Looking beyond the shelves of protein crisps and performance powder at Freedom Training Center, there’s a real story of hope, resilience and courage that plays out daily on the weight floor.
The protagonist of that story? Well, it could be anybody walking through their doors. But the person driving them, more likely than not, is Melanie Medlock, a personal trainer and one of the gym’s co-owners.
A Yelm native voted best personal trainer in the 2020 Best of Nisqually, Medlock, 39, brings 18 years of experience in the fitness and nutrition industry to her work and is working diligently with her fellow staff at Freedom Training Center (FTC) to ensure the community is staying fit and healthy during this tumultuous time.
“I want to create an environment where people can come in and feel like they can be better,” Medlock said from behind the check-in counter on a recent early morning.
On the floor at FTC, she’s known as the gym mom — any help you need or questions you have, she’s there with focused eyes, a determined attitude and open ears. Her role, of course, doesn’t stop at the gym though; the 39-year-old is also a mother to two lovely girls, she said.
Her goal when she comes into FTC every day at 4 a.m. is to help people work on their best selves and make physical improvements through routine workouts and nutrition guidance. Medlock characterizes her work as “90 percent counseling and 10 percent instructing,” emphasizing that daily habits, a positive attitude and determination are what turns goals into reality.
“When your mind is strong, your body’s strong,” she said. “My passion is to help people live a healthy lifestyle, whatever their ‘healthy lifestyle’ is because it’s different for everyone.”
From high school students to local first responders and service members, FTC has been serving the diverse Nisqually Valley community for about six years.
Stephanie Cruz, 32, a gym co-owner, started coming to the gym about four years ago, after her husband told her about Melanie.
She’d been going through a lot around the time she started working out with Medlock, who would push her to new limits first as a client and later as a friend and business partner.
“I didn’t realize how badly I needed her in my life,” Cruz said. “I had depression … and she didn’t just whip my butt physically, she whipped my butt emotionally. I didn’t realize how badly I needed that.”
Cruz was working at a local veterinary hospital when she was approached by Medlock to join the gym as a business partner.
“At that point, I thought ‘well what is there to lose?’ I was unhappy and needed a career change,” she said, adding that since joining she’s “grown so much just as a person, as a friend, as a wife and as a mom.”
There’s a real comradery at FTC, Cruz said, and they look to foster a non-judgemental environment. She said they try to be very interactive with their “gym family,” and Cruz said she’ll sometimes walk an hour on the treadmill with people just to keep them going.
John Tucker, 42, of Spanaway, is one of those clients she’ll walk with.
“The reason I like coming here is because of the community. It’s very therapeutic,” he said. “A gym is just a gym without the people.”
The 32-minute drive out to Yelm doesn’t phase him, he said. He first started going to FTC back when the gym was located in McKenna and he’s still a loyal member, coming almost daily, even today.
About five years ago, Tucker lost his arm in a car accident. After the accident, doing little things like going to the gym and taking photos of himself felt awkward.
“I sort of felt that I lost my identity at first,” he said.
Today, he’s regained his confidence, even runs with his shirt off and has a strong relationship with a gym he loves. He could be seen on Monday sporting a sleeveless shirt, walking around with confidence.
Recently, he’s been documenting his workout regimen through social media app TikTok (@j_tucker253), where his bio reads, “Don’t let anything stop you, even if it stops you.”
Braeden Zurfluh, 19, of Yelm, is a recent high school graduate who is undergoing a nutrition and training program under Medlock. He works out six days a week and eats about five meals a day.
Many of his family members, Zurfluh admits, have also been taking to Medlock’s program, including his father who is a deputy with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
The best place to start, Zurfluh said, is with a nutrition program. It also helps to have a determined trainer, he said.
“That’s where the passion comes from. That’s the part where anyone at any age can become better. Even when you’ve reached the top, there’s always room for improvement,” Medlock said of Zurfluh.
Medlock said they’re very blessed to have the community support their business. FTC, she said, hasn’t received any federal CARES Act assistance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the same time has been reaching out to clients remotely and in small groups to make sure people are meeting their personal goals.
During state-mandated business closures, which started in March of last year and ended more than a dozen weeks later, the gym gave out roughly 87 workouts for free. They also freezed people’s accounts during the closure, though many of their dedicated members responded by still submitting payments while they were closed.
“We tried to do the best for our community knowing that everybody was struggling,” she said.