Get off your Booty! Fitness Boot Camps help motivate change
Written and Photographed by Jamie Miles
Driving down Main Street early Thursday evenings you might see (and hear) Ralph’s Army. His recruits wearing shorts, sweat, and smiles of sheer determination as Clark cheers the group on towards base camp at Madison’s Uptown Athletic Club.
The boot camp fitness craze sweeping the country has taken Morgan County by storm. The hour-long classes are a mixture of cardio and strength elements wrapped with military motivation to push one’s fitness level up…way up.
Ralph Clark, born and raised in Madison, holds his workout every Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 5:45. Vicki Starr, Manager of Uptown Athletic, knew she had a star in Ralph, a retired Army drill sergeant. “The class regulars love him. He’s tough, but in a nice way. He gets them doing things they never thought they could do.”
Clark held many positions until his retirement in 2005 including that of instructor at a Noncommissioned Officer Academy. Clark’s love of the Army is evident in all facets of his workout. Classes sing marching chants. Whether performing sit-up or push-up drills, Clark shouts out the count and class members resoundingly respond.
Jody Bowen started attending Ralph’s Boot Camp in July at the suggestion of her daughter Natalie Horton. She has lost 14 pounds, four inches off her waist and quit smoking. “Before when working out, I would just give up. Now I want to push myself harder.” Natalie is proud of her mother and credits Ralph for changing her own attitude toward exercise. “I run for Ralph. I would not do sit-ups or push-ups, because I never have. Ralph’s positive energy helps push me.”
Clark’s workout has introduced many attendees to running. He proudly noted, “Back in June, a lot of the women walked during the running portion of class. Now in October, those same women have run the Godfrey Gallop 5k and Firefighter’s Fall 5K.”
Fitness is a mental and physical adventure for Bobby Mackey, the Education Director for the Boys & Girls Club of Madison-Morgan. Bobby runs his boot camp Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m.at Madison Fitness Center. After watching Mackey’s extreme dedication and workout ethic, Greg Stewart, owner of the gym, gave him the opportunity to create a fitness plan to “drive participant’s ability through the roof.”
A little over a year ago, Bobby looked at a photograph and asked, “Who is the 250 pound guy?” “Unbelievably, I realized it was me.” He pushed himself at the gym, tortured himself and even gave up on himself at times. In low moments Mackey remembered, “Greg would say, ‘Man, you look great’. I took his words of encouragement and converted them to motivation.”
Mackey enjoys hearing individuals describe his class as one of the toughest workouts they’ve endured. The sessions have many loyal followers, including Holly Thurmond. Holly has lost 130 pounds and loves that the workouts make her focus intensely on exercise tasks rather than spending a mindless hour on the elliptical. She readily admits, “I’m addicted.” Rob Hanselman works with a trainer three times a week, but finds Mackey’s workout a welcome challenge. “It’s not easy, even extreme. It depends on what you put into it. If you have goals, whether to lose weight or increase muscle mass this class will push you to your limit.” Bob Chandler has missed only two classes in seven months. “A few birthdays for family but other than that I’m here. It’s challenging and something different every week.”
If chants, sit-ups and pushups aren’t enough, try strapping on a pair of boxing gloves. Jerry Reeves, a fighter and trainer with over 18 years experience, will be starting a kickboxing boot camp 6:30 Monday nights on October 26 at Madison Fitness. Kickboxing blends martial arts, cardio and boxing. Participants wrap their hands, strap on gloves and learn the fundamentals of boxing and martial arts kicking. “I try to change up class so you never know what to expect. The class is a mixture of high energy overall body workouts which change every three to five minutes.” For those new to the sport, Reeves says the key is to make it entertaining all the while helping them get comfortable with the basics. “I want people in my class to have fun, get in shape and start progress toward whatever goal they are looking to reach.”
There is a special camaraderie that develops during a tough workout. Renae Brown and her daughter, Alex, a sophomore at Morgan County High, find Ralph Clark’s workouts transforming in many ways. Renae has lost 40 pounds, but readily adds the class has facilitated the relationship with her teenager. “The class has helped us to get along better. Any frustrations we are feeling we take it out at the gym, instead of each other.”
Successful boot camps revolve around a charismatic leader. One who pushes class members beyond anything they dreamed they could do physically. Clark, Mackey and Reeves agree that success has to be a blend of challenges to mind, body and spirit which ultimately change lifestyles. Their mission is to motivate students to break through self-imposed barriers thereby creating confidence to accomplish any goal. Ricardo Rivers credits Mackey’s motivation with helping him lose 110 pounds. A sentiment agreed to by Gina Barnette who has attended Clark’s class since June. In addition to weight loss, the results have spilled over into every area of her life. “I have a better sense of self-respect. My overall feelings about wellness and health have changed.”
There is a boot camp available for all fitness levels, so come ready to smile, sweat, yell and push the body to new limits. Although each group has a loyal following, they eagerly welcome new recruits. And a word to all boot camp plebes, report to the gym and prepared to be, “Motivated, Motivated, Down-right Motivated! Hooah!” (that’s Heard, Understood and Acknowledged — for the civilian fitness world.)