Stow gym flexes muscles as community center
Kellie Dziemianzuk spent 14 years as a special education teacher, with a side gig teaching fitness at a local gym.
When the COVID-19 pandemic descended in 2020, Dziemianzuk decided to put the side gig front and center. She struck out on her own and founded Tyrannosaurus Flex, the name inspired by a sparkly purple ceramic dinosaur painted by Dzmiemianzuk's daughter.
She started a Facebook page for the gym and started broadcasting lessons online, free for anyone to watch. Her husband, a graphic designer, helped create the logo.
More:Cardio drumming at Tyrannosaurus Flex (T-Flex) Fitness
"I was teaching lots of classes — drumming, strength, dance, kickboxing — just all different kinds of classes," Dzmiemianzuk said. Her own children got in on the action as well, teaching classes to other kids for gym credits during pandemic shutdowns .
As spring weather moved in, Dzmiemianzuk began holding classes in fields and parking lots to comply with distancing mandates. Not only did this allow people to stay physically fit, but it also gave them the chance to improve their mental health during a time of protracted isolation.
"Everyone was kind of going stir crazy being at home all the time," she said. "It was just something fun that people looked forward to, something people could do as a family, meet new people, hit the mental and physical health."
Providing a judgment-free zone was always part of the plan.
She is more than happy to provide a safe space for people to come to make friends, she said, and she's encouraged by how many of her students interact with each other outside of classes.
Three years later, the gym she founded — now located in its own space at 3073 Graham Road after bouncing between eight different facilities — has grown into the dual role of exercise space and community center.
"And now it's to the point where if anyone needs anything, we try and fill that gap completely," Dzmiemianzuk said. "And that is a big premise for us — giving back, helping others, being a good human as well as hitting that mental and physical health need. Everyone takes care of each other here."
Tyrannosaurus Flex has served as a hub for baby formula drives, an ongoing winter clothes drive, cancer support groups and an in-progress fundraiser for a hospitalized 9-year-old whose family is active with the gym.
"We're raising money to buy a little boy with leukemia at Akron Children's a [Nintendo] Switch with some games, so he has something to do — because he doesn't have any of that," Dzmiemianzuk said.
During the early days, when Tyrannosaurus Flex classes convened in parking lots and fields, anywhere from 25 to 250 people were attending. Now Dzmiemianzuk said that she sees anywhere from 100 to 300 people daily.
"All of our classes are outside-of-the-box fun," Dzmiemianzuk said. "Just come, and you just have a good time—laugh, dance, sing, just have fun."
The gym offers a variety of classes, a little over 20 each week, from barre workouts to kickboxing, Zumba and Zumbini, strength training and self-defense instruction, and even a gentle yoga class.
"The gentle yoga really focuses on helping with anxiety, stress, PTSD, depression; the lady that teaches it is very intuitive and helps a lot with mental health," said Dzmiemianzuk.
The gym also holds adults-only burlesque classes focusing on female empowerment, boosting confidence and self esteem.
Tyrannosaurus Flex tailors its offerings to the students' needs. Classes are determined by polling the community, and every three months or so Dzmiemianzuk offers a free week of classes so that people can get a taste of what's on the menu. Community days are frequent as well — two to three a month — when prospective patrons can come in and take a free class.
The pace of growth, however, could put Tyrannosaurus Flex on the move again, Dzmiemianzuk said — and the goal is to relocate to a more spacious, standalone building.
'The most fulfilling thing I've ever done'
Dzmiemianzuk said her staff is integral to the gym's success.
"They're amazing, they've been with me since day one," she said. The majority of her staff had never taught a class before. Dzmiemianzuk said she hired them for their caring and compassionate personalities and then taught them how to instruct a class.
Watching people come to her gym and physically and mentally transform has had a meaningful impact on her.
"It's the most fulfilling thing I've ever done in my entire life," Dzmiemianzuk said.
Contact reporter Derek Kreider at DKreider@Gannett.com
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Stow gym Tyrannosaurus Flex serves as gym and community center