by Brandon LaChance

In November, a sign on the door of the gym in Dwight read temporarily closed.
Members were shocked and wondered what was next for their fitness journey without a center in town to cut some calories and work up a sweat.

Stephan and Rodney Connor and Shayla and Harold Smith, all gym members who participated in Crossfit classes, immediately put their brains to work to figure out a way to help re-open the gym.

“This gym has changed my life for sure and I believe the same could be said for all four of us through the Crossfit programs that have been here,” Rodney Connor said. “It’s been really important to all of us. One day a lot of people came to the gym and the doors were locked.

“That scared us because we need a place to work out at in town. We immediately called the landlord of the building (Jeff Schade) and asked, ‘What do we need to do to get this place opened?’ We all have our own jobs, so this is a part-time job for all of us. I don’t think any of us would have been willing to take on the gym by ourselves. We split it and decided to share the work, the risk, and the income of owning a gym in a small town.”

The ownership group renamed the gym located at 108 Watters Dr. to Sweat Factory.

The Sweat Factory opened membership signup on Dec. 8 and opened the doors Dec. 10.

Jan. 15 will be the grand opening as a ribbon cutting will be held at 8:45 a.m. and an open house will be 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

“I’m pretty excited. It’s kind of surreal, but we’re getting a lot of great feedback,” said Stephan Connor, who is a painter who applies his craft to signs, murals, and basically any canvas looking for a splash of color. “I never thought I’d be involved in something like this until a month and two weeks ago. I was taking classes at the gym and Shayla was the instructor. We watched the gym deteriorate week after week. We kind of talked after class a few days. Then we talked to Rodney and then we met with the old gym owner (Jennifer Woodburn) to see if it was something we would even be interested in and then it went from there.

“We feel pretty strong with the support we have had with the village. When they found out we were taking the gym over, lots of people reached out. Everybody in town knows all of us. They’ve known us for a long, long time.

“I didn’t expect anything like that. I went to the grocery store and people told me thank you for opening the gym. A lot of people are excited that it’s being run by local business owners in town. Three of the four of us our local business owners. I think it’s a more secure feeling for customers after the gym closing and not being able to go.”

Schade was the first owner of the gym as he called it Champions Gym when the building was built in the 1990s.

When Schade relocated to Arizona, Woodburn took over the management role. In September 2021, Kenny Taylor became the new owner until November.

Coaching and working out at the facility on a regular basis, it only seemed right for Shayla Smith to join the ownership group.

“Being a Crossfit coach, there really isn’t room for advancement except for owning your own gym,” said Shayla, who owns Shayla Loring Photography, is a member of the Dwight Economic Alliance Board, is a Christmas for Kids organizer, and is part of a co-op called One Collective – which is formed by high school photographers. “It’s just kind of cool to make that the next step. I clearly have a love for small businesses and I enjoy everything about them. It’s fun to be a part of another one and to provide a good, fun atmosphere for people in Dwight to have a healthy habit.

“I think we all have the same mentality of wanting to keep the gym alive. We’ve all owned businesses or been a part of a business endeavor. Stephan is a creative business owner. I’ve known the Connors forever. I think the trust is there to have a business together and to share the responsibilities. I think it’s going to be all hands-on deck. It has been for the last two months. Some people excel in other spaces than another owner. I’m coaching classes that we have, so that’s my area. We all share the cleaning duties. We’re all having fun with the social media.”

Harold Smith, who tied the knot with Shayla on Sept. 5, 2021, is employed by the Department of Corrections and has always been interested in owning a small business.

With the help of his wife and two friends in the Connor, Harold saw this as a great opportunity to expand his horizons.

“We’re really excited to get the community back involved in the gym. We want to keep the doors open and giving everyone a safe and healthy spot,” Harold Smith said. “We want to get younger students involved and keep older citizens involved by giving them something to do. It’s definitely an exciting time.

“Shayla has been very involved with the gym and very passionate about it. When the opportunity came up, it just seemed like a no-brainer to have an adventure together. We’re a newly married couple (Sept. 5. 2021) and it’s nice to explore the adventure of owning a small business and helping the community.

“The gym is a nice outlet to get your focus on something more positive than some of the negativity you see within a prison system. It’s a nice area to release some of the energy and focus on something positive.”

The owners welcome all comments and suggestions of ways to improve the Sweat Factory.

They can be reached on Facebook (Sweat Factory) or their website, sweatfactorydwight.com.

Potential members can go to the Sweat Factory at anytime and fill out the membership application. A phone number is listed on the application so people can text it to receive a code to enter the gym if an owner is not present.

Brandon LaChance is a journalist for The Paper. He can be reached at (815) 876-7941, blachance20@gmail.com, or on Twitter @LaChanceWriter.

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