An Unexpected Journey

Jimmy Birdsong was an overweight computer salesman for IBM before he returned to his roots more than two decades ago. His experience, knowledge and ability to relate to others have made him a sought-after personal trainer for athletes of all ages and skill levels.

by Chris Bridges

Life can make for some interesting twists and turns.

Jimmy Birdsong can testify to as much. A standout athlete in high school and college, he never envisioned himself as a personal trainer helping student-athletes of all ages, as well as those who have long ago retired from competition. However, as 2021 nears its end, that describes the road Birdsong has traveled longer than even he could have imagined once upon a time.

“After college, I was selling computers for IBM,” he said. “Quite frankly, I was overweight and decided to go work with a personal trainer from a well-known national chain of gyms. We started working out and training together, and I liked it.”

That spark ignited a passion in Birdsong which has continued to grow through the years, earning him the respect and admiration of many.

“Jimmy is one of the hardest workers I know,” said Luke Allen, a hitting instructor at Diamond Sports Academy in Covington who spent parts of two seasons in the major leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies. “His dedication to helping people just goes through the roof.”

Birdsong’s journey can be traced back to Sparta, where he stood out on the track team at Hancock County High School, competing in the 4×100-meter relay, the shot put and the discus. However, football was his true love, and Birdsong put his natural athletic abilities to use on the gridiron. He was an All-City, All-Region and All-State selection in 1983. Birdsong always took a hard-nosed approach to the sport and recalls his love of 3-on-1 drills, viewing them as the ultimate challenge of toughness and determination. His attitude and work ethic eventually pointed him to Morehouse College in Atlanta. Once his playing days were over, Birdsong spent 12 years working for IBM and then changed course. He made his way to Newton County in 2000 and started a job at the Covington Athletic Center, his position ultimately paving the way for his entry into personal training.

“When I first opened my gym, the demographics said don’t do it, but once I got started and saw I was having an impact on local players, then I knew it was worth it.”

Jimmy Birdsong

The skills and knowledge Birdsong brings to the table have taken him to various gyms and led to opportunities to work with entire stables of athletes, including the baseball and fastpitch softball teams at Eastside High School. To incorporate routines that would maximize the experience for high school players, Birdsong sought out Allen and others—including former Georgia Tech star Andy Mitchell, who spent 10 seasons pitching in the Baltimore Orioles farm system—to learn more about their training methods associated with softball and baseball. The result was the formulation of a six-month training schedule that has helped numerous players in their transition to the collegiate level. Birdsong now assists athletes in a variety of sports.

“For me, it’s always been about helping kids and the community,” he said. “The community has always been very helpful. The Newton County Recreation Commission told me if I needed a field to use then it would be available.” 

The path upon which Birdsong has run for decades was not always smooth, especially in the beginning. Challenges were everywhere.

“When I first opened my gym, the demographics said don’t do it,” Birdsong said, “but once I got started and saw I was having an impact on local players, then I knew it was worth it. It’s about being able to help them. It goes beyond training. I like to teach life lessons, and the young people are learning those lessons through athletics.”

His efforts extend past getting stronger, running faster and jumping higher.

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“We teach them to be courteous and to be on time,” Birdsong said. “I knew there was a ton of quality athletes here in Newton County. I wanted to help give them that same chance to play in college. When you work with a kid and they later get drafted, it is a great feeling.”

Birdsong has designs on putting another mile marker on his road, as he looks at opening a new gym. He already has a location in mind. 

“I try to build a foundation,” he said. “It’s similar to building a house. The larger the structure, the better foundation you need.”

Michael Wilson, who coaches football and girls’ basketball at Piedmont Academy in Monticello, was long ago impressed by Birdsong. 

“I first got to know Jimmy outside of his personal training job, and the first thing I noticed about him was his energy,” Wilson said. “He was always upbeat and high energy. He is as good a guy as I’ve met. He doesn’t need to meet someone more than once to remember their name and whatever you all talked about when you met. I’ve met a lot of coaches and officials over the years who know him from as far back as high school, and nobody has anything bad to say about him. That just speaks volumes about a man to me.” 

Click here to read more stories by Chris Bridges.

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