The first time Colleen Peace entered a crossfit gym, she couldn’t do one pushup.
“I was overweight and out of shape,” said Peace, who was living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the time. “I actually cried in the parking lot and did not go in right away. The trainer came out and greeted me and said, ‘come on in.’”
In 2015, three years after she walked into that gym, Peace was not only doing pushups, she was competing in Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and crossfit competitions in California.
“I have just progressed,” she said. “It has been awesome, really. I have just been hooked on fitness.”
Peace is the owner of The Wellness Project in Fort Dodge, where she helps dozens of women reach their own personal goals. Those goals are not limited to physical fitness, Peace said.
“I didn’t want it to just be about the physical part,” she said. “I wanted it to be about the whole person, wellness all around — mind, body, spirit. Physical health, nutritional health.”
Her gym at 1728 Central Ave. looks like most at first glance. But there are no mirrors or scales.
Peace said that’s because being healthy is more than just how someone looks.
“I want to know, are you well?” she said.
Peace, a 2005 St. Edmond High School graduate, moved back to Fort Dodge from Creston, California, with her husband, Orlando Peace, a couple years ago. At that time she joined Crossfit Fort Dodge.
“The coaches over at Crossfit are super knowledgeable as far as mobility, core training, and powerlifting, and I kind of saw a need through that,” Peace said. “So I would go to different gyms and they don’t talk about nutrition a lot and I would go to a nutritionist and they don’t talk about the mental health part of it.”
Meanwhile, Peace was working locally at a dialysis unit. But eventually she was ready for a change.
“I got to the point where I was sitting at my desk thinking: I am 32 years old. In 10 years, when I am 42, is this where I want to be? Do I want to be sitting at this desk?”
She decided she wanted to open her own gym.
“I wanted to help people that maybe won’t turn anywhere else,” Peace said. “Like this could be their last ditch effort. If this doesn’t work, they are done.”
She added, “So I thought, I could get them in shape, but that won’t necessarily fix everything. So we also go through nutrition. I talked to a dietician I know and we came up with a nutritional plan. Then mental health is such a big deal, so they are required at this place to set goals for themselves and they are required every day to take a specific action towards their goals. And if they don’t, I am on them.”
In the summer of 2018, Peace had a plan, but she didn’t have a space to work in yet.
“I was coaching a few people, but I couldn’t afford rent anywhere,” she said.
That’s when she approached Justin Faiferlick, owner of Faiferlick Martial Arts and Fitness, about using his gym.
“My husband is a coach over at Faiferlick MMA,” Peace said. “I said if I reached out to Justin Faiferlick would he let me house it over there?”
Peace shared her vision with Faiferlick.
“He said, this is a great idea, you can keep it here as long as you need to,” she recalled. “He let us house it there for free until I got on my feet. Incredible, because he so believed in what I was trying to do.”
But it wasn’t long before more space was needed.
That’s when she moved The Wellness Project to the current location, which is sometimes referred to as the Coldwell Banker building.
Since moving in a few months ago, a wall has been knocked down to open up the space.
The Wellness Project has about 60 members. Peace hosts five classes a day.
“I want them here in the gym at least three hours a week, which is three days,” Peace said. “Classes are never more than an hour. Usually less and that, includes a warmup, workout, and a cool down.”
She offers personal support, motivation, and monthly guest speakers.
The classes themselves are inclusive, she said.
“I have a lady with severe brain injury,” Peace said. “I have a lady with multiple sclerosis. I have multiple people with back and neck and hip surgeries. I have people with multiple heart attacks. There is no one that cannot come here.”
Addie Baedke, of Fort Dodge, started going to classes in October, but had to take some time off after a hip injury she suffered elsewhere.
“This is my second day back in a month,” Baedke said recently. “She (Peace) modified workouts for me based on my hip injury.”
Baedke said the environment is welcoming.
“I am not intimidated when I come here,” she said. “It’s nonjudgemental. Everyone here is supportive.”
She gets some motivation from others who attend the classes.
“I have an accountability partner,” Baedke said. “She texts me if I don’t feel like coming and says I’ll see you there. That really helps.”
Her accountability partner is Andrea Lewis.
She comes to classes with her twin daughters, Hailey Lewis and Macey Lewis.
Hailey Lewis has a simple reason why she comes to classes.
“I feel comfortable here,” she said.
Alyssa O’Brien, of Fort Dodge, became a member in September.
“This place has been a life-changer,” O’Brien said. “I’ve learned so much discipline and gained the most dedication towards my health and fitness.”
Peace has been pleased with some of the results she’s seeing from members.
“Multiple women have gotten new jobs since they started,” Peace said. “At least three that have left relationships that weren’t good for them. We have had women down 15 to 25 pounds in last two-and-a-half months, which I don’t really care too much about, but they feel better.”
Five questions for Colleen Peace
1 What was the last song or artist you listened to? “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman
2 Who is your dream dinner guest? Jocko Willink, retired US Navy SEAL and author of the book “Discipline Equals Freedom”
3 What is your favorite movie? “300”
4 A place you want to visit? Machu Picchu in Peru
5 Proudest accomplishment? Raising children and having a stable family
Colleen Peace is hosting an open house for The Wellness Project on MONDAY from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at The Wellness Project, 1728 Central Ave., Suite 5.