The Least Trendy Fitness Club in Town

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Rosie Murrell
  • Rosie Murrell
The water temperature in the pool is a lethargy-inducing 94 degrees. The dress code bans sleeveless shirts, spandex, Speedos, and tight-fitting clothes. There are no mirrors in the weight room, and the televisions are rarely turned on. Triathletes and serious runners are discouraged from joining.

There is a method to the blandness. Dr. Scott Morris thinks this is the way you get people who are beyond out of shape to exercise, lose weight, and change their lives.

Morris is executive director of the Church Health Center, which runs the Hope and Healing Center, the uncoolest place to work out in Memphis and proud of it. The center has more than 3,000 members, most of them nonathletes and some of them more than 100 pounds overweight.

"These are either people who have had a stroke or are hoping not to," said Morris. "They're figuring out some way to get their lives back on track."

Rosie Murrell, a 49-year-old mother of three children, weighed more than 400 pounds when she first visited the center in 2005. She was diabetic and too unhealthy for bariatric surgery. Her first workouts consisted of five minutes walking around a track and ten minutes on a treadmill. A nutritionist switched her from Slim Fast to a 3000-calories-per-day diet, which is a lot of food but less than she had been eating. Murrell, who is 5'-6" tall, lost about five pounds a week and has lowered her calorie intake to 1600-1800 calories per day. At just over 200 pounds, she weighs less than she did when she graduated from high school.

"I want to lose another 50 pounds," she said. "I want to wear a size 16. I am not going to lie to you. It took a lot of determination."

The Hope and Healing Center, located on Union Avenue between Methodist Hospital and downtown, charges as little as $21 a month for a family membership. The goal is to make people like Ms. Murrell and their children, who are also often obese, feel comfortable.

"If you join and never come we are going to tell you that you can't be a member any more," said Morris. "We are not necessarily looking for people to join. If someone doesn't want their hand held this is probably not a good place for them. If you are going to get your exercise no matter what, then I would not recommend that you join Hope and Healing."

This has some downside. Because of its location and facilities, the center is attractive to residents of Midtown and downtown but the policies can be a turnoff. A female friend of mine made a few visits but didn't like the ban on sleeveless shirts or the spiritual emphasis. Classes sometimes end with a generic prayer, and every program activity is designed to promote the virtues of kindness, gentleness, compassion, love, humility, and patience.

Morris, a former athlete himself as well as a physician and a minister, understands that some people just want to work out.

"If you are by yourself, some other member is going to ask you how you are doing today. If you don't like that, you need to go somewhere else. But if you have never walked a 5K and would like to do that but are not sure you are up to it then we are a great place."

Childhood obesity, he believes, is far and away the number one health issue in Memphis. The center encourages parents to bring children, especially ages 3 to 12, but they cannot drop them off and leave. Parents and children are steered to classes on nutrition and healthy eating.

"We do not believe that basketball will solve the problem," said Morris. "Most of the kids we see will never get on the court."

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