Bears safety Eddie Jackson strikes the bag that personal trainer Travis Shelton is holding in the middle of the room. At the same time, Jackson is working on his footwork with the agility ladder that is laying flat on the ground.
Outside of the small rays of sunlight that shine through the door and two windows, Jackson’s main source of light are the multicolor LEDs that run along the ceiling and the floor.
On the sides of the room are dumbbells, benches, a punching bag, some leg curl machines, Get RXd foam plyo boxes and other workout equipment. Also on the wall is a glowing sign with wings coming out of the center where two letter Fs are facing opposite of each other.
This is Fit Factory Inc, and there is a reason that Shelton creates this kind of environment for his athletes.
“You know how you say leave the baggage at the door?” Shelton asked. “Well, if everything looks the same no matter what you are going through, if outside looks like inside and it just looks like somewhere you came from, you can’t really focus. I wanted to put guys in a total different atmosphere, something that they have never been in. The lights, the darkness all plays into it … Leave your baggage at the door. You’re in a total different atmosphere, mindset, so it helps you when you come in.”
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For the athletes that Shelton trains, focus is absolutely needed and so is a particular mindset before training begins at the Fit Factory.
“DBTG. Dare to be great,” Shelton said. “That is the mindset when you step into the factory. That is the only mindset allowed … The factory is not for everybody. If you are looking for sweet work, nice work or something that just makes you feel like you did something rather than total athlete development, then the factory is not meant for you.”
In 2011, Shelton opened up his first Fit Factory location in Melrose Park, Fla. to give some of the young athletes in his old neighborhood an opportunity to receive professional training. As time passed, Shelton moved the original factory’s location to 3625 Davie Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale and opened up a second location about 10 miles away on Cypress Creek road.
Shelton said at some point whether that is “high school, college, Pop Warner or professional” all athletes from the South Florida area have trained at the factory or stopped by to simply receive words of encouragement from Shelton.
Two of those athletes that received training were Jackson and his older brother De’Marcus Dorsey. Shelton first met Jackson while he was still attending high school at Northeast High, and they have stayed in contact throughout the years.
Since the first day the two have worked with each other, Shelton has enjoyed every minute of it.
“It has been beautiful from Day 1,” Shelton said. “Whether it be puking, passing out, throwing up, whatever we are doing, he has a no-quit mentality. He wants to be great. He dares to be great in everything that he does … Me getting to mentor him and just help him establish his game even more has just been beautiful because he has the right mindset. I tell people all the time he is the epitome of what the factory is.”
Depending on the week and what Shelton has planned, that will determine the type of training for that particular day. One day may be devoted to hand-eye coordination. Shelton will have Jackson catch anything from a football to a tennis ball to a ping pong ball and do so in the factory’s limited lighting because Shelton believes “if you can catch it in here, then it’s easy work out on the field.”
The workouts also take place in other areas other than the factory. Shelton and Jackson will do water aerobics one day, and other times Jackson will work on getting in and out of his breaks in the sand or on a grass field.
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Shelton’s understanding on how to best train professional athletes stems from his days as a football player. Shelton, who is cousins with former Chicago Bear Devin Hester, had plenty of success as a kick returner at Temple University. He led the country with 31.1 yards per kick return during his senior season in 2008 and finished his career at Temple as the all-time leader in kick return yards with 2,507.
After going undrafted in 2009, Shelton had a brief stint with the Denver Broncos but was let go during the preseason. He then signed as a free agent with the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League in 2010 and was released in September.
The following year, Shelton opened the Fit Factory and began working with athletes to help them achieve their individual dreams. After Jackson broke his leg during his senior season at Alabama, Shelton was there to help Jackson regain confidence in his leg and to prove to NFL teams that his injury wouldn’t be an issue moving forward.
“When we were in the combine and people were talking about Bo [Jackson] not being able to get in and out of breaks after his surgery, boom we got that right,” Shelton said. “We worked to get the explosiveness back. In the single leg, we built it all up.”
Since the Bears drafted Jackson in 2017, he has established himself as one of the best safeties in the league.
Jackson’s five defensive touchdowns (three pick-6s and two fumble returns) are the most by any defensive player the past three seasons. In his career so far, he has 10 interceptions, 26 passes defended and four forced fumbles. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice and was an All-Pro in 2018.
Despite the accomplishments, Shelton knows Jackson won’t ever settle because he is constantly setting new goals for himself and has the dare-to-be-great mindset instilled in him.
“We are constantly setting goals, breaking those goals and setting new ones,” Shelton said. “That is how you always dare to be great … He has that mentality of never getting complacent. The person that you see he is only going to improve every year. Everytime that you think he can’t get better at something, he will prove people wrong.”