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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   October 2008

Personal Best

Whether you're looking to strut the stage of body-building competitions or just keep strong into your golden years, Ironworks Gym has a program for you.

By Donna Clayton Lawder

"I've seen women crying in the locker rooms, crying and saying that they hate their bodies. It's the saddest thing. That's something I want to help change," says Carla Casler.

Ironworks Gym co-owner Nathan Casler spots client Mike Rodriguez on the weight bench as Rodriguez warms up with some 70-pound dumbbells.
(Photo by Donna Clayton Lawder)

A trophy-winning competitive body builder for more than 20 years, Casler knows a thing or two about perfect bodies. Clad in a sophisticated gray tracksuit, her own petite frame is beautifully proportioned. But not everyone needs to be on the body-building stage, she says. Her sparkling eyes animating her attractive, kind face, she goes on about individual achievement and ideas of perfection.

"We each have a body, and each body is beautiful in its own way. That's the fact!" she says. "Every body has its strengths. The first thing, the most important thing, is to embrace your body, I tell them. Then we can work to enhance it!"

Casler and her husband Nathan, also a body builder, own Ironworks Gym in Silver City. The couple moved here from Alaska when they retired from the Air National Guard, opening their business in September 2006.

Nathan Casler explains, "She (Carla) was born in El Paso, so we knew something of the Southwest. We explored Silver City and thought it would be a good place to retire. There were down-to-earth people, a lot of people who were fit and active and enjoying the outdoors, so we thought it would fit us, too."

Asked how owning a fulltime business jibes with being "retired," Carla bursts into a laugh.

"My friends ask me that," she says. "They say stuff like, 'I thought you were supposed to take it easy when you retire!' But I tell them that this is fun! The most stressful thing in my day is to make sure there's toilet paper in the restroom, I'm not kidding. Yes, we retired, but we were just too young to stop working. We love fitness, we love the gym, so we decided to open our own."

The Caslers both work fulltime at their enterprise and employ two part-timers to help staff the front desk, work with clients and, yes, keep toilet paper in the restrooms. Joe Melendez, a certified personal trainer, works with the gym's clients as an independent contractor.

Nathan Casler points out the various pieces of equipment around the floor. Free-weight dumbbells, ranging from three to 125 pounds, line the mirrored wall where the weight benches reside. In a quadrant just past the front desk are pieces of aerobic-cardio equipment: elliptical trainers, stationary cycles and treadmills. Television screens and radios entertain clients and help them pass their workout time.

In the center of the facility and running along another wall are "the machines." With clean lines of white and black, these are designed to work specific areas of the body, from quads to abs, chests to glutes and more.

"We carry machines from four different manufacturers," he explains, naming Paramount, PowerStrength, Cybex and Hammer Strength. "We've picked the best machine for each exercise, from whichever line that makes the best type of that machine."

Ironworks offers three-, six- and 12-month membership packages at an individual rate of $35 per month or $30 for corporate members. Most clients purchase punch cards, Nathan says, getting 20 visits for $25.

"They're flexible," Carla explains of the punch-card system. "They can use them any time, as many times per week as they wish. And if they come in the morning and then come back later that same day, it still counts as only one visit. A lot of people choose to break up their workout that way."

Nathan estimates that the gym sees 300 member visits a month in summer, more than 350 in fall and winter when the chillier weather makes outdoor activities less desirable.

"We start them out by showing them how all the equipment works," he says of new clients. "We give some basic guidelines, suggest how many reps they should do."

Those looking to meet specific goals, who need extra motivation or want "coaching," perhaps, can sign on with personal trainer Melendez for an additional fee. He sets up individualized programs of 12 sessions for $450.

In trying to describe their gym's atmosphere, perhaps even its "philosophy," both Caslers emphasize the social aspect of working out and the camaraderie of their clients.

"It's like happy hour in here, but with no alcohol," Nathan says. "People know each other and they have fun seeing each other here."

"It's all about health. It's not a 'stage' and people don't compete with each other," Carla adds. "All are welcome, all ages and both men and women. I think having a female owner makes women feel more comfortable about coming to a gym. They see me and they know this isn't a 'boy's club' kind of place."

The Caslers estimate their clientele is a mix of about 60 percent men to 40 percent women, more gender-balanced than other gyms they've been in, they say.

"We have groups of women who come in together," Nathan adds. "We have mother-daughter teams."

"And there's no generation gap," Carla says. "Our oldest client is 91, and she's still pumping iron! And we have college students."

Nathan estimates that the majority of Ironworks' clients are in the 30- to 60-year-old age range.

People come to the gym for all different reasons, Carla says, including "wanting to look better, to feel better, just to be healthier."

And for those looking to kick their physique up a major notch, Nathan says, Ironworks offers special expertise for those inclined to serious body building. Client Mike Rodriguez is a case in point. At Carla's urging, Rodriguez entered his first body building competition last year in Las Vegas, Nev., a place known for extreme competitiveness. He did well, placing sixth, just one notch below taking home a prize. In June, he competed in Chandler, Ariz., and brought home a fifth-place trophy — a huge achievement, as it takes most novice body builders at least five or six competitions before placing in the top five.

Carla, who accompanied Rodriguez to Chandler and competed herself, says he was a natural to encourage toward the body-building stage. "Mike already had the strength, and he has a beautiful body. He's really made for competition," she says. "Most important, he has the mental strength that's required."

In addition to achieving a level of strength and physical "perfection," competitive body builders must learn about stage presence. Rodriguez says learning to compete on the stage has brought out other things in him, how he sees his physique and how he does his workout.

"Posing, or what I like to call 'showing off,' is everything when it comes to winning body-building competitions," Rodriguez says. "You can have the body but if you do not know how to show it, you will not be winning any competitions."

Carla beams at the well-built young man, her pride in his achievement evident. But while she acknowledges Rodriguez as a bright new star on the competitive body-building stage, she emphasizes that there are many ways to measure achievement in fitness.

"Silver City is a unique place with regard to the elderly," she says. "Every day, I see folks walking along (Hwy.) 90 with their walking sticks and their dogs. In town, I see them driving their scooters or bicycles." She names a few of the gym's senior clients — Susan Hill, Eulalia Lewis and that iron-pumping 91-year-old, Madelyn Kish — calling them "my role models."

"Their active lifestyles have kept their bodies tough," Carla says. "In no other cities have I seen fit 'mature' men and women in such great numbers. I will do all I can to be as fit as they are when I approach my 70s, 80s and 90s. . . . Exercise has no age limit. We limit ourselves."

Ironworks Gym, 1216 N. Bennett St., Silver City, 538-5771.
Mon.-Fri. 5 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.



Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure.

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