American culture is obsessed with physical appearance. We are always seeking modes of self-improvement. As Patrick Bateman in the film American Psycho says, “You can always be thinner…look better.” There are hundreds of fad diets and exercises that claim to give you the same physique as that actor from your favorite movie — in just two weeks! Everyone is looking for shortcuts.
One local business owner learned that in order to achieve his dream of owning a gym, there would be no shortcuts. His own work ethic has taken shape in the form of a small, gritty room with matted floors. The famous poster of Muhammad Ali hangs on the wall. On one chalkboard is the workout of the day, which ranks between moderately challenging and absolutely grueling. It’s his best attempt to “recreate the atmosphere of the city gyms that I grew up in,” he said in an interview.
Another chalkboard features around two dozen names with weight loss tallies for an ongoing competition. On the wall are pictures of the twelve clients of the month, one for each of the months T.J. Turner has been operating Momentum Fitness — a business he started out of his garage last January where he trained about ten clients.
Eventually, as word spread and more people joined, the need arose for a dedicated space that was larger than just his garage. The available space he chose used to be an office for a travel agency before it went out of business. Turner acquired the facility in July of last year. When he took over, in my estimation, it looked like an old office from the 80’s. He undertook the renovation project single-handedly, spending over four thousand dollars in the process.
“I got it in July and thought we could start holding classes right away. It took eight weeks from start to finish,” Turner said.
Meanwhile, there were still clients to train.
“I was still training in my garage and ran an outdoor boot camp while working to get into the space,” he said.
About 20 hours per week were spent training, and every other hour was spent at that space getting it ready. That meant 8-12 hours per day working on top of training, Turner said.
The rebuilding procress was slowed when his wife gave birth to a child on August 6, but he continued the work and finished in time to open during the last week in August.
Now, he trains around 50 people in groups no larger than ten. “I have to cap them at ten, so that everyone gets the attention they deserve,” he said.
The transition process from garage to the location at 114 Heister Street in downtown State College wasn’t quite as smooth as it may sound. Turner’s biggest problems were the compliance codes, mainly because of the fact that he “didn’t really know what he was doing.”
Did you know it costs $35 to change a sign out front? Neither did he. There were other issues, too, like when he found out that he had to have a damper on top of the A/C to ensure fresh air was being circulated. In order to keep with code, Turner said he “just kept going down [to the borough office]and bugging them” to make sure there were no additional issues.
In general, there are two kinds of gym operators. Most owners care about profit and getting as many people signed up for yearly contracts in order to get the monthly invoice as high as possible (LA Fitness, I’m looking at you). Then there are those like Turner, who focus on the individual customer.
Turner is a trainer first and a businessman second. A sign above the entrance proudly displays the message: NO CONTRACTS – NO INITIATION FEES. In fact, the first class is free. What you see is what you get. If you come in and work hard, you’ll reap the rewards.
Our interview concludes as a class lets out. He says goodbye to his friends as they leave. And those who he trains are his friends — Turner knows each of his clients by name.
“I don’t really advertise. I just want to get people in the door, and meet them face-to-face,” he said.