HURRICANE — A crowded gym pulsating with sweaty, steaming bodies. Run-of-the-mill equipment cracked and stained from years of use. Jam-packed schedules of classes offering only the latest in fitness trends. People drifting in and out of the gym’s doors, strangers to one another.
When Justin and Katie Smith opened SmithFit Training in 2015, they knew exactly what their gym would not be: everything described above.
Instead, the young married couple intentionally fostered an atmosphere very different from that in their original 1,000-square-foot space.
A dedicated core of members who interact almost like a family, sharing not only their fitness aspirations, but also their lives. High-quality equipment kept clean and maintained to help #teamsmithfit members achieve their goals. A determination to educate and inspire others to lead lives of overall health and wellness.
If SmithFit succeeds in being a unique gym experience, it is only because of the uniqueness of the Smiths themselves. They are passionate, optimistic and altruistic business owners.
“Justin and I decided to co-found SmithFit out of a desire to genuinely help others find health and wellness in their lives,” Katie Smith said. “We feel that we have been gifted with a passion for health, and the gym is a manifestation of our desire to extend what we’ve been given to serve others.”
She continues, “We wanted to create an atmosphere that is intentional, welcoming and uplifting. We want SmithFit to be more than a gym. We want it to be a family.”
Over the years, the SmithFit “family” has grown, sharing both the highs and lows of life together. The Smiths have rejoiced alongside their members over exciting milestones, and they have grieved with them during the hard times.
“We have watched clients graduate, get married, and raise families. We have also witnessed job losses and financial difficulties,” Justin said. “The worst part is something we didn’t prepare for when we opened the gym, and that is when members themselves pass away. No one thinks about that when you open a business. But even with those dark times, we’ve learned to love people and live even better.”
Justin and Katie Smith seem less concerned about the bottom line than about the people they serve.
“Our goal has never been to become wealthy or to be business moguls,” Katie said. “Instead, we offer listening ears. We are positive encouragers and we might just be your two biggest fans.”
She added, “In the beginning of owning SmithFit, we would often joke that we were two people opening our first business with zero business experience, but we had big hearts and big dreams.”
Dreams of owning and operating a gym together began when the two were in college. Katie was studying literature at Marshall and Justin, exercise at West Virginia State University.
“I literally had a dream that I owned a gym and lived above it,” Justin said.
“Incidentally, the gym’s first location, which was in Poca, actually did have an apartment above it that we lived in,” Katie added.
The young college students, who met at a GNC in Charleston, shared a passion for working out, lifting weights and eating well. Even before they graduated, the two had married and had started down the path toward realizing their dream of owning a gym.
“In 2012, while I was in Shakespeare class at Marshall, Justin texted me about selecting a name for his personal training business, which he had been growing for some time,” Katie recalled. “I thought SmithFit Training had a nice ring to it.”
Later, when gym members began posting photos of their physical progress on Instagram with the hashtag #teamsmithfit, they knew it had been the right choice.
The first SmithFit facility was located in Poca — the one the young couple lived in early in their marriage. Then they moved to their new 3,000-square-foot location at 44 Midland Trail in Hurricane in 2016.
“SmithFit offers a less-crowded, hyper-clean, strategically designed, home-away-from-home atmosphere where strangers can become family,” Justin said. “We’re sure you won’t find another better, more well-rounded, people-focused facility in the area.”
The Smiths focus on providing what their members want. The gym is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to its members. A range of equipment is available, including strongman, powerlifting, iron dumbbells, general fitness and boxing accoutrements. Members even have the ability to choose the music playing over the speakers.
“We also value the quality of the personal training we offer to our members,” Katie remarks. “Justin, with over a decade of experience and numerous certifications, is the head personal trainer. We also have contracted personal trainers who call SmithFit home. In the past, we offered group classes, but we are not currently doing so in order to maintain the less-crowded feel that so many of our members hold dear.”
It would seem that the regard the Smiths have for their members is mutual. And it goes deeper even than those members who move away but stop back by SmithFit to say hi when they visit (which happens from time to time). During the COVID-19 pandemic, when SmithFit was closed from mid-March to July, the Smiths were not forgotten by their “family.”
“Though we made the decision to not charge any of our members during the duration of the closure, many offered to continue paying their membership fees so that we could ‘still be around when all of this is over,’” Katie said. “Those payments were crucial to us being able to survive economically during that time. Those payments, combined with a very understanding landlord, are the two primary reasons we could continue to keep our doors open once restrictions were lifted.”
She added, “We’ve been so very blessed with the people who have been a part of our #teamsmithfit family.”
“The most satisfying part of my job are the people I have met. They positively impact my days. Whether it’s listening to a loud, goofy song with a member or having a heart-to-heart talk on the pew at the front of the gym, I am so thankful for the members who have come, gone, and stayed in mine and Katie’s lives.”
Today, Justin manages SmithFit while Katie works as a Putnam County librarian.
“I am a one-man show,” he jokes. “I am all parts of SmithFit rolled into one: CEO, custodian, project manager, personal trainer, gym manager, advertising rep and customer relations manager. If it involves the business, it involves me. Katie helps me when I need it, but I am still in charge of all the day-to-day activities.”
Their partnership and philosophy truly have made SmithFit different from other gyms.
“SmithFit Training, while keeping up-to-date, will never be a place to adhere to trends or promote something that is temporary,” Katie explained. “We are classic. We are timeless. We will continue to share the same message: lifelong health and wellness go beyond workouts and goals. How you achieve your definition of health, throughout the varying seasons of life, is determined by you as an individual.”
Justin chimes in, “Lord willing, we will be there to support you as best we can.”