“We will be part of the solution.”

Working with athletes like LeBron James and founding companies to democratize mental health care access—just a day in the life of Jimmy Spencer.

I’m incredibly excited and proud to share this issue of #RedefiningFitness with you. You’ll see why in a second.

If you’re new here, or we aren’t connected on LinkedIn, you should know this newsletter is a space to share wisdom, inspiration, and support for each other in making the world a better and more fulfilling place, one small community at a time.

Each month I highlight someone—a studio owner, startup founder, or other activator and leader—who’s doing incredible work in their community. This month’s feature is close to my heart: My friend Jimmy Spencer, sports media executive and mental health advocate.

If you didn’t know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month—and it’s coming to an end. I’m honored Jimmy wanted to share his story and the inspiration behind his flourishing mental health advocacy foundation, Cheatcode, with us. He’s a one in a million kinda guy.

Okay, more about him below. Let’s get to it!

Founder Highlight: Jimmy Spencer, mental health champion and entrepreneur extraordinaire

Image from Clios.

I said it before: This guy is one in a million. Or a billion.

Senior Vice President and General Manager of UNINTERRUPTED (the athlete-empowerment brand founded by LeBron James and Maverick Carter), now part of The SpringHill Company, and Co-Founder of the Cheatcode Foundation, Jimmy Spencer is a go-getter in every sense of the word - whether it’s in business or it’s in tackling mental health issues head-on, both in his own life and in the lives of others.

As a sports media executive, Jimmy has built lasting and deep relationships among the world’s most influential athletes and influencers within sports culture. While his success and expertise is in storytelling and content, he has also carved out a unique place in the mental health sector.

Jimmy has struggled through intense anxiety since childhood, and that struggle has manifested with panic attacks, claustrophobia, OCD, dizziness and other physical symptoms that have interrupted his professional and personal life. Finally recognizing the seriousness of the issue, Jimmy found healing through a specific form of treatment and now seeks to bring that idea to all communities. Jimmy speaks to mental health in tangible ways with practical solutions and practices.

He speaks to how it plays out in both professional and personal relationships and how if not solved for, it can get in the way of workplace culture as well as individual and team productivity. Jimmy believes all people are born inherently good and every person has a purpose, yet traumas big or small can often leave scars that show up in negative beliefs and cycles of behavior that impede our ability to succeed.

These experiences led him to found The Cheatcode Foundation, a unique organization that partners with athletes, musicians and artists to heal their traumas and in turn bring that healing into the communities and spaces that couldn’t otherwise afford or access mental wellness care.

Enough from me—let’s hear from Jimmy 👇🏿👇🏿👇🏿

Q: Tell us about how Cheatcode came into existence, and what you'd like the world to know about its efforts and impact.

I was really jacked up mentally. We’d say the same thing if we meant physically — if my leg was broken or the sorts, so I have no problem saying it here. I had dealt with anxiety my whole life. Painful stuff that no one really knew, not even my family. As a kid I pinched myself and pulled the hair of my legs to try and focus my mind away from an irrational fear I would throw up in class.

Later it’d be something similar, like a fear of passing out, a fear I would have to suddenly go pee or any other (irrational) fear not founded on anything with truth. My body spent a lifetime going in and out of flight or fight. But what came and went through school years began to manifest itself into intrusive thoughts that would bounce around in my head for days, weeks, months and, sadly, years. Just a few years ago, however, it really elevated in a way that made things impossible for me.

In 2019, just prior to a pandemic that sent us all home, I was struggling to be present in any room. I couldn’t sit through an in-person meeting without what I’d describe as micro panic attacks. It felt like walls were closing in and I was going to implode if I couldn’t control my environment or sit by a door for an easy escape. I didn’t know why, but I couldn’t function. Would I pass out? Have a heart attack? Pee? Throw up? Die?

You can see why I say I was jacked up.

So that puts you in the place of where my mind was at that time. And then I found healing. I went through a process called brainspotting and took other holistic efforts to control my anxiety and really felt much better. I still feel better. Not perfect but I am feeling so much better.

In that process, one of my closest friends, Dr. Armando Gonzalez, and I had spoken often about the problems that exist within the mental health space. He works with successful, wealthy athletes as well as people from the community who have no money or access to mental health care.

We talked about the sadness that the “haves” can receive care and the “have nots” simply can’t. We wanted to provide access to the same high-level care that wealthy people have and bridge the gap to everyone else. We want to democratize mental health. We have a number of programs that are working on this but we truly believe we can find paths to scale it. It’s ambitious but we will be part of the solution.

Q: At what point in your personal/professional journey did you realize that speaking openly about your mental health experiences might be valuable to others? And what encouraged you to start being an advocate, specifically in the athletic industry?

When I reached the apex of my anxiety is when I decided to speak up for myself. It felt as if being vulnerable and honest with what I was experiencing was actually the only option. And when I did start opening up, it was truly shocking just how many other people were experiencing the same levels of anxiety and carrying the same burden.

The more I spoke up from the lens of an executive, the more I found others reaching out to share their stories. There was some sort of very special bonding and healing going on with complete strangers. The athlete community who I work every day within was also sharing the same kinds of stories. Athletes are just like us but the stage is much bigger. You can see the trend of athletes opening up and what it’s doing to break the stigma for them as well. I realized the more I gave a platform to that healing, the more I could help be a solution alongside them.

Q: Can you speak more on the idea that athletes "run toward the obstacle," including tackling mental health issues?

Athletes have a unique mindset. They are often trained their entire life to see the greatest challenge as the opportunity. While others may shy away from something challenging, an athlete is where they are because they saw the same thing and went for it. I think of this not just in terms of professional athletes but truly anyone who wakes up at 7am and decides to hit the streets for a run, head to a fitness class or gym, or do anything that is challenging.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the relationship you've experienced between fitness/athletics and your mental health. How do they impact each other?

My routine, as part of a holistic approach to create a self-support for my mental health, is to wake up and standing in the light of day outside for a moment, then do 15 minutes of breathwork followed by a workout — bike ride, fitness class, run, HIIT, weightlifting — and concluded with a three-minute cold shower. If I do that, on top of 7-8 hours of sleep, I am usually going to have a very good day. And while that may seem like a lot for starters here, it’s really an easy routine to get into and I swear it’s life giving. If I can dedicate that first hour to my mental and physical health, the rest of the day becomes so much lighter.

Q: What advice would you give boutique studio owners who want to support their staff and customers in tackling mental health issues within and beyond their athletic pursuits?

Give margins. Most of our days are so filled with overwhelming schedules and time limits. Get to know your staff’s limits and if they are always in a rush, try to help them create room for small things like breathwork. Also, create an atmosphere of vulnerability by sharing enough (don’t overshare about life’s hardships; there is a dance here) to show people they are not alone. If you are having a hard day, set an example of what it’s like to take a break, whether that be a mental health day or a walk in the middle of the day. Ultimately, be authentic with each other and, if you can, create guidelines that foster meditation, breathwork, rest or sharing.

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Until next time

Thanks for joining me again, and I hope you’re inspired by Jimmy’s story and work—he’s the definition of #RedefiningFitness. When we prioritize our own health, in all aspects of the word, we show up better as individual people, which means we show up better in community, too. And then we might be able to change the world, one small community at a time.

This is what it’s about! Thank you all for being here.

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See you in June,