By Dianne Saywell
It was a family, is a family and will remain a family.
We all came together a few years back during the time of struggle, loss and sorrow. We held on to each other and to the concept of the dream that the “founding father” of the Marco Island Fitness Club had wished — to keep the club open and remain the club we have all come to know and love.
We kind of treaded water as a family after our dear friend passed. The club, the vision and all the members held steady under the watch of the “mother” of the business. Very soon after, in the short span of a couple of weeks, we all came to learn of her diagnosis and were shocked and saddened while yet another battle for life ensued, and was ultimately lost.
Bert and Jan Brewer were well known on the island for their wonderful souls and welcoming spirits. They opened Marco Fitness club in 1980, and when I joined in 2006, it became clear to me that I was not just a member of a gym but of a family. Sadly, we lost these two loving people to cancer: Bert in 2009 and Jan just two years later. Their spiritual presence in the gym and in our hearts sustained us with the comfort of having known such friendship and love in this lifetime. With collective prayer and lots of hope, we clung together and watched a new owner come to rescue and gather our broken, grieving hearts, and guide the family of clients into a new beginning for Marco Fitness Club.
Bob and Jean Cholka, along with their son Kyle, found their way to Marco Island and into our hearts. “Marco Fitness Club is an amazing place with truly inspirational members,” says Bob. “Where else can you find 14 year olds working out with our oldest member who is 97 years old? I’m so happy to have the opportunity of owning this wonderful club, and providing a gym for the people of Marco Island to workout and socialize at. What a great opportunity.”
At first — as in any new relationship no matter what it is — there was a timid sense of expectation as to how things would be run with these new owners. We had a certain doubt but definite hope that not too much would change. Who can’t apply that to any situation in life? How averse we all are to change. We would soon find out, as in the ancient words of wisdom of the Thai people, that things would be “the same, but different”.
The initial phase of the relationship began as we started to warm up to each other, having little conversations with these friendly and open new owners heading in and out of the club. You see, each day there is a routine. I recall in the very beginning Bob looking (and probably) feeling a bit like an outsider. We had our regular schedule and usual friends, and there was this new guy. There are always certain folks at certain times that come to the gym. I can even say that there is a certain someone on the machine across the room exactly when I am on a piece of equipment at that particular time. Routine is comforting. Routine, for the most part, is predictable and keeps us grounded.
As Bob and his open, friendly spirit dwelled among us, it wasn’t too long before we all felt like that family again. Now, most patrons find and enjoy stopping for the “desk time” to connect with the Cholkas, a necessary part of the gym visit. If you happen to stop by to work out on Friday mornings, you can find a wonderful bagel breakfast that Ralph so lovingly provides.
The gym itself has begun to branch out and grow. After a local club closed it’s doors a few years ago, we couldn’t help but grow as patrons joined us in droves to keep their physical selves in shape. The purchase of the studio space at 860 Bald Eagle for all kinds of fitness classes happened in 2012.
I recall having a spirit-filled conversation with Bob as he contemplated that particular idea. He was thinking with his heart and keeping in mind the vision of our long-term family. I recall leaving the club that day with a tear in my eye as we both mentioned Bert and perhaps his spiritual guidance. It was a tear of respect, love and sadness along with immense gratitude and pleasure, as I realized how blessed we were with Bob at the helm.
“It was very sad that Marco Island and the Brewer family lost Bert and Jan at a very young age,” notes Bob. “They are missed by everyone. This may sound weird, however, I can feel Bert and Jan everyday here at the gym and when decisions concerning the gym need to be made. I view my ownership as helping Bert and Jan continue the great gym they started 33 years ago. When you step into the gym, you will see photos, and the same feel that Bert and Jann had but with well thought out upgrades.”
Our beautiful island home has so much to offer. There are so many pockets of activities and interests to enjoy with friends, visitors or just yourself. I am so happy to have come to this gym for my “workouts”. Being there, to me, also includes a “work-in” that creates a much deeper sense of what it means to be fit.
“Marco Fitness Club is a lot like Cheer’s. You come in, and everyone welcomes you and will call you by name,” Bob explains. “Marco Fitness Club reminds me of Joe’s Gym from the movie Dodge ball. Nothing fancy; just a great gym to get your workout in, and leaves you feeling great as you leave to enjoy the beauty of Marco Island.”