A West End Gym Celebrates Its First Anniversary in the Community
“You will grow into yourself,” personal trainer Eric Hilton told me during a free fitness consultation.
Eric is the owner of Optimal Self Health and Wellness Center. He opened the doors to his Congress Street gym just over a year ago, with his partner Sandra Garfinkel.
On the brink of their anniversary celebration–Friday, February 6th at 6 p.m.–Eric opened the doors to his gym for me to receive a fitness consultation and to do an interview.
I have worked out in other gyms in town. It is easy to slog along on a treadmill or half-heartedly pump-up on the nautilus equipment, when you are surrounded by hundreds of your neighbors in a warehouse like structure, all inundated with corporate logos and hack slogans.
I think the music–pop and classic rock–might be the most annoying part of the chain gym experience. There is nothing wrong with Katie Perry, but personally Firework does not push me to bench that extra ten pounds in the final set.
I decided to check out Optimal Self. They are generous advertisers, after all.
Eric Hilton met me in the morning, fixed me a cup of coffee, and asked me what kind of music I work-out to. Yes! This is a gym experience I can get into.
He switched some alternative rock on an iPod, and walked me through a series of stretches.
He invited me to discuss my goals. That was easy. Loose five or ten pounds.
Eric told me about his own trouble with his love-handles. Even special forces training could not eradicate them. But over time, he grew into them. Likewise, I would grow into myself.
Our bodies are different shapes, he explained, and if we listen to what our bodies are telling us, we can discover what our own perfect shape is. For Eric, his love-handles turned into lean muscle over time, and as such, he “grew into himself.”
Growing into oneself works as metaphor for more than increasing the physical shape we are in. It is about discovering the inner self, too. This is at the heart of the work done at Optimal Self.
Every member is encouraged to grow into their optimal physical and spiritual self. That does not mean members pause after a hard set on the weight bench and take fifteen to meditate or pray. Although it could.
Striving for an optimal physical self requires finding the inner strength, dedication and resolve to overcome limitations.
“I use my special forces training to take people to the limitations of their selves, and show them about their selves, and how they can overcome those limitations,” Eric told me.
Eric speaks with authority, because he has had his own limitations to overcome. He returned from war in Iraq, injured, tormented and addicted. He used money from the VA to fulfill a positive vision and started the gym.
He did not know how to be a business person. He asked a lot of questions. He struggled. It was hard to work seven days a week, to deal with financial struggles, to face negative thoughts of potential failure.
“When you go to those deep places, you learn a lot about yourself…” said Eric. “Every time these thoughts come up — ‘It’s not going to work out,’ or ‘I don’t want to continue this,’ — I’m able to each time look at all the [Optimal Self] members and the beauty of what is happening. I am able to believe a little more.”
Optimal Self has grown itself, and now there are over eighty members. The business model has evolved to include personal trainers, massage therapists, and class instructors, who operate out of Optimal Self as independent contractors.
“We do have a different business model that has never been done before. We are being very flexible to find the perfect way that Optimal Self can thrive and the contractors can thrive.”
“But we do it together as a community, and that is a big strong part here, because it makes it fun.”
Fun… community… overcoming limitations. These are themes that Eric returned to again and again during the fitness consultation and the interview. His positive energy envelopes the gym.
“Every single person’s experience when they walk in here–they feel a shift, they feel a change energetically, in this container that we’ve created. And that’s really nice to see. It validates for us, more and more, what we are doing,” said Eric.
We all have a place where our body wants to be, and where are hearts and minds need to be. Eric hopes that Optimal Self can serve as vessel to help get us there… “a great place where everybody’s happy, and feeling good, and beautiful–which they all are.”