How DeMarcus Ware opened a fitness center during a pandemic

Former Cowboys and Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware, 38, found a second career in the fitness industry, opening up 3 Volt Fitness with co-owners Randi Chapman, left, and Angela Daniel. Courtesy DeMarcus Ware

TROPHY CLUB, Texas -- As DeMarcus Ware walks around 3 Volt Fitness he envisions the center's three different rooms bustling with activity. From the Lagree room that focuses on high-intensity, low-impact muscular endurance, to the cardio room filled with state-of-the-art Woodway treadmills, to the weight room that most would closely associate with the Dallas Cowboys' all-time leader in sacks (117 with Cowboys and 138.5 career).

From the concept, which he developed with fellow owners Angela Daniel and Randi Chapman, to completion, 3 Volt Fitness took about 18 months to finish. Opening any business, let alone a fitness operation, during the coronavirus pandemic is a tricky proposition. But the group never thought about shutting down or postponing the July 20 opening.

"I'll never say I'm not going to make it because you've already lost with that mentality. I just say, 'I accept the challenge.' When I played, I accepted the challenge of a new opponent and knew what I needed to do to make sure that I'd win. It's the same in business. I'm going to research what I need to improve on, what I needed to get better at. It's like preparing for a game every day," Ware said.

The Cowboys' 2005 first-round pick (No. 11 overall), who played nine seasons for Dallas and three for the Denver Broncos including winning Super Bowl 50, searched for his next career after retiring from the NFL in 2016. At that time he was 34 and considered old in the NFL. But in the real world, he was young again.

Ware dabbled with some television work. He was a silent partner in some gyms in Dallas and Denver. He lent his name to other projects, but he kept coming back to fitness. During the NFL lockout in 2011, he rented out a car dealership that was not in use and held workouts with teammates and players across the league. He built a gym in his garage where he would train and mentor players.

"It's what I know," Ware said.

He had to learn about the finer details of how the body works to be successful in the fitness industry. He knew about the body from first-hand experience, too. Buried inside a box in his house, Ware has papers documenting the 51 injuries he suffered during his 12-year pro career.

"I remember my last year playing, I couldn't hardly walk," Ware said. "I said, 'I don't want my life to be like this.' I just wanted to be healthy and I got to that point and I started thinking, 'How did I do it?' because I know there's a lot of other people out there in pain, they don't want to work out, they're not motivated. I wasn't motivated. ... But then I got back to what made me me, and that's fitness. It was like a light bulb went off."

Ware recently became a certified personal trainer, and he is in the process of earning certificates as a nutrition coach, a correction exercise specialist and a performance-enhancement specialist.

"He wants to be involved," said Chapman, who first worked with Ware while with SportsTrust Advisors in Atlanta. "He doesn't want to be one of these owners that doesn't know what's going on. It's, 'If I have to ring somebody up, I want to know. If someone needs to clock in, I want to know how to do it.' Some owners give money to someone and that's it. He said he wanted to be involved every step of the way."

Ware, 38, hopes to lead the 45-minute sessions in the various rooms at 3 Volt, but for now he is content to take the classes and help out.

"Somebody said the floor was slippery, so I came in and mopped it up and they said, 'Oh, thank you so much,'" Ware said. "I took my mask off and they [said], 'Oh, that was DeMarcus. He just mopped the floor.'"

When Jerry Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989, he famously said he would be involved in everything from "socks to jocks," when it came to all aspects of the franchise. Ware is taking a similar approach with 3 Volt. During his nine-year run with the Cowboys, Ware spoke with Jones often and it was rarely about football -- their conversations involved business and smart investing practices.

As Ware turned 3 Volt into a reality, he had numerous conversations with Jerry Jones Jr., the Cowboys' chief sales and marketing officer, and Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness. Jones and Mastrov partnered to open a fitness operation called Cowboys Fit at The Star in Frisco, Texas.

"There was a lot of what you should do and what you shouldn't," Ware said of the advice he received.

Cleanliness already was at the top of Ware's list of concerns before the country was affected by the pandemic, but it has been emphasized even more so now. There are high-tech air filtration systems in each room of 3 Volt. To maintain social distancing, spaces for each workout session have been limited. After a piece of equipment is used, it gets wiped down, and following each class, the room and equipment are sanitized again. Masks are required upon entrance and temperatures are taken as a precaution.

"I want us to go above and beyond when it comes to this," Ware said.

In the first 12 days after opening, 3 Volt sold out its 50 founding memberships and has added more members since. Ware's long-term goal is to open more fitness centers in the Dallas and Denver areas.

They will all have the same boutique feel, but there will be something they won't feature.

Nowhere in the facility is anything that sparks memories of the career that one day will land Ware in the Hall of Fame.

"It won't be a success just throwing your name on something," Ware said. "I think what makes something really work is to see the person that's part of it working. You're not just a propaganda guy. They have to know this is you."