Born and raised in Detroit, Sandra Elliott is a woman who overcame the reality of being told she would not run again.
After undergoing back surgery in 2006 that forced her to slow down, she was introduced to the five-finger shoe, and it truly changed her life.
Within days, she was running again and knew she must help others find the their own way. With countless hours of research and a heart that longs to serve others, Elliott began dreaming of a way to help change the game for others.
Growing up in an Air Force family, Elliott was no stranger to moving. But not until she was in pursuit of bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Texas did she set her sights on serving in the military. While attending school, she joined ROTC and then was commissioned as an officer. In 1996, Elliott went on to pursue a master’s degree in physical therapy from Baylor University. She also received a master’s in elementary education from Grand Canyon University in 2008.
While stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, she met the man who would later become her husband, the father for her children and a business partner pursuing a shared dream. Ron Elliott — a military man himself — would travel, experience family life and deployments, and raise not only three children, but triplets. Amanda, Alexandra and Joshua grew up experiencing the constantly on-the-move life of an Army family.
After spending time apart during Ron’s deployment, the family reunited in Hohenfels, Germany. The triplets were high-school freshmen. It was a dream to find jobs that would allow them to remain united.
As Sandra and Ron Elliott began searching options and a desire to live in the South, they “felt blessed to both find jobs available at Fort Stewart,” Sandra said. Sandra, then retired from the Army, took a physical-therapy position, and Ron committed to his new position as the director of public affairs for Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.
In 2011, the Elliotts adjusted to life in Richmond Hill, and the triplets began their sophomore year at Richmond Hill High School.
It was during this time that Sandra was introduced to the five-finger shoes that allowed her to get back into running. Her online research, she said, led her to find Two Rivers Treads, which was opened by an Air Force doctor, Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, who encouraged all-natural running.”
This discovery was the ignition that set Sandra on a new course.
“I wanted to be the help that was given to me,” she said.
She thought, “Maybe I can provide this for the community, too. Maybe I can help the Army like (Cucuzzella) has helped the Air Force.”
And so came the Elliotts’ decision to impact Richmond Hill, and for the past three years, the Georgia Game Changers shoe store has turned into a game-changing hub for people seeking running help. Both Ron and Sandra will tell you “this wasn’t only a means to sell shoes, but to educate on how footwear effects form.”
In July 2012, Georgia Game Changers opened its doors.
Despite being told the store’s name was too long the Elliotts felt they were given several affirmations that this was the right name for the store. Over the past three years, they have worked hard to educate their customers and provide avenues for taking health and wellness to the next level.
From the beginning, they knew they wanted to expand what they offered to the community. A bike shop has always been in the plans. The Elliotts were confident they would find the right partners with the right expertise to help them reach that goal.
All along, the original mission behind the store has stayed the same. The only change has been in the how the vision continues to grow, and the driving force behind helping people take their health and wellness to the next level continues to increase. The Elliotts are constantly brainstorming creative ways to get people connected, educated, and living fuller lives. They have made it a top priority to only hire staff that have similar mindsets.
“Anyone we’ve hired must align with that belief, they must be into fitness in some way and have a heart to serve. It’s not just about shoes,” Sandra Elliott said. “This is more than a job; it is a passion for helping others.”
As the Elliotts began dreaming big, Ron had his sights set on the perfect location, near Interstate 95, to provide easy access both for local customers and travelers. This location came with a hefty price tag. The Elliotts knew it was a long shot, but they also knew their vision and what their hearts were telling them to do.
As they began seeking financing, they faced the reality of being told no. Not just one bank, but several, denied them. Georgia Game Changers was standing strong at its then-current location, but the reality of only being in business for a few years turned off these financial institutions. They needed a bank to take a chance on them.
Their dream finally began to take shape when a devoted customer took a leap of faith with them. The Elliotts had no idea that James Magness, a loyal and supportive customer, was a banker with United Community Bank. But his loyalty ended up going far beyond that of a typical client, and his bank approved the loan to finance the business’ expansion in April 2014.
“He is as excited about it as we are. Without his belief in us, there is no way this could have happened,” Ron Elliott said of Magness. “We were told no by six banks. He believed in us. He was a fan of our store and the concept of what we are doing. He saw the vision.”
With the help of United Community Bank, the concept of a one-stop plaza all about health and wellness came into a being. Georgia Game Changers sits across an open breezeway from the new bike shop. Sitting at the rear of the property is a serene, beautifully landscaped space. There also are plans for a rubberized track — a space where members of the community will be able to walk and train with the best. The Elliotts say they prepared Game Changers for such things as yoga, healthy smoothies provided by Victory Haven, and more while keeping the community’s best interest at heart.
The Game Changers complex is going to be an event-based spot.
“We want to bring people together,” Sandra Elliott said.
Girls on the Run will begin using the facility for a meeting and training space. Cars and Coffee and Arts on the Coast are some of the local events that will soon begin using this outdoor space. The Elliotts say they are excited to see how this facility serves as a connector for the community.
The Elliotts are confident in former educator and new manager Mark Bevars to lead Game Changers Bike. They knew they needed someone with biking expertise and a passion similar to their own. Partners Ryan Peters, John Cameron and Ron Elliott and the team of Chris Cousineau, Trudi Franzel, and Marie Caquias are all key figures in the success of the expanded Game Changers complex.
Phillip Howe, Game Changers’ store manager, and his wife, Pam, are “truly a blessing” and a part of the “game changing” story, the Elliotts said.
Having overcome the obstacles, the Elliotts have faced in growing their business, they are emotional and excited.
“This was a big risk, but we are dedicating it and giving it back to God,” Ron Elliott said.