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Former Lifestyle trainer is pumped about Truly Fit possibilities in Town 'N Country

TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Chris Gonzalez can't help but laugh when he talks about how he built his own gym in a matter of weeks. How he drove by a soon-to-be-vacated 2,000-square-foot building in July and signed a lease on it five days later. How he stretched his savings by buying weights and other equipment from Craigslist and a local used sporting goods store. And how he turned to Facebook to let his personal training clients know he was open for business.

But seriously, that's what the 46-year-old Bronx, N.Y., native did. And just a few months after the opening of Truly Fit Studio, the gym has been bustling with activity, packed group fitness classes and a steady stream of personal training clients.

• • •

Gonzalez didn't expect to be in business for himself.

For almost 10 years, he was a trainer at a Lifestyle Family Fitness, about a mile up the road from his new studio. But when the chain was purchased in July by LA Fitness, Gonzalez said it quickly became clear to him that — under the new ownership — he would not be able to earn enough money to support his two children, or be able to offer his clients the same services they had received for years from him.

"Lifestyle's was a great place to work," he said. "If it was still there, I would not have gone out on my own."

But there he was, a full-time trainer without a full-time job.

He spent a week looking for another gym but couldn't find one.

So he decided to go out on his own.

Things came together quickly. In mid July, he signed a lease on a building at 9301 W Hillsborough Ave. that formerly housed a salon. He exhausted his savings — about $16,000 — to pay for rent, security deposit, paint and weights, among other things. Friends helped him finance another $15,000 for other fitness equipment.

A small army of clients, friends and family members helped him set everything up in a matter of days. He began training clients there on July 23.

"It was unbelievable, unimaginable," Gonzalez said of the support. "My mother and father showed up one day just to bring me food."

Gonzalez asked a former colleague to join him. Shawn Becklund, 42, a popular group fitness instructor at several Lifestyle locations, would bring the popular Les Mills brand of classes to Truly Fit.

Becklund said the decision to follow Gonzalez was an easy one. "He's a man of action," she said. "I knew he knew what he was doing, and he had a really good following."

Without a lot of money for marketing and advertising, the two turned to social networking to get the word out, posting information and class schedules on Facebook.

Already, the group's Facebook page has more than 300 members, many of them current and former Lifestyle/LA Fitness members, who say they missed Gonzalez's boot camps and athletic conditioning classes, or Becklund's Les Mills classes.

"It was a family," said Liz Nawn, who has known Gonzalez for 10 years and was among those who helped him move to his new gym. "Without him there at Lifestyle, there was no point of being there."

• • •

Truly Fit is set up like most gyms, only smaller. There's a cardio room on one end, with three treadmills and a three spin cycles; a main workout area with weight machines, dumbbells and a heavy bag; a tiny office; and a group fitness room on the other end, which can hold up to 20 people, depending on the type of class.

It's cozy, Gonzalez admits, but he says it allows him to train his clients exactly the same way he did at the much larger gym. Becklund says the smaller class sizes allow her to "see exactly what everyone is doing."

Gonzalez and Becklund say that if all goes well, Truly Fit will outgrow its current location and need to move to bigger quarters. Gonzalez said two other trainers have started working with clients at Truly Fit on a limited basis, and that he has added a second group fitness instructor, Mindy Neal, another Lifestyle alum.

"Everyone has been positive," Becklund said. "They know ultimately we are going to expand. We all have faith in it."

There have been some bumps in the road, like technical glitches with an online reservation system for group fitness classes. Gonzalez, who has a computer programming background, has asked participants for patience while he works out the kinks.

But he's confident Truly Fit will be a success.

"There is no choice for it not to work. I have to make this work," Gonzalez said. "I have the utmost confidence in me."

Richard Martin can be reached at (813) 226-3322 or rmartin@tampabay.com.

Former Lifestyle trainer is pumped about Truly Fit possibilities in Town 'N Country 10/11/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 4:30am]

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