When you lose the job you love, the one you’ve had for eleven years, the one that took you to Los Angeles, and the one that connected you with the biggest names in your industry, you’re allowed to sulk for a few weeks.
But Jimmy Peña didn’t sulk for one second.
Peña was let go from his dream job at Muscle & Fitness magazine on a Friday, but by the following Monday he started his dream career.
“Being let go was completely out of the blue, everyone knew that corporate was making changes, so there was something in the air,” Peña recalls, “But I was ready. I wanted to do something bigger and better. I loved the industry, but it was more of a liberating day than anything.”
That Monday, Peña started PrayFit, a company combining his Christian faith and his love of fitness.
“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8 (NIV)
Peña didn’t set out to become a fitness writer or to be involved in fitness at all. He attended Baylor University as a baseball player, moving to Waco from his native El Paso. Peña got injured and while he was in rehab his obsession with fitness began.
“I actually lost the edge for baseball. I poured myself into weightlifting, it was everything to me,” Peña says.
Peña, however, didn’t consider a career in fitness and after graduation got a job selling insurance. It’s probably the only thing you’ll hear Peña speak negatively about. He says he was terrible at selling insurance and he was miserable.
He felt God calling him into the fitness realm so he attended graduate school at the University of Texas at Tyler. His thesis was presented at the American Sports Medicine Conference, where he met people from Muscle & Fitness who liked his work.
This began a relationship that would continue until that fateful Friday in 2009. He began writing an article every month and ascended into some fitness leadership roles until he was called to Los Angeles in 2004 to take over as the worldwide training expert. This led to him consulting on fitness books being written by celebrities LL Cool J and Mario Lopez.
Despite the astonishingly quick success, Peña felt an emptiness inside of him. All of his thoughts came to a head one night when he saw Muscle & Fitness founder Joe Weider* coming down the hall.
“For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” James 4:14 (ESV)
One night Peña was in his office working late and he heard a noise down the hall. Out came Joe Weider, in his eighties, shuffling by with the use of a walker and the aid of a nurse. He went right by a bronze statue of himself in his bodybuilding prime – a stark contrast to his current state. That’s when it all clicked for Peña. Physical fitness won’t last forever.
“I felt a strange hollowness and deadness in what I was doing,” Peña says, “Seeing Joe that night was life changing. In fact, God inspired PrayFit in my heart right then.”
PrayFit is a combination of physical fitness and spiritual health. Using exercises and daily devotionals, it’s the perfect mix of Peña’s two passions.
Although he would continue working for Muscle & Fitness for years after that night, he kept the PrayFit idea alive by discussing it with his wife and friends.
“I’m a Christian first and last. I’m a passionate follower cleverly disguised as a fitness expert,” Pena says.
That’s why when he parted ways with Muscle & Fitness, he knew exactly what to do.
“That Monday I just started writing devotions,” he says. “A few weeks later I was traveling with Tyler Perry and he inspired me to package PrayFit into a devotional book. “
Peña, as he says, has been very blessed to be connected with such influential celebrities like Tyler Perry.
“Mr. Perry was getting in shape for a movie and he was on the Tonight Show and was asked how he got in shape and he mentioned PrayFit. When he put us up on his shoulders like that, PrayFit really began to change people’s lives.”
This spawned some fitness DVDs and hundreds of speaking engagements for Peña, who says that traveling the country and speaking to people has actually changed his perception of the importance of fitness to God.
“I don’t care who you are, what age you are, whether you are sick or healthy, fit or not, the Bible has something to say about your body,” Peña insists, “To see pastors embrace their wives and commit to being healthier for their congregations is amazing.”
Peña’s eyes have also been opened to the incredible importance of faith as he has seen people who are unable to workout and be physically fit. It’s happened in his own life as he developed a back condition that prevents him from doing many of the workouts that he used to be able to do.
“I want to help people from the inside out,” Peña says, “My message has evolved as I’ve realized that faith is as much of a comfort to those who don’t have their health as it is a motivator to those who do have their health.”
As Peña got closer to fulfilling his vision for PrayFit, success became a natural byproduct.
“There’s so much in me that I want to write, the money followed the passion that I started bleeding onto paper. We weren’t thinking about monetizing it. I started pouring myself onto the paper and people started liking it.”
And that’s Peña’s advice to anyone looking to make a career of something they love.
“Grab hold of your passions if you know in your heart that that is what you are called to do. For me, there’s no end,” Peña says.
So even if he is shuffling down the hall with the aid of a walker some day, Peña’s spiritual health will still be intact.
For more on PrayFit, visit: http://www.prayfit.com
* A NOTE ABOUT JOE WEIDER
Very few people can claim to have influenced as many lives as Joe did through his magazines, his supplements, his training equipment, and his big-hearted personality. –Arnold Schwarzenegger
Joe Weider is the founder of the Mr. Olympia and Ms. Olympia competitions, Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Fitness, Flex, and Shape magazines, and thousands of fitness related products. If you’re a bodybuilder, Joe Weider is the Man.
At the Muscle & Fitness offices there’s a bronze bust of him in his prime, arms folded, muscles bulging. It puts Greek gods to shame.
Weider passed away in 2013 at the age of 92, because there might be something to this fitness thing.