With the coronavirus in full swing, I wanted to share a deeply personal story about how my brother Ian and I started Battle Bars. My hope is that in this time of anxiety and despair you will find optimism in that good can come out of immense tragedy.
Our story starts in August 2017. On that day, my family received a call I hope none of my friends ever have to receive. Our 68 year old father had been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. The prognosis was that he had left than a year of his life left.
The same invincible man who had moved a young family from Ireland to America? The same man who had selflessly raised 5 children and ensured we had everything we always wanted? This couldn't be happening. My mother and my dad had just purchased their dream home in Florida and were set for a retirement on the beach. A feeling of injustice and anger is an understatement, but cancer doesn't care about your plans.
If you know the Irish, you'll know we're an incredibly stubborn group. Our father refused to believe this was the end of him, and we were inclined to agree. As our family prepared for a long road of chemotherapy, our brother Ian was returning home from his second tour in the Middle East. He was coming home from one war to be thrown into another war against cancer. Nobody trains for this.
To understand why our father ended up inspiring a protein bar company, you have to understand a little bit about him. A true businessman at heart, he started his career as a sales rep at one of the first Kawasaki dealerships in Ireland. Once he reached the shores of America, he continued his sales career in huge companies like Waste Management.
But not only was he a businessman, he was a patriot and a massive support of the Armed Forces. His father was a POW in WWII and survived, only to succumb to his war-related health complications years later. After becoming a citizen of the United States, he took as much pride in our Armed Forces as he would have the Irish. You can imagine his pride in my brother as a Captain in the Army and in me for following his foot steps in business as a sales and marketing professional.
In May of 2018, we received yet another piece of news I pray your family never has to experience. After a long battle with cancer and related complications like blood clots, the recommendation came down that our father be moved into hospice. His complications had left him with little energy or ability to fight this aggressive form of cancer and he was no longer able to eat with any type of regularity. The fight was over.
It's truly a terrible and surreal experience to stand over a man who was a mountain of leadership and integrity in your life and know that they will be gone soon. It's hard to feel anything but grief and despair and a sense of helplessness. You want to reach down and take the cancer away, bear the pain for them, but you can't. Just as cancer had worn down his body and mind, it had worn down our families. Our mother, who fortunately was a nurse herself, had spent the entire year caring for him selflessly. You could tell she would do it all over again if it meant he could live for just another month.
Yet optimism and hope finds it's way into every situation. I think it's built into the human race that we can find a ray of light in the darkest rooms. Take my sister Joanna for example, who was but weeks away from welcoming her second child into the world. What a strange mix of emotion we all experienced. Having deep grief for the inevitable passing of our father while feeling a sense of happiness and joy knowing we'd have a new baby to dote over in just a few weeks. Our only collective regret was that our dad wouldn't get to meet her.
When you're in a hospice situation like this, you don't eat. You don't sleep. You lose track of basic needs you're used to meeting. At the time, I was working for a healthy food company that had recently made some pretty delicious protein cookies. Realizing none of us had eaten, I offered one to my brother.
He commented on how delicious it was and that it was surprising considering the general stereotype around protein products. What he said next was more important. He mentioned that while he was overseas, he found it very hard to find a good-tasting protein product that was sustainable in a harsh environment like a warzone.
Boom. Light bulb.
At that moment, I think Ian and I both realized what needed to be done. We had the opportunity to build a brand that not only honored our fathers legacy, but made a product fit for the hero's in our lives. We had an opportunity to use this moment of tragedy as an unstoppable motivation to build a brand our dad would be proud of. There was little anyone could have said to stop the path we're now on.
A few days later, our father did pass from his cancer surrounded by his loved ones. We had a truly Irish funeral filled with laughter and of course tears, but most importantly we celebrated an incredible man that impacted almost everyone he crossed paths with. I think we both felt a responsibility to attack this company with the same vigor and never ending optimism our father had lived his life with. There was work to do.
In August of 2018, Battle Bars LLC was official. We had spent the last few months building a brand, a mission and a leadership team. Fast forward a few months later and we launched our first product in December of 2018.
Now, almost 16 months later, we've met thousands of inspiring individuals who selflessly sacrificed their entire lives, sometimes their limbs, to serve this country. Almost immediately we met Jonathan Lopez, who introduced us to the incredible organization Operation Enduring Warrior. We've been blessed with incredible growth that allowed us to donate thousands of dollars and thousands of bars to veterans in need. We've brought on another member of our leadership team, Alex Witt, who is also a veteran and shares our deep passion to give back to the veteran community.
Lately, we've been able to shift our focus to first responders of the Coronavirus pandemic. Helping donate bars to nurses and medical personnel who barely find time to eat, let alone eat something healthy. We've been impacted positively by so many people during the short life of this company and have been impacted so deeply by true hero's. All of this never would have happened without the tragedy of our fathers passing.
Would I trade Battle Bars to have my dad back? I know how I would answer but I know what he would say...
"Don't be ridiculous, Colin."
So what's my point here? Why have I dragged you down this deeply personal story of tragedy my family experienced? Because I want you to find solace in the fact that the human race is immensely capable of turning the coronavirus pandemic into something incredibly positive. We have the opportunity to find the camaraderie our society seems to lose more of every day. We can turn this tragedy into something positive, motivating ourselves to be better for each other and to be more prepared the next time tragedy strikes.
It's the optimist inside of me that says we have to.
Written in loving memory of Paul Sparks, who continues to inspire us to this day.