Eddie Mason and James Thrash sat in front of their lockers at Redskins Park after a practice in 2000 and watched as teammates trickled in. The linebacker and wide receiver observed the other players’ body language and listened to the banter — some of it foolish, sad and disturbing.
The light switched on in Mason’s head.
“I was like, ‘Man, these young cats are crazy,’ ” Mason recalled. “I said: ‘We should do something to catch these cats before they get here. Six or seven years old; teach them faith, work ethic, character.’ We thought if we could head off the problem, maybe we could spare athletes some of the trouble that they run into as adults.”
Sports and physical fitness training, Mason realized, would be the perfect vehicle.
Three years later, after a shoulder injury forced him to retire, Mason decided to hold a sports camp for kids, with Thrash’s help.
“We put out all these fliers,” Mason said. “We both had some Redskins recognition and figured we’d draw in a crowd of kids. We had maybe 10 kids. We were shocked. But hey, God says, ‘If you’re faithful in a few things, I’ll make you ruler over many.’ So that was the test, to see if we’d be faithful with those few kids.”
Mason must have passed.
Eight years later, he owns and runs MASE Training Sports Performance & Fitness Center in Sterling. “MASE” plays off Mason’s nickname and is an acronym for Muscle and Spiritual Empowerment. At the 7,500-square-foot, two-floor facility, Mason and seven other trainers (four full-time, three part-timers) serve a 650-person clientele base made up of grade school, junior high and high school students, stay-at-home moms, CEOs, college football players, and current and former Washington Redskins players.
“He’s training half of Loudoun County, it seems,” Redskins defensive lineman Kedric Golston said last week after a group workout at Bles Park in Ashburn that featured 15 athletes, including teammates Lorenzo Alexander, Anthony Armstrong, Chris Wilson and Clint Oldenburg; former Redskins running back Ladell Betts; Wake Forest football players Tristan Dorty and Josh Bush; Stone Bridge quarterback Brian Rody, who is headed for Virginia Tech, and several other high school football players; and Rebecca Chestnut, a mother of three who works in IT sales and is training for a triathlon in October.
“He wants the best for all these young men out here, not just in sports,” Golston continued. “He’s teaching positive life lessons. Just like out here, you’re tired, you want to quit. Well, sometimes in life, you want to quit, but small things like fighting through this will help you become a tougher person. The things he’s doing are right.”
That group workout capped a busy morning for Mason, who along with his staff already had led 200 clients divided into three morning workout groups (6 a.m., 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) as part of MASE Training’s adult fitness camp (a three-week, 20-session, high-intensity, “Biggest Loser”-style program). That evening, Mason’s center would be abuzz yet again, having morphed into a training ground for 125 mixed martial arts fighters, whom Mason and black belt instructors Scott Howard and Tony Passos school in Brazilian jiujitsu, Muay Thai and other techniques.
Mason originally had no desire to work with adults. Youth held his focus. But after doing an internship at Gold’s Gym in 2003, he started to see how he could help the adult population as well. Mason remained lukewarm to the idea, however. Then in 2007, everything changed.
Former Redskins teammate Kevin Mitchell was found dead, having suffered a massive heart attack in his sleep.
“I was shell-shocked,” Mason said. “Here’s a guy, 36 years old, two kids, and his wife found out after he died that she had a third on the way. A guy I used to soldier up with in the huddle. Gone? Heart attack? That took my mentality to a new level. My training and lifestyle took on a new purpose. I started training at Evolution Mixed Martial Arts Academy and lost weight quickly. From there, everything just took off.”
Given his diverse background — football, traditional fitness training and mixed martial arts — Mason doesn’t focus exclusively on one school of thought when it comes to fitness. Instead, he has taken portions from each of his past experiences and rolled them into one to create the muscle confusion needed to produce ultimate results, he says.
It appears Mason’s methods work. Golston said he never hit the typical third-week wall in training camp last year because of Mason’s training. Alexander lost 35 pounds and converted from defensive lineman to linebacker thanks largely to Mason. Armstrong, who signed up with Mason two months ago, says he already has seen improvement in stamina and acceleration. And Dorty, a linebacker entering his senior season at Wake Forest who hopes to play in the NFL, says this offseason he finally has figured out what kept him from achieving that significant breakthrough during his first three college seasons.
“Eddie has helped me and it’s been two-fold,” the 6-foot-2, 255-pound two-year starter said. “Proper technique, better weight training, better ways to use my body on the field, and his workouts aren’t only geared toward getting stronger. You’re lifting, but it’s not power training. It’s geared toward more muscle endurance. When I first got to college, I thought all I needed to do was keep getting stronger. But I was wondering why I was still tired. But after working out with Eddie, it really opened my eyes to how to build endurance.”
Says Mason: “I emphasizes six areas: strength, conditioning, fast twitch, core strength, flexibility and the mind. The mind’s as important as the other areas.”
That’s why Mason has Desire, Character, Determination, Faith, Pride, Will, Focus, Respect, Discipline and Passion printed in bold, white letters across the front windows of his fitness center.
Each of the front doors bears the statement “Get your mind right.”
“To be in elite physical condition, the first step is working from the inside out,” Mason said. “As Marty Schottenheimer used to say: ‘You don’t win with the best athletes. You win with good people.’ I’m trying to mold healthy and good people.”