help others and give them a platform and feel comfortable in working out.”
Today Fluke lives in Texas operating a program there and choreographing for wheelchair Zumba.
“We were just part of her bridge,” Shields says.
Today, Shields has two certified trainers on staff at 68’s Inside Sports who specialize in working with people with disabilities. The I Am I Will program has equipment available to assist those in wheelchairs. Shields and his staff work as a team to make accommodations as needed for each individual. Several organizations that work with individuals with special needs participate in programs offered by 68’s Inside Sports.
These groups often come in the middle of the day in small group settings “so they feel more comfortable doing these things,” Shields says. “We’re meeting them at a comfortable place, and meeting them where they are at and not pulling them beyond their means.”
The Wounded Warriors Project has also held sessions for members to work out where they are at both physically and mentally. Shields said there are all kinds of equipment they can use from kinesis machines to the Dynavision 2, used to work on physical stimulation and coordination.
Transformation is key—helping people make the journey to fitness and wellness, whatever challenges they may face. Shields has gone through a bit of transformation of his own. During his NFL years, the six-foot-three-inch Shields played at 320 pounds. Since retiring in 2006, Shields faced keeping fit at a different level than his NFL years. He struggled with weight and even faced some potential health problems, including diabetes. Shields changed up his diet, committed to a fitness regimen and today has shed nearly 70 pounds and feels better than ever. He’s committed to including anyone who is willing to give wellness a try.
“I think everybody needs opportunity and there should not be limitations,” Shields says. “We try to find things for everyone to do. We ask questions like ‘how can we make it better for you?'”