The sounds of metal free weights hitting the floor accompanied by grunts of exhaustion grew louder and clearer as I approached the entrance of the facility now known as H.O.P.E. Fitness Academy. Once inside, the intrigue was instantaneous. On each wall was magnificent motivational graffiti. Phrases such as “Never give up” and “Grind now, shine later” were plastered on the wall in crazy fonts and illustrious colors.
The gym was packed with trainees and coaches, each focused on their individual or group workout. So with that being said, I found a quiet corner in which I could observe the session in it’s totality. After 15 minutes or so the owner of the gym, former Capital University All-American and professional football player, Mr. Derick Alexander called the group together for the final cool down session of the evening. This too was also a sight to see.
Each trainee lay side-by-side on one elongated mat as Mr. Alexander verbally led them through workouts. While his voice was the main focal point of the exercise, other coaches didn’t hesitate to make their presence known. Many of them walking through the ranks giving tips and pushing anyone who seemed to be lagging. The trainees grunted and groaned their way through the endeavor until the workout was called to an end by a thunderous “GET UP” from Mr. Alexander. The trainees responded by all frantically scrambling to their feet while also helping the next person up if they saw them moving too slow. The group proceeded to huddle together as Mr. Alexander gave inspiration and information interchangeably, leaving the trainees to ponder one question in particular, “Why not me?”.
When the gym was all but empty, I took the opportunity to speak with Mr. Alexander and ask a few questions before he closed down for the night.
FP: Great session. It looks like the kids respond really well to you. When did you open the gym and what inspired you to do so?
DA: Man, this has been a journey. Back in 2010 I would frequently take my cousin to the park and train him. Eventually, more and more kids began to show up and try to workout with me, so in 2012 I opened my first gym in the Hilltop neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. That ran well for about a year before a car crashed into it.
FP: That must’ve been tough on you and the kids.
DA: Yeah it was. I had no choice but to shut it down. I left for New York after that and trained for a while up there but it wasn’t home; so, in 2015 I returned and opened another place for the kids to come and get some work in. This place was much smaller with no central heating and cooling so workouts in harsher weather was something we just had to deal with. And even that didn’t do much to stop these kids from coming out in large groups. After about a year of that we moved to our current location in March of 2016.
FP: Wow. A lot of movement in such a short time frame. It seems like H.O.P.E. Fitness is more of a following than a physical gym.
DA: Definitely. H.O.P.E. Fitness is a culture. We’re a family. A building doesn’t define us.
FP: Speaking of H.O.P.E. What influenced you to call it that and is it an acronym for something else?
DA: Yes it is an acronym. It means Higher Our Potential Everyday. And as far as inspirations for it, I have more than one. First, My dad was a massive Obama Fan and his campaign slogan was “Hope” so it is partly there as homage to my father. Also I wanted to give these kids an outlet, a syllabus to life, not just athletics.
FP: Well said. You seem to be more involved with your trainees beyond just the realm of athletics.
DA: I am. I know their families. I talk to the parents often. I see grades and report cards and try to help in all aspects of life. I want these kids to be the best athletes they can be but I also want to help them be the best people they can be.
FP: I saw the kids kind of rush to their feet when you told them to get up which is expected, but, I also saw many of them pulling up someone next to them. Can you elaborate on that?
DA:Well to directly answer the question. We are a team here. Any chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, and the strongest chains have no weak links. Also, I used to do a workout segment called “Tap-Out Tuesday”. I would schedule an extremely intense workout that would leave people laid out and exhausted at it’s completion. When on-lookers saw us we would look weak and exhausted and you should never show weakness. So I made it my mission to make sure my trainees are shown standing and ready for more even if they aren’t. It’s 100% mental.
FP: Was there anybody who consistently did “Tap-Out Tuesday” and wasn’t completely exhausted at it’s end?
DA: My wife, Mica Alexander. She was the Queen of Tap-Out Tuesday. I couldn’t go an entire interview without mentioning her or my mother Michelle Gibson. They are my backbone. My mother specifically has kept me motivated throughout this entire process. She’s always there to remind me that this is what god has called me to do. Honestly, I know my name is on the door and it’s my vision but this is a team effort. I have an amazing staff and family backing me every step of the way.
FP: Last one, I know it’s getting late. Any advice you would give someone interested in joining H.O.P.E. Fitness Academy?
DA: When you join, you’re joining a family and a culture. Be ready to work.