MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Mike Barwis was in Hollywood last week to attend a premier event for a reality television show. The show is about Barwis.
For those who have known the exceedingly friendly, intense, humble and inspiring strength and conditioning wizard for any amount of time, whether recently as founder and CEO of his expanding Barwis Methods empire or further back as the muscle maker at West Virginia University, none of that makes any sense.
So consider how this must feel for Barwis, the reluctant, though irresistible star of “American Muscle,” which debuts at 9 p.m. on July 9 on the Discovery Channel.
“Do you want the truth?” Barwis said. “I don’t watch TV. Honestly. I just don’t have the time, and I’ve always wanted to spend the time I do have helping people. That’s it. I don’t watch TV. I couldn’t tell you a lot about reality TV, to be honest with you. All I want to do is put something out there that maybe encourages people and brings them a new outlook on life.”
This is not to say he was eager to do the television show. Barwis, a WVU graduate who was with the Mountaineers in escalating roles from 2003-07 and then Michigan from 2007-11, had “multiple people in the last eight or nine years pursue me” and gauge his interest. He resisted, even after moving away from college athletics and into personalized training in 2011. Then he met Mike and Chris Farrah from, oddly enough, the Funny or Die website founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.
Funny or Die will produce the show for the Discovery Channel.
“At that point in my career, I said I’d be happy to do something, but I wanted to do things the way I wanted to do them,” Barwis said. “I wanted to display not only the training, but the passion we have for the people and how to help people better themselves and their lives, the passion we have for helping people with disabilities. They were excited about all of that and we kind of turned this into a real thing.”
It’s a real thing now, one that isn’t quite like the cartoons or the movies he will catch in the background when he’s spending time with his four children — 7-year-old Ray, 5-year-old Hannah, 4-year-old Charlie and 2-year-old Julia.
“If I did watch TV,” he said, “the last guy in the world I’d want to watch is me.”
The show features faces viewers will recognize from professional sports, but also from WVU. Former All-America center Dan Mozes is Barwis’ vice president of operations. Former WVU video coordinator Dusty Rutledge is the director of sales. Barwis’ wife, Autumn, who worked with her future husband at WVU, is the Barwis Methods president.
Yet Barwis is proud his show will showcase more than the attention-grabbing names and faces. He’s outgrown working with only college athletes or just professional and Olympic athletes. His business has become so big and opened its arms to so many from all walks that he has five training centers in Michigan with two more opening in Florida and one more opening in Michigan, California and Canada.
The sports docu-series will in part show how much influence Barwis and his unique training has on a wide assortment of people. It’s Pro Bowlers, like Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who is part of the series debut, and UFC star Rashad Evans, but it’s also housewives and middle-aged men and people defying odds to do what they were told they could not do.
“I look at this as helping people,” he said. “We do a lot for people with disabilities who were told they’d never walk again. We’ve had 50 people in the last three years walk out of there who were told they’d never walk again.
“If that hits somebody’s heart and changes their mindset, if somebody is struggling with life and sees another person fighting the same battle or just fighting their own battle, if somebody can identify with a big-time NFL player and realize that not everyone’s life is smooth and easy and sees that everyone has hardships, everyone has a battle to fight through, if that helps someone get more out of their lives, then I believe the show has done something.”
His work, which includes consultant roles with the New York Mets and Miami Dolphins, has always been linked to physical fitness. The hallmark of his career, though, has been mental strength.
Barwis Methods has helped baseball players hit the ball farther than ever imagined and college football players ace the NFL combine. Average Joes push more weight in the air than they thought was possible and mothers-of-three feel better than ever before. The explanation for them is the same as it is for a person who recovers from injury faster than expected or for someone who rises out of a wheelchair and takes the steps specialists said would never happen again.
Barwis has always built the mind to better the body, and that, he said, will come across on television.
“I’ve never been a regular guy when it comes to training,” he said. “I bring an intensity that’s abnormal. I’m energetic and passionate about what I do, and that, as well as the people I work with and the people around me, has elicited results other people haven’t seen as fathomable. So as an end result — and again, not because of me, but because of the people around me who do a better job than I do — the end result is over the years we’ve had great success.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.