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Making Change

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Our contributor Eric A.T. Dieckman decides to work his body and get fit with the help of Fitness Exchange, the popular community gym moving this month to a new location and changing its name to Crew Health & Fitness.

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Fitness Exchange trainer Chris Sokol (standing) helped Eric Dieckman drop weight and slim down.

Back in early March, I weighed about the same as a beached bottlenose dolphin. It was time for a change. Dusting off notes from a personal trainer/nutritionist I consulted with seven years ago, I designed my own eating schedule of five meals a day (to speed up my metabolism) totaling 1,500 calories a day. I hit the fitness room at my apartment complex every night, spending half an hour a day on an elliptical running machine with a few minutes for warm-up and cool-down on either side. I tried to lift weights a few days a week. Once a week, I’d take a day off and eat whatever the hell I wanted. It was working. I shed 40 pounds in the first two months. A few months into it, my roommate told me he’d be moving. I’d be leaving the convenience of an on-premises fitness room. Time for another change. Find a gym.

I met with Mary Ann McBee at Fitness Exchange and quickly realized this was the place. FitEx—which this month moves into a new location and adopts a new name, Crew Health & Fitness—is no big box megalithic gym. It’s small enough for staff to know members by name but big enough to offer a wide array of aerobic and weight-training equipment. There are also a couple of separate training rooms, one dedicated to Pilates, and a few private rooms for tanning booths.

McBee told me every membership includes a free fitness assessment and a session with one of their trainers. “Perfect,” I thought. I’d been feeling unsure of myself with some of the weight machines at the apartment. Now I could have someone teach me proper form.

Chris Sokol, one of the trainers, called me within a day or two of joining and set up a session. In the end I opted for three extra sessions so Chris could plan a three-day weekly workout focused on weight loss. (Weight training can work wonders for weight loss as it replaces fat with muscle mass even when you’re not in the gym.) Sokol is anything but one of those intimidating drill sergeant types I was afraid of meeting. After trying a free-weight bench press, I felt perfectly comfortable telling him I was uneasy using it; he showed me an alternative chest-press machine that targets the same muscle group that didn’t spook me. Perfect. That’s the trainer I was hoping for.

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Fitness Exchange moves and takes a new name, Crew Health & Fitness, under ownership team (from left) John Mendoza, Mary Ann McBee, chiropractor Dirk Hunter, and Richard Beech, M.D.

To date, I have lost over 65 pounds since March, from 282 to 215, and the weight is still dropping. My waist has slimmed from a size 46 to a 36, a goal which I made on schedule by early September. I actually have no idea when I last wore a size 36. It was sometime in high school, in the ’80s. Men Without Hats probably had a Top 40 single the last time I wore a 36. I was quite possibly doing the Safety Dance in those size 36 jeans. I have Chris Sokol and Fitness Exchange/Crew Health & Fitness to thank for that. And thanks to them, it’s only a matter of time till I fit into a size 34. Then I can reunite with those black parachute pants I still have from middle school. Who was in the Top 40 back then?

New Crew

Enough with the anecdotal miscellany about weight loss and working out. If you’re a regular Sgt. Joe Friday type, all you want are “just the facts.” Here are a few facts about Crew Health & Fitness (formerly Fitness Exchange), provided by Mary Ann McBee, who is one of the gym owners and a physical trainer.

• Fitness Exchange opened in 1979 on West Alabama.

• McBee got into the biz 12 years ago after leaving the banking industry to pursue her passion for fitness and sport. Fitness Exchange is the first gym she called for a job in 1995.

• McBee purchased the Fitness Exchange from the late Al McLaren and became the owner in May 2002. She recently transitioned to minority owner, sharing ownership with John Mendoza, chiropractor Dirk Hunter, D.C., and physician Richard Beech, M.D., and she is focusing on personal training, which she calls her real love. “I also have a women’s fitness clothing venture that is really taking off!” McBee adds.

• The new location, 4826 Washington Ave. at Shepherd, is scheduled to open later this month. Look for new equipment and lockers in the one-story space with mezzanine level. Listen for a new sound system. Staff will offer the same lineup of popular group classes, which includes Cardio Kick Boxing, Boot Camp, and Pilates.

• The new name, Crew Health & Fitness, is a marriage of Fitness Exchange and Med-CREW, the chiropractic practice owned by Hunter and Beech that will also be housed in the new facility.

OK, maybe there’s a little room for opinion. Why do so many people in the local GLBT community swear by this gym? What sets it apart? McBee suggests it’s “the relationships we build with our members. We know their names and their goals and try to always be accessible for any needs they may have.”

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