Chamblee Alum and Nike Athlete Charlie Jabaley on Reinventing His Life

Charlie Jabaley crosses the Ironman Triathlon finish line in New Zealand in March 2018. Photo courtesy of Charlie Jabaley.

by Iris Tsouris and Catherine Cossaboom

Nike’s “Dream Crazy” advertisement communicates an undeniably powerful message about persistence, success, and achieving dreams. Since its release as part of the Kaepernick campaign on September 5, it has racked up over 25 million views on YouTube.

The ad features athletes around the world who have overcome circumstance and beat the odds to find success. One of the athletes featured is none other than Charlie Jabaley, who graduated from Chamblee Charter High School as part of the class of 2006.

Jabaley has completed many remarkable feats in his life. Before fostering a partnership with Nike that ultimately resulted in the “Dream Crazy” advertisement, he ran several marathons, lost 125 pounds, fought a brain tumor, and started his own company.

Since then, he has completed one of the most difficult events in the sporting world, the Ironman Triathlon; biked across America; and become a motivational speaker. He has amassed almost 100,000 Instagram followers and has been featured on dozens of major news networks, including CNN, NPR, CBS, and ABC News.

Career and Chamblee

Many of these accomplishments can be traced back to Jabaley’s experience at Chamblee, which he describes fondly, noting especially the get-togethers that he would host at his house after school.

“I was really into basketball and music… We would have basketball tournaments going on in my backyard and […] everybody would come over and record music as well. I had a little studio set up,” Jabaley said.

Jabaley, who had dreams of being an athlete when he was younger, initially pursued a career in business. Before becoming an athlete, he was an entrepreneur, a profession that began when he took a job as a cameraman for hip-hop artist Soulja Boy.

“[At the time] music is what I saw as the future of my life,” said Jabaley. “I started a website and I had a video camera, and I started making music videos and everything. [The website] got so big that […] right after I graduated high school, Soulja Boy asked me to go on tour with him… and that all started right there at Chamblee.

Eventually, he created his own multimillion-dollar hip-hop management company called Street Execs, which signed artists such as Travis Porter, 2 Chainz, Young Dolph, and Bankroll Fresh. This led to a period in Jabaley’s life, which he calls “CEO Charlie,” that gave him a lot of opportunity for personal growth. But even though becoming CEO Charlie brought him major success, it was not without its challenges.

“Originally I wanted to be an athlete, but I was always overweight, so I couldn’t really do that well,” he said. “In high school, I loved basketball so much, [and] I wanted to be on the team, but I wasn’t athletic enough. So, Coach Burgess let me be […] a manager for the team… I was there to help out, and it was the same way in the hip-hop industry.”

While in high school, Jabaley was also diagnosed with a brain tumor, leading to many absences during his junior year, but members of the Chamblee community helped turn around his mentality, leading to a successful senior year.

“Coach Burgess and the basketball team came and visited me at my house and surprised me,” said Jabaley. “It showed that people cared about me and it made me want to get back into the swing of things, so I started going back to school… For the first [time] I was able to enjoy life. I was healthy, [and] I wasn’t suffering from crazy migraines or my brain tumor.”

Charlie Rocket Takes the Stage

It was during his time as CEO Charlie that Jabaley realized that he needed to reinvent his life. His brain tumor that he was diagnosed with in 11th grade was growing, and his relationship with food was also deteriorating, leading to eating disorders.

“Business was a lot easier for me than figuring out my health,” said Jabaley. “When I created CEO Charlie, I had a food addiction… [and in order to become an athlete] I had to reinvent my life. I had to walk away from my business. I had to walk away from my management company. I had to walk away from 2 Chainz. I had to walk away from all my clothing lines.”

One of the first major changes Jabaley made as part of this reinvention was towards veganism after a particularly harrowing experience. He has been vegan for almost two years now.

“I looked up at the ceiling and the room just started spinning… I finally was able to get out of bed […] and I passed out, and I knew something was so wrong. Something told me that it was what I was consuming my whole life,” said Jabaley. “I immediately went vegan… It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.”

This was a major part of Jabaley’s transition from CEO Charlie to another persona, Charlie Rocket, which was the athlete version of himself.

“What I do is I always try to create a superhero for myself,” said Jabaley. “Even though I’m not that person yet, I dress up as that person… [I told myself that] even though I’m 300 pounds, I’m going to dress up as Charlie Rocket every day. When I was having a bad day and I put on my bandana and my glasses and my bright colors, I [felt] better being Charlie Rocket.”

Dressing up as Charlie Rocket was the beginning of a long and taxing process for Jabaley, but it was a necessary process. Life as CEO Charlie may have been lucrative, but it did not line up with his dreams and ambitions.

“I asked myself, ‘What’s my dream?’ And my dream, since I was a kid, living across the street from Chamblee High School, was to be an athlete,” he said. “So, when I got diagnosed with a brain tumor and got really, really sick, a year and a half ago, I looked at my life and I didn’t chase my dream. I looked at my daily actions and said, “Is anything that I’m doing every day adding up to my dream?” and I said ‘No.’ So I said, ‘I gotta walk away.’ Everybody thought I was a little crazy, but it was something that I had to do.”  

The end of Jabaley’s transition to Charlie Rocket was marked by his decision to complete an Ironman Triathlon in March of 2018, a physically draining but crucial process in his journey to becoming an athlete.

“I want to live an amazing life. When you’re at a point where you feel like you’re going to die, you just want to take advantage of every opportunity,” said Jabaley. “I was like, ‘You know what? What is the most difficult, challenging sports activity in the world?’ and my thoughts would be an Ironman… It’s not realistic that I was able to do an Ironman, but I did one… It’s an insane concept.”

Nike Partners with Charlie Rocket

It was after this that Nike contacted Jabaley, asking him to share his story as part of the “Dream Crazy” commercial. What led to this sponsorship was a fan-made commercial that Jabaley made, titled “My Story Isn’t Over Yet,” which captured Nike’s attention and led to an extensive partnership with the company.

“Nike called me and they wanted to fly me up to […] where the world headquarters are, in Oregon,” said Jabaley. “A few weeks ago, they surprised me with a phone call, saying, ‘Charlie… you’ve helped inspire us to do this ad, and we want to include you in it.’ [It] was just a life-changing moment for me because it showed so many people who were watching my journey that [accomplishing great things] is possible. I said, ‘One day, I’m going to be a Nike athlete’ and as unrealistic as that sounded back then, I was actually able to do it.”

These experiences accumulated into a new career as a motivational speaker for Jabaley. He is currently embarking on the Dream Machine Tour throughout the US, where he is giving motivational speeches and encouraging the audience to reinvent their lives too.

“I want to speak to people’s hearts because I believe that our true decision-making comes from our hearts,” said Jabaley. “We never say… ‘Follow your mind.’ We always say, ‘Follow your heart.’[…] I want to go around the world… I want to go talk to as many people as possible and speak to their hearts because I feel that’s what we need.”

Jabaley especially wants to reach out to high schoolers that might be in his past situation and to let them know that their dreams are not unrealistic, and they can achieve them through envisioning their current selves as their future selves.

“To reinvent your life, the very first thing [to do] is to dress up… Anytime I want to do something, I literally dress up and then I give myself a name and I live it and I become it,” said Jabaley. “When I said I wanted to be Charlie Rocket and I wanted to be a Nike athlete, I just dressed up. It’s no longer something I have to get towards. It’s something I am today… When I was at Chamblee, I would wear suits and I would have a briefcase instead of a backpack because I literally would dress up as CEO Charlie.”

Charlie’s current mission is to empower those that are struggling as he once was. The journey from CEO Charlie to Charlie Rocket was especially meaningful and impactful on his life and career, and he strives to help others undergo similar transitions.

“I used to have a romantic fantasy relationship with the term ‘millionaire’… I realized it meant nothing when I was sick and felt my life was over,” said Jabaley. “I [now] have a new way of looking at a million… I want to inspire and help transform a million people’s lives. My story isn’t over yet, and I want to give you hope that your story isn’t over yet either.”

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