Beachbody Vice President of Fitness and Nutrition Steve Edwards died the morning of February 25th after a long battle against an especially aggressive form of mantle cell lymphoma. He went after it with everything he had, fighting courageously to his final moments. I know this because I had the honor of being with him to the end. Steve may have been my boss for 13 years, but more importantly, he was one of my best friends.
Beachbody President Jon Congdon (also Steve’s longtime friend) and CEO Carl Daikeler hired Steve in the early 2000s to help legitimize their budding fitness company—and legitimize it he did. Few people understand, live, breathe, and eat fitness the way Steve did. Whether he was writing the definitive rock climbing guide to Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, competing in a mountain bike race across the Himalayas, executing one of his awesomely impossible birthday challenges, or playing a pivotal role in the creation of P90X and countless other Beachbody programs, Steve was undeniably “The Man” when it came to fitness.
I was the first member of Steve’s team—a group that would eventually become the Beachbody Fitness and Nutrition Experts, or FNE. We’re the ones who answer your fitness and nutrition questions, either on the message boards, on this blog, or over social media. (Always one for a good, longwinded answer, Steve struggled with Twitter. “You can’t solve people’s problems in 143 characters!” he’d protest.) Behind the scenes, it’s also our job to make sure the programs you buy actually work and the content you read is actually accurate.
Much like the goofy old ensemble war movies he loved so much, Steve picked a pack of oddballs—all with our own unique skills—and let us work the way we needed to work, as long as the job got done. We became the Kelly’s Heroes or Dirty Dozen of the company. I don’t know if this was Steve’s orchestrated vision per se. As his right hand man, I would often discuss strategy with him, but he’d usually give me just enough intel to keep me inspired and busy. He’d leave me—and everyone else—out of the loop on key points on how he planned to deliver on the challenges our job presented. In retrospect, I think that’s because he was Captain Kirk-ing his way through the situation, betting on knowledge and guts to bluff his way to success. “It’s not chess, Mister Spock,” he’d say in his best William Shatner impersonation when I’d press him for strategy. “Poker! Do you know the game?”
He would also remind FNE regularly to keep our egos in check and focus on the work. There’s well over a century worth of combined knowledge in the department and with that comes some fairly strong views. “That’s just, like, your opinion, man,” he would remind us, quoting one of his favorite movies, The Big Lebowski. And he was right. When we let go of our pride, embraced the fact that fitness and nutrition knowledge doesn’t equate to marketing acumen, and played nicely with the other departments, good things always happened. Products were always better. As Steve would say, “We’re just here to help… and that’s it.”
In all the years we worked together, he only saw fit to chastise me once (although I deserved it many more times). One beautiful autumn morning a couple years ago, I played hooky to go kayaking in Redondo Beach, where a pod of blue whales was feeding. In so doing, I blew off an important meeting with several C-something-Os. When I got home, Steve called. “So you missed that meeting and I’m supposed to let you know that’s not okay. What happened?” When I told him about my aquatic adventure, he exploded. “You kayaked with blue whales?!? That’s rad!!! Okay, look, don’t worry about it, but, you know, don’t do that again, okay?”
And I never did. Because that’s how Steve worked. He inspired you to do better by your own rules. He’d just as soon help a 300-pound man walk around the block as he would coach a pro cyclist on how to crush his next race. He was the only person I’ve ever known who approached everyone around him completely free of judgment. (Except every now and then, which was okay because there was nothing funnier than the rare, consternated Steve Edwards.)
This Monday, Jon and Carl posthumously awarded Steve the Beachbody Founders Award. As they presented it, Carl told the story of an exchange he had with Steve a couple months ago. They were discussing Beachbody on Demand (BOD) and all the things they could do with it. Carl was considering the epic scope of the project and the role of FNE. As BOD grows, there’s going to be more and more demand for expertise and advice. Because the more people engage in these programs, the more questions it raises. Carl pondered, how were they going to address that?
There was a beat. Then Steve said in that laidback tone he maintained under even the worst conditions, “This is what we’ve done since day one, man. We got this. No other company could do what we’re about to do. We got this.”
No one could ever fill the shoes of Steve Edwards. There’s a hole there now, but we’re going to do our best to continue with style. Rest easy, my friend. You fought the good fight and now it’s our turn. We got this, Steve. We got this.