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How a Life-Altering Event Changed One MMI Grad's Career

UTI Profile Image Universal Technical Institute Mar 29, 2019 ·
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A brush-with-death experience transformed Lance Smeal's life and motivated him to pursue a technician career working with vehicles he'd always loved, motorcycles. Before he moved to Phoenix to attend Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI) in the early 2000s, Lance was involved in a life-threatening accident where he was living in Pennsylvania. He took out his motorcycle to run an errand, and as he came on the road to get on the highway, another driver turned in front of him. That's the last thing he remembers, before he was life-flighted by helicopter to the nearest hospital.

It wasn't until he says “his brain started working again” about a couple weeks later, when he woke up and discovered he had head trauma and a broken cheekbone. For the next several months, Lance, who had been working in architectural drafting, had to attend sessions at a rehab hospital to recover his short-term memory.

This jarring event was a wake-up call for Lance. He had always loved bikes and calls himself a motorhead. The accident “kicked him in the ass” to do what he wanted to do with his life, which was to specialize in motorcycles.

Today, Lance is a business owner, working on motorcycles, ATVs, dirt bikes out of his home's three-car garage. It took a lot for him to get to this point, but today he says he relishes the freedom he has to do work he truly loves.

From Kids' Stuff to Pro Stuff

Lance has had a thirst for fast rides since he was a little kid. As young as 5 years old, he'd hop into the bucket seat of his older brothers' big block monster car. His dad had more than 70 acres of land in Pennsylvania for the boys to explore. With an older brother Lance calls a “wheelie monster,” Lance got a taste of dirt bikes and hot rods before middle school.

He eventually moved to Durango, Colorado, and later to the Phoenix area, where he studied architectural drafting and lived with a friend. After moving back to Pennsylvania and having his accident, he took stock of where he was in life. He wasn't thrilled with the rainy and snowy weather (or his job, really), so with a new lease on life, Lance researched vocational schools and decided to enroll at MMI.

After graduating, Lance worked as a technician in various Arizona shops. Four years ago, he went out on his own, creating L-N-C Cycle Repair based out of his Cottonwood, Arizona, home. Armed with just a Facebook page and word-of-mouth referrals, the 47-year-old has grown his business to a clientele that sometimes travels from up to 90 miles away for Lance's services.

Lance uses solar energy to power his home and business, and he says one of the benefits of working from home is the lack of overhead and having to pay to rent a space. One of Lance's favorite things about being a business owner is the flexibility he has in his schedule.

“If I want to take a nap, I take a nap,” Lance says. “If I want to take a mountain bike ride, I take a mountain bike ride. It's total complete freedom in my case.”

Insights for Hopeful Entrepreneurs

For those who want to follow in the footsteps of Lance and become business owners themselves, he has some advice: once you realize what it is you want to do, go all in.

“You get out of it what you put into it, and that's the same thing with school,” Lance says. “You should take everything you can from teachers that you can absorb. Don't let drama drag you in. You have to be ready to step up.”

Lance says aspiring entrepreneurs should be aware of the challenges that can come with being a business owner – like liability, for example. Motorcycle technicians are always technically responsible for keeping others safe through their work. But when you own your own business, liability is really all your responsibility.

Another thing for aspiring business owners to be aware of is the hustle that is needed to attract clients. If you work in a shop, a regular stable paycheck is more likely, but when you go out on your own, you're responsible for clients.

Despite the extra obligations business owners have, Lance says he is happy to have made his own way in the technician world. Those who share the same passion may be able to find similar contentment by focusing on their craft.

“Be ready to put in 100 percent,” Lance says. “You have to put everything into it if you want it to work. Be genuine. There are always going to be highs and lows. It's not always going to be pretty, but I'm blessed in all areas that I am where I am.”

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