By Kelsey Roseth
The Woman Today, October 2018 Issue
There's something odd happening at Duluth Curves. It's 5:40 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, and I groggily rub my eyes as I walk into the fitness facility, a styrofoam coffee cup from Holiday in hand. I'm one of the earliest people to arrive. An energetic group of women rushes in a few minutes after me. They stop near the club's cubbies to set down their things and put on their tennis shoes, then one by one head off to select a rubber mat.
The moment that strikes me as peculiar takes place about seven minutes into class. Karen Graber, the general manager of Duluth Curves, is leading a 30-minute circuit training session, with a video and music playing in the background. During an exercise, she laughs suddenly, and another follows suit. Soon, a wave of giggling floods the room.
"This is the ungodly hour," said Graber, laughing. "Someone came in and said 'so these are the people who work out at this ungodly hour.' We've been joking about it ever since."
Duluth Curves is located on Woodland Avenue, near Mount Royal Market. Inside, there are multiple mats on the floor in a circle, and between the mats are various resistance strength-training machines. The women who are here this morning are being guided through a series of stretches, calorie-burning activities and strength-building exercises.
The ladies tell me they love how there's nothing to remember; members are guided through workouts by a prerecorded video and simply follow along. There are no locker rooms, no treadmills, no free weights nor elliptical machines. Members pay $44 per month for the simplicity and convenience of going through the circuit at their leisure, or for the camaraderie of attending one of its multiple classes.
"Comfort and ease [is] paramount," Graber said. "It's comfortable to be here. It's comfortable for women. There are no mirrors, There is no worrying about someone else needing a machine."
Curves International, Inc. was founded in Waco, Texas, in the early 1990s by a Gary Heavin, who worked with his wife, Diane, to create a no-frills health club where women of any ability could feel good about working out. In the early 2000s, the Seattle Times called Curves the "world's No. 1 fitness centered in terms of number of clubs," citing more than 8,400 locations at the time. Since then, the number of clubs worldwide has declined, and today the Curves website references about 4,000 locations.
In the late 1990's, Duluth Curves was a the first of five locations in a 30-mile radius. Today, it's one of three, and still going strong.
"[The members] have developed these really, really tight relationships," Graber said. "These gals, there are about 10 to 12 of the, they've been friends for about 17 years. That surprises me. You don't get that in a gym."
For the women at this 5:45 a.m. class, most of whom have continued to exercise despite the health problems over the years, a sweat-inducing workout is one of two reasons they show up. The other reason is for the deeply-rooted friendships, the kind many of us only read about in books or seen on television.
Most days during the week, the early morning class is followed by coffee nearby and companionship. These tight-knit accountability buddies also celebrate birthdays together, play board games, and spend time at each other's lake cabins.
"Gradually we started having coffee, and friendships, and we would enjoy the chatter back and forth, and it just kind of grew," said Carol Eklund of Duluth, who joined Curves about 17 years ago. Initially the only person she knew at the health club was her friend Nancy Knezevich.
"We've been through a lot of things. There have been kids' weddings, funerals, grandchildren, breast cancer," said Knezevich, of Duluth. "It's been a lot, and we're supportive of each other."
These women may have joined Curves for the initial health benefits: better metabolism, enhanced flexibility, and more increased overall. "My blood pressure was creeping up, and up, and up, and I needed to get that regulated with more exercise," Knezevich said. The classes "are invigorating, and the workout is good. It's something I can do," she said.
Duluth resident Theresa Olson, who has worked out at the fitness facility for just under 10 years, said she came for the fitness, but that's not why she stayed. "My husband died, and this morning group ... they all came to the funeral, and they all were very supportive, and I've hung out with them ever since."
To witness this awe-inspiring friendship or to give a Curves workout a try, visit: www.curves.com/locations.
Kelsey Roseth is a Duluth freelance multimedia journalist and writer.
By Jill Somers
The Woman Today, October 2018 Issue
People often ask me how I went from a long-time career in technical ITT sales and account management to my current role as the owner of a Curves gym for women -- and a certified Zumba instructor and health coach!
The new direction that my life has taken started with a very serious car accident in March of 2012. I sustained substantial injuries in that accident -- the worst of them being a serious concussion, several broken bones in my face, and a blunt force trauma injury to my left knee. Many people -- including the Minnesota highway patrolman who was the first to the scene -- thought that I was extremely lucky to be alive, given the nature of the damage to our our car that was stuck twice by a one-ton pick-up truck.
I went through a prolonged and often painful recovery process. I would find myself wondering why I had been spared when so many people lose their lives every day in similar crashes. I even talked to my minister about it , and he just told me that God obviously still had plans for me here.
Eventually, the bones in my face healed, and I earned to deal with the symptoms of my brain injury. But the pain in my left knee became overwhelming. After arthroscopic surgery and cortisone shots did not relieve the pain, the doctor said my only choice was to strengthen my leg muscles and lose weight to take some of the pressure off my knee.
I had struggled with my weight most of my adult life. Like many other women I know, I frequently used up all my energy on my job and taking care of my family -- and had nothing left by the end of the day to take care of myself. I lost and gained weight so many times in the 20 years leading up to that accident, that I just had no idea how I was going to do that again. Not only was I already overweight at the time of the accident, but I put on quite a bit more weight in the next couple of years because my main form of exercise had always been to go for walks, and I couldn't do much of that due to the knee pain. My job required that I spend many hours of every day driving or sitting at a desk, which made things even more difficult. I felt totally hopeless and depressed.
In the fall of 2015, I happened to drive past the Curves in Hermantown and remembered that I had a coupon for a free month. I had memberships at gyms in the past but found that they just never worked for me. Out of sheer desperation, I decided to walk into the Curves that day and check it out with my free-month coupon. I can honestly say that was the first day of the rest of my life! What I found there was a welcoming, supportive community of like-minded women who were all there to get strong and healthy. The equipment in the strength training circuit was designed to make it easier for women to get the level of workout they needed to get stronger, 30 minutes at a time. Within a matter of weeks, my knee was feeling better than it had since the accident because my lefs were getting stronger, and my joints were getting more flexible.
However, that is not the end of the story. That Curves location had been for sale for quite some time, and the former owner finally put out a notice that is was going to be closed if someone did not purchase it in the next 30 days! As fate would have it, the position that I had at the time was being relocated to California due to yet another corporate restructuring. As many of us have experienced, corporate entities have little empathy for human lives!
I had always intended to do work that made a difference in people's lives. That is why I originally went to college to be a high school teacher -- but only ended up teaching for a few years because I was recruited by a tech company. Once I got into the corporate world, it was hard to walk away from the money.
Suddenly, I felt like I understood why I had been spared in that accident. After being a member of Curves for only six months, I had already realized how important it was to me and so many other women in the community. I just couldn't let it go away. With my wonderful husband's support, we bought the franchise and moved it to its current location on Matterhorn Drive.
We have spent the last couple of years creating a welcoming space where women can feel comfortable and get the workouts they need to live strong and healthy lives. I have become passionate about supporting women in their quest for good health. I have met some amazing people along the way that have helped me in my own personal journey. With a great nutritional program, fun cardio workouts and consistent strength training, I have lost 70 pounds and have substantially improved all my major health metrics.
Because I wanted to be able to provide the highest level of support possible to other women, I recently completed a health coaching program that has given me amazing tools to help other women set and achieve their health goals.
While it was a very crooked path with lots of forks in the road, I feel so blessed to finally have a job where I can help to make a real difference in the lives of others.
Jill Somers is the owner of Curves Miller Hill, 4925 Matterhorn Drive. Call (218) 279-2878 for more information about the gym.