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“I’ve seen a lot,” Alex ‘Lex’ Bannister says as he describes his Cincinnati childhood, where he and three siblings grew up in rough neighborhoods surrounded by drugs and violence. “We came up kind of hard.”

garys mens womens wearLex’s parents divorced when he was a toddler. He lived with his mother and saw his father on weekends. He was surrounded by alcoholism and drug use on his father’s side of the family.

“My cousin was murdered at 19, shot five times over drugs and bullying,” Lex says. “I’ve seen the effects of drugs, my father being drunk and high.”

His mother, who is white, raised her three bi-racial boys in black, urban neighborhoods. “Cincinnati was very segregated,” Lex explains, “more like the South. And that’s how bad it could be, at that time. Living in a white neighborhood wasn’t an option.”

From a difficult upbringing that included rat- and roach-infested homes with no running water and windows painted shut on sweltering summer nights, Lex eventually escaped through sports — making it all the way to the NFL.

Lex Bannister
Lex Bannister now lives in Whatcom County, but he grew up in urban Cincinnati before playing football in college, and then for the Seattle Seahawks. Photo courtesy: Lex Bannister.

“I didn’t have time to make excuses,” Lex says of making his way out of Cincinnati. Instead, he worked hard. “You can’t make excuses because then you’re going to fail; you’re not going to make it out. And a lot of people don’t.”

Lex was five years old when he turned to sports. “We’d go outside and play with all the neighborhood kids,” he says. “We were always active.” They played a lot of football, and typically they played on cement.

“I grew up with my older brother and his friends who played football and I wanted to play with them,” Lex remembers. He was short at the time — not to mention several years younger — but he was always picked because he was fast and athletic.

“I remember tackling my brother, who was eight years older than me, on the cement and he quit because he was bleeding,” Lex says with a laugh.

Lex also played soccer from a young age, landing on a select team for Coca-Cola at age 10.

“My mom did a hell of a job raising all of us,” he says. “She always made sure I went to practice and took me to all my games.”

In high school, Lex played football and ran track — even though his school didn’t have a practice field.

“We were the only school in the entire city that didn’t have its own practice place,” he says. They ran laps around the school and through the hallways and walked a mile to an abandoned park, where they painted football lines on the grass.

Lex walked onto the football team at Eastern Kentucky University where he finally had access to a small weight room. “We didn’t have any dumbbells for the first couple years,” he says, “but we did have two squat racks and two little mats where you could do Olympic lifting.”

Lex Bannister
Bannister offers personal, one-on-one training sessions at his private Whatcom County gym. Photo courtesy: Lex Bannister.

During his first three years, Lex says he got some honorable mentions, but he wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a football player. That changed during the spring of his junior year when NFL scouts visited for Pro Day.

When Lex — who was also on the track team — ran a 40 in 4.22 seconds, the scouts noticed.

“They had me run it again,” he says, “and I ran a 4.38. That put me on the radar.”

His senior year, he was two catches and 30 yards away from breaking every receiving record the school had. He went to the Senior Bowl and was invited to the NFL Combine.

The Seahawks selected Lex in the fifth round of the 2001 NFL draft, where he played until 2005.

“As a kid, I always felt I was going to be in the NFL — even when I was sitting on the bench in high school,” Lex says. “That was always my goal. I got drafted on my birthday; that was a good gift.”

Lex talks with fondness about his time with the Seattle Seahawks. He’s proud — and rightly so — to have been chosen All-Pro, All-Decade, and voted three-time special teams captain.

“Being voted special teams captain, for me, was just as important as going to the Pro Bowl because it showed how much my teammates respected me and valued what I did,” he says.

But looking back, Lex doesn’t define himself as a former NFL player.

Lex Bannister
“I’m not a mean guy, I’m not gonna yell at you,” says Bannister. “But when you walk through my doors, you know what I expect of you.” Photo courtesy: Lex Bannister.

“The NFL didn’t create me, I just happened to be good enough to play in the NFL,” he says. “Alex Bannister was already defined. You learn from all the chapters of your life, of course, but I was a man before I was a football player.”

For the past six years, he has been a personal trainer here in Whatcom County, alongside his wife, Joy — and he believes this has been his gift to share with others all along. For several years, they operated Lex Bannister Fitness in Bellingham’s Haskell Business Park, leading large classes and offering circuit training. They now offer one-on-one training sessions out of a private gym.

“In addition to being an incredible trainer, he’s an amazing person,” says Katie Skipper, a current client.

Skipper started working out with Lex when he and Joy still owned and operated Lex Bannister Fitness.

“I was blown away by the workouts he put together for us, the confidence he had in me to do things I never thought I could do, and how fast I was getting in shape.”

Skipper says Lex’s training approach clearly has deep roots in overcoming his tough conditions as a kid, as well as having a pro-athlete mentality.

“Language around giving up or slacking during workouts doesn’t seem to even be part of his vocabulary,” she says. Lex recently shot a short video of Skipper during a workout and as she watched it, she was struck by his constant patter of encouragement and correction, followed by more encouragement.

“There is no way I could do what I’m doing on my own; the guy has something magic going on,” she continues. “I walk out of that gym feeling powerful, excited and grateful for the beautiful life I have. What an incredible gift.”

Lex Bannister
Katie Skipper says she has been blown away by Lex’s circuit training workouts. Photo courtesy: Lex Bannister.

Lex wants people to understand that there’s no weakness in asking for help in getting fit and healthy. “It can take somebody else to lead you, to get the best out of you,” he says, “and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

But he also stresses that he isn’t in this to make friends — he’s doing it to help improve peoples’ lives.

“I’m not there to be buddy-buddy and cater to your ego,” he says. “Now, I’m not a mean guy, I’m not gonna yell at you — but when you walk through my doors, you know what I expect of you.”

Lex describes himself as hard-nosed, disciplined and diligent. And he doesn’t accept excuses from anyone, including himself. As long as you do your best, he’s fine with that.

“I can change lives if you give me the opportunity. You’ll work hard,” he says, “but I have the gift of making you work harder.”

 

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