Strength has neither number nor gender when one sees Billie Bob, who is 92 years old and still goes to the Gainesville Health and Fitness for Women gym every week. When her husband passed away more than 20 years ago, she found a community in GHF for Women, where the exercise is as much about building bonds as it is about building muscles.
“It’s not just a gym; it’s a family,” said Wendy Ackerman, the general manager of GHF Women. “[The women], without knowing where to go or what to do, come through the door, and they might not need the motive to work out, but they have a sense of community here in these four walls.”
Strength, both mental and physical, is the main tenet of GHF Women. Joe Cirulli, the CEO and founder of Gainesville Health and Fitness, saw that in order for women to achieve a high level of fitness and well-being, there needed to be a focus on strength training and there had to be a space to facilitate that need.
GHF Women underwent renovation to improve its facility, programs and equipment. GHF Women is especially unique in that it’s run by a female-only staff and it’s the only full-service gym in Gainesville that is exclusive to women.
Recently unveiled in November 2016, its latest renovations boast an open and inviting space. Fresh tiling lines the floors and ceilings while vibrant colors fill the areas that were once dull or closed off. Every detail was thought out, from bathroom lighting to the placement of lockers. Moreover, members can treat themselves to spa amenities including saunas, steam rooms and massages.
“If we can make you get in better shape there, and we can create an environment that makes you want to stay there, then we’ve done our job,” Cirulli said.
The renovations also come with a slew of the latest equipment. But, the most exciting one has to be the Queenax system, making GHF Women the only gym to house the largest system in the U.S. Originating in Italy, Queenax has been likened to an adult jungle gym.
The suspended body weight system is comprised of a series of bars that scale the walls and the ceiling with functional bars and straps. While primarily obstacle-based, the system can be used for strength training and cardio, an essential combination that is designed for women of all ages.
The idea of an adult jungle gym may sound either nostalgic or intimidating, but the staff takes special care to make programs individualized and fun. Akela Collins is Studio Q’s “champion,” aka the programming director.
“The possibilities are truly endless with (the Queenax system),” Collins said. “We have classes from yoga to high-intensity interval training.”
Collins teaches Studio Q, which is one of many programs offered at GHF where trainers like Collins create training that incorporates the Queenax system. Classes are designed as small group training so the women can work out together without compromising individual needs.
This versatility makes the training much more engaging. For those who miss the joys of a swing set, there is now what is called a functional bar, or a swing for adults.
“The super functional [bar] can aid in everything from muscle building to just having fun and swinging on it,” Collins said. “If I don’t let my clients swing at the end of a class, they are none too pleased.”
“Classes are run primarily by personal trainers — every single movement [and] every single exercise that we do can be progressed or regressed depending on the individual’s needs,” Collins said. “That’s the beauty that we have [in] small groups: We can pay much closer attention.”
It’s not so much the renovations that set GHF Women apart from the rest — it’s how the staff shapes the experience. Cirulli is always thinking of the next thing and the next idea — even if it means running the risk of failure — but he’s confident in his team and his mission: to inspire the community.
“You make sure you have the right facilities and the right people,” Cirulli said. “If you can get those two things right, you can figure out the other things.”
Ackerman is heartened by each member’s journey because she used to be a member herself. Both Ackerman and Collins came to GHF Women after major injuries and found careers in helping others reach their goals.
“We’re all the same: We’ve gone through pregnancies and weight gain and hysterectomies and whatnot, so we can all bond about the similar things that go from a woman’s life from start to finish,” Ackerman said.
Strength is not measured in muscle mass, a thinning waistline or the number of miles run in a day; strength is redefining your limits everyday and finding the courage to keep going in spite of adversity. Billie Bob can tell you that much.
Photography by Jonathan Ross