Veteran and social media influencer Chris Matthews had a lifelong love for fitness that started as a child when he lifted weights with his dad. As an adult serving in the Army and enduring emotionally and physically draining stretches deployed overseas, he relied on fitness as a way to recharge.
Fitness kept his spirits up while he was deployed, and continued to be a source of positivity when he returned from Iraq and was challenged by returning to civilian life. Craving the routine and discipline he experienced in the Army, Matthews began to compete in fitness competitions. To further help his transition he sought out a companion in his service dog Fenway. Fenway can be seen patiently waiting for his dad to finish workouts at 24 Hour Fitness, including behind the scenes of the 2021 advertising campaign in which Matthews was featured.
At the shoot, we sat down with Matthews (and Fenway) to chat about the importance fitness has played in Matthews’ life.
24Life: Tell us about your fitness journey. What or who got you started?
CM: When I was a child, my dad made me play a sport every season. Soccer was a big one for me, but really whatever was in season was my main sport, and I also wanted to get into lifting because my dad would lift on his lunch break. Watching him be so committed to it made me want to learn about it, too. He got me weights and a bench, and that’s how I got started. Then, when I joined the Army I really got into fitness because it became both my therapy and a necessity to be fit in that environment. When I got out, I started doing competitions as a way to have a goal and stay committed to fitness. I wanted to see how far I could push myself.
24Life: And where have you transitioned since completing service?
CM: Working on my social media presence is my main job, and I just moved to LA, where I’m starting to get into acting, too. I’m a film school graduate but I never wanted to be a videographer; I wanted to connect with other content creators. Meeting new people during COVID has been challenging, and that’s another reason I was so happy to be a part of the 24 Hour Fitness ad campaign, where I was able to meet other #FitSquad24 (24 Hour Fitness influencer program) members and connect with them. My service dog, Fenway, is also a big part of my life.
24Life: Tells about Fenway. How did you two become a team?
CM: I was in the gym and I saw another person who had a dog with a service vest. I immediately went home to look up the company, Horizon Service Dogs. I thought having a companion might help with the things I had been dealing with. I had been having a hard time acclimating to civilian life again. When I looked into it, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but I thought it would be good to have a companion.
It took about a year to go through the process and be matched with a dog, and I had to take a two-week class in preparation. Then I got Fenway, and we’ve been together ever since. Fenway is very lovable and incredibly mellow. He gets excited from time to time but he’s mostly very calm. He’ll eat absolutely anything, even paper. I try to get him to work out with me, but really, he’s like a trainer and prefers to let me do the work.
24Life: Tell us about a time when you really relied on fitness to get you through a tough time.
CM: I was deployed to Iraq, and it was mentally, physically and emotionally draining. It’s easy to let that get the best of you—especially during downtime. I was able to work out during those times and I could really zone out and focus on just exercise. Being able to disconnect from combat and the physical impact was great, but the release of the endorphins was the best, and truly a necessity during that time of my life. Continuing my fitness journey was super important when I returned. When you leave the military and that world of discipline, it’s really tough to step into the civilian life were people take so much for granted and there’s very little discipline. With fitness, I was able to push myself physically, while also committing to a routine that would mimic my life in the military. It offered a balance between the two worlds I might not have found otherwise.
24Life: Is there a time when you really felt the “community” at your gym?
CM: When I was living in Florida, I was getting ready for the gym, making my pre-workout and I felt like I really wanted to pay it forward and help someone else on their fitness journey. At the gym there was a young man who looked new. He was floating around and seemed unsure of his plan and what to use. We hit it off and became friends, and I became a mentor for him. We started working out together, and it even expanded beyond fitness. I started to learn guitar and he decided he wanted to, also. That was five years ago and we still talk. Now he’s like family.
24Life: How has fitness impacted the important relationships in your life?
CM: My son is a 13-year-old, active boy and being fit has been so beneficial. He likes to play sports and skateboard and I’m able to go do those things with him. I always tell parents that being fit will help you so much when it comes to keeping up with your kids. I really value the time I get to spend doing the things he likes to do. It’s a lot like the way I started my fitness journey with my dad.
Photo credits: Tom Casey, box24studio.com; Chris Matthews