Inside of a 7,500-square-foot facility located in a suburb of Nashville, Tenn., there lies a wellness empire – home to one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States, and production headquarters to videos that collect millions of Youtube clicks, comments and shares from all corners of the globe. In a side room with cameras, lighting equipment and a large screen set against a rustic wooden backdrop, there can often be found Dr. Josh Axe, renowned chiropractor, clinical nutritionist and educator, whose website garners approximately 13 million unique visits monthly, whose products are sold in more than 6,000 retail stores and who appears so comfortable and organic in front of the camera, gesturing with his hands while spilling his knowledge of bone broth, ketogenesis and turmeric, he may as well be hosting a juicing party in his home.
The space feels less like an office, and more like a cozy summer camp recreation hall where creative ideas are being tossed around for the sheer merriment of it. Except Axe and his staff, whose motto is “run to win the race,” are diligent in their workmanship and – they swear – are on a rocketing mission to make all of us healthier.
A viral venture that humbly began at his kitchen table, Axe, 35, says his passion for health took root when he was in the seventh grade – a time when his life, breezy and peaceful as he knew it, was thrown a hard ball. While ambling through a hallway in his home after soccer practice one afternoon, he passed the bathroom where he saw his mother, eyes lowered and comb in hand, as her hair fell clump-by-agonizing-clump, landing unmercifully onto the sink. Just months prior, the active 40-year-old mother of two, also a gym teacher and swim instructor, was shocked by a breast cancer diagnosis – which, according to a recent report by the American Cancer Society, is the second leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide.
“I watched her age years and years in a matter of weeks, as a side effect of the chemotherapy. Her face was sunken, and she looked defeated. Even as a kid, I remember thinking there had to be a better way than what she was suffering through in order to stay alive,” says Axe.
Although pronounced cancer-free following a mastectomy and a round of chemotherapy, for almost the decade that followed, she would be in and out of her doctor’s office – being pricked with needles, filling prescriptions and branded with diagnoses ranging from chronic fatigue, hypothyroid disease to clinical depression. Every day meant retreating home from work so exhausted that she collapsed onto the sofa or bed, immobile for hours, while struggling to recharge enough to prepare dinner for her family. “I could see the overwhelming fatigue,” says Axe. “It was heartbreaking to watch her so sick and tired all of the time.”
Axe claims that it was during this bleak season that an internal rustling was given breath – one that called him to commit his life to some facet of health and wellness. And, as he reached adulthood, this tender rustling metamorphosed into an unshakeable pursuit.
While attending classes at the American College of Nutrition in Lexington, Ky., his studies were disrupted by a most formidable phone call: “Josh, I’ve been diagnosed with cancer again,” he heard his mother say on the other end of the line. This time it had plagued her lungs.
Axe rushed to the airport to catch a flight home to Ohio. “I was learning from some of the best chiropractors and doctors of functional medicine in the country,” says Axe. “I knew it was my responsibility to offer guidance that could potentially heal her body, naturally and without chemotherapy.”
The family banded together, cleaning out their pantry and refrigerator, tossing all of the processed meats, snacks and sweet confections into the garbage can. They ventured to their local natural grocery store, spending almost all of their time combing through the vegetable aisle and filling their cart with an assortment of colors.
Axe’s mother began feasting on leafy greens and juicing root vegetables, while flooding her system with turmeric, healing herbs and probiotics every day. “Four months later, she returned to her oncologist and, after completing her CT scan, his exact words were: “I have never seen this before. Her tumor has shrunk in half,’” he says.
In one year’s time, she was in complete remission.
Axe pulled a key lesson from that arduous period – one that opened his eyes to how daunted and deer-in-the-headlights people become when they find themselves in the roaring belly of a health crisis. “People need to be given step-by-step instructions to feel supported and gain a sense of control in that kind of situation. Teaching is my gift, and so I pride myself on educating people so that they are armed with knowing exactly how to care for their health,” says Axe.
Today, seven years after his first Youtube video was uploaded and since having authored multiple books, unfamiliar faces approach him at shopping malls and grocery stores – embracing him and disgorging their private ailments as though he is a lifelong family friend, while announcing all of the ways his guidance has remedied their aging woes, digestive disturbances, weight struggles and – perhaps – even extended their lives.
But Axe swears he defines his success not by how many times his face is recognized, his videos viewed, his newsletters shared or his supplements purchased, but by the level of impact his efforts make. To him, that is the ultimate reward. “What I love most about what I do is impacting families. When parents can teach the foundations of nutrition and wellness to their kids, it will carry out to further generations. It then becomes way bigger than me,” he says.
To further propel this mission, Axe and his team are amping up for their newest endeavor: an education program where individuals can become certified nutritionists and health coaches. It is scheduled to launch January 2018.
Although having found his niche in the realm of wellness, he believes the essential ingredient for any successful undertaking is tapping into the thing that wakes a person up – where their most impassioned values lie. Where the “hot buttons” rest in waiting, hidden under all of the vapid layers of what life and the world and our societal conditionings try to convince us is important. I think what Axe is trying to convey is this: If you want to reach your highest potential during whatever stretch of time you may be granted on Earth, you must find that which gives you the no-turning-back feeling, and then be guided by it unflaggingly.
“I know that I only have one life to live, and I want to give it my best,” says Axe. “My chief end is to know God and serve people, so everything I do just flows out of that. You have to find what matters to you because it’s the only way to stay motivated when life gets hard. What are the unique gifts and talents you enjoy sharing? What kind of activities do you want to be able to enjoy a decade from now? Those are the questions to ask yourself.”
Chris Ricci, supply chain manager for Axe’s brands, knows these questions intimately. Ricci, 29, accepted the lofty position earlier this year, leaving behind a job with a major corporation, where his progression was applause-worthy and rapid. “Looking back at my job in corporate America, it’s true that I appreciated the security. I was told I was on a fast path to executive management, but I didn’t find fulfillment in it – not like a do here. I think it’s extremely important to find purpose in what you do, whatever it is,” says Ricci.
Like Axe, Ricci knows the gloomy hollows of navigating through the uncertainties of a mother with cancer.
When his mother received her diagnosis six years ago – one that had nested inside of her pancreas – he spent countless nights positioning himself in front of the computer, researching holistic methods for healing her body. “ I was in desperate search of anything I could possibly do to help her,” he says.
Ricci’s mother had been given a meager two and a half months to live, so he put her on a strict raw vegan diet, motivating her to laughingly coin him the “Food Buddha.” But in an ‘inexplicable’ stroke of fortune, two and a half months stretched to almost four years. “They did case studies on my mom at her hospital because they were so dumbfounded by her progress. I am 100 percent confident that the strict regimen I made her adhere to extended her life considerably,” says Ricci.
Sadly, unlike Axe’s mother, who recently celebrated her 64th birthday and spends her days water skiing, relaxing by the lake and educating other cancer survivors on juicing protocols, Ricci’s mother, who underwent sporadic chemotherapy treatments in an effort to supplement her eating plan, was unfurled from the grip of her struggle two years ago.
But Ricci believes she is alive and well inside of the walls containing that 7,500-square-foot space, fueling her son’s purpose and Axe’s mission every day.
“My drive to wake up in the morning comes from a deep and personal passion in me. I have to make sure these customers have the products they need for their health, when and wherever they need it, every single day,” says Ricci. “Some people get excited when they get an ‘off day’ from working. But when you have a job with this kind of meaning behind it, why in the world would you want to stay home?”
In both Axe’s and Ricci’s stories, a similar and profound concept appears to be woven throughout: The true measure of success is not what title your Linkedin says you are, what your bank account says you are or what your number of video views says you are, but the ways you are anchoring the things that have happened to you in your life, finding purpose and motivation through them and impacting others as a result.