Rocky Detwiler lost it all. Now he’s giving his all to help others stay positive and improve their lives.
By the time Rocky Detwiler hit his 30s, he was already a millionaire.
Then the phone rang…
“I just grew up as an entrepreneur,” Detwiler says. “My dad came with a bunch of tapes after going to an Amway presentation. They were all about success and personal development and leadership skills. I started listening to those and got very engaged.”
For those familiar with it, network marketing is as much about selling a dream as it is about selling products. And young Rocky had bought into the dream. The dream of financial independence and the freedom that came along with it.
At age 13, he became a student of Amway, learning from those tapes and tagging along with his dad to as many seminars as he possibly could.
By the time he was 17, he had a thriving Amway business selling home, beauty and health products.
He was rising fast, he thought. But what he couldn’t know is where this rise — and fall — would eventually take him.
“I was always taught that when you could invest your money and live off the interest, you had made it,” Rocky says. “I used my network marketing success to do some investing, including real estate and some businesses.”
One of the businesses Rocky decided to invest in belonged to a childhood friend. The returns were good, so Rocky kept feeding it.
“I was earning good interest on my principal,” Rocky recalls.
“I was flying high.”
Then the phone rang…
On the other end of the line was somebody from the Arizona Corporation Commission. He explained that the commission was working closely with the Arizona Attorney General’s office to investigate some improprieties with Rocky’s friend’s company.
The company, the commission official explained, was a fraud. His friend was running a Ponzi scheme — providing strong returns to early investors like Rocky using money from later investors.
But the jig was up. Rocky’s friend of nearly 20 years had been caught in a web of lies and it was likely — more like a certainty, in retrospect — that Rocky would lose everything he had invested. “It cost me well into the seven figures,” Rocky says emotionally. “I lost land, homes, most of my possessions.”
He was broke and broken.
His confidence shaken, Rocky followed a business opportunity to Washington state, leaving his wife to move back near her family in Arizona. The business failed. The marriage was failing.
Unable to afford rent, Rocky moved into a spare room in a friend’s house and took a job at the Portland airport. By this time, the housing crisis was in full swing. His friend’s house slipped into foreclosure. The friend moved out, but Rocky, with nowhere to go, stayed put.
He lived rent free for nearly a year.
“They moved out, stopped paying and I didn’t know where to go, so I stayed. The power was left on. The water was left on,” Rocky says. “I was squatting in this 4,000 square foot house.”
Rocky felt like a failure. He had no career, no confidence, and no prospects.
“I was at a place where there was no way out. I had just lost millions of dollars. One of my closest friends took advantage of me. My self-confidence hit an all-time low. I hit bottom.”
One dreary night, Rocky decided he had had enough. He decided to take his own life.
“I remember looking in the mirror and seeing the shell of a guy who had once been something,” he says. “I stood there wondering, ‘How did this happen?’ I was at a crossroads. I had to decide if I wanted to live or die.”
As he stood staring at a mirror, he started reflecting on his life and something — maybe those words of self improvement from those Amway tapes, maybe something else — refocused Rocky on the power of words and positive thinking.
“At that moment I realized I had to make some new rules for myself,” Rocky says. “I put a plan together. I got rid of all the Fruity Pebbles and ice cream and junk food. I figured as out of control as my life was, I would control the one thing I knew I could: what I ate.”
He went back to reading positive words and surrounding himself with positive pictures. And he began to make progress. He ate better. He felt better. He re-embraced his old habit of working out. He lost 47 pounds.
Physically and mentally he was stronger, but financially he was still in trouble. So when his contract job ended and the number of bank notices coming to the house increased, Rocky took that as a sign that it was time to go home.
He made two phone calls, one to a friend and one to his brother, and had a job and place to live.
Rocky was moving back to Boise.
His new home was the opposite of the McMansion he had left behind. In fact, it was a “house” in name only. In reality it was a treehouse in his brother’s backyard. It wasn’t much, but it was private and non-intrusive, so Rocky gladly accepted.
Rocky was on his way up, but his wife didn’t see it. Their marriage ended.
He did nothing but work and workout. He invested all the savings he had in a personal trainer with the goal of becoming a top bodybuilder, worthy of one of those glossed-up cover photos on the magazine rack. He even went as far as pre-hiring a photographer to shoot him when he reached his goal.
Within months he had reached it, dropping from 13% body fat to 4% and looking like the magazine model he dreamt of.
“I sent the story into Bodybuilding.com and I started to get emails from people all over the world,” Rocky remembers. “I didn’t think I had done anything, but I’m giving hope to people from Czechoslovakia to China.”
Rocky’s story on Bodybuilding.com went viral and prompted an invitation from the company for Rocky to visit.
“I’m sure they were thinking they were just going to give me a tour, but I saw this as a real opportunity.”
An opportunity Rocky intended to seize.
“I was still thinking a lot about the power of words,” Rocky explains.
“At the time these other apparel brands, like Affliction, were huge but their message wasn’t positive. I decided, I’m going to come up with a company focused on the positive power of words.”
Rocky went to a local screen printer and printed 18 t-shirts with the message, “Never give up.”
During his visit to Bodybuilding.com, Rocky met with company CEO Ryan DeLuca and gave him a shirt. DeLuca liked Rocky and his shirts and put him in touch with the right people. Within weeks, Rocky and his new company, Samson Wear, were a vendor.
“I borrowed a couple thousand dollars from a friend and started selling,” Rocky says. “For the next several years I sold at expos and online.”
Things were going well. Rocky moved out of his treehouse and into a basement apartment. He received more recognition for his fitness success from Bodybuilding.com.
But Rocky wanted more. He wanted to touch more people. In 2014, he and a small team launched the Samson Life Challenge, a self-improvement program that focuses on making small changes that can have a lasting impact on wellness.
“We launched it and I expected 12 people to show up. We had 60.”
Rocky noticed the program had a particularly strong impact on teens and began tailoring it to at-risk youth. The success stories became fuel for Rocky. He threw himself into both his apparel company and the related at-risk program.
Today, both are growing. The apparel side is expanding, continuing to sell online as well as expanding into healthcare, with Rocky’s positive message adorning hospital and hospice scrubs. Meanwhile, the self-improvement program has taken on a life of its own, with businesses offering the program for employees as a wellness benefit while the companies help fund it for at-risk kids.
“It’s clear to our customers that we didn’t build this simply to make money, we built it to transform lives.”
This sense of mission is what keeps Rocky going. While he now has more stability in his life (he lives in a new home with his new wife), he readily admits that he doesn’t know how this story ends. But he does know that whether through apparel or coaching or public speaking, he has a message to share.
“We’re building a company on one of the most powerful forces: words. If we can change the words we use, we can change the way we think. And if we can change our thoughts, we can change our habits and our lives.”
That, he says, is the Samson life.
Photography by Mike Kerby of c308 Marketing.