MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Very few people are walking the path that Derek Weida is walking.
And Derek knows he’s lucky to be walking at all.READ MORE: Family Mourns 'Loving' And 'Gentle' St. Paul Man After Fatal Hit-And-Run
While on a house raid in Iraq in 2007, he put his life right on the line.
“I was the point man on an assault team. As soon as the door blew open I took a bullet side to side through my right knee,” said Derek.
What happened next was a dark, downward spiral.
Derek’s hopes of returning to his brothers in arms were dashed after 18 months of failed surgeries.
Finally, the army determined that he would never return to active duty. So Derek turned to alcohol and depression.
“Once they called me and said that, is when I started giving up and lost hope for my life,” said Derek.
And he might have stayed like that if it weren’t for a fellow veteran who encouraged him to run the Tough Mudder.
It gave Derek a chance to focus on something.
With his leg in excruciating pain, his fellow veterans helped him finish.
And without knowing it, they helped him heal.
Because after the race, Derek got exactly what he wanted.
“The VA finally agreed to give me what I had wanted all along since that injury, and that was to amputate my leg,” said Derek.
Derek lost his leg, but gained purpose.
With a prosthetic, the pain was gone, the confidence was back, and he got an idea: to open a gym run solely by combat veterans.
“There’s a lot of in-shape people at the gym, but I think military people do it a little tougher and harder,” said Derek in a December interview with WCCO.READ MORE: Minnesota Gophers Beat Maryland 34-16
That story caught the attention of Anytime Fitness who told Derek they would fund 100 percent of a gym for him to run and his fellow vets to work at.
“He’s charming, he’s smart, he’s dedicated. We want to do everything we can to help him. I have no doubt that he’ll be one of the more successful Anytime Fitness franchisees in the country,” said Mark Daly of Anytime Fitness.
Derek’s Anytime Fitness won’t just be run by veterans.
It will have other unique features as well. Including a rally point for veterans within the gym.
“The vision for that is once a month we have a muster and invite all the veterans from the Twin Cities area to come in and meet and hang out,” said Derek.
Derek’s first hire is his work-out partner and fellow veteran Joe Carey, who also happens to be one of Derek’s biggest fans.
“For him to come back as quickly as he has is fantastic. I’m proud to be a part of it,” said Joe.
Along with his gym, Derek is using donations to start a non-profit called the “Next Objective.”
It’s designed to keep veterans active, connected and moving toward their next objective.
“If you stay connected with your veteran friends and stay focused, with your eyes on the future, that plays such a huge role in moving forward,” said Derek.
Take it from someone who knows. Derek’s dark days are now a thing of the past. And the path he’s walking now seems to get a little brighter each day.
“I feel like I pulled the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket, and I have a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Derek.
Derek’s Anytime Fitness gym will be open by the end of the year.
It will be open to the public, but he hopes to eventually hire as many as half a dozen veterans to help him run it.
For more information on Derek’s gym or his “Next Objective” initiative, just go to his Facebook page.MORE NEWS: 5 People Injured In House Explosion In Cambridge
If you’re interested in joining an Anytime Fitness, you can sign up on Tuesday for a discount.