Personality: Jake Rowell

Spotlight on LiftPD’s board president

5/11/2023, 6 p.m.
In 2020, Jake Rowell found inspiration to help an underserved part of the Richmond community.

In 2020, Jake Rowell found inspiration to help an under- served part of the Richmond community.

That year, the Norfolk native and co-owner of RVA Performance Training was asked to organize an exercise program with VCU Health at his gym as part of a Parkinson’s Foundation Community Grant. The experience proved to be a lasting one, and Mr. Rowell and others soon began to organize a separate group to serve the same clients and needs.

“Our coaches fell in love working with people with Parkinson’s disease,” Mr. Rowell says. “So we chose to create our own nonprofit when the grant completed to continue our work.”

Soon after, Mr. Rowell and his associates launched LiftPD as a new venture in helping those with Parkinson’s achieve healthy living through free exercise. The group became a registered nonprofit in October of 2021, and as with the VCU Health program, Mr. Rowell leads the program’s operations and guides its development.

As board president of LiftPD, Mr. Rowell balances the role with his commitments to RVA Performance Training and his expanding fitness business. The workload seems sizable, but Mr. Rowell carries it in stride, fully aware of the program’s positive impact for those living with Parkinson’s.

“I was able to see the clear impact training could have on quality of life and disease progression,” says Mr. Rowell when asked why he accepted the role. “I saw an opportunity to use my experience and position to support the local Parkinson’s community in the role.”

Sustaining LiftPD’s stability is a major focus and goal for Mr. Rowell, and the nonprofit uses RVA Performance Training’s employees, resources and space to operate.

The work involved is somewhat stymied by a lack of available, qualified staff and a full capacity of athletes with Parkinson’s. As such, Mr. Rowell and others at LiftPD gather support from Parkinson’s Foundation Community Grants, partnerships and private donations.

Their latest effort, LiftPD LiftOFF, which will be the organization’s first major fundraising event on Sunday, May 21. The fundraiser thus far has brought the nonprofit new partners and generated interest that will help address staff and spacing needs.

Nearly two years after its registration as a nonprofit, LiftPD continues to grow and into a to meet the needs of those with Parkinson’s disease. And while it continues to build out its operation, the results so far already echo what Mr. Rowell saw years ago when working with VCU Health — making clear the benefits of moving forward with this initiative.

“We routinely see our athletes make distinct progress both in and out of class,” Mr. Rowell says. “Our coaches have the distinct pleasure of working with people who can be impacted positively by their efforts in a big way.”

Meet a fitness leader bringing new care to the public and this week’s Personality, Jacob Lucas Rowell:

Volunteer position: Board president of LiftPD.

Occupation: Co-owner of RVA Performance Training with my wife, Kathryn Rowell.

Month and place of birth: July in Norfolk.

Where I live now: Hanover County.

Education: Bachelor’s in religious studies and bachelor’s in international studies, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Family: Wife, two children. Parents who live in Hanover. I also have a brother, who lives locally, and a sister in Ohio.

LiftPD is: A registered non-profit organization in Richmond dedicated to the pursuit of healthy living through exercise for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. We offer free small-group exercise classes for all levels of athletes in the Parkinson’s disease community.

When and why founded: Received 501(c)(3) status October 2021. We were approached in 2020 by a member and physical therapist, Dr. Robert “Bobby” Hand to facilitate an exercise program through VCU Health as part of a Parkinson’s Foundation Community Grant. Our coaches fell in love with working with people with Parkinson’s disease, so we chose to create our own nonprofit when the grant completed to continue our work.

Founders: Our founding board members were our first coaches and organizers. Myself, Bobby Hand, Mia Thomas, Kathryn Lerman, Kat Edwards and Caleb Redmond.

Why the name: We chose the name “LiftPD” to represent in a concise, memorable way both our methods of training (Lift) and the population we are working with (people with Parkinson’s disease).

Parkinson’s disease is: A progressive neurological disease that primarily affects dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain.

Who does Parkinson’s disease typically impact: Middle-age to elderly people. The average age of diagnosis is 60, although some people are diagnosed as early as 40 years old.

Complications and/or symptoms of Parkinson’s disease: Resting tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement, and cognitive changes are the most common symptoms.

LiftPD location: RVA Performance Training, 2522 Hermitage Road, Suite D, Richmond.

How I became involved with LiftPD: When we were initially approached by Bobby Hand via VCU Health to run an exercise program for people with Parkin- son’s Disease, I naturally fell into an organizational role as the owner of the gym. When we formed our nonprofit in October 2021, I maintained that role to help facilitate the program.

Why I accepted board president position: After we began our exercise program for people with Parkinson’s disease, I saw the clear impact training could have on quality of life and disease progression. I saw an opportunity to use my experience and position as the owner of RVA Performance Training to support the local Parkinson’s community in the role of President of LiftPD.

Length of term: One year with automatic renewal.

Number one goal or project as board president: As a new nonprofit, my first major goal is to ensure that LiftPD is setup to operate in in a stable manner for the foreseeable future. My main project right now is the LiftPD LiftOFF, our first major fundraising event which will be on May 21.

Strategy for achieving goals: LiftPD requires an amazing, dedicated staff, funding to pay that staff, and established processes to help our staff and coaches operate effectively and consistently. We have hired and trained a passionate staff of coaches and administrators, including an executive director. We established an annual fundraising event, which is on track to exceed our fundraising goals and has helped us established new relationships in the community.

Number one challenge facing LiftPD: Our current challenge is that we are at capacity and can no longer accept new athletes. The biggest limiting factor is coaching availability and funds to pay those coaches. To run the program safely and effectively, we need a large number of coaches for each group exercise class. Coaches with experience with people with Parkinson’s is uncommon, so we work to find people that are passionate about working with Parkinson’s disease, and then training them to be able to perform well.

Ways I have witnessed LiftPD make a difference for participants: We routinely see our athletes make distinct progress both in and out of class. This of- ten means regaining ability and function that has a direct impact on their quality of life.

How LiftPD operates for participants: LiftPD provides free group exercise classes for those affected by Parkinson’s disease. Participants come to RVA Performance Training 2-3 times per week, train in groups of 10 athletes, and are coached by 3-5 coaches.

How to get involved with LiftPD: You can get involved with LiftPD by donating, vol- unteering to assist with classes, referring athletes, or sponsoring an event.

Upcoming LiftPD event: LiftPD LiftOFF on May 21 at Virago Spirits.

How I start the day: My days ideally start with meditation and excitement about the many things that need to be done each day!

The three words that best describe me: Dependable, purposeful, level-headed.

Best late-night snack: A bowl of cereal!

How I unwind: Reading, working on cars.

A quote that inspires me: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” — Kurt Vonnegut.

At the top of my “to-do” list: Personally — to find more quiet time and the ever elusive “balance” in my life.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: My parents were always open to my personal and professional choices. They taught and encouraged persistence, while also acknowledging that it’s sometimes the right choice to change course.

The person who influenced me the most: My wife and children have influenced me more than anyone ever will. That level of love and shared experience will change you deeply and tell you much of who you are.

Book that influenced me the most: “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. The concept that our qualities are not fixed, and that skills can be cultivated through effort, has permeated through every facet of my personal and business life.

What I’m reading now: Right now I’m reading “Brief” by Joseph McCormack. When speaking to others, less is more, and it usually best to get straight to the point to make your point heard. I often find myself in complex or sensitive situations, so I find this concept very helpful.

Next goal: For LiftPD, my next goal is to successfully run the LiftPD LiftOFF and use our funds to expand our services and reach in the area. Professionally, I am opening another gym nearby on Arthur Ashe Boulevard this fall called Westwood Athletics and looking forward to its successful opening.