Their workout regimens may differ, but the same strong, intentional current courses through the veins of these six gym owners, a current of unwavering commitment to continue to fire up the women who—whether they’re on the quest for self-love, reconnection or transformative change—choose to set foot inside their gyms and studios.
By Jessica Luther, Photos by Philip Edsel
TNT Body-Mind Fitness
Tanya Tudor, a health-fitness specialist and personal trainer, started her business, TNT Body-Mind Fitness, nearly two decades ago, when she was living in her native country of Barbados.
“I have a background in traditional Chinese medicine, bodywork and massage,” Tudor says, “and I fuse all of that together in my own amalgamation of fitness.”
As she does not have her own space, she works out of the Heat Bootcamp studio located off South First Street.
Tudor says she has been involved in some sport since a young age. Originally, it was track and martial arts. As she watched teammates and competitors beat themselves into the ground, she remembers thinking, “There’s got to be a better way.”
So, she pursued massage and bodywork and worked with an affiliate of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, a massage-therapy certification program. Then, Tudor says, she told herself, “OK, now I can add fitness to that.”
She decided to get her personal-training certification and soon began her business in Barbados. She found clients who came to her for massage would often also request personal training, and vice versa. Still, that didn’t feel quite right to Tudor.
“I got my master’s in traditional Chinese medicine,” she says, noting that in Chinese medicine, “they treat each person as an individual, and they look at how that sole person is presenting. And they treat how that person is presenting. And to me, that’s fitness.”
Tudor says she has between 15 and 20 regular clients she trains weekly, as well as people who come at intervals between sessions. She loves working with everyone individually, doing whatever is necessary for each person to succeed at his or her goals each time they come to see her.
Tudor sets aside 15 minutes at the beginning of every session for a check-in with each client.
“There’s been times when a client comes to me, and it’s happened numerous times, like their day has just been absolute sh-t,” she says. “And I’m like, ‘Want to go take a walk around?’ And we go walk and see the peacocks.”
For Tudor, there’s no cookie-cutter answer to a health-and-fitness routine.
“[A client] might have something similar to Jane next door, but they’re not Jane next door,” she says. “They have their own history, their own story, their own trials and tribulations.”
She works with each client on setting realistic outcomes and balance, not just in fitness, but throughout life.
Transform is a fitness studio owned by Erica Nix. Located off Berkman Drive in East Austin, the gym has an eye-catching sign and symbol of a smiling, rainbow-colored robot lifting a weight. The name and the rainbow are good indicators of the community of people you’ll find attending class there.
“It’s all queers, transgender people and weirdos, plus allies,” Nix says. “Any person that’s ever enjoyed watching RuPaul would enjoy doing some workout with Erica Nix.”
The name Transform, Nix says, is a nod to transforming oneself.
“It goes beyond that into the way of including people that are transgender and maybe transforming in more than one way,” she says. “I hope that we’re all transforming and changing all the time for the better.”
Nix, who was recently named the Best Personal Trainer by Austin Chronicle readers, made her first foray into fitness as a performance artist roughly 15 years ago, doing what she calls “silly aerobics classes” to critique how she felt outside of popular physical culture. That led to live performances on the grassy banks of Lady Bird Lake, a web show and, eventually, her teaching actual classes.
“We’d bring all these vintage toys to Cheer Up Charlies. We would all play on the gear and workout for 20 minutes and then have drinks and hang out,” Nix says of Transform’s early days.
She then decided to move the classes into a dance-studio space, instructing workouts on a weekly basis. After that studio closed, she moved to another space, upped the number of classes offered per week to three and attended Austin Community College to get certified in personal training.
When that second space also closed, Nix decided it was time she needed her own studio.
“I couldn’t figure out where we would feel safe going,” she says. “[At] a lot of rec centers…the staff seemed really open to it and kind of excited. But still, whether or not there was a real danger or not, the fear of us all waiting in the parking lot together to walk into this hypermasculine weight room at a rec center became a little too much for me to bear. That’s when I decided that we had to start our own place.”
She opened Transform two years ago, in December 2015. At Transform, classes include Big Boi Yoga, which is, as the name suggests, yoga for men who are big, as well as Queerdalini. (“It’s like Kundalini [yoga], but it’s for queers,” Nix says.) There’s also Class Transitions, which is specifically for trans men and women, and Yaaaaaasercize, described as a class that’s “fun, fresh and open,” in “a nonjudgy environment and a workout that will challenge, no matter how fit you feel.”
One of the tough challenges Nix has faced in owning her own business, one that is specifically designated for a marginalized group of people, involves the costs and expense.
“The people that I want to serve are often paid less,” Nix notes. “[So,] I’m just poor too. That’s just the way it is until I figure out something else.”
Nix encourages anyone interested in Transform to try one of her aerobics classes, as they’re intended for everyone. When the room is full of people ready to get their sweat on, it feels like a party, one you have to see to believe.
“Come to that class. It’s really freaking fun,” Nix says.
Love Cycling Studio
Nearly three years ago, best friends Stephanie Kincheloe and Maria Groten started Love Cycling Studio, a spin-class studio located on the corner of West Fifth and Pressler streets.. They believe the name of their business explains why they do what they do.
“Using the word ‘love,’ it has no negative connotations at all,” Kincheloe explains. “You love yourself, you love others. I love the blue sky. I love the sunshine. It is one of those words that truly described what I think both Maria and I felt in our heart for each other, for the workout, for what we were building, for the community.”
Kincheloe is very much focused on the service side of the business. She makes sure the staff learns clients’ names and greets them by their names when they come in. She wants the staff to know people’s shoes sizes, learn everyone’s individual preferences and offer them what they need before they need to ask. The goal is for everyone who takes a class at Love Cycling to feel special. After every class, Kincheloe says, she wants a client to have “felt as if it was a space they wanted to be in, [that]they felt as if it were a place where they could hang out with their friends.”
At the counter, you can grab complimentary earplugs, hairbands and gum, and coffee and bananas are always available. A bright, white hallway adorned with lyrics from love-themed songs—Queen’s “Crazy little thing called love” and Rihanna’s “We found love”—leads back to a common room with lockers, changing rooms with showers and a single state-of-the-art workout space with a whole host of cycles for spin classes.
As fate would have it, Kincheloe and Groten first met at a spin studio in Austin. Kincheloe, who was a New York City transplant, had been trying to find a spin class and community that mirrored what she had on the East Coast. She found that with Groten.
“We rode next to each other and we’re both super competitive. And so, it was always, ‘OK, let’s go!’ We’d have a coffee after class and just your typical evolution of a friendship. We became close,” she says.
Then, a few years ago, in a conversation alongside margaritas by Kincheloe’s pool, Groten mentioned she was ready for a transition in her life, and Kincheloe suggested they start Love Cycling together.
“It was scary because I had been a mom for 20 years and I was a schoolteacher in my past, but had never been a business owner,” Groten says. “I am that person who believes when a door opens, you walk through it. And you take risks and, especially if it’s something that you’re passionate about, you go for it.”
Of the two, only Groten teaches, but even those occasions are limited. Owning a business is time-consuming, and teaching can take a lot out of her. Still, cycling remains an important part of her life, so much so that Groten calls her spin classes her “spinistry.”
“It’s my church, it’s my happy place and I get to do it with the people I love,” she says.
GrassIron Fitness encompasses a single large room tucked behind Titaya’s Thai Cuisine on North Lamar Boulevard. In fact, the restaurant and gym share a wall. The gym, which has a clientele that is about 50 percent women, mainly offers personal training, but it does have Olympic weightlifting classes, powerlifting classes, a strength-and-conditioning class and yoga.
Squat racks, barbells and weights are the only decorations lining the walls. The only mirror in the place is a sliver by the row machines. It’s positioned at the eye level of the people on the machines so they can see behind them. Otherwise, you can’t see yourself as you workout, which is the point and purpose.
“First of all, it’s really important to be able to feel what correct technique is and not try to watch yourself in the mirror and see whether or not you’re doing it correctly,” says Co-owner Amalia Litras. “Also, we want people focused on movement and strength and that aspect of why they’re at the gym and not how they look.”
Litras and her wife and business partner, Pattie Farley, opened GrassIron—a play on “grassroots” and “lifting iron”—in November 2011. To this day, Litras competitively competes in weightlifting tournaments. Farley used to be a competitive powerlifter until about three years ago. They both coach at competitions.
Before GrassIron, the duo worked as contract trainers at Hyde Park Gym. But given the restrictions, they decided to strike out on their own.
“We really wanted to be able to have a weightlifting team and powerlifting teams, and in that space, it just wasn’t possible,” Litras explains.
Farley adds that, with their own space, they’re be able to focus on semiprivate training sessions they couldn’t offer in a typical gym setting. Beyond that, they wanted more control of the community of people at the gym itself.
“Even though Hyde Park [Gym] is a great place and has a much better sense of community than most gyms, it still doesn’t allow for the type of community we have here,” Litras says.
That community is a welcoming and encouraging one, an extension of the tone set by Litras and Farley.
“One of the things that we’ve been really deliberate about is creating space where there aren’t comparisons. Comparison is the thief to happiness,” Litras says, paraphrasing the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote.
“We intentionally don’t compare one person’s achievements against another person’s achievements,” Litras explains. “We intentionally celebrate someone being able to do a barbell squat with an empty barbell for the first time as much as we celebrate somebody who’s able to squat, I don’t know, 150 kilos, and that’s been a huge goal for them.”
Training like this seeps into the community of clients who frequent GrassIron.
“If I’m not competing against you, I can be much more genuine in my encouragement because it’s not about me besting you or you besting me,” Litras says. “So, I think that creates the kind of culture we want here, where everyone’s really encouraging. Everyone focuses on bringing other people up because it doesn’t affect your placement.”
Farley succinctly summarizes the GrassIron community.
“When we started here, we wanted to be the best part of a person’s day. I think that is also really rewarding,” she says. “Whatever else is going on, they come here and accomplish something.”