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'Toledo Miracle': Local exercise groups find faith in fitness

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    Steve Gfell, center, leads members of F3, a faith-based men's exercise group, in a prayer after their workout Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at Pacesetter Park in Sylvania.

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    Females in Action go on a run with weighted backpacks at Pacesetter Park on Monday, June 25, 2018. Females in Action is a faith-based workout group.

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    F3, a faith-based men's exercise group, sticker on a shovel that doubles a flag pole Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at Pacesetter Park in Sylvania.

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    Danielle Harsh, left, and Amy Snyder, right, lift weighted backpacks.

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    Members of F3, a faith-based men's exercise group, stretch out next to their American flag Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

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    Females in Action do lunges during at Pacesetter Park in Sylvania on Monday, June 25, 2018. Females in Action is a faith-based workout group.

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    Jared Helton, center, and other members of F3 do leg lifts at Pacesetter Park in Sylvania.

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    Ashley Helton, bottom center, does a burpee with Females in Action at Pacesetter Park.

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    Members of F3, a faith-based men's exercise group, run Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at Pacesetter Park in Sylvania.

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    Tabi Bosinger instructs Females in Action before their workout at Pacesetter Park.

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    Females in Action go on a run with weighted backpacks at Pacesetter Park.

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Aubri Graybeal is in the best shape of her life.

For the last year, the 35-year-old mother of two has been working out consistently and the results are hard to miss. She said friends often ask how she got in such good shape.

“I’ve never been able to stick to any workout program consistently,” she confessed. “But here, you come for the workout and you stay for the people.”

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Danielle Harsh, left, and Amy Snyder, right, lift weighted backpacks.

The Blade/Samantha Madar
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Mrs. Graybeal is a founding member of Toledo’s Females in Action chapter. Often called FiA, the group provides free, outdoor, peer-led workouts for women of all ages and fitness levels at dozens of locations across nine states.

But the women of FiA are committed to nurturing more than just the physical person. They have community events. They call each other by their FiA nicknames. And though the group is open to women of any religion, or none at all, faith is a pillar of their practice.

When they launched in Toledo last September, close to 60 women showed up, making it the second-largest launch in FiA’s history, Toledo founder Ashley Helton said.

When her husband Jared Helton started F3, FiA’s male equivalent, in Toledo the previous spring, he said it was one of the largest launches in F3 history. Members of F3’s online community have taken to calling it the “Toledo Miracle.”

Clearly, F3 and FiA are about more than just breaking a sweat. They are combining faith and fitness to forge connections and build community, and Toledo is embracing them with open arms.

‘Being with the guys’

F3 was founded in Charlotte in 2011. Like FiA, F3 brings together men of all ages and backgrounds for free, outdoor, peer-led workouts. To date, there are groups in 20 states.

The three Fs in the group’s name each have a meaning, Mr. Helton said. The first, fitness, is the magnet that draws new members in. The second, fellowship, is the glue that connects participants and keeps them coming back. And the third, faith, is the dynamite.

Mr. Helton first thought about starting F3 when he and his wife moved to Toledo four years ago. Though they came from Charlotte, he had never been to an F3 workout. “I had it in my phone to go work out but never did,” he said.

When they moved, Mr. Helton struggled to adjust to life in Toledo. “Jared was a little down about not having friends here,” his wife said.

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Steve Gfell, center, leads members of F3, a faith-based men's exercise group, in a prayer after their workout Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at Pacesetter Park in Sylvania.

THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Enlarge | Buy This Image

So, he reached out to F3 nationals about starting a group in Toledo. “They initially said no because they weren’t looking at Toledo as a place to launch,” he said. But, after some back and forth, they gave Mr. Helton the green light.

In the 13 months since, more than 465 men have gotten involved, Mr. Helton said. He said Toledo participants’ ages range from 24 to 67, with the average hovering around the upper 30s.

“Guys need this,” he said. He added that, at an age when many relationships are surface-level, F3 “really brings guys back to their high school or college days.”

Between its three locations — Perrysburg, Sylvania, and Toledo proper — there are around 20 workouts each week, most of them starting between 5:15 and 6:30 a.m. and lasting around an hour.

Each F3 workout, regardless of location, ends with a “circle of trust.” The men count off and introduce themselves by their given name (called a “hospital name” in F3 vernacular) and their F3 nickname.

Newcomers are given nicknames too. For example, a man who first came on his 25th wedding anniversary is “Rihanna.” “It’s for ‘shine bright like a diamond,’ “ Mr. Helton said.

Then, the leader of that day’s workout will close the circle with inspiring words to guide the other men through their day. “It doesn’t have to be a prayer,” Mr. Helton said. “The big thing is it’s open to all faiths.”

Once, Bryan Riley said, his closing words were inspired by a song he heard at a concert. “It was about being a good husband to your wife,” he said. So, he spoke about valuing relationships.

Mr. Riley has been involved since the beginning, and is now in charge of the faith component of F3 Toledo.

In addition to the circle of trust, F3 Toledo has other optional faith-based activities. They volunteer with Cherry Street Mission and raise money for other charitable organizations.

Every Friday, there is a post-workout F3 Bible study at 6 a.m. in Perrysburg and Sylvania. Mr. Riley estimated that there are 30 guys between the two locations.

F3 and FiA aren’t the only groups in the area marrying faith and fitness. Last July, Clarissa Lapinski, and Sue Hohenbrink started a chapter of Liferunners in Northwestern Ohio. “We use running and walking as a prayer to create awareness for the unborn,” Mrs. Lapinski said.

The group, which Mrs. Hohenbrink said now has 24 members, meets monthly for activities. “It’s not like you have to be a certain religion to be a part of it,” she said. But, she added, “for everybody that is in it, this is a cause they feel strongly about within their faith.”

Jeff Davis, associate pastor at Shiloh Christian Union Church, started Run for God groups in Shiloh and Liberty last year. They train for 5K races together, he said, and have a spiritual component of their training each week.

“We believe the body is the temple of God and we need to take care of it,” he said.

Though Mr. Riley and Mr. Helton said most of the men of F3 are Christian, they emphasized that F3 welcomes anybody. Mr. Helton said the only expectation is that “you can acknowledge that there’s a greater power than you.” He added that the group is called F3, “not two Fs and a C.”

“Everything starts with being with the guys,” he said.

Strength in numbers

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Members of F3, a faith-based men's exercise group, run Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at Pacesetter Park in Sylvania.

THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
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F3’s effect on the men of Toledo was dramatic and immediate. Before long, “a lot of the wives started to ask me, ‘Hey, why don’t we start something here?’ “ Mrs. Helton said. It didn’t take much to drum up interest in FiA.

Like many of the women in FiA, Mrs. Graybeal’s husband is involved in F3. “I saw how much he loved it and how all these guys are coming out in droves to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves and more than just a workout,” she said.

The national organization started the same way; F3 wives wanted something comparable for themselves.

Mrs. Helton said one of the biggest differences between the two is that F3 has more jargon. Though both groups work hard, she added, “We try to keep the workouts a little simpler.”

“Men, they like it to be like a sports team, like ‘roar!’ “ Mrs. Graybeal laughed.

Like F3, the women of FiA do more together than just work out. They have Bible study, volunteering opportunities, and social events.

“You’ll never find a group of women that are more welcoming,” Mrs. Graybeal said. “The less in shape you are, the more welcoming the women are because we’re so excited that you’ve come out and that you’re trying.”

The same is true of faith. Though FiA is primarily Christian, Mrs. Helton said that’s not important. She said what matters is “if you think there’s something higher than yourself.”

For Mrs. Graybeal, community and faith are intertwined. “We’ve seen women who are not really active in any faith asking for prayers because they still want that feeling of faith and people thinking of them,” she said.

On July 6, FiA is launching its third location in Toledo proper. The first workout will be at Close Park. Those interested in attending this or other F3 or FiA events can find their full workout schedules online. All are welcome.

“The mission is to continue to grow, almost like fingers.” Mrs. Helton said. “We want to reach out to as many women as we can.”

Newcomers are welcome to join all of the groups cited in this article. Check their web pages are: FiA: http://fianation.com/ohio-schedule/toledo-schedule/ ; F3 Sylvania: http://f3toledo.com/sylvania-event-calendar/; F3 Toledo: http://f3toledo.com/toledo-event-calendar/; F3 Perrysburg: http://f3toledo.com/perrysburg-event-calendar/

Contact Eve Sneider at esneider@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.

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