Tales from the gym: Gina and Ken Clifton

Gina and Ken Clifton attend Emerald Fitness Center in Cottage Grove.

Like many, when Gina and Ken Clifton began their fitness journey they were in a difficult spot with their health. Following a pregnancy Gina had gained 80 pounds. Ken found himself working at as an icu nurse and was having a hard time climbing a flight of stairs at PeaceHealth hospital.

“I lived in Oklahoma. Everybody carries a 32-ounce soda. It’s meat and potatoes, so yeah, it (weight) is easy to put on,” Gina said. I had tried to lose a little bit of weight but it didn't really work very well. We moved to California, everybody's in shape and carrying water bottles. I just felt weird to be somewhere where it was foreign for me to be this big and I was so uncomfortable.”

Gina took a visit to the doctor who had some blunt words for her, “I couldn't bend over and tie my shoes as easy. I was like, hey, this isn't alright, so I went to the doctor and thought that oh, she's going to give me a magic pill. She's like, No, you're going do it the right way,” Gina said. “Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers and she also kind of shamed me. I guess I kind of needed that because I wasn't in the reality of even knowing that I needed to lose as much as she was saying.”

Gina would go onto lose 100 pounds through watching her nutrition intake and doing various types of activity, including following fitness star and martial artist Billy Blanks through his daily television program.

“I did kickboxing with Billy Blanks. I told my kids to stay on the couch because mom will kick you. There's a lot of kicking, each one probably got kicked once, then they didn't get off (the couch). They always call them Uncle Billy because every day at 10 o'clock in the morning, he was on the TV. Once I just got that motivation it (the weight) coming off easily at the beginning. It just was easy to stick with it and I it took a year or so. There were times where there would be birthday parties or whatever, so it went up a little bit and I got right back on track and just came down,” Gina added.

After having lived in Oklahoma and California, Gina and Ken moved to Cottage Grove in 2006 from Sacramento. That’s when they regularly started working out at Better Bodies, which is now under the flagship of Emerald Fitness, where Gina now works. That’s when Ken’s journey began.

“In that same year, 2006 I had gained over time through our time in Oklahoma and Sacramento about 50 pounds. She (Gina) started working out at the gym here, and I had known for a while that this (his weight gain) was not good. I work at PeaceHealth over at the old Sacred Heart, I was walking up the parking garage stairs and I got up to the third flight and I had to stop. That’s where the switch turned in me,” Ken said.

Ken grew up eating homemade meals and didn’t eat out at restaurants till he was seven years old. “We grew our own food, we ate what we grew, and my mom was a very good cook and healthy.”

“I would go to the gym and it wasn’t easy that first month. I couldn’t get on a treadmill and go a mile. That's how short of breath I would be, so I just did the elliptical. I would do the elliptical for like 20 or 30 minutes, then a treadmill for like 20 or 30. Then my metabolism started kicking in.”

 Gina now not only works out regularly at the gym with Ken, but she has also run marathons. “I have people coming in the gym all the time, that are like ‘I've never been in here before’ and they're like ‘I need to lose weight or I need to do this’.  I'll show them my picture. I don't have any problems doing that and if I can motivate somebody it'd be great,” said Gina.

About 1 in 4 Americans went to the gym, exercise club or fitness studio in 2019, according to the Global Health and Fitness Association. About 49.9% of people go to the gym at least twice per week while the average gym goer keeps their memberships for 4.7 years.

“We definitely have a few that have come in and said you know, ‘I'm off my meds, I get to now do this and I don't have to worry about that’ and it gets exciting. And then you create a friendship and keep talking. I have so many people that I'm on a first name basis with and even before I was working there I was friends with a lot of them,” said Gina.

According to www.Livestrong.com, about half of new gym members quit in the first six months. 38% say they quit because of membership costs. 23% say they quit because they don't use their membership.

“It's weird because being there now 16 years as a member, I have I watched people come in and sign up and I can almost tell you if they're going to stay or not just because I've gotten so used to it. When they do cancel, they have all these reasons, all of them from financial to they just don't want to do it anymore. And I can't understand that, like I can't compute that because I've just done this for so long. It's so weird,” Gina added.

 “You're the captain of your destiny. No matter what anybody says you can do it if you want to do it,” Ken said. Find what makes you want to go (to the gym). For me it was good walk up a flight of stairs. I didn't want to get on blood pressure medications. I can say see, I’ve seen people get off their Metformin or other meds, people get off their antidepressants regularly,” Ken added.