“Everybody wants to reach the peak, but there is no growth on the top of a mountain. It is in the valley that we slog through the lush grass and rich soil, learning and becoming what enables us to summit life’s next peak.” — excerpt from The Noticer, by Andy Andrews
In April 2022, Franco Vallabriga participated in the Tough Mudder obstacle course with Team EquipmentShare. Franco, an Army veteran, didn’t anticipate it being a hard challenge — obstacle courses were his specialty.
He conquered each obstacle until he came upon Everest. It consisted of a greased, 13-foot quarterpipe. He approached it, ready to climb over the wall — and he couldn’t do it, no matter how many times he tried.
“I pride myself on obstacle courses, so it really got to me that I couldn’t do it,” said Franco, the general manager of EquipmentShare’s branch in Columbia, Missouri. “Everest was a catalyst for me to realize how out of shape and miserable I was.”
There was more to Franco’s personal challenge than just getting in better physical shape. Franco was confronting a challenge comparable to climbing a mountain — getting his mental health back to its peak.
“I was in the middle of a time where I was really down on myself — I was sad,” Franco said. “So what could I do to motivate myself to be happier? Mental health has been a personal struggle since I left the Army, and I’ve had ups and downs and major life changes. You get those waves of ups and downs, and this time the wave just kept going down and I couldn’t get back up.”
Franco wasn’t always in this valley of weight gain and depression.
“I was in great shape in the Army because we exercised all the time. As soon as I left in 2015, I immediately stopped working out,” Franco said. “I was just so sick of getting up early and working out that I just stopped altogether.”
Franco went into plumbing after leaving the military and then joined an EquipmentShare branch in Colorado in 2019. Working in a branch, lots of treats were available from customers and the sales team, and Franco did his part to help with any donuts that appeared.
“Once I see a donut, I can’t say no,” Franco said.
After visiting the EquipmentShare Home Office in Columbia, Missouri, Franco and his wife, Cynthia Cline, fell in love with the area and applied for jobs. They were both hired and began their adventure in the Midwest. The only problem? Franco was not in a great place with his mental health.
“I’d come home each night and complain and emotionally eat and then I realized — the one thing I can control is me. I started getting lunch salads more often and then I reached out to director of wellness Josh Gaskins and started attending classes at the Home Office gym.”
Just like you shouldn’t mountain climb solo, a wellness journey can and should be shared. Franco started attending classes with Gaskins and credits much of his continuing motivation and dedication to his wife, a project manager for EquipmentShare, joining him on this journey.
“Franco approached me and said it was getting harder to motivate himself to keep going to class early in the morning and asked if I could go with him. I didn’t want to let him down,” Cynthia said. “So I started the foundations class with Josh, and then I joined the strength class once a week with Franco and I got hooked — and got to spend more time with my husband.”
A year into their wellness journeys, Cynthia and Franco now attend fitness classes each morning at 6 a.m., rarely missing a morning.
“We’ve found that those who have an accountability partner, whether it’s a loved one or friend or co-worker, are increasing their success tenfold,” Josh said. “You’ve set yourself up with someone who depends on you, and if you don’t make it to the workout, you’ve left someone hanging.”
According to the National Institute of Health, regular physical exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative moods. Exercise has also been found to boost self-esteem and cognitive function.
“I wouldn't have even applied to be the general manager of the Columbia branch if I hadn’t given myself a confidence boost,” Franco said. “I was empowered to change my situation and be happier. I applied and I got the job, and I’ve been so happy — and I’m good at it.”
“I am so proud of Franco, and to be able to do this together has been amazing for us. We communicate better in our relationship, and we’ve both improved our mental health,” Cynthia said. “It has become a form of therapy for me, and we take turns lifting each other up and encouraging each other. How we talk and how we problem-solve has all improved.”
When he took over as GM, the Columbia branch break room was filled with candy and junk food. Franco started by using the branch wellness budget to buy healthy snacks and drinks. Instead of ordering pizza as a treat, Franco grills healthy meals a few times a month for his team.
“My service manager saw my transformation and has started watching what he’s eating and working out more,” Franco said. “I’ve also got a few guys from the branch trying out the gym, and it’s really cool to see them starting to care more about their wellness.”
In April 2023, Franco and Cynthia once again participated in the Tough Mudder, determined to conquer Everest. There was only one problem — that obstacle had been eliminated from this version of the course. Instead of the quarter pipe challenge they had prepared for, a massive cargo net mountain, named Mudderhorn, stood in its place. However, that did not deter them.
“I am confident the Mudderhorn was even more difficult than Everest — and they killed it!” Josh said.
“I’m not a competitive person; this challenge was always with myself and now I do not have to come back next year and do this again,” Franco said. “Even without doing Everest I feel accomplished and much more satisfied compared to last year.”
Franco and Cynthia conquered this new mountain and are looking forward to any new challenges that lie ahead.
To find out more about EquipmentShare commitment to a healthier lifestyle for its team, both body and mind, visit equipmentshare.com/careers.