COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Gunnar George has always been an athlete, having wrestled since kindergarten; however, the 14-year-old was far from a gym rat.
“He used to play a lot of video games,” explained his stepdad Herb Byers. “He was addicted to Fortnite!”
The last year has brought a huge change in Gunnar’s life as he found a love for weightlifting. Now, instead of camping out on the couch with the controller, Gunnar’s home away from home has become his mother’s gym Jack’d Fitness.
And this new hobby has him also lifting some heavier goals.
“I wanna compete for the world’s strongest man,” Gunnar said with a smile. “I saw my buddy Bryant (Kopis) lifting and I wanted to try it out. So I tried it out one day and I’ve been coming back ever since.”
According to Gunnar’s mom, Mindy, it took a little more prodding than that.
“He had seen Bryant, a member of our gym, his videos for Strongman. He trains for Strongman,” Mindy explained. “Gunnar kept saying, ‘Look at this guy!’ I mean, he’s at our gym! ‘Come in!’” she said to told Gunnar. He did and found a new passion.
“The adrenaline!” Gunnar said when asked what’s so addicting about the training. “It really gets you crazy and it feels great!”
Gunnar has competed in a few competitions this year, but this weekend is the biggie: he is a participant in the first-ever Strongest Teen Competition at the Arnold Sports Festival.
“I’m really excited!” Gunnar said. “The experience, how intense the atmosphere is, and seeing all these big guys lift big weights.”
Of course, he will be there with his mom and stepdad, but Gunnar also has a teammate in the debut competition.
After just four weeks of training, 13-year-old Jaycie Spires is along for the ride.
“I’ve never actually lifted anything besides feed bags and concrete bags before,” she said with a laugh. “We did the arm over arm [event] and I did my exact weight for the competition my first time!”
Jaycie met Gunnar this school year through wresting. They attend different schools, but met at a competition and struck up a friendship. When Jaycie saw some of Gunnar’s Strongman training and competition videos, she became intrigued. Now, she’s obsessed just like Gunnar and hopes other girls will take a chance like she did.
“If you just try it, I think you would really like it, because I tried it and I like it!” she said. “After this Arnold, I’m going to be coming to this gym three times a week. I love it here! And I love lifting.”
That welcoming gym atmosphere is something that Herb and Mindy have been wanting to create at Jack’d Fitness as they expand their operation. The downtown location in Lancaster has now been made into more of a studio space where Mindy teaches group classes encouraging female empowerment. The actual gym with weights and machines has relocated to Garfield Avenue.
Herb and Mindy opened up the new location on March 1, and the day before, they became Mr. and Mrs. Byers, getting married in their new gym. It’s a perfect representation of the family atmosphere Mindy and Herb are hoping to establish.
“We want to help more kids from this community, surrounding communities, that’s what we’re all about,” said Herb. “The guy who is in first is cheering the guy who is in second to beat him and that doesn’t happen in a lot of sports. I think that’s really good. I like that and it brings kids together and keeps them off the streets and things like that.”
It’s obvious that Strongman training has left a mark on Jaycie even after just a few weeks.
“It gives me that sense that I can do anything,” she said grinning from ear to ear. “I love that!.”