LUTZ — Nick Schuyler stands on a fenced patio, admiring the work he has put into opening his first gym.
It's a rest day from his usual CrossFit workout, and Schuyler pauses with his hands in a prayer pose while Yoga With Lori unfolds around him.
The momentary serenity around Schuyler was hard-earned.
In March 2009, he set off on a fishing trip with three friends: Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, free agent NFL defensive end Corey Smith and Will Bleakley, a football teammate of Schuyler's at the University of South Florida. Their boat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico after Cooper tried to free a stuck anchor. The men were set adrift, and only Schuyler survived.
Congratulatory balloons, including one in the shape a champagne bottle, hang above the desk welcoming visitors to Sky Athletix in Lutz. The Holland Lane gym had a soft opening in mid September.
"I have been looking for a building since two Super Bowls ago. I was at a big party and it was in a warehouse-type thing. When you looked from the outside it didn't look like much, but then I got inside and wow," Schuyler said of his inspiration.
With the help of his mother Marsha Schuyler, the only other employee, Nick Schuyler created the gym he has always wanted, complete with a 130-foot turf running down the middle.
"This was his dream," Marsha said while vacuuming because a cleaning company didn't show.
It's one of the many hats she wears since moving to the area 15 months ago to help her son start his business.
"This was always the plan," Nick Schuyler said. "She's one of the most (detail-oriented) people I know, and that's why she's here. She does everything, all the paperwork and I think she's yelling at someone right now," he laughed.
Between his training and preparing for a November grand opening, and his mother handling paperwork and logistics in addition to a second job as a paralegal, they don't have much time to talk at work.
"She's doing more than she usually does, but it's all part of this dream," Schuyler said.
His dream since the beginning of high school and through his graduation from USF was to own his own gym. Schuyler landed a job as a personal trainer, working at another gym while accumulating dozens of clients and years of experience. Still, working for someone else didn't excite him.
When Schuyler finally made the move to open Sky Athletix, his 45 clients came with him.
"I am 29 years old and I was just ready. I love working with people, but I wanted a place I would be excited about. And, obviously, brag about," Schuyler said.
Overcoming the boating tragedy to be able to move on to this point was also difficult for Schuyler.
"I was very fortunate and it took me a long time to try to figure it out, but you're here for a reason," he said. "It's something I live with, but this was always a dream of mine and I'm given a second chance, so why not go for that dream?"
Schuyler was able to pay respects to his friends and document their story in his memoir Not Without Hope, which will make it to the big screen thanks to Relativity Media. Work on the film is in the early stages. Dwayne Johnson, known in pro wrestling circles as the Rock, will play Schuyler. They got together in Fort Lauderdale a few weeks ago and found out they have some things in common: football, Florida roots and training.
"We hit it off right away. Johnson said he read the book several times and mentioned this was the most important piece he's ever, or will ever, be a part of," Schuyler said.
As his new gym continues to grow, so does Schuyler.
"It's hard to say. I think I just changed in general, for the better. I am just grateful for what I have and to be here still, honestly," he said.
Contact Arielle Waldman at [email protected]