A JOURNEY THROUGH THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Tommy Blades is best known as a talented photographer and curator of the hugely successful Instagram page, Pacific Northwest Wonderland (@pnwonderland). Having already shared his insight into the wonders of the PNW with us, we also had a chance to chat about the personal journey that has taken him this far (namely; soccer, passion and a lot of hard work and dedication).

 


"I was fortunate to grow up with a very supportive family who honestly sacrificed anything and everything to help me take advantage of opportunities."



The Beginning

I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and as a kid I was full of passion, fire, and determination. I was fortunate to grow up with a very supportive family who honestly sacrificed anything and everything to help me take advantage of opportunities.

Ever since I first kicked a soccer ball I fell in love with the sport and couldn’t get enough of it. I would play sunrise to sunset – or even set up lights so that I could play when it was dark out. I was never the most naturally gifted player – I had to work, work, and work some more in order be at the same level as others.  I would spend hours every day working on my fitness, my touch, and studying every aspect of the game. At the age of 12 I even travelled overseas to play in one of the largest youth tournaments in the world in the Netherlands. Still today, I have such vivid memories of youth soccer, halftime speeches referring to the passion that I play with, how badly I wanted it.


"When college came around, I did not
have any big breaks or huge opportunities."


 As time went on, my passion grew larger. Throughout highschool I would give up many of my nights and weekends so that I could dedicate them towards reaching my goals.  Summers consisted of two-a-day workouts and traveling with my local team throughout the region and Canada. You could find me on the field or the track in the pouring rain sprinting and literally chasing my dream of playing professionally.  
When college came around, I did not have any big breaks or huge opportunities. I started playing at a small Division III college in Oregon.

One memory that is so vivid to me here is our fitness test. I worked so hard the summer prior to going into college because I wanted to make a statement about who I am and what I want to accomplish. I stuck to my fitness guide to a tee. We had to run two miles in 11:30 or less – and I ran it in 11:33 - three seconds short of the cut off time. Missing out on this can directly impact your position on the team and I was so upset. The next year I was the only person on my entire team that ran it under 11:30.  Failure has served as a huge part of my success throughout life.


Chasing Dreams


Post college, not many had expected me to continue chasing this dream of mine to play professionally. For me, there was no question. I fronted the costs to travel to tryouts and trials. I coached, did manual labour, and sold apparel online so that I could pay for private training sessions and would travel every day to get to them. I eventually earned a trial with the Portland Timbers, which lead to me signing with their inaugural U23 team and helped me find opportunities overseas and on the East Coast with the Real Maryland Monarchs. While with Real Maryland I spent half of my time with nowhere to live – bouncing from one place to the next and eventually finding a host family for the season. I worked at Pizza Hut delivering pizzas at night to make ends meet.


"Failure has served as a huge part of my success throughout life."



All in all, I had travelled through almost every state in the country. I had travelled to Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Haiti, Belgium, and more just for soccer. I had met amazing people throughout the entire world and had so many “once in a lifetime experiences.” I had accomplished my goal. It was not glamorous, and what I write here is just a small part of what I had gone through to make it happen – but it happened – and I was ready to move on to different dreams. On top of everything else, I was born with a rare intestinal issue which has taken multiple surgeries and stages to overcome. It has left me with an incredibly sensitive stomach and intensely working out in itself was actually something to overcome, every single day. I would often have to start getting ready for practice or games hours before they began so I knew that my stomach could handle it. When I played in Washington DC we would practice at 6AM to avoid heat/humidity – that meant I was getting ready by around 4AM – and delivering pizzas at night. 


Adventures in wonderland

When I ultimately returned home it took me 24 hours to launch my own business apparel products online. This is something that I had actually done part-time for years on the side and had always loved doing it. I found how much I loved selling on eBay – and set my sights on working for eBay corporate. I gave myself a goal of 12 months to start working for them and it took me 13. I picked up and moved from Oregon to Utah on a two-week notice to take an entry level position. While I was out there, I was working 12 hours a day trying to continue my own business and corporate work at the same time. I picked up a camera for the first time out there because it helped me escape for everything, slow down, and re-energize. I would climb into my car on the weekend with my camera and just start driving – with no destination in mind. Finding what I find and not worrying about anything else.


"I am so proud to say that I have created something positive, powerful, and have motivated people around the world to work hard and dream big."



Throughout all of these stories I always had an idea in my mind to create my own brand. Something that brought together all of my hard work, passion, dedication, work ethic, and adventurous approach to life – and infuse it all into apparel. I wanted to create something that had depth and meaning.  Ultimately, I left eBay to finally go full time at creating my own brand in April of 2014. This first year has been incredibly hard but I have been fortunate to connect with a lot of like-minded people throughout the world, primarily through social media. People who see that who I am and what I am saying is authentic. That I am a real person who is out there working and grinding just like anyone else to make dreams become realities. Today, I am still far from making it – but I am so proud to say that I have created something positive, powerful, and have motivated people around the world to work hard and dream big. I strive to reach beyond apparel and into the lifestyle that has helped myself and others be successful.


With our successfully funded Kickstater – opening our doors as a brand in Olympia, Washington is next for us. We hope to become a staple in our local community. We want to inspire youth, attend sports events, create fun events to bring people together. We want our shop to be a meeting place, a shop that not only houses our products but also serves the community of Olympia.


You can check out Tommy's online store and fawn over his amazing photography over at the @pnwonderland Instagram page and on his own personal page too @mrtommyblades.

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