After graduating from Penn State with a degree in international politics, J.R. Duffy moved out west, turning his academic minors — information sciences and technology and supply chain — into early career success.
IT consulting paid well. But he wasn’t happy.
“For me sitting inside at a computer all the time, it just wasn’t my thing,” he said. “And so I left to find something that made me happy instead of something that just made me money.”
Duffy became an assistant for a high school football team in Santa Ana, Calif., got his personal training certification and started his own fitness company. While living in Los Angeles, he heard about F45 Training, an Australian fitness brand, through friends, and saw the kind of reinvention in the industry that he himself experienced with his career. Its high-intensity interval training workouts pulverized calories with efficiency, but still remained functional for both professional athletes and those just looking for a good workout.
Now he’s the owner of the State College F45 Training franchise, which is set to open at 232 E. College Ave. by the end of October. It’s a homecoming of sorts for the Penn State grad, who turns 33 on Oct. 23. Being back in a town he loves, he said, couldn’t get better.
“This was the only school I applied to,” he said. “I knew I wanted to come to Penn State.”
The computer whiz turned fitness guru spoke with the Centre Daily Times about what it’s like to switch careers, coasts and perspectives — both in and out of the gym.
Q: How would you describe F45’s brand of high-intensity interval training?
A: What I tell people is that it’s a superbaby between a CrossFit class and an Orangetheory class. (F45) took a lot of the camaraderie you get from the CrossFit classes and then took more principles from the circuit or HIIT training classes where we’re not doing any sort of Olympic lifting. You’re not worried about blowing out a shoulder, knee or back.
The “F45” stands for a functional 45-minute workout, and that’s 45 minutes from the time you walk in the door until the time you leave. We never repeat workouts. Monday, Wednesday, Friday we run more of our cardio-based classes. Tuesday, Thursday we run more of our resistance classes and Saturday is our big combination super set. That class is actually about an hour because it has a bit of everything.
Q: With your career, you went from one world in IT consulting to a completely different world in the fitness industry. How would you describe that big career change that a lot of people contemplate or go through themselves?
A: That’s a great question. For me, I was so unhappy. The thing that was nice about it, I got to travel a lot, but at the same time it was, “OK I’m in Seattle this week, that’s awesome, but I’m sitting in front of a computer for 10 hours a day.” It came to the point where I’d rather do something where I’m happy all the time and I love what I’m doing.
Working for large corporations isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. I guess I wasn’t being true to myself more or less. And to feel like I’m actually giving back and feeling more productive than me just doing work to make a lot of money, it helped me feel better about myself.
Q: What’s it feel like to come back to State College and set up a business?
A: It’s funny, I was talking to someone about that the other day. Completely different perspective than being a student here and not being a student here. My family all went to Penn State, and we’ve been coming down for as long as I can remember for football games. Being here and seeing how much there is besides downtown, there’s so much to do. It’s like I’m in the same place but a new place.
Q: What are some of the biggest differences you’ve noticed between your previous life on the West Coast and your new life back in State College?
A: (laughs) I’m wearing pants more and many more long-sleeve clothes now. I would say it’s the people. California has a lot of great things and there are a lot of great people out there, too, but there’s just this very genuine (authenticity) to everybody here and it doesn’t mean that everyone is super friendly and nothing is ever going to go wrong. But here someone will be very upfront with you, which is good for me from a business standpoint. It really is that kind of small-town feel.