BROWNSBURG — Morris Virgil still shakes his head when remembering the times his mother would scream “Get down! Get down!” to he and his siblings — he had 11 in all — and they’d lie on the ground listening to the gunshots pop just outside their windows.
He’s come a long way from that Chicago southside childhood and his experiences along the way make the success that much sweeter.
Virgil is owner of V-Fit Personal Training, which opened in Brownsburg in early December.
“Growing up, I probably had one of the hardest childhoods a kid could have,” he said. “I grew up in a broken home. I was put in foster homes when I was 5 years old. But at that young age, I understood what was going on in my life, my situation. I was surrounded by gang violence, things of that nature.”
With his father incarcerated and his grandmother unable to raise all of his mother’s children, Virgil and three of his brothers were taken from their home and placed in foster care.
“Going through that process and being taken away from the people you love was the most horrifying thing to me,” he said. “I never went back home. I thought I was going to, but I never did. And when I was in foster care ... things happen in those homes. Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. I just wanted to go home and be with my family. I remember sitting there thinking ‘isn’t there somebody out there that wants us?’”
Virgil’s mother died when he was 9. While living in foster care, he was allowed to visit his father, a wounded Vietnam veteran. The plan was for the boys to eventually go home to live with their father, but that never materialized.
“I don’t remember a whole lot about my dad, but he was my hero,” Virgil said. “He was cool to me. Everything fell apart when my mom passed away, and my dad just stopped coming, stopped seeing us. He went off and got married and gave up his rights to us. I don’t know the situation fully. There was some sexual abuse in the home and it happened to me. I was physically abused. I had to go through the horror of thinking that I was the one that was going to get in trouble, and I was scared. So we were pulled out of that home and went to another one for a year.
“Once my mom passed away I always asked my dad if he was going to get us back. I told him what was going on, being hit, being sexually abused. He said something and they got us out of that home immediately, but after that they told me my dad gave away his rights. He let me down.”
From there, Virgil and his brother went to live with a single man on the southside of Chicago. He said they were treated well there but by then he wasn’t the same boy. His grades were dreadful and he was constantly getting into fights, generally as a result of sticking up for his younger brother.
“I wanted to protect him,” he said. “I was a tough kid.”
Virgil was then sent to live with a foster mother in the Champaign-Urbana area, separated from his little brother.
“I was getting straight Fs,” he said. “She couldn’t handle me either.”
But that’s when his life changed for the better. At the age of 11, he went to live with a foster father named Lloyd Winston, who eventually adopted him.
“I was one of the tougher kids in the care system,” Virgil said. “They told him ‘if you can change this kid, you’ll be amazing.’ I needed a father figure. I needed a man to say ‘chill your butt out.’ But he was cool. He said ‘go to the fridge if you’re hungry.’ I was scared to open the fridge at my last foster home because I’d get into trouble for looking in it. In Chicago, when the lights were dim, you needed to be home. But he let me go to the arcade by myself. It allowed me to relax a little bit.”
He recalls Winston telling him, “Don’t be another kid that comes out of the system and doesn’t go anywhere.” It’s a speech that resonates with him even today.
But just as his life was turning around, he got sidelined again. He said their house was robbed one day, so authorities removed him from the home, saying it was a dangerous situation.
“I was in another foster home, and they had a kid who was two years older than me,” Virgil said. “He was a beast. I’m seeing all these medals and trophies and I’m thinking that I want to do that. Dwayne Smith. He’d go on to play at Illinois and then Illinois State. He was starting on varsity when he was a freshman. He always used to tell me ‘stop being a follower, be a leader.’ That’s when I started coming into my own playing sports.”
Virgil flunked off the football team his freshman year, but made a commitment to improve. He said he worked hard and got his grades up. By his sophomore year, he was a star on both the football and track teams.
“My dad (Winston) took another job and got us out of Rantoole,” he said. “I went to Urbana High School. After my junior year, I went to Illinois football camp and got the most improved player award. (Illinois coach) Ron Turner said that if I showed them something my senior year, they’d hook me up with a scholarship. I came into my own my senior year. I had 35 touchdowns, returned punts and kickoffs, and my whole life just changed. I went from being a nobody, bouncing to foster homes, to having college coaches calling the house to where we couldn’t even talk on the phone.”
Winston made the adoption legal and later adopted Virgil’s younger brother too.
By the time Virgil finished his senior year of high school, he was ranked as the 16th best running back prospect in the country.
While in college, he worked part-time at a gym, and says that’s where he got excited about fitness.
“I wasn’t supposed to be training people, but I loved it,” he said. “I loved helping my friends.”
After school, Virgil followed his girlfriend to Indianapolis where they lived near the northwest side and started a family. He worked at LA Fitness to learn about the fitness business and moved to Brownsburg in 2010.
“My training is sports inspired,” he explained. “A lot of people haven’t been a professional athlete or haven’t gotten ready for professional or college competition. There are different intensity levels. But really, I’m doing this because I want to help people.”
Virgil says his V-Fit, Be-Fit program caters to all body types. The intensity is based on fitness levels. He said he wants everyone who walks through his doors to know he can change their lives, and do it all in a positive, fun manner.
“You’re going to be more agile, more flexible, but we have to go one step before you go to the next,” he said. “You can mess up. I’m really patient. I’d rather teach them the proper way so you don’t hurt yourself. This is what I’m going to be really successful in, helping people.”
Virgil started by simply holding group sessions at Arbuckle Acres Park in Brownsburg, but soon decided he had the clientele to open his own business.
He said he never forgets where he came from and harbors no resentment, as he’d rather channel his tough past into a better lifestyle for his own sons, ages 5 and 17 months.
“I knew when I got older and I had kids, I was going to be the best dad I could possibly be,” he said. “I didn’t have that, and I knew what it felt like when I thought my dad was cool, and I want my kids to think that. If I can change my life for the better, I can change other people’s too. That’s what I want to do.”
V-Fit Personal Training is at 475 Northpoint Ct., Suite 300, Brownsburg. Virgil may be reached by e-mail to email@example.com. More information can also be found online at vfitbefit.com.