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Backstory: Team of doctors, athletes builds outlet for exercise

Bill Burniston works out with a group at The Performance Academy in Apex. He started the gym with five partners.
Bill Burniston works out with a group at The Performance Academy in Apex. He started the gym with five partners. TERI SAYLOR

Five minutes before every hour, Bill Burniston’s phone sends him a gentle reminder.

“I set the alarm to remind me to check my attitude,” said Burniston, 47. “When I check my attitude and feel negative, the alarm reminds me to make a change.”

A former athletic trainer and physical education teacher in Ridgewood, N.J. Burniston moved to Wake County about eight years ago in search of a lower cost of living and a good place to raise his kids. He got a job as an athletic trainer at Middle Creek High School in Apex, but wanted to start his own strength and conditioning business.

Meanwhile, friends and workout partners Dr. Josh Bloom, a sports medicine physician at Carolina Family Practice & Sports Medicine and a team physician for USA Baseball, the Carolina Hurricanes and Cary High School, and Dr. Edouard Armour, an orthopaedic surgeon at Cary Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Specialists, had hatched an idea for The Performance Academy, an Apex training facility that aims to help young athletes and adults achieve health, athletic and performance goals.

“We wanted to create a facility that would provide a positive environment for kids, where we could help them develop their athletic skills, build good character traits, and have fun,” Bloom said.

In 2011, the pair recruited Burniston as a partner.

“We both knew Burniston professionally through his work as Middle Creek’s athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach, and had always been impressed with him,” Bloom said.

The team soon added Tim Gleason, a former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman who now plays for the Washington Capitals; Rich Van Tassel, president of Royal Oaks Building Group in Raleigh; and Kyle Wilson, a former N.C. State baseball player.

Later that year, the group rented a 15,000-square-foot building near Ten-Ten Road in Apex.

“We created the facility on a shoestring budget, pooling our own resources, and putting in sweat equity,” he said.

The Performance Academy first offered athletic training for kids after school, in the evenings and on the weekends, in addition to regular track-out camps.

About six months later, the group noticed the facility was empty at times during the day, so they added adult fitness programs, such as boot camps and training programs for elite athletes.

In 2013, the group created baseball and softball programs and upfitted the facility with indoor batting cages.

Clients range in age from 5 to 80, said Burniston, who is also an athletic therapist for the Carolina Hurricanes. He says the academy averages about 3,500 client visits per month.

While the six are equal partners; Burniston works at the academy as general manager and director of sports performance and Wilson serves as director of baseball, Bloom said.

The partners typically meet monthly to monitor the academy’s financial status, provide direction, and make decisions on facility upgrades and programs.

The company, which has four full-time employees along with part-time fitness instructors and coaches, uses social media, email lists, word of mouth and brochures to market.

The team is now looking for ways to expand, including developing partnerships with local sports organizations and possibly opening a second facility.

“Managing the business aspects of the TPA is my greatest challenge,” Burniston said. “And my greatest reward is seeing people improve their fitness.”

Reach Teri Saylor and on Twitter @terisaylor

Advice from Bill Burniston

▪ Be slow to hire and quick to fire. Take your time hiring and make sure you find people who are a good fit with your business.

▪ Don’t compromise your core values.

▪ When things go wrong, step up, keep going and continue to press on.