BENNINGTON TWP. — Theresa Riley, 53, of Caledonia Township knew she was carrying too much weight, but it wasn’t until the extra pounds led to health problems that she reached the tipping point.

When her cholesterol and blood pressure levels skyrocketed and heart palpitations started, she knew she had to take action. On the first day she walked into Fitness Coliseum, 2881 W. Bennington Road, in February 2018, the 5-foot-7-inch-tall Riley weighed 306 pounds, her heaviest ever.

“Brianna is my angel,” Riley said about Brianna Carroll of Owosso, the fitness center’s 25-year-old owner. “She really cares about everybody who comes through the door. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.”

A little more than a year after that first visit, Riley has shed 100 pounds and is off her medications. Though she’s still hasn’t reached her ideal weight, she believes it’s just a matter of time.

“I’m signed up for the year, but this is a lifetime thing for me,” Riley said. “The people at Fitness Coliseum, they’re my second family.”

Carroll said she’s proud of Riley’s progress.

“Theresa is one of the most consistent clients we have,” Carroll said. “Her transformation has made her more confident. She even runs 5Ks now.”

Riley is just one of the success stories stacking up at Fitness Coliseum since Carroll purchased the business from Alec Faber, owner of Fortitude, about a year ago.

In the beginning, she had 75 clients. Today, that number has more than doubled to 160, with clients ranging from age 20 to 72, and representing all levels of fitness.

“She’s a great entrepreneur — one of the best in Shiawassee County,” said Justin Horvath, president/CEO of Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership and another client. “I think Fitness Coliseum is the fastest-growing business in the county right now.”

Carroll attributes the rapid growth to her holistic approach to achieving health — fitness, nutrition and accountability — and shifting to more group classes, versus one-on-one personal training. There’s also her easy connection to clients, which she attributes to not being “naturally super-fit” herself.

Another draw is the gym’s slate of “extracurricular” social events helping group members bond, such as yoga classes or wine-tasting sessions.

“People need it all: fitness, accountability and nutrition,” Carroll said. “Here, you can make a lifestyle change all under one roof.”

At the gym, fitness is achieved through exercise and good nutrition through meal plans. Accountability addresses the natural tendency of people to slack off on their goals. The four-member staff at Fitness Coliseum stays in constant communication with clients, given them a set of expectations to live up to.

As Carroll put it, “It’s easier to let yourself down than let someone else down.”

Another aim of the gym’s program is making the process of getting healthy more than just hard work. Clients at Fitness Coliseum make friends, share recipes and cheer on each other’s successes.

The approach seems to work for many clients. Missy Dora, the head trainer at Fitness Coliseum, said her high-energy, extroverted and determined boss deserves a lot of the credit.

“She’s so good at this, and I think she’s very driven,” Dora said. “When she comes up with an idea, she just rolls with it. She will put herself outside her comfort zone, and she’s not afraid to fail. She has an entrepreneurial instinct. I call her Hurricane Bri.”

Carroll hails from Elsie. After graduating from Ovid-Elsie High School, she studied at Michigan State University, majoring in clinical nutrition and planning a career in the field of pediatric diabetes. At the same time, however, a different career seemed to be calling her.

“All the way through college, I was a trainer and coach and truly enjoyed it,” she said.

Following college, Carroll worked as a dietetic intern at a Veterans Affairs hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, then waited tables for a beachside restaurant. Next, she traveled the U.S. helping colleges and hospitals implement a nutrition-related software for a large company.

Last year, the opportunity to purchase Fitness Coliseum came up, as Faber wanted to focus on his other business, Fortitude. Carroll was only 24, but as a single woman with no children she felt the time was right for making such a move.

“It was a hard decision, but I thought if I’m going to take this risk, now is the time to do it, while I’m responsible only for myself,” she said.

“It’s still a little scary sometimes, because everything’s on your shoulders. I had to work on not overdoing, not to be here 80 hours a week,” she continued. “Now, it’s just exciting. I see where we’re doing some good, and it keeps me going.”

Horvath met Carroll when SEDP facilitated the purchase of the gym, and was impressed by her business acumen. Having recently decided, as he turned 40, to get more serious about his health, he also wanted to explore whether Fitness Coliseum was the right place for him.

“I’d never been an exercise guy. I’d never belonged to a gym,” Horvath said. “You’ve got to find the right one for you. This one fits me, and I think it fits the average person who’s on a personal journey to get fit.”

What he liked about Fitness Coliseum, he said, was its warm, supportive, non-judgmental environment. Initially, he signed up for one-on-one personal training with Carroll, but then switched to group “fitness challenge” classes.

“He’s such a social person, I elbowed him into a group,” Carroll said. “He loved it, and said he wouldn’t be going back to one-on-one. He’s really taken off and run with it. He’s done great.”

So far, Horvath is down about 85 pounds. Since joining the fitness classes 12 weeks ago, he said, he’s lost 40 pounds.

“This is the best shape I’ve been in since middle school,” he said. “It’s the least amount I’ve weighed since high school.”

But Carroll is not the type to rest on her laurels. She’s constantly fine-tuning her fitness programs, adding classes to an already lengthy schedule, ramping up social media marketing to meet her goal of 200-plus clients by the end of the year and creating a “hybrid” gym model in which clients exercise in their own homes.

In addition, she is launching a summer conditioning camp for children ages 12 to 14.

The kids will come to the gym for an hour, two days a week, over six weeks to learn speed and agility, strength and conditioning before taking on the rigorous sports offered in high school.

Eventually, she said, she would like to move Fitness Coliseum to more spacious quarters closer to downtown Owosso.

“We listen to what people are asking for, and respond,” Carroll said. “I love what I’m doing here. I have not looked back.”

For more information, call the gym at (989) 472-1913, visit fitnesscoliseum.com or find Fitness Coliseum on Facebook.

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