A former professional soccer player and private in the British Army’s Parachute Regiment is looking to bring his company to the United States, and he has his sights set on Charleston.
Terry Nelson created Aqua Running, a buoyancy suit designed to help those who are injured or have physical challenges exercise more easily in the water. He visited Charleston this weekend to meet with local business leaders about warehousing and manufacturing the suits in the city.
He also led a training course for veterans at the University of Charleston pool, demonstrating how to use the suits. Veterans from as far away as Texas and Minnesota flew in to get a first-hand look at the suits.
Nelson is hoping they’ll become “ambassadors” for his company, meaning they will sell and teach people how to use the suits.
“Military veterans are the most important people to deliver the training because of their focus, work ethic and attitude,” Nelson said.
Overseas, many high-profile athletes and teams have used the Aqua Running suits, including professional soccer clubs Arsenal and Real Madrid and star players Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
However, elite athletes aren’t the only clientele Nelson intends to serve.
“We have the richest sports franchise in the world use the suits. It’s great for elite sports, but the benefit is for the wider population,” he said.
This broad population can include people with disabilities and physical and mental challenges, and those who struggle with obesity, Nelson said. Since it removes 90 percent of a person’s body weight in the water, Nelson said it’s a good fit for people who face some of these obstacles.
The suits have garnered media attention from national outlets such as Fox and The New York Times, which has led to several veterans reaching out to Nelson. One of them was Randy Ross, owner of Charleston-based Scout Services, a business focused on bringing new technologies to West Virginia.
“He actually sold West Virginia to me, and Charleston in particular,” Nelson said. “He told me the benefits of locating to Charleston.”
Ross said that West Virginia has the kind of broad population Nelson is looking to serve.
“We’re number one in obesity. We have one of the oldest populations in the country, and we have just a multitude of challenges,” Ross said. “Right here is a built-in opportunity to help people.”
After talking with Ross, Nelson said he knew he was someone he could trust.
“It was the way Randy came across,” Nelson said. “I have sharp-suited businessmen talk to me all the time, and that’s not what I wanted. I wanted someone who believed in this.”
Right now, the suits are manufactured in China and stored in a warehouse in Charleston, South Carolina. However, Nelson said he would like to see both production and storage of the suits take place in the same location.
Nelson said he aims to have the suits warehoused in West Virginia in the near future, but the manufacturing aspect might take longer.
One place Nelson is considering as a possible location is a building located behind Appalachian Power Park along Morris Street. He said he is also in talks with the Charleston Area Alliance and local developers to discuss possible locations on the city’s West Side.
While at UC, they also floated the idea of a possible partnership to university leaders, Ross said.
The idea for the Aqua Running company was born from Nelson’s personal hardship. His military career was cut short when his army physical revealed a blood problem that led to kidney failure.
He has had two kidney transplants, with the first coming from his brother, Dean. Nelson said at first his goal wasn’t to start a company like Aqua Running or help those in need.
“It was to repay my brother,” Nelson said. “He gave up his military career for me.”
Nelson said he thought competing in the 1993 World Transplant Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, would be the way to do that. He was successful, but after he won the games his donated kidney began to fail.
After receiving a second transplant, his perspective changed. He wanted to help people.
Nelson spent 12 years on dialysis and recalled the way being active and exercising helped him cope with his illness and the side effects of his treatment.
While preparing for the games, he would exercise using a flotation device while jogging in the pool. He said he would feel uplifted afterwards, even if it was just temporary.
“I’d go home and think about running the Great Wall of China for a couple of hours, and then I’d feel sick again,” he said.
Nelson wanted to help people feel the same relief he did, so he decided to create the Aqua Running suit, made from nylon, Lycra and foam padding. He said being active is what kept him alive.
“It helped me to decide that life was worth living,” Nelson said. “I know 100 percent that we can help these military veterans or anyone who needs help.”