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Fitness Forum in Florence celebrating 35 years

Ardath ArvidsonMay 22, 2019

FLORENCE, S.C. – For 35 years, the Fitness Forum in Florence has provided the community a place to get physically fit and stay fit.

Their motto is “Committed to you … from start to fitness.”

Karen Leatherman, owner and president, has been with Fitness Forum since its inception.

After graduating with a master’s in exercise physiology, Leatherman followed her passion to bring a wellness facility to Florence to promote better health of its residents.

In May 1984, she teamed up with Bruce Hospital to develop the program. The facility is in the gym building of the old high school on Evans Street. The address is 120 E. Elm St.

“It has been a journey, and it has been fun,” she said.

The Fitness Forum became the first hospital-based wellness facility in South Carolina opened to the public and one of the first dozen in the nation. During its 16 years as a hospital-owned fitness center, it served as a model for hospitals across the state.

Leatherman said when two Florence hospitals merged the new hospital system no longer wanted to go in that direction.

Knowing of her passion and love for fitness, Leatherman said, Carolinas Hospital System sold her the business in July 2000.

In 2007, Leatherman purchased the building, renovated it and added a full-service spa.

She now has a staff of 35 full- and part time employees.

The multipurpose facility now includes a pool and spa, along with exercise equipment.

The Fitness Forum offers the latest trends in exercise. It offers conventional pilates, yoga and Zumba classes, along with a variety of packages tailored to individual needs.

Leatherman said the focus in 1984 was on aerobic exercise and working out on machines. Now the focus is on small-group personal training classes and free-weights training. She said instructors coach boot camp and high-intensity interval (HIIT) training, combining strength training and cardiovascular training, rather than stand in front of the class demonstrating the exercises.

“HIIT classes are the hottest thing now because they give results in a short period of time,” she said.

She said boot camps with personal trainers, yoga and pilates classes and free weights are the preferred methods of exercising.

Leatherman said the center continue to do health and fitness, occupational testing services, drug testing and public safety physicals.

The Fitness Forum has 950 members. During this anniversary year, the Fitness Forum will be recognizing its 24 charter members – Rebecca Berry, Rudy Berry, Emma Bruce, John Bruce, Raymond Bullard, Steven Coker, John Crouch, Jerry Fields, Jim Harris, Patsy Harris, Bill Hatfield, Hugh Leatherman, Jean Leatherman, Karen Leatherman, Ansley McGinnis, John McGinnis, Joe Pearson, Glenn Richardson, Bruce Richbourg, Jerry Shealy, Parker Stokes, Allie Walker, Richard Walker, and T.L. Worthington.

“It has been a great ride,” Leatherman said.

She said she has always been physically active and aware of the importance of exercise. She played sports in high school and college. She was on the basketball team. She said exercise is medicine for the body.

“Our bodies were meant to move,” she said. “I have always had a passion for it. I believe in it.”

She attributes the success of her business to that passion and the great people she has working with her.

She said it can change people’s lives.

“Most people know they should exercise,” she said. “They just don’t make time to do it.”

Leatherman said coming to the Fitness Forum with friends, seeing the same people and the feeling of family helps people stay committed.

The Fitness Forum also has a Smoothies Bar. Leatherman said at one time it had two restaurants, one of them a fine-dining restaurant.

“Once I bought it we moved away from those,” she said.

Wellness training is very competitive now, she said. Each has to find its own niche.

“We have moved forward and diversified,” Leatherman said.

For the 35th anniversary, anyone can join the Fitness Forum for $35 per month and no enrollment fee.

Hours are Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 5:15 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 5:15 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For additional information, call 843-629-6899.

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