10,000 Reps for Todd: Gym hosts fundraiser for member battling Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News
Todd Timmons, a cancer patient with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, lifts a bar over his head at Militia Fitness in Crestview.

CRESTVIEW — Todd Timmons isn’t the type to skip a workout.

Not even if it takes him 10 times longer to catch his breath or a few extra rest breaks to recuperate, or even if he has to trade a dumbbell for a trash can because he might upchuck. No, Timmons wouldn’t skip a session at his home gym for the past four years, Militia Fitness in Crestview.

Cancer couldn’t change that.

Stephen Schiff, the director of that location, is not only his coach but also a fan.

“He just decided to not alter his life, and it's not even a question that he's gonna make it through this situation, in his eyes, and he's just gonna continue to live his life as best as he can,” Schiff said. “He's still working his job. He's still coming in here and crushing it daily. I literally talked to him on the phone while he was in the chemo chair on Wednesday and he asked me, ‘I haven't done the core workout today, can you send it to me, so I can do it at my house?’’’

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Militia Fitness will host 10,000 Reps with Todd from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Beach Access 7 on Okaloosa Island. Anyone is welcome to donate or lift Timmons' spirits, Schiff said.

“No matter how fit or unfit you might be, there's going to be something for anyone out there," Schiff said. "We're going to all just work within the realm of these few base movements with variances for difficulty to just crush as many reps as we possibly can. We really want to just bring people together for something good, because there's a lot of stuff that's not really good right now. We're gonna try and do 10,000 reps, and depending on how many people we get out there, we might push for 20,000.”

Discovering the cancer 

Timmons first noticed it March 10.

He likened the lump on the right side of his neck to a walnut, plum or golf ball. He discovered it shortly after taking a winter sabbatical in Colorado that ended when he tested positive for COVID-19.

He didn’t think anything of it. 

Timmons returned to Florida the first week of April and jumped right back into the game, he said, waiting tables 40 hours a week at Pompano Joe’s in Miramar Beach and training five days a week at Militia Fitness. He was tired, but he didn’t think anything of that either — until, as a devout Catholic, he missed Mass one Sunday.

“My sister was concerned because I was tired, and normally on a Sunday or Saturday when I have a day off, I'd go out on my jet ski,” Timmons said. “Instead, I'm opting for the five-hour nap in the middle of the day.”

The lump in his neck was growing. It extended all the way to his collarbone, to the point where Timmons noticed his co-workers weren’t looking him in the eyes anymore; they were looking at his neck.

Timmons signed up for health insurance in May and went to Urgent Care in June, where they suspected he had a blocked salivary gland. He then went to an ear, nose and throat specialist, where he was assigned blood work and a CT scan.

It wasn’t long before Timmons heard what no one wants to hear: You have cancer.

“I was just in shock, and then I beat myself up on pride,” Timmons said. “I was too proud. I felt like God had to knock me down a peg because I didn't want to admit I had cancer. I knew it wasn't a blocked salivary gland. I was starting to put the pieces together, ‘I'm so tired. Why am I so tired?’ ”

He was tired because he has Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Timmons’ color is lime green, he said, which is the color of dye his cancer lights up with on a PET scan.

“I lit up like a Christmas tree, mostly all around my neck,” Timmons said.

By that point, he had lost hearing in his left ear. Every time he turned his head, he compares it to bobbing for apples, you bob for an apple and they all hit.

The treatment is four rounds of chemotherapy at 21 days apart. The global script for his cancer is a combination of drugs under the acronym R-CHOP, he said.

Timmons had his first round Sept. 8. He met the deductible for his insurance at 9:37 a.m. that day, within an hour and 7 minutes into his first chemo bag, he said.

“I shaved my head before my first round of chemo because it was one of those like, ‘You can take control of this,’” Timmons said. “One thing I'm learning through this is letting God, and there's things I can’t control and can control. Sunday morning, I got up to shower or wash my face before church and looked in the sink and it was just all beard hair. I had a full freaking beard, a very well-maintained beard.”

After being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Todd Timmons, a member of Militia Fitness, made it his mission to attend the gym daily.

Now, a bare faced Schiff works out at the gym, dragging a trash can alongside him.

“One of my goals that I put on the board in the back as soon as I started was to come to the gym every day. If that means all I do is come to the gym and walk around or ride the bike slowly, not do the workout, do yoga, I just want to come to the gym every day. It's a happy place for me.”

Timmons, a swimmer who comes from a college team with a long history of winning national championships, loves working out at Militia Fitness.

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“I was so sore, starting in college from literally the three days after you arrive on campus until after your season's over,” Timmons said. “I had never been sore like that anywhere else other than that college team until I came to Militia. I have been full body sore for the last four years and I love every minute of it. The programming, the communication, the community. There's not a better (gym).”

He tears up talking about what the gym means to him.

“They lift you up, they motivate you, they encourage you,” Timmons said.

Todd Timmons, a member of Militia Fitness, performs a gymnastics exercise at the gym.

Schiff remembers noticing the tumor and Timmons struggling with balance in gymnastics style exercise movements he normally didn’t struggle with.

“He’s like, ‘I got cancer, but I'm gonna beat it,’” Schiff said. “I’m like, ‘Cool, what can we do?’ He was like, ‘Don't do anything. I'm just going to continue to train.’ We love him. He's a part of the family. His sister works out with us as well. He's an emotional dude, so he tears up a lot. Anyone would in that situation. And I’m a super emotional dude, so we’re like, ‘You’re gonna get through this, I promise.’”

While Timmons lives in Crestview, he attends all of the Militia locations.

“In every gym, people know him and love him because he's just a super genuine dude,” Schiff said. 

Timmons has since named his tumor Winston Neckhill after Winston Churchill.

“Then it became comical,” Timmons said. “People at work would be like, ‘He’s losing weight. He looks dead. Go Winston.’”

He named his port, Portia Porter.

‘Kicking ass and taking names’

Cancer is a mental battle.

But that is nothing new for Timmons, a longtime swimmer and elite level swimming coach. Swimming is his Zen, he said.

Timmons remembers going from muscling his way through swimming to swimming with his whole body.

“I can honestly say, I can swim a whole workout with my eyes closed. I’m that dialed in to what my swimming visually looks like. I know exactly how many strokes I take, how many kicks, all the things that you tell kids that are important. My swimming is very quiet, which is super efficient. It's like art; it's my art.”

He still swims today in the U.S. Masters Swimming program at Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation in Destin. He graduated from Niceville High School in 1997 and swam at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, joining a 10-year winning streak for Division II nationals. He continued as a graduate assistant, winning nationals both years he was on the coaching staff.

“I found I had a pretty good knack for motivating athletes and getting under their skin to where even if they were having a bad day, they would perform for me rather than experience my disappointment in them,” Timmons said. “I got a lot of respect from that. That's when I was like, ‘I think I'm gonna coach swimming,’ so I followed that path.”

His first job was starting the swim team at Ursuline College, a Catholic women’s college in Pepper Pike, Ohio. He later resigned and came back to Florida, taking a break from coaching to swimming, waiting tables and bartending at Pompano Joe’s.

He returned to coaching in 2011 for Florida Elite Swimming in Tampa, until April 2017. Tampa is one of the four “heavy hitters” in the U.S. that produce Olympic swimmers, he said.

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Timmons has had two water rescues while serving at Pompano Joe’s. The first one was in June 2004 on a double-red flag day when he saw a mother pulled out between the first and second sandbar after retrieving her daughter.

“I see these two rescue swimmers waddling down with fins on with full wetsuits and oxygen tanks taking their sweet time and now she's just on this side of the second sandbar not quite to it yet,” Timmons said. “I just made the snap decision like, ‘They're not gonna get there in time and she's panicking.’”

Timmons stripped down to his speedo, ran to the end of the deck, jumped off for a 14-foot drop, swam to the mother and calmed her down until the rescue swimmers got her. He swam himself back, toweled off with bar towels, put back on his uniform and completed his shift.

“Later that night, the chief of the fire department came in, stood on the table, stopped all the operations in the restaurant, gave a big talk about heroes in our midst,” Timmons said. “Think I made almost $1,200 that night. People just come up, ‘That's the best thing I've ever seen.’”

A similar occurrence happened in May 2017. He made the rescue and returned before his section was sat.

“I've been here, living, kicking ass and taking names in this town for quite some time,” Timmons said.

He doesn’t lack confidence.

“He is outgoing and unabashedly himself at all times,” Schiff said. “He is, with a joke, extremely witty, but such a caring dude, very caring and empathetic towards people around him and their struggles.”

Timmons also has a great support system with his siblings, parents and roommate, he said.

Timmons is strong, but where he loses grip on his emotions is talking about his animals. He has two Great Danes, Blue and Argos, two cats, Mr. McGillicuddy and Penelope, and a yellow-crested cockatoo named Brandy.

“My animals, like everybody's animals, they just know,” Timmons said. “Those first four mornings after round one of chemo, when I was waking up nauseous every day, Penelope the cat was in there with me and she would actually get up on my shoulders if I was sitting in front of the toilet. She figured out that if she would lay on the back of my neck, and purr, my nausea would go away a little bit quicker.”

Blue goes to the bathroom with him every night and make sure he gets back to bed, he said.

“They sit there with you,” Timmons said. “I had one next to me, one underneath me, the cat in my lap and Brandy the bird — who says, ‘Hey Darlin,’ she’s got a Southern belle twang — she never does this, she jumped flat over to the chair and got right up on my chest right next to the cat. And we were all out. It's like my safe place.”

Being strong

It’s 9 a.m. on a recent Friday and Timmons had just completed his third or fourth round of pull-ups alternated with a circuit of other exercises that don’t scream cancer friendly. He had his second round of chemotherapy the pervious Wednesday.

Todd Timmons, a member of Militia Fitness, continues to work out daily while undergoing chemotherapy.

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Timmons constantly checks his watch to make sure his heart rate, which rises much faster now, is normal. He also checks his phone often because he has a “dream job” opportunity on the horizon, he said.

“I really want this job, and I can't let cancer take me out,” Timmons said. “I have to be strong all the way through. I have to be. It's all a matter of mental. And it's the same thing with this job, anything. When you're an elite athlete, or when you're competing at the top, the physical playing field is level. It's only 10% physical winner; at the top is 90% mental. And my mental game has always been strong.”

Timmons turned 43 Monday. At this age, he is only just now learning how to let go and trust God.

“That's scary, but it is so empowering because you don't have to worry about it anymore,” he said. “You know that in the end, it's just gonna work out for you. You can live such a much stress free life if you just let God.”

Timmons is scheduled to have his final treatment the Wednesday before Christmas. If his PET scan is “clean,” or doesn’t show cancer, he is done; he is in remission.

If not, he has two more rounds. But he is strong.

“Sitting there in the chemo lounge, as they call it, I always ask the person that's next to me, ‘What do you got? Like, what are you in for?’” Timmons said. “I try to make a joke out of it and be the funny one. Everybody's got a different recipe. Some people have to go every day and they get chemo one day and radiation. I'm blessed. I feel incredibly blessed that I'm only there once every day. I guess it consumes my life in a different way than it consumes somebody else's life. But I don't feel consumed. I feel oddly liberated.”