CrossFit Johns Island hopes to fill fitness void

Until three weeks ago, Leigh Schlechta, 42, of Johns Island never went to a gym. Since then, she's joined CrossFit Johns Island and has been attending regular workouts.

Nic Porter's profession and passion are the same: fitness.

By day, the 34-year-old is the director of Seabrook Island's multimillion-dollar fitness centers, The Lake House and Oyster Catcher Community Center and Pool. By night, in the past two years, he welcomed neighbors, friends and acquaintances to his Johns Island home garage-turned-gym where he held free CrossFit workouts.

It was clear there was a fitness void, of sorts, on the 84-square-mile rural island. Of all of Charleston's communities, Johns Island may be the most underserved for fitness facilities. The only other fitness facility is the 24-hour Anytime Fitness franchise on Maybank Highway.

After the gatherings outgrew Porter's garage, he started looking around Johns Island for an affordable warehouse to open a CrossFit gym, aka "box." He found one at Sea Island Business Park on River Road and opened CrossFit Johns Island three weeks ago.

But instead of charging the going rates for most CrossFit gyms, typically $100 or more a month, Porter is charging $50 for individuals, $75 for couples and $35 for military, veterans, law enforcement, fire and emergency personnel for unlimited workout sessions.

"I would love to make it free, but I've got a lease to pay now and I got about $35,000 worth of equipment that I paid for and put up in here," says Porter.

But he's still trying to find a way for people who can't afford the fees to join. For every 15th person who signs up, he's offering a "fitness scholarship": the first two of which already have been awarded to a single mother and her daughter.

"My mom was a single parent and she never took care of herself because she was always running me to sports," says Porter. "We are a community gym, open to everyone."

To emphasize that, Porter is inviting the community to a free "Workout Cookout" at 3 p.m. Sunday and has approached the coaches at St. John's High School about getting some of the athletes in for workouts this summer.

And while he has yet to achieve the racial diversity he hopes to draw, CrossFit Johns Island already is drawing people across the age and socioeconomic spectrum, including both fitness buffs and former couch potatoes.

Among those at a workout a week ago was 42-year-old Leigh Schlechta of Johns Island, who joined CrossFit Johns Island two weeks ago.

"I never worked out at a gym before," says Schlechta, adding that a friend in similar shape had been urging her to join in Porter's workouts for six months before she did.

Like so many working, married mothers, Schlechta has a hard time fitting workouts in between a job in finance at the Medical University of South Carolina, taking classes at Charleston Southern University and caring for her family.

But the proximity of CrossFit Johns Island and the camaraderie shared during workouts suited her.

"Everyone is so friendly and supportive. Nic has been phenomenal," says Schlecta, admitting that she's been sore, but a "good sore," from the workouts and plans to keep coming back for more.

While CrossFit appeals largely to young adults, 64-year-old Wadmalaw Island resident Tom Peck was keeping up with others young enough to be his grandchildren last week at CrossFit Johns Island.

"I like coming here because I like hanging with the kids. It energizes you more to do more than you can do," says Peck, a lean man with a background in running and yoga.

Peck, who works at Seabrook Island, enjoys working out with an array of people and is a fan of Porter, not only because he's a good trainer but "a community guy."

"He really believes in giving back. That touched my heart for sure," says Peck.

Patti Romano, 57, of Seabrook Island is an avid runner and triathlete, but admits that working out on her own was getting lonely. She joined a weekly group run in downtown Charleston and then Porter's garage gang, then CrossFit Johns Island.

"I think the best part about the group is that it is all different ages and abilities. It doesn't matter. Everybody cheers everybody else on," says Romano, who is married and has two teenage sons. "When you're with a group of people, there's a contagious energy."

Porter talks about the people he trains like they are family, but he's also grateful to be able to help.

"Seabrook (Island) gave me the opportunity to do this. That's my career. This is my passion to help," say Porter. "This is for the community of Johns Island. In all honesty, this is the community's gym, not mine. I just signed the lease."

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.