Rite of Passage
Meet Randy Hetrick
By Alexandra Fee
“It all began on Mount Tam…”, that is, the intense drive and relentless pursuit of achievement that eventually led Randy Hetrick to where and who he is today. In continuing the spirit of recognizing and honoring distinctive Mill Valley residents and respecting the times, Mill Valley Living and Randy gathered (6 feet apart) atop our majestic Mount Tam to uncover the inner workings and story behind the CEO and founder of TRX.
For those yet to discover this global phenomenon, TRX is a total body resistance exercise system. While its training gear now resides in most gyms, TRX continues to morph and expand its reach; attracting consumers directly and through trxtraining.com, an on-line program designed to aid personal trainers in building their own, individual, thriving careers. Indeed, TRX is more than just a business. It’s an international brand with people around the world proudly identifying themselves as “TRXers.” Understanding how Randy conceived, built and catapulted TRX into what it is today, is to learn his undeniable success was fueled by an intense determination to climb the highest mountain, leap over the highest hurdle, and surf the biggest wave.
Randy grew up in Southern California near the beaches of Corona Del Mar and later Huntington Beach. An accomplished high school volleyball player under the tutelage of his hard driving father, he hoped to play volleyball for USC. He jokingly recounted how sure he was the USC recruiting scouts must have “missed” him!
Photos by Laura Reoch
But Randy quickly realized the difference between Olympic level athletes and good high school players when he joined his first practice at USC. Growing tired of his role as a bench warmer, Randy defected and turned to rowing for the Trojans. This ignited a pursuit of hard and sometimes “miserable” sports, including wrestling, kick-boxing and the Brazilian martial art, Jiu Jitsu. He attributes it may have been an axe to grind with his father that pushed him to these obscure but extremely challenging sports. As Randy pointed out (more than once), if your parents constantly tell you you’re not very good at something, you can either wilt or you can go for it. Randy took this charge even further when he decided to join the military his junior year at USC. After all, military blood already ran through his veins. His grandfather served in WWII as an infantry platoon commander and he had always admired his stepfather, a Vietnam Vet who frequently shared with him his incredible experiences in Vietnam.
Ultimately, it was Randy’s bewilderment of Western culture’s lack of a true rite of passage from boyhood to manhood that invigorated his military aspirations. Randy found it crazy that at age 17 years and 364 days you’re a kid, but one day later you’re a man! These musings sealed his commitment to join the military and satisfy his quest to create his own rite of passage. Initially, he thought of becoming a Green Beret or a Marine; but in typical Randy Hetrick fashion, he pursued the most difficult role, striving to become a member of BUDS – the Basic Underwater Demolition Seals team based in Coronado, CA. Despite an 85% attrition rate inherent in the BUDS selection process, Randy wanted to go for it. He remembered seeing Seal Team members, thinking they looked like Gods and moved like Panthers. But even as Captain of the USC Rowing Team, his dream of becoming a Seal was clouded with the reality that applying as a non-Naval Academy student was pushing the limits. Undaunted, Randy applied to Officer Candidate School, taking him over a year to complete while simultaneously working on a commercial painting crew. After graduating from USC, he lobbied hard to be considered for the Seals unit, including connecting with “this cool, old cat” who happened to be the Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan. Randy was finally accepted into the Seals with a follow-on guarantee to BUDS. At one point along the way, he was strongly encouraged to pursue a fighter pilot career because of his good eyes – but the elite Seals were always his end game!
This is where Mount Tam comes in. Randy focused his training in the pursuit of becoming a Navy Seal on the countless, rigorous trails of the mountain. His stepfather, an avid backpacker, and longtime fan of our mountain introduced Randy to Mt. Tam when he was only 10. At that moment began a 40 -plus year love affair with training on Tam. Once his stepfather moved north to Marin, Randy’s visits to Tam became very regular every month. The Throckmorton Trail, straight up to the overlook, became his favorite hike. It was on these trails he aggressively geared-up, training for the Seals. Tam’s trails were the platform for his self-proclaimed benchmarks. “I will go faster and faster and faster, then I’ll loop, dash up and sprint down. Then, repeat.” The Throckmorton Trail served as Randy’s formative drilling ground. Notwithstanding his Southern California roots, Randy’s love for Tam – including marveling at the signature Tam fog below him (the witches’ brew!) and the “unbelievably beautiful” views of the Bay shrouded in that fog, propelled him to run on its trails no matter the pouring rain or heat of the summer. Tam became a litmus test for his mental toughness. It is no wonder, the Seals welcomed Randy into the BUDS Seal Team as an Assistant Platoon Commander.
Four years later, Randy wanted to apply to Stanford’s MBA program. But when word got out a Seals detailer preempted this pursuit, offering Randy a spot in the International Relations & National Security Affairs Master’s program at the Monterey Naval Postgraduate School. Randy’s ultimate dream was to join the counterterrorism unit but although he was a Seal officer and commander of 3 national platoons deployed around the world, it wasn’t good enough. Because he was in grad school in Monterey, after initially missing the screening in Washington DC for the counter terrorism unit, he secured a special screening and was chosen to be a troop commander in this highly sought after unit. Between time spent on Capitol Hill where he successfully lobbied for his Special Opps Command office to be moved from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill, Randy finally applied to Stanford’s MBA program and was rejected. Dejected and frankly, angry, Randy got the call to return to command as a Squadron Commander for the next 2 ½ years, quite an achievement in the world of Navy Seals.
About two-thirds through his command, the dot com boom in Silicon Valley led to an exodus of sorts among Stanford’s MBA’s, eager to make money in the technology IPO explosion. Randy seized this opportunity to re-apply to Stanford. Having always been an operational leader, the idea of moving into Navy bureaucracy was not as exciting to him. He resigned his commission in the Navy after 14 years and ended up at math camp at Stanford, living in San Francisco’s Twin Peaks neighborhood. Despite his self-admitted, less than impressive GMAT scores, Stanford admissions saw the light. Randy was accepted, ultimately seizing his Stanford MBA degree. Affectionately referred to as the “the father confessor” and “granddaddy” by his fellow Stanford students, Randy initially felt like a fish out of water, studying complex mathematics with some of our nation’s brightest minds after emerging from the counterterrorism universe epicenter. But Randy being Randy, dug deep and persevered – while also becoming the proud father of his first son, Harrison, to boot!
What about TRX? Going back to his Seals days, while deployed in the Straits of Malacca in Southeast Asia on Special Missions Unit operation, one day while waiting for a mission to carry out (there was always a lot of waiting time!) Randy grabbed a Jiu Jitsu strap tucked away in his suitcase to make a harness. He tied a knot in the belt, threw it over a bathroom door, leaned backwards…and pondered, “What if I Iift my weight, then hoist it and then re-tie the knot in the middle to hang onto with both sides?” After first enduring some heckling from his squadron mates, soon, one by one, they wanted to try this “crazy harness”. Low and behold, it started catching on. “Hey Boss! Make me one of your gizmos!” His buddy, a parachute rigger, basically a navy seamstress who liked to drink beer, helped Randy make more straps in exchange for a case of beer. Suddenly, these hard-core guys thought these crazy straps were pretty cool. All the while, Randy never thought of this as a business, even though he and his squadron continued to train “like beasts” with his straps.
Now fast forward to his days at Stanford. While training at the athlete center, Randy garnered some attention from coaches of various Stanford teams — from Women’s Tennis to the Line Coach of the football team — as an ex-Commando working out with his unique straps. Sure enough, coaches began asking him to make them for their student-athletes. “You’re at Business School thinking about business…” It was then that TRX was born. During the summer between his first and second year at Stanford, Randy purchased an old sewing machine from Mr. B’s Sewing Center on Geary Blvd in San Francisco, which now sits in his living room in Tam Valley. Randy is currently teaching his second son, Hawkins, how to sew face masks from old TRX t-shirts and felt. This is the sewing machine that started it all. His second year at Stanford served as the incubator for TRX. By the time he graduated at age 37, Randy created TRX in a sub-optimal 1000 square foot building at 17th and Taraval in San Francisco’s Sunset District. He still chuckles remembering how this building remained vacant for 4 years after he moved TRX headquarters to its current Russian Hill location.
With loyal TRX fans, including the LA Lakers’ LeBron James and New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, not to mention a 53% overall female to male ratio, Randy’s original mantra of “making your body your machine” has propelled TRX to become one of the biggest educators in the training world. Its “all human power” mantra has further extended to gym operators, PE Teachers and coaches, as TRX Qualification Courses are now offered free of charge. TRX Live is free to all during this Covid-19 era. The TRX App is also free, while TRX straps and gear are generously donated to first responders and medical personnel. Randy further gives back by teaching Entrepreneurial classes at both Stanford and USC.
By the end of our visit, Randy opened up to us by revealing his recent big Epiphany. After working so hard, for so long, always searching for the hardest things he could do, he now realizes he chose that hard life and all the stress that accompanied it. It was his grandmother’s sage advice before she passed away, 6 months shy of her 104th birthday that changed his tune. She urged him to focus now on living his second chapter of life without angst, to stop feeling like he always must prove himself. For the next half of his life, Randy professed how he is focused on silencing the constant pounding drum that had previously dominated his mindset. He proudly proclaimed it is time for him to fully focus on “the good stuff”, his boys, (Harrison, now a freshman at USC and a former standout high school Lacrosse athlete; and Hawkins, his loyal sidekick, a 4th grader at Tam Valley Elementary school), and his beloved Petey, a Bull-Dame mix, while doing good things for the world. Randy, a devoted surfer, now shows up in Bolinas and if the waves aren’t pounding or ideal, he chooses to simply enjoy the beach, as he’s slowly figuring out how to relax.
Randy remains steadfastly in awe of Mt. Tam, with every ounce of the respect he felt for the mountain from his Seals training days. The difference today is we might spot him hiking the Throckmorton Trail with his sons, at a more leisurely pace, and pausing as he takes in those glorious views.