By COSHANDRA DILLARD
RUSK — Thirty-four-year-old Betty Foster started her lunch break with a 30-minute workout at her town’s gym, Beyond Fitness.
Led by co-owner and trainer Sterling Pratz, she sweated away in Lunch Express Body Slay, a group fitness class that utilizes a weighted bar. At the end of class, or what fellow members calls Lunch Express, she was physically tired, yet energized about her goal of getting the extra weight off.
Ms. Foster had been coming to the small gym in downtown Rusk since February, just a few weeks after she lost 30 pounds on her own.
Now, she’s three weeks into the gym’s second round of a weight-loss challenge, Battle the Weight. The gym opened for business in November, and since then, the owners established the weight-loss competition comparable to NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.”
In the first contest, 29 people participated and lost a collective 683 pounds. In this cycle, 47 participants have so far shed 427 pounds. Participants receive cash and other prizes at the end of the 13-week contest.
Three weeks in, Ms. Foster has lost 17 pounds. She began the year weighing 260 pounds and became fearless in order to tackle the task ahead of her.
“The stuff I didn’t think I’d be able to do, I’m doing it,” she said. “Then I got rid of all of my fears of being in front of people trying to lose weight.”
Ms. Foster also wanted to be free from taking blood pressure and thyroid medications.
“I didn’t want any more medicines,” she said. “That’s what motivated me. Plus, I have three girls. I figured nobody was going to do it for me, so I had to do it for myself. There’s no easy, quick fix for it. I had to get it in my head that I could do it.”
In addition to dropping a total of 47 pounds, Ms. Foster recently finished her first 5K race, coming in at 42:10. She has made fitness her priority, squeezing in exercise whenever possible. She said her gym membership is just as important as household bills.
“You just have to stick it in,” she said. “I put my gym membership up there with my light bill. I don’t do a whole lot for me but this is one thing that I do that is for me. I give up other things to do this.”
IT’S A (HEALTHY) FAMILY AFFAIR
“It’s like a family here.” That’s what members at Beyond Fitness said about the facility’s environment. They said they receive plenty of encouragement and no judgment. Members of different weight loss teams also come together to help each other.
The gym is led by a family charging themselves with eliminating obesity in Rusk and creating an environment of good health. Pratz and his wife Jenny, along with Mrs. Pratz’s parents, Steve and Linda Goode, are inspiring the small town of about 5,500 to get up, get moving and get fit.
The gym opened at 5:30 a.m. with a spinning class on Nov. 7. More than a dozen stationary bikes piled into a tiny room. As members kept coming, the owners bought a building next door and gutted it out for extra space. The gym holds 55 workouts throughout the week. It opened with 35 members and grew to 250 today.
The Pratz’s had a background in fitness, as both were employed at other facilities before opening the gym. Goode was a motivational speaker.
Pregnant with her son, Mrs. Pratz gained 50 pounds. Her mother also battled weight for at least 12 years. They’ve both had weight loss success, including Mrs. Goode’s 101-pound weight loss.
Dedication, pushing past limitations
Laura Cervantes, 27, of Alto, was the individual winner of the first weight loss battle. During nursing school, Ms. Cervantes gained about 20 pounds and was the heaviest she had ever been. By the time she graduated from nursing school in December, she was ready for a change.
“I stepped on the scale and I weighed 195,” she said.
Ms. Cervantes lost nine pounds before the beginning of Battle the Weight and then she lost 41 pounds during the challenge, for a 50-pound loss.
Her strong vow to drop that weight is what sets her apart, Beyond Fitness owners said. With books laid across the handlebars, she’d study during spin class.
“That’s commitment. That’s dedication,” Goode said.
Robin Franks, 43, weighed nearly 200 pounds before the contests and at her heaviest, weighed 225. She’s down 33 pounds since January.
“You just have to put your mind to it that you want to do it,” Ms. Franks said. As a single mother with a new grandson, she knew it was time to get healthier.
Janae Halbert, 42, met Pratz when he worked at another facility. She followed him to Beyond Fitness and talked her husband into joining the gym as well. She’s lost 30 pounds, 20 of which were during the first contest.
The owners said they are not like most gyms, as they give each client personal attention.
“We take it seriously but we have a great time doing it,” Goode said. “Classes are fun. Classes are energetic. Classes are very intense. That’s the secret here. We don’t care to get you in and out the door. We want you here to stay as long as possible, have as much fun and workout.
The obstacles standing in people’s way of weight loss are often emotional constraints, Goode said. He said when they release the fear or overcome whatever the root of the issue is, then that is when they have success.
“People’s biggest psychological limitation is the fear of not being able to do It — fear of failure,” Goode said. “It’s the realization that ‘my body for so long told me what I cannot do. It’s not happening anymore.
I’m telling my body what it will do.’ That’s what each member — all 250 — go through on a daily basis.”
In the early weeks of the gym’s opening, Goode held classes to help members overcome obesity.
“It is a mental game,” he said. “If you’re scared to lose weight, you’re not going to lose weight no matter how much you work out. You have to realize you didn’t put it on in a day. It’s not going to come off in a day.”
Pratz modifies workouts for people who may have physical limits caused by an illness or injury.
“We take our time to create a specific workout for those people,” he said. “We give them an alternative way to do it.”
There is inevitably some pain involved in getting fit, Goode notes. There are some things the body can’t do but people can do something about what the body doesn’t want to do.
“We like that pain. We push through that pain,” Goode said.
Members at the gym have come to enjoy running. About 20 members, including Ms. Foster, recently completed their first 5K. Spinning and shadowboxing are also crowd favorites.
There have been plenty of smiles and tears as gym members push through the pain, encourage each other and celebrate small, and big, successes.
The owners said members won’t be told to count calories or to weigh often. They do receive nutritional information and are encouraged to weigh themselves monthly. Weighing too often can be discouraging, as measurements, how clothes fit and the way they feel are better indicators of progress.
A community partner
According to the most recent County Health Rankings figures, 33 percent of Cherokee County residents are obese. Thirty percent are inactive. In the city of Rusk, 28 percent of residents are uninsured and 62 percent of all restaurants are fast food establishments, further exacerbating the risk of chronic health problems. Goode pointed out that it’s easy to find overweight and obese children.
“You don’t have to do much research,” he said. “You can drive by any campus and see.”
Inspiring gym members to get fit goes beyond the walls, the owners said. They’ve worked with seniors at the civic center, providing fitness classes once a week, as well as working with local children.
“We came up with that name, because we wanted to go a step beyond fitness,” Mrs. Pratz said. “We’re here not just for our job. We’re here because we care. That’s why we opened it.”
Her father added, “Fitness is more than weights and cardio. Fitness is a state of mind. Your whole life has to line up.”
They also are developing a summer program for the town’s youth, which will not only help them get fit, but also build character.
“Let’s give the city we live in something it’s never had and it desperately needs,” Goode said, recounting the mission of Beyond Fitness.
“Obesity is no longer going to exist in Rusk. People say we can’t do it. Watch. How do we do it? One pound at a time; one person at a time.”