How two regular guys are changing the way Dayton works out
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Let’s get one thing straight: There’s nothing “drop-and-give-me-20” about this girl.
In fact, as a long distance runner and hot yoga lover, I’m prone to exercise that is a bit more — shall we say, internal?
So, when I was invited to work out with the Dayton-based group, The Unit, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I knew it was a boot camp-style class, and I was told the workout would be outdoors, but the rest of the specifics were left to my imagination.
Would there be yelling?
Should I be worried?
Would people laugh at me because my squat thrusts left something to be desired?
The truth is, I love a tough workout. But group workouts — other than yoga where everyone is silent the majority of the time — have never been my thing.
Boy, did the folks at The Unit ever prove me wrong.
A founding purpose
The group, created in 2009 by Terry Perdue, is nothing short of inspiring. Founded under the premise that it would serve as a free, community-based fitness program, Perdue said he was influenced to organize a fitness group after the idea was passed along to him by his close friend Aamir Howard. Another friend, Lamonte Hall Jr., joined Perdue early on in the process, adding to The Unit’s mission a purpose of giving back to the city through community service. The group’s motto comes from Mohandas Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” And indeed, they are “being” the change.
“The original intent of The Unit was to get a great workout while meeting new people and [finding] new ways to socialize in Dayton, Ohio,” said Perdue. “Today, the mission is to activate the citizens of this wonderful city — to provide free means of health and fitness, to encourage volunteering and community service and to provide diverse educational and social experiences for [city residents].”
As for the boot camp classes, the group meets various times throughout the week for 60 to 90 minutes of drills, including running stairs, squats, pushups, tricep dips, jumping jacks and more. Summer workouts (April through October) are held at Riverscape Metropark, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. As the winter months approach, the group moves to Rivers Edge Montessori Gym (Mondays and Wednesdays) and Wesley Center on Saturdays.
“Group exercise has so many positive characteristics,” said Hall. “There’s motivation, encouragement, accountability, a social aspect and fun, friendly competition. When you workout with a group, you tend to work much harder, longer and stronger than when working out alone.”
The competitive side of me couldn’t agree more. Don’t get me wrong: I push myself to sweat hard when I am working out solo, but there’s something about someone encouraging you to “go for one more” that makes you want to say, “Yes sir!” and hop to it.
Erica Fields, a self-proclaimed solitary exerciser, said she had a similar experience. After moving back to her hometown of Dayton seven months ago and beginning to workout with The Unit, she has begun to recognize the power of sweating it out with a group.
“The support and motivation of the group has been amazing,” said Fields. “Individuals, like myself, are more inclined to come to the sessions because of social interaction, and also to put forth better effort because of the group dynamic that occurs with others — it is a vehicle of encouragement and motivation. It’s truly a fun way to get in shape. It takes gumption to break out of your comfort zone and sweat your brains out with other folks — group exercise motivation is needed.”
But hang out with any member of The Unit and you’ll find that motivation is as plentiful as the smiling faces behind it. In fact, it’s as if a seemingly endless stream of dedication is pouring from the group, a factor that becomes even more admirable when considering that The Unit is completely volunteer-based.
“This organization is operated by volunteer power alone,” Perdue said. “The people participating are our greatest asset. This group is simply about sacrifice. Many people sacrifice enough to make themselves feel good; few sacrifice enough to truly make a difference. We hope to make a difference.”
I’m going to go ahead and say this — a difference is being made. When I showed up at The Unit class, I expected to see a few people who were looking forward to getting in a good workout. What I discovered were about 100 people who showed up to not only squeeze in a workout, but make it count.
One of my favorite parts? Sprinting up the steps that line the hill in Riverscape Metropark. We were each partnered up with another person and the goal was to not only run up the steps and circle back around, but to do it together.
My partner, Jason, was a buff guy who looked like he could most likely bench press two of me. I knew I could run the steps without a problem but, as I’ve already said, “team” sports have never been my strong suit. Would I be able to perform this task with someone else? As if reading my mind, Jason was quick to reassure me, “You’ve got this, girl,” he said to me, time and time again, fist bumping me along the way and encouraging me that I could, in fact, hold my own.
And Hall said that element of The Unit is what makes the experience a unique one, leading to the committed attendees I stood side by side with that evening. He, Perdue and a number of other leaders are in charge of planning the workouts, which are broken into beginner, intermediate and advanced groupings.
“I keep people motivated by constantly encouraging them,” Hall said of his workouts. “The group also helps to make that task easy because we encourage one another. You will find people clapping, cheering and even going back after they have finished an exercise to help someone else finish out the exercise.”
An exercise in charity
The group’s efforts, however, do not stop with lunges and squat jumps. Perdue said The Unit participates in at least two community service activities a month, volunteering at local organizations, like East End Community Services, Victory Project, the American Heart Association, Habitat for Humanity and Wesley Community Center.
“This is our community — we don’t wait for anyone to tell us what needs to be done and we set standards,” said Perdue. “We believe in accountability. We meet the community where it stands.”
Perdue said the group also participates in social outings where members are invited to meet for various activities like skydiving, a night at the ballet or opera, or just an evening to sit and chat.
“Social events are important — enjoying life is a part of good health,” said Perdue. “[The right activities] can break down cultural, racial, economical and religion-based divides that are present here in the Miami Valley.”
Fields said in addition to the workouts, the social outings and community service efforts are what keep her returning to The Unit.
“[It is said] ‘To whom much is given, much is required’ and I believe that a community cannot be truly successful with a mentality that every individual should only worry about himself,” said Fields. “Through The Unit’s community service, I’ve learned what it means to be a part of something bigger than myself.
“Dayton is my home, it is my community. To me, service is more than helping others — it’s about being able to immerse myself in the culture of the service and the people. That way you get a better grasp of the community and how you’re a part of it, and in doing so, take pride in what you do.”
A unit of pride
Perdue and Hall agree that The Unit is an effort that has contributed to not only rounding out their individual lives, but to the appreciation of the place they each call home.
“I am inspired daily by the people I meet in The Unit,” Perdue said. “I’m not sure whether it’s watching people from totally different walks of life bond together like a family, or seeing hundreds of people ready to become healthier and making a difference here in our city that make this the greatest experience for me. But the relationship building within the organization is very dynamic.”
Cue my pal Jason who, by the end of our workout, feels like a buddy I’d like to workout with regularly. But I’m left wondering: Would we have been friends if we just randomly met on the street one day? Was this the magic of The Unit?
I think it just might be. As we end the session with a group workout, spread in a big circle, I am amazed by the diversity that surrounds me. Across from me is a middle-aged couple, squeezing out a few crunches before they pull their arms across their chests to stretch out their shoulders. To my left is a little girl, 3 or 4 years old, who ran steps with the best of us and gave me a high five when I completed a set of 15 pushups.
“I look forward to participating in The Unit classes because it is more than just a boot camp,” Fields said. “It truly is a well diversified cadre of people, representing a variety of professions, ages, backgrounds and ethnicities who have set aside social and color barriers that all too often have plagued this city.”
And Fields is just one embodiment of what Perdue hoped for when he formed The Unit. It’s his belief that the group is a stepping stool for its members to earn inspiration and move forth through their days to make a difference throughout the community.
“I believe in a vision being big enough to include other people’s visions,” Perdue said. “I oversee and delegate all aspects of the group, but I find comfort in people who can see and understand my vision.”
When I wake up the morning after my workout, I understand Perdue’s vision all too well — in fact, my quads, biceps and abdominal muscles are very familiar with it. But I notice it in my heart, too. As I venture out into the city that day, I can’t help but feel a little closer to its core, like each face that passes me by is one of the friends I shared a sweaty workout with the night before.
In fact, I feel like a member of this city, this unit, more than ever.
The Unit’s winter workout schedule (October 10 to April 1, 2012) is Mondays and Wednesdays, 6-7:30 p.m. at Rivers Edge Montessori Gym, 108 Linwood St. in Dayton. Also Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. at the Wesley Center, 3730 Delphos Ave. in Dayton. For more information about The Unit, boot camp classes and community efforts, visit www.dayton-theunit.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Caroline Shannon-Karasik at CaraolineShannonKarasik@DaytonCityPaper.com.