A Catholic CrossFit gym in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is bringing a whole new meaning to redemptive suffering. Oversized white boards typical to CrossFit gyms hang on the walls of Divine Mercy Fitness. Not so typical to CrossFit gyms are the prayer intentions scrawled across the board alongside the description of the day's workout. “You can offer up your suffering during the workout for souls,” explained member Father Brian Larkin. In addition to its prayer intentions board, other indicators of the gym's Catholic roots include scripture verses along the walls and icons.
An image of Divine Mercy serves as a backdrop to exercise equipment. Priests work out alongside laity, and members start each workout with a prayer. Monsignor Tom Fryar, a member at the gym, described the atmosphere at Divine Mercy Fitness as spiritual and uplifting. “It's a supporting setting for people to come together and know they're doing something good; not only for themselves, but beyond,” he said.
Divine Mercy Fitness started in 2008 in the house garage of owner Steve Smith. The current location opened in 2009 in an industrial section of southeast Denver. Besides daily classes, Divine Mercy Fitness offers Olympic lifting training, neuromuscular therapy and a “Women on Weights” program tailored for women battling osteoporosis. Though the gym is open and available for all people, Smith told CNA he has a special outreach to priests and seminarians. “They do so much work on spiritual formation and education; and a lot of times they don't have the emphasis on their physical bodies,” Smith said. “We all know it's soul, body and mind; and when you leave one out, the others suffer.” “And so my goal is simply to have a place that is safe, in terms of dress, and is just appropriate for priests to be exposed to — versus (other gyms) where you have a whole bunch of inappropriate things going on.”
Fr. Larkin has been a member at Divine Mercy Fitness since day one, when he was still a seminarian. He told CNA he is grateful to have access to a gym that gives him a good workout without compromising his faith. “As a Christian, it can be hard to go to the gym sometimes; especially as a priest,” he explained. “It's almost like Divine Mercy is redeeming the workout culture.” “I love to work out, I think it's really important and I think it makes you happier and healthier. (But) some of the fitness culture — in fact, almost all of it in our country — is broken. It's characterized by vanity and by lust, quite frankly. There can also be a pride that comes with physical fitness.”
Smith's personal goal is to help 100 priests and seminarians get physically fit. So far, he's had more than a dozen. “The hard part is taking the time to do it,” he said. “We try to convince the priests who have a hard time to really come in.” Another typical barrier to fitness, and CrossFit in particular, is cost. Membership at Divine Mercy Fitness has an initial fee of $250 for those who are new to the CrossFit movement. After that, membership costs $125 each month for access to the gym three times a week. But, for priests and seminarians, membership is free. Smith pays out of his own pocket. “There's no way I could do it without Steve being so generous toward priests and seminarians,” Fr. Larkin said. “That wasn't something we approached him about. It was his initiative and he's being doing it since...they were still running the gym out of their garage.” “I think the Church is healthier when its priests are healthier, so it's a great service that Steve and his family are giving to priests.”
Msgr. Fryar said he can see the difference in his ministry since he started working out regularly at Divine Mercy Fitness several years ago. “I've certainly got more energy to carry out my full days,” he explained. “Quite often, I start the day around 5 and hopefully get in bed by 11. Every bit of energy you can have, it all helps.” Fr. Larkin echoed Msgr. Fryar's comments. “Working out helps me to be joyful in being a priest,” he said. “It helps me be the man I'm supposed to be to serve my parish.”
Smith is looking for donors to assist in covering membership costs of the priests and seminarians who walk through the doors of Divine Mercy Fitness. Those who are interested can find more information at www.divinemercyfitness.com.
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