Composing a life: music, travel, fitness, business

Owen Dockham ʼ05 says Professor of Music James Martin “hands down had the biggest impact” on his life, which is interesting to note considering this music major is now a founder and CEO of an evidence-based strength training company in Emeryville, California and co-founder of another training program in San Francisco.

Professor of Music James Martin and alumnus Owen Dockham
Professor of Music James Martin and alumnus Owen Dockham

What does that journey look like? You’ll find determination plays a core role in Dockham’s journey to CEO and it started with the piano and Martin.

“I wasn’t skilled enough to be his piano student when I arrived at Cornell, but I was determined to be,” Dockham says. “After my freshman year, Dr. Martin reached out and took me under his wing for the last three years of my time at Cornell.”

Dockham’s favorite memories of those years are Martin’s piano lessons, his course about music history and opera, his class focused on Richard Wagner at the Newberry Library in Chicago, and Martin’s incredible sense of humor. It wasn’t just fond memories that Dockham walked away with, however.

This journey of Dockham’s proves that a simple desire to play the piano can lead to a harmonious life and career.

“He taught me the importance of focused, deep work and to allow time for guilt-free recreation, travel, and fun,” Dockham says. “He gave me confidence in my ability to perform and perfect the tiniest of musical details in each piece we studied together.”

Dockham spent his 20s traveling Sweden, Norway, Thailand, India, and Brazil before taking on his next big project in his early 30s—an 18-month program in nutrition while working as a rehab assistant, a weight-loss coach, a personal trainer, and eventually a fitness department director at a wellness clinic. He took that confident and determined approach to earn several personal training certifications and start two companies: Live Oak Strength and EverStrongSF.

Dockham sees similarities between what he does as CEO to what he did as a student taking One Course At A Time.

“My ability to lead a team of trainers and meet multiple important deadlines when creating systems and marketing material branches from the incredibly potent amount of information the One Course system at Cornell demanded of me,” he says.

“My career operates like One Course—my projects at my company are often short, focused, detailed, and last two to six weeks before I move on to the next big project.”

Cornell prepared Dockham to work efficiently and with agility while learning new things. He also learned the importance of communication.

“In these short time periods I have to learn new topics, dive into new research around resistance training, get familiar with new software, and develop new training protocols based on the latest scientific literature,” he says. “The small class sizes at Cornell also built my confidence and ability to give and receive feedback, actively listen, be comfortable with dyadic communication, and make even the most demanding clients feel taken care of and heard.”

When asked what advice he’d give to students interested in enrolling at Cornell, he says, “At Cornell, you will be a name, not a number. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn from world-class experts in an intimate setting.”