Conway native Brooks Herring will continue to make a difference in the lives of veterans after winning the S.C. Research Authority (SCRA) Fan Favorite award at the 10th Annual Proving Ground entrepreneurship competition at the University of South Carolina in March.
Herring’s idea won $5,000 in funding for his project called RunPHASE, which is a triad of physical therapy, strength training and peer counseling that serves as a secondary rehabilitation program for veterans. It uses fitness training in an effort to remove physical and psychological barriers that may block them from reintegrating into civilian society.
“RunPHASE picks up where the Veterans Administration leaves off, and fills gaps in treatment for veterans recovering from combat trauma,” Herring said.
Finalists in the Proving Ground had five minutes to make their pitch for their business, followed by seven minutes of questioning by the judges. Herring’s Fan Favorite award came after presenting directly to the audience, who heard the pitches and voted for the one they liked best.
The Conway High School graduate said it was a lot of fun pitching Run PHASE to the judges, since he has been presenting in front of groups (be it academic or military) for years. He also has spent time on stage as a professional musician.
“This was a bit different,” Herring said. “…just because I was presenting something I am very invested in, especially emotionally and academically, to a crowd seeking their approval. It’s like I was performing to receive validation of my purpose.”
According to USC, winners were chosen based on six categories: problem, target market, financial understanding, investment potential and viability.
As a Navy veteran himself, he knows what it takes to reintegrate into society after deployment.
He joined the Navy shortly after graduating from CHS, and spent six years on active duty as a weapons specialist. He deployed to Iraq for a year in 2006, and to Africa for a year in 2009. He left the Navy in 2011 as an E-5 (Petty Officer 2nd Class), and spent two years as a U.S. Army contract weapons specialist in Afghanistan.
Currently, Herring is finishing his second semester in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at USC, which he will finish in December 2021, and continue on to complete his Ph.D.
Herring said on his RunPHASE website that combat veterans adopt a “warrior’s mentality” that is “nearly impossible to subdue” even after formal military discharge. Properly harnessed, that mentality can be fuel for success in the civilian sector. Veterans removed from war, he said, often struggle to find purpose.
RunPHASE can help veterans regain confidence and provide them the ability to achieve their goals in a safe environment. He said it will help them perform at a physical level that will essentially render their injuries negligible compared to their uninjured counterparts.
“My motivation and drive is born of depression and guilt. I’ve never felt like I gave enough, and I knew men who gave it all. Nothing I will ever do will match that ultimate sacrifice. However, it is an incredibly awesome feeling to help my brothers and sisters in need – in any way I can.” Herring said. “The most important components of reintegrating veterans into society are the immeasurable leadership experience and potential they possess, and the positive values they exemplify and bring with them in all they do. Not to mention, we owe it to them.”
Herring has collaborated with teams of physical therapists, athletic trainers and other professionals to bring this to fruition. While RunPHASE is still in the developmental phase, Herring will be applying for grants and working with professionals to hopefully have the full facility and program in operation in Columbia in 2022.
The nonprofit organization will be a hybrid of a gym and a rehabilitation center, housing all kinds of adaptive sports equipment, he said.
“There’s no program of this kind in the Southeast,” Herring said.
Herring commended USC senior Andrew Eckstein’s involvement in the RunPHASE win.
“Andrew has been absolutely irreplaceable in the development of RunPHASE. He has dedicated many hours and been part of two different teams that have put together marketing strategies and other business-related deliverables …”
Living in Columbia along with his partner, National Guard soldier Kristin Podrasky, he also has two sons, 14-year-old Kaden, and 8-year-old Colton.
His mother Tammy lives in Aynor, his father Ralph is in N.C., and he has five siblings living all across the country.
Herring looks forward to helping others.
“The most important component of making a difference is creating a ripple – helping one, who helps another, and another, and another - fostering progress and positive change of such a magnitude that it must be passed on.” Herring said.