Princeton Health and Fitness Center (PHFC) has been serving Mercer County and the Princeton community for 25 years.
The center was originally a project of Princeton Community Hospital.
“The PCH Foundation raised funds for years and planned this place back in the early ’90s, and they were able to officially open in September 1997,” said Chris Worley, executive director of the Princeton Health and Wellness Center.
Worley is a longtime employee of PHFC and began working there in August 1998, which was just a year after the center opened.
“I started as a part-time employee during college and stayed there after graduation,” Worley said. “At that time I was in the position of managing director and I did that until about 2013 when I became a director.”
When the idea was born, the purpose of the center was to try to improve the lives of community members.
“The reason we started is because southern West Virginia has always been the unhealthiest part of the state,” Worley said. “We’re all here in what I like to call the ‘Biscuit and Gravy Belt’ because we all like our biscuits and gravy, fried food and fine dining, but it’s impacted the health of the area.”
According to Worley, this area has high rates of diabetes and heart disease, which is a big part of why the PCH Foundation invested time and money in establishing the center.
“We’re a form of healthcare in the sense that we’re trying to encourage a healthy lifestyle in the community so people don’t have to worry about diabetes and heart disease later on,” he said. “When we started, we were one of the few gyms in the area for the first 15 years we opened, but now there are all types of gyms here, which is good for the community.”
PHFC is also a physical therapy center that uses PCH for orthopedic surgeries. They have therapy pools and other training facilities for that.
Over the 25 years of its existence, things have changed and adjusted at the center to be better for the members.
“We are now a state-approved childcare facility, so we have around 75 children in our after-school care center and in the daycare center. In the summer we have our Summer Day Camp program, so we’re more than just a gym,” Worley said.
Childcare is a relatively new program offered by the fitness center, but in a way, they’ve had it since the early days.
“When we first opened we had childcare for the parents who came to work out, so we’ve watched them for as long as the parents have been using the gym and we still do; However, the after-school program and day care are additions that we started several years after we opened. I think it was around 1999 or 2000,” Worley explained.
He added: “We’re trying to be more of the facility that’s meant for the whole family and while things have changed in improvements over the years, a lot of things have stayed the same
Another addition PHFC has made has been group exercise classes and they recently converted one of the racquetball courts into a free weights gym.
“We’ve evolved over the years and offered new courses,” Worley said. “We offer about 50 group exercise classes a week, and most of them change all the time, except for a few that people really love, like Zumba.”
He added, “We have some things that are newer like a kickboxing class that we recently added and a shine dance class.”
Worley said they change classes frequently to keep members interested and satisfied with the services they provide.
Worley said the newly remodeled free weights area in the center has made a lot of the heavy lifters really happy.
“It’s mostly for the people who deadlift and do the heavier weights,” he said. “All these big muscle guys go in there, and they can scream and grunt all they want and not bother anyone in the gym.”
Worley said they do everything for their members because they were the reason they made it through 25 years and they are the best part of the facility.
“The best thing is the members, the people who come here because we have a good group of people,” he said.
Worley said his favorite part about working there is meeting all the members and seeing them set their routines and schedules for getting into the facility.
“The morning audience is almost always the same people, the afternoon and evening people are the same. It’s interesting to see the very different people coming in at different times of the day,” he said.
Another of his favorite things is seeing the changes in people once they begin their training journey.
“I’ve seen several people that have changed their lives, and I mean I’ve seen people here that have lost anywhere from two pounds to 300 pounds,” Worley said.
Worley also mentions that even staff are sometimes people who started out as someone working to improve their lives at the center.
“We have one employee who has been coming here for a while and is doing really well with his weight loss and health,” Worley said.
That employee is Michael Dent and he has been attending and using Princeton Health and Fitness Center for three years now.
“I came here about three years ago because I got a knee disability from working 30 years on the railroad,” Dent said. “I had arthritis in both knees and when I became disabled I was 532 pounds. I’m almost 400 pounds now.”
Dent said he sees the changes he’s making for himself and is proud of the weight he’s lost through his hard work.
“I was in pain, my knees and my health was bad, and I started coming here at five in the morning,” Dent said. “I feel better now. I’m eating better and feeling better all over. I don’t run out of breath anymore and I probably look better too.”
“When I started coming in the afternoon I met the woman who was in charge of the pool area and I let them know I could help if they needed me as they were a bit understaffed there.”
He added: “It makes me want to come here because the hardest part of all this is getting here. Once you’re here it’s easy, but once it became a job it made it really easy.”
Dent said he really enjoys working at the center and sees it as an extra motivation to keep training.
“I really love everything here, especially the facilities, the saunas and steam rooms and the different pools are all great,” said Dent.
He added: “My colleagues are great too because I’m quite old compared to them. I’ll be 60 next month and some are a lot younger than me but they don’t treat me any differently than I’m just a regular part of the gang.”
Dent encourages others to get involved in improving their health and said if people are interested in joining the PHFC they should just come in and check out the facilities and meet the staff.
“If I can do it, anyone can, and if you want to be healthy, this is the place,” he said.
Worley said he was very proud of the progress and work done by Dent and all other members at the center.
“It’s rewarding to see how people can get rid of all kinds of drugs and improve their quality of life. It’s great,” Worley said. “It’s good to see them making a complete lifestyle change and making better choices about what they eat and how active they are.”
At the celebration PFHC hosted in honor of their 25 years of service to the community, they hosted a small reception and invited the original Planning Committee and PCH Foundation board members to come along with current members, board members and staff.
They also held a memorial walk honoring those who helped found PHFC and who passed away.
— Contact Kassidy Brown at email@example.com.