Versa Gripps was founded by our family, the Parkers—myself, Mike, Willa, and Katelyn. Our story is one of resilience, sure-fire determination, and heart-wrenching hurdles that through God’s grace and hard work we were able to overcome.
Mike was raised in South Jersey and my roots were here in Maine. We met while studying at the University of Maine. We married in 1969. We moved to South Jersey to begin our married life there. Being young and in love in the 60’s, we saved all our money, quit our jobs and fixed up a utility trailer as a makeshift camper. When spring came, we headed out across the country with our husky Chinook. We drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains, determined to hit as many national parks and wildlife reserves as we could. We wound our way through the western states and up to British Columbia. It was an incredible journey that sealed in both of us a deep appreciation for the natural beauty of our country. After a few months, our plans took a left turn when we discovered that we would be starting a family. With this exciting news, we set our sights back on Maine.
After landing back in the state we both loved, we struggled to make ends meet given the financial challenges of rural living. I worked odd jobs, MIke joined the volunteer fire department, and we did the best we could to become part of our new community. Together, we collaborated on several business ventures over the years with Mike’s knack for inventing and my sharp sense of logistics on our side. Unfortunately, due to the economic volatility of the country at that time, each patented possibility eventually fizzled out. In 1990, our luck took a turn after we learned about a gym in a nearby town that was closing down. Mike and I had always been passionate about fitness and weightlifting, so we jumped at the chance to purchase all of their equipment and open up our own facility called The Fitness Loft.
We immersed ourselves in the business, getting to know our members, their routines, and their stories. Through all of our relationships with these athletes, one issue became clear: conventional lifting straps weren’t getting the job done. People complained about how cumbersome straps were to wrap and unwrap on the weightlifting bar and how they would inevitably cut off their circulation. Mike, the inventor in the family, saw this problem and was inspired to create a solution. Three days later, he did just that, designing what would be the first-ever pair of Versa Gripps! After sharing this prototype with members at the gym, we were both convinced that this product would be a game changer.
With a belief in our revolutionary technology—and the drive to support athletes all over the world—our family jumped on this opportunity as fast as we could. In 1997, Mike and our daughter Willa attended a major sporting goods trade show in Atlanta, Georgia, to assess our competition. We needed assurance that our idea was as strong as we thought, and that no one else had beat us to it. As it turned out, there was nothing like our technology or design on the market at the time. In fact, the owner of a successful fitness company suggested he would steal our idea if we wouldn’t sell him the rights! This was the moment we knew we had something truly special. After sharing our prototype with the professional bodybuilders and other athletes in attendance—and hearing their glowing reviews—we were all confident that Versa Gripps would change the way people worked out forever.
At this point, our finances were stretched. We found a company to sew the gripps for us, but were soon faced with the realization that outsourcing manufacturing would be way too costly. Instead, we borrowed just enough money from a generous friend to invest in a used computerized sewing machine.
Then, just as we were taking our first real strides forward, the unthinkable happened.
Two weeks after setting up our new machine, Mike—my husband, business partner, and the inventor behind it all— fell 30 feet off of a roof and suffered a traumatic brain injury. In an instant, our life turned upside down. He hit his head, bruised a lung, cracked a hip, and was in the intensive care unit at the hospital, lying in a coma.
The prognosis didn't look good. We were informed by Mike’s doctor that he would likely be paralyzed on his left side and would possibly need rehabilitation to relearn even the most basic skills. Our family was devastated, waiting tirelessly by his side at the hospital, hoping he would wake up. While we were anxiously awaiting Mike’s recovery, our patent for Versa Gripps was approved and although it was what we had been waiting for, it didn’t seem so important now. Six long weeks later, Mike awoke and was discharged from the hospital. It was a relief of course, but I knew it would also be the beginning of a challenging road for our family.
This was a pivotal point in our lives. With Mike focusing on healing, it was time for me to step up to the plate for our company, for the future of Versa Gripps. I took the operational reins as our daughter Willa, who had just graduated from college, put her brand new marketing degree to work. We had one sewing machine, over 1,000 unfulfilled orders, and seemingly endless debt from startup costs and hospital bills. In spite of all the odds stacked up against us, we persisted.
Slowly but surely, the products started to gain traction just as Mike, too, began to see improvement in his recovery and was able to once again play an integral role in our growth. Looking back, it was our tenacity and faith in God that carried us all through.
We knew we needed to reach more athletes in order to personally educate them on the how and why behind Versa Gripps. We needed to walk the talk of this “new way” of working out. Taking a giant leap of faith, we began exhibiting Versa Gripps at national bodybuilding trade shows. At this point, the only options for athletes in the gym were either painful lifting straps or cumbersome hooks and gloves—all of which had their disadvantages and could potentially lead to wrist and hand injuries. It became our mission to explain to athletes that muscle growth didn’t need to be compromised by grip strength. We had to show them that Versa Gripps was in a category all its own.
We designed an interactive booth that had an inviting gym-like environment and provided an opportunity for athletes to experience the benefits of working out with Versa Gripps firsthand. Mike, Willa, Katelyn, and I worked nonstop to educate each athlete about the benefits of Versa Gripps compared to traditional lifting straps and other accessories.
Our passion was continuously fueled by seeing athletes light up when they experienced the proven results of Versa Gripps’ mind-muscle connection for the first time. This revolutionary technology established Versa Gripps as the only training tool they needed to reach their fitness goals. Through tradeshows and word of mouth, Versa Gripps began to earn the trust of athletes all over the world, one at a time.
Versa Gripps inspired athletes to train better and be better with each interaction. They changed the way they worked out and began achieving new goals and in turn, shared their excitement for Versa Gripps with their friends. Over time, word spread organically throughout the fitness industry that training with Versa Gripps would allow athletes to safely and effectively do more reps and lift more weight.
As our reputation grew, our following went from grassroots to the championship stage. Athletes began wearing Versa Gripps on the covers of magazines, solely out of a love for the product. In turn, Versa Gripps were being incorporated into strength training programs for national sports teams and even featured in documentaries, all confirming to us that Versa Gripps had found its rightful place in the bodybuilding community.
Nearly two decades after our founding, Versa Gripps is now a staple in the fitness industry with professional athletes all over the world claiming them essential to their workouts. Our family still runs this American-made business together. In spite of our trials and tribulations, we have been blessed to have come out the other side and into a world where our dream is a reality. Our faith in God helped us through both Mike’s traumatic brain injury and the growth of this company from Mike’s lightbulb moment to the internationally known product we produce today.