Winter boosts fitness market

Posted: Thursday, November 07, 2002

With winter just around the corner, staying active can be a good way to keep up morale. As nights get longer and the days get colder, many Alaskans who don't want to brave the outdoors will have to find ways to get into or to keep in shape.

The numerous fitness centers on the Kenai Peninsula have capitalized on this need and offer alternatives to sitting around the house. Beyond that, those running the centers say their businesses help maintain people's mental well-being.

"Come winter, people come in because it's a nice thing to do for yourself," said Chuck Smalley, owner of Body Master in North Kenai on the Kenai Spur Highway. "People come in to get rid of the winter darkness blues. People tend to stick around until summer."

Smalley said he injured himself working in the oil fields eight years ago. A year and a half ago, he said he and his wife, Lee, bought the fitness club to help him rehabilitate his injured arm. He said there is more than just the health benefits he received from the business, however.

"It's a labor of love," Smalley said. "We bought it with the intent of making a commitment to service. If you don't put a lot of time into it, you're not successful."

Service includes taking referrals from Frontier Community Services and offering free training for Special Olympics athletes.

Ross Kendall is a commercial fisher from Nikiski who has owned Healthy Changes in Soldotna since 2001. He said October and November is when he begins to see more people walking through the doors to work out.

"The busiest time starts right about now," he said. "And it goes right until May."

Both Smalley's and Kendall's fitness centers are among four membership-driven clubs on the peninsula that offers a variety of weight training equipment, cardiovascular equipment, exercise classes and personal trainers. The including the Fitness Place in Soldotna and the Bay Club in Homer.

Smalley said people often choose the clubs they join because of convenience.

"I don't consider the other places as competition," he said. "One place couldn't handle everyone's needs."

Smalley pointed out that there is also the Kenai Recreation Center and three women-only fitness centers.

Those three centers, Curves for Women, are located in Kenai, Soldotna and Homer. Juline Arestad, the Soldotna supervisor, said she had heard the national single gender fitness franchise called "the McDonald's of women's fitness."

"The gal who owns this one has five in Alaska," she said.

Like Smalley, she said she took the job to improve her health.

"I needed to do something to lose weight," Arestad said. "Since I started working, I lost 40 pounds."

Many people who join the clubs tend to want to make the most of what they pay for the annual memberships. Kendall compared it to eating at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

"By gosh, I'm going to get my money's worth," he said of members' thinking.

Patti Ireland, a teacher at Cook Inlet Academy, said she just joined Curves for Women in Soldotna, and she plans to get the most for her dollar.

"I know that I take better care of myself during (school)," she said. "I paid for a whole year, so I may as well use it."

Smalley said owning a business like his requires commitment to the members. He said working to help them reach their goals is what drives him.

"We're not in it for the money," Smalley said. "If you're not in it to help the people who need it, they won't come."

Kendall said he likes working with the people who come to his fitness center.

"The biggest reason I'm in (this business) is because I like working around people who want to improve their health," he said.

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