by Kaye Bennett
Sweat equity - paying for something with your labor - is an old idea, but here's a new one: sweat electricity. It's an idea that Kalamazoo College alumna and physical education instructor Carrie Brankiewicz will be bringing to the Kalamazoo community when her new fitness studio opens this summer.
When her original studio, Carrie's Fitness Studio, located on the third floor of the Mall Plaza building in downtown Kalamazoo, exceeded her business goals - even in a down economy - Brankiewicz decided it was time to grow. And while she was at it, to grow green.
Her new studio, to be called The Fitness Spot, will be on the first floor of the building next door to her current location, where it will share space with the popular downtown eatery, Irving's Market and Deli. At 3,700 square feet, it will be three times the size of her current studio, but what's most exciting: It will incorporate numerous environment-friendly innovations.
Brankiewicz has been working with Florida-based ReRev, a company that retrofits cardio equipment to capture energy that workouts generate. That energy usually manifests as equipment heat, requiring facilities to crank up the air conditioning for the comfort of patrons. The ReRev technology, however, reroutes the generated energy to a central processing unit that converts it to utility-grade electricity. It then goes through a processor into an inverter which feeds directly into the building's electrical system. ReRev estimates that one elliptical machine in regular use generates one kilowatt hour of electricity every two days - enough to power a laptop for 24 hours or a vacuum cleaner for 45 minutes. While this saving won't free us from our dependence on foreign energy sources, it is enough to get people thinking as they pedal or stride. The Fitness Spot will be the first Michigan site to use the ReRev technology.
Brankiewicz has plenty of other ways to make her new studio green. An electricity-free treadmill called the Woodway EcoMill will allow users to charge their iPods or cell phones while they work out. She will be using recycled and refurbished materials, including flooring made from recycled rubber. She will be reusing everything from her current studio in the new one, even the hardwood floor. All light bulbs will be compact fluorescents, and locker rooms will incorporate high-efficiency toilets and shower heads. She plans to control the temperature with ceiling fans to cut down on the level of air conditioning needed.
Brankiewicz has planned a studio that will be spa-like. "I don't want it to look like a gym," she said. Local muralist Conrad Kaufman will be painting a landscape scene in the studio, and plants will cascade down seven-foot walls.
A long-time fan of both Kalamazoo College and downtown Kalamazoo, Brankiewicz hopes the new studio will encourage K students to get more familiar with the city. She envisions fitness dance classes tailored for young adults, organized runs from campus to downtown, and using the Fitness Spot as a venue to showcase student art at the city's monthly Art Hops. In addition, she will be teaching Hip Hop Club Dance in the College's physical education department starting this fall.
A native of Southfield, Michigan, Brankiewicz, 28, graduated in 2004 with a degree in biology and a French minor and studied abroad in Strasbourg, France. She had been a three-sport athlete at Farmington Hills Mercy High School ("a jock all my life," she says) and during her four years at K played volleyball under Head Coach Jeanne Hess. She was team captain for two years and won numerous awards, including the Mary Long Burch award for displaying excellence in both athletics and scholarship.
During her senior year, Brankiewicz realized that she wouldn't always be able to maintain the intensity of training she'd put into her sports, so she began working with PE instructor Laura Steurer, who introduced her to Pilates and cardio kick-boxing. That training inspired Brankiewicz to a career in fitness. She became certified as an aerobics instructor, then a massage therapist and ultimately a personal
"A jock all my life!"trainer. Currently she teaches in the College's PE department and its wellness program.
After building up her clientele by working with people in their homes, Brankiewicz opened Carrie's Fitness Studio in 2007. Word of mouth - and possibly even the recession - helped it to grow quickly. When the economy is bad, believes Brankiewicz, "people give up vacations and luxury cars and invest in their bodies instead."
Jeanne Hess's coaching philosophy also played a big part in Brankiewicz's career. Hess, according to Brankiewicz, stresses, "It's not always about wins and losses, but about processes." She taught her players to trust the process, and that concept gave Brankiewicz the courage to start her own business.
Brankiewicz recognized early on that many people don't want to work out with or in sight of large groups of people they don't know. Therefore her current studio offers and The Fitness Spot will continue to offer one-on-one and small group (five to ten people) personal training sessions and classes, which Brankiewicz says develops a more family-like atmosphere, as well as the privacy many clients prefer.
At least one of Brankiewicz's clients is quite accustomed to performing in front of audiences. Musician and "American Idol" finalist Matt Giraud is a very satisfied client.
Another of Brankiewicz's fans is her client and friend Karina Mirsky, owner and instructor at Sangha Yoga in downtown Kalamazoo. Brankiewicz has been Mirsky's personal trainer since early 2009, and Mirsky says she appreciates the intimate environment that Brankiewicz has created in her studio. "People can feel safe working out there, no matter what their body type," Mirsky believes. Like Brankiewicz, she has designed her yoga studio with an eye toward sustaining the environment.
For more information about services Carrie Brankiewicz currently offers at Carrie's Fitness Studio and for updates on the progress of The Fitness Spot, visit carriesfitnessstudio.com or call 269-344-3845.