MIDDLEBURY — An opportunity to become a partial owner of a business in the town of his dreams in the industry of his choice came together for Jerrod Rushton as he is set to take over two-thirds ownership of the Middlebury Fitness Center on April 1.
Rushton is buying his two-thirds share from Rob Alberts and Sarah Raunecker, who co-founded the fitness center back in 1997 with co-owner Robert Falta. For his part, Falta had originally started with the Busy Bodies and Power Flex fitness center in Bristol in 1987.
Falta will continue to own his one-third share of Middlebury Fitness Center and work as a partner with Rushton in the same type of structure the business has operated under for the past 15 years.
“The opportunity to buy a business in the town you love is a dream,” said Rushton in a recent interview. “That it is in an industry I love and feel passionate about is just that much better.”
Rushton, 37, and his wife Janice, left their home in Maine to move to Middlebury in 1998 to become general manager of Vermont Sun Fitness Center. where he worked with owner Steve Hare for the next 12 years. Two years ago, seeking a change of pace, he left Vermont Sun for the RehabGYM in Colchester, where he was managing director of that facility while also overseeing membership and program growth for the business’s other two facilities in Chittenden County.
“It was a great experience for me up there; a real class act with a focus on injury prevention through exercise and working out, and customer service,” Rushton said.
He said he believes the general public is starting to understand that individuals are going to have to start taking better care of themselves through exercise and better diet instead of relying on traditional medical care to keep them healthy.
“We can’t really afford that type of health care for the country, anymore,” he said. “To stay healthy, we have to take charge of our own health … and one obvious way to do that is through consistent exercise.”
Even though Rushton spent the past two years working in Colchester, he and his wife, and their two daughters, Jayden, 8, and Jordyn, 2, remained in their Cornwall home while he made the commute.
“Since we moved here, we’ve always loved the Middlebury area and this town,” Rushton said, adding that it was worth the long commute to be able to stay in the area. While in Colchester, Rushton kept thinking that what he wanted to do one day was open his own fitness center, and, he said, “Janice kept encouraging me that if I wanted to go into business on my own, let’s do it in Middlebury … This (the partial ownership of Middlebury Fitness Center) is just a great opportunity for us.”
That opportunity won’t initially involve a lot of changes, Rushton said.
“It’s an established and well-run business that is doing well,” he said, “so we don’t expect any drastic changes. We’ll make some changes over time, just to improve what we’re doing and stay on top of the trends. And we’ll bring in new equipment from time to time, but it’s pretty well equipped now … so we’ll just continue to focus on customer service, reaching out to the community, and helping people reach their fitness goals.”
For his part, Falta said he’s eager to have Rushton join the business with his experience and enthusiasm.
“I’m excited,” Falta said on Tuesday. “I’ve been kind of running the show here on my own (as a co-owner) for the past eight years, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Rushton will join Falta’s management team of Jerri Benjamin, program director, and Emily Miner, front office manager, along with about eight other part-time employees and 18 part-time class instructors covering everything from Zumba and yoga, to spinning, balance training, dance, martial arts, stretch and aerobic classes for every age and fitness group. Joining the team of instructors is Tamara Chase, who teaches spinning and Body Pump classes and who had worked for years with Benjamin and Rushton at Vermont Sun Fitness Center.
“It’s a strong management team here,” Rushton said, adding that he was also looking forward to working with such “a talented team of instructors and teachers.”
“Our goal is to maintain an environment that everyone feels welcome, regardless of their fitness levels,” he said, adding that he’s been working toward that goal for nearly 13 years in the Middlebury/Addison County area — a goal, he says, that is “close to my heart.”