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The DEFINE STRENGTH Project: Episode 1.0 — Finny Akers

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Pain is a universal force that has the unique power to transform.

Tragedy, addiction, disease, depression, abuse, hate, violence. For some, intense pain can become a breaking point; for others, it serves as fuel and becomes interwoven into the fabric of who they are.

And that’s where we come in. Welcome to DEFINE STRENGTH.

We’re on a mission. DEFINE STRENGTH is a project that sets out to find individuals that’ve conquered moments of extreme tragedy and pain and tells the stories of how they not only refused to give in to that pain, but channeled it to come out infinitely stronger.

Whether it’s using fitness to cope with tragic loss, ballet to overcome domestic violence, or music to beat depression, you CAN find a way to transform your body, mind, and spirit if you refuse to collapse. You’re stronger than you know, no matter what you’ve been through.

The DEFINE STRENGTH community is designed to provide a collection of diverse, inspirational stories and perspectives, which together, hopefully, allow everyone to connect with a story or individual that resonates closely. With every video—we’ll release one new story every month—we offer the social media contact to reach the people you find most inspiring.


HOW CAN YOU HELP? It’s dead simple. Watch, share the videos, and help inspire the people around you — especially those who need it most.

And if you or a friend captures the essence of #DEFINESTRENGTH, we’re actively looking for badass, unique individuals to feature in future videos. With every new story the purpose gets stronger and more profound.

We’d like to give a voice to those who want it and help raise awareness for tough issues. Please get in touch with Bryan at (and if you’re interested in a sponsorship to help fund future videos, please let us know).

Here’s Finny’s story.



His parents were dead; his father had shot his mother in the head in front of their two younger children.

During one early summer night of 1999, Finny Akers a 21 year old UVA student and his friends were enjoying a ceremonious “beginning of summer” party at a house they rented in North Carolina. Akers had just embarked on his second season as a lifeguard in the Outer Banks.

Akers had the archetypal all-American life and family: he was on the crew team at UVA, he was from Washington D.C., his father Jerry Akers was a decorated Vietnam vet, former Marine and lawyer had his mother Nancy was a former political speech writer turned romance novelist.

But for Akers, a phone call from his grandmother was about to shake his world and change the very way he perceived life. His parents were dead; his father had shot his mother in the head in front of their two younger children.

Akers describes the course of the week as a numbing experience. “I just kept thinking to myself ‘This can’t be happening, this can’t be real,” he said. However, Akers didn’t have time to “feel sorry” for himself or “self destruct.” He had to help raise his younger siblings, Zeb, who was 11 and Isabelle, who was 10.

He remembers questioning what he was going to do to soldier on. Fitness was the answer, since it had been a huge a part of his life beforehand. He grew up playing lacrosse and was on the crew team at UVA.

“This tragedy was out of my control, but I have complete control of what I do and my health,” Akers said. “I knew without a shadow of doubt that the fitness thing was under my control 100%.”

In fact, Akers credits his his love for fitness from his father. As Jerry Akers transitioned from a Marine drill sergeant to a father, he ensured the importance of fitness would be instilled in his children.

“Instead of getting grounded for bad grades, we would go for a run,” Akers laughed. “My dad instilled in me the notion of you know where ever you are, you need to put in the effort and hard work to make yourself better.”

He’s always tried to live by his father’s mantra and has applied it to raising his siblings and his 11 year old son, Jackson.

“I always told my brother and sister that we’re all going to deal with what happened, our grief, our own spectrum of emotions, that I can’t change,” Akers said. “But, I always told them don’t ever for a second use this as an excuse to be less than. Don’t ever use that as an excuse to point fingers or blame or play the victim. This is horrible blip, but it’s a blip on the radar. I can’t think of another way to disrespect the memory of people you love by not moving forward and try to be the best that you can possibly be.”

Fast forward 16 years later and Akers never allowed the “blip on the radar” to dictate his life. He’s achieved a great deal through his fitness journey: Last year, he was a finalist for Men’s Health magazine’s “Ultimate Guy” search. Since the competition, he has become a brand ambassador for the supplement company 1st Phorm and will soon launch his own website. The idea for the website stems from an influx in popularity on social media, where he’s received positive feedback for his outlook on life and workout routines.

Another reason comes from his own beliefs about personal training. Akers feels that personal training, at times, can be plagued by repetitious cycles of brevity between trainer and trainee.

“The only reason why I never became a personal trainer is because I always felt they [trainers] only give people enough information to use in a snapshot or in a brief moment of time,” Akers said. “It’s just enough where people have to go back and ask for more.”

Through his website and social media, Akers hopes to achieve the exact opposite of that.

“Why not teach someone everything they need to know about fitness and how they can keep going throughout the rest of their lives being the best version of themselves,” Akers said. “Hopefully, once they’ve become empowered they can pass this knowledge onto others.”

You can connect with Finny on Twitter (@FinnyAkers) and Instagram (@Fin_Fitness).

Narrative written by Alyson Velati.

Filming & production by Mike LoBello.

Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Instagram (@BRYDISANTO) & Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto
Follow Lean It UP on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for real-time fitness/nutrition tips, advice, info and updates.

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