In the heart of Pontiac, Michigan, a fitness oasis is making a triumphant return, breathing new life into the community’s well-being. Anytime Fitness, under the ownership of Russell Harris, is not just reopening its doors; it’s ushering in a renewed focus on mental and physical health, particularly within the Black community. The gym’s journey is not just a tale of resilience but a commitment to fostering a culture of strength and vitality.
A Fresh Start: Russell Harris’ Fitness Odyssey
For Russell Harris, the journey began long before the gym’s doors swung open again. Armed with a degree in science and fitness management, Harris spent years preparing for a role he hadn’t yet claimed—a gym owner. When the opportunity to acquire Anytime Fitness in Pontiac presented itself in December 2022, Harris leaped at the chance. Little did he know this venture would not only reshape his life but the lives of many within the community.
The gym, a franchise of Anytime Fitness, came equipped with over 400 members, laying the foundation for Harris’ vision. Though initially hesitant about the aesthetic transformations suggested by his wife, Kolby Harris, Harris saw the potential to turn a gym into a community haven offering comfort and a unique ambiance.
Harris quickly learned the ebb and flow of gym memberships, realizing the impact of seasonal trends. The pandemic added an unexpected layer of complexity, forcing the gym to pivot swiftly.
“At the beginning of the year, everyone has New Year’s resolutions, but as we move into late March and early April, there’s a noticeable decrease in gym attendance and memberships,” shared Harris. “We learned the hard way that this downward trend affects cash flow, prompting us to quickly strategize marketing efforts not just for financial reasons, but also to prioritize health and wellness within our community. Recognizing the cyclical nature of gym memberships, from peaks to lows, we’ve implemented preventative measures to ensure the continual thriving of our community.”
Championing Health in the Black Community: A Personal Mission
While Anytime Fitness is open to everyone, Harris has a specific mission—a mission to be a pillar of health and wellness in the Black community. Understanding the disproportionate impact of underlying health conditions, Harris emphasizes the importance of an active lifestyle as a means of prevention. His personal experiences and losses have fueled a commitment to providing services that empower individuals to lead healthier lives.
“During a pandemic, every person that I lost was due to underlying health conditions,” said Harris. “We lost so many people, and there are things that we can do to prevent us from being in those types of situations, just by being active. It’s extremely important to me because I want our people to know we deserve to live long lives. My father, who passed away at the age of 44 due to a heart attack, serves as a reminder of how serious this call to action is. Health is not just about me; it’s about being able to provide a service to the community so that members of the community can be their best selves.”
Beyond the Treadmill: Community Engagement and Programs
Anytime Fitness Pontiac doesn’t stop at gym memberships and workout classes. Harris envisions a holistic approach to health and wellness, extending into the community. Fitness challenges, specialized classes for seniors and children, and a forthcoming health-focused cafe are just a few initiatives in the pipeline. Collaborations with local businesses and the launch of Warrior Life Support Supplements reflect Harris’ commitment to providing a comprehensive health experience.
Harris shared exciting plans for the gym’s future endeavors, revealing that they are currently preparing to introduce a new cafe at Anytime Fitness. This cafe is set to be a haven for health-conscious individuals, featuring a diverse menu of nutritious options such as salads, smoothies, protein shakes, and even coffee. In addition to this culinary venture, the gym proudly offers its exclusive Warrior Life supplement line, accompanied by member discounts, to facilitate the purchase of healthy supplements that align with their fitness objectives. These health-centric initiatives take precedence as the primary focus for the gym in the early part of the year, with an open-minded approach to exploring additional collaborations in the future.
“Often overlooked is the fact that fitness isn’t solely about exercise; it’s a delicate balance where 10 to 20% is physical activity, while a significant 80 to 90% hinges on nutrition. Recognizing this, our program extends beyond workouts, providing comprehensive nutrition plans, meal guides, and grocery lists for our valued customers,” Harris continues, “Our commitment lies in ensuring a harmonious blend of exercise and nutrition, empowering our clients to make healthier choices. Additionally, we prioritize offering tempting and nutritious options within our facility, steering individuals away from fast-food temptations. Leaving our gym, they’re equipped not just with a workout but with nourishment that builds rather than breaks them. It’s about fostering a holistic approach to wellness.”
In the pursuit of holistic health and community well-being, engaging the youth in fitness activities stands as a pivotal step. Recognizing the alarming rise in obesity rates among the younger generation, the focus on cultivating healthy habits from an early age becomes paramount.
“Understanding the critical need for youth engagement in fostering a culture of health, we’ve designed initiatives to make fitness a family affair,” said Harris. “For parents participating in our fitness program, bringing their children becomes an opportunity, offering discounts for families with more than two kids. We’ve crafted specific classes tailored for young participants, striving to create a sense of inclusivity and fun. Soon, we aspire to introduce high school memberships, ensuring fitness becomes an integral part of our local community’s lifestyle from an early age.”
Affordability, Inclusivity, and Warrior Life Fitness: Breaking Barriers
The gym tackles the perception of fitness as an expensive endeavor. By offering discounts, collaborating with insurance providers, and creating partnerships, Anytime Fitness Pontiac is breaking down barriers to ensure that health is accessible to everyone. Warrior Life Fitness, Harris’ umbrella brand, is not just about workouts—it’s a lifestyle brand focused on making health a priority.
Looking ahead, Harris envisions expansion—more than just physical space. While short-term goals include packing classes with committed individuals, the long-term vision extends to a second gym in Detroit, where Harris can fully channel the lessons learned in Pontiac into his brand.
As Anytime Fitness Pontiac reopens its doors, Russell Harris extends a warm invitation to the community. With a special discount for Michigan Chronicle readers, Harris hopes to create a fitness revolution that goes beyond the gym’s walls. For those hesitant to start their fitness journey, Harris offers words of encouragement—small steps lead to marathons, and the results will come from the work you put in.
“For those feeling a bit hesitant about embarking on their fitness journey, I would suggest beginning with something small. Whether it’s taking a daily walk or attempting five sit-ups or push-ups, start with one step, and gradually build upon those efforts. It’s important not to feel discouraged by immediate results, as the journey is a gradual process. Let’s focus on taking that fi