Finding Your Gym: A Look Into IPF

Where do I start? I've been going to IPF, the Institute of Performance and Fitness, in North Reading, Massachusetts, for almost ten years now. When we started Sporting Chic, IPF came to my mind right away as a topic I knew I wanted to write about. It's hard to put into words what they've done for my career, but one thing I know for certain is that I wouldn't be playing professionally without them. However, for some reason, it's taken me a few weeks to pinpoint exactly what I love about the gym that's been such a huge part of not only my career, but my life. Today it finally clicked. It's the life part, not the career part, that is what I love about IPF the most. There are a ton of amazing gyms who create great workouts for elite athletes all over the word. There are only a select few who build a community and a family based around great people and core values

Let's start with the staff- Walter Norton Jr., Jamie Damon, and Liz Keady. IPF's ability to impact lives outside of the gym stems from the culture that has been created by its leaders. Anyone who's been to one session at IPF can see very quickly the values it holds true: grit, accountability, respect, loyalty, kindness, and inclusion. These ideas permeate easily from the top down because they are authentically entrenched into the personality of every staff member. This is clear to anyone who walks through door. It is that authenticity that pushes each member of IPF to strive to live by those values in and out of the gym. This, above all, is one of the best things IPF has taught me. If you practice what you preach, people will listen. 

Examples? I'll start with grit and accountability. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who represents these two words more than the gym's owner, Walter Norton Jr., who I've been working with for years. Walter is crazy in the absolute best of ways. He's a detailed perfectionist who accepts nothing but 100%, 100% of the time. Walter has nagged me for years about treating my body poorly with bad foods and too much caffeine. He'd always say, "YOU DONT PUT DIESEL INTO A FARRARI GODDAMMIT!” when I shuffled in with my UGG boots and bitchy high school attitude during early summer mornings. In those days, I couldn't stand when Walter nagged me about this. I thought he was a hardo who overanalyzed everything that didn't necessarily matter. 

Over the years, I've learned to appreciate and respect when Walter nags me about these things, because he's more accountable for what goes into his body than anyone. I recently saw an Instagram where he was up at 3:30 am eating six eggs (VOM) knowing it would better his own health and push his clients to do the same. When he was training Ben Affleck for 7 of his movies (I know, SICK) he flew home four times a month on the weekends to check in on the IPF community and still be a part of the progress the athletes were making. I don't ever think I'll be able to give up coffee, but the respect I have for Walter's ability to live what he teaches makes me want to to better for him and for myself. I'm nowhere near perfect, but let's just say I've come along way from the Stephanie's famous breakfast: my extra cream extra sugar caramel swirl iced coffee and three Advil.

The fun, eclectic, and crazy workout groups I've had the pleasure of working out with at IPF shed light on the values of inclusion and respect. From the high school group in the afternoons during the school year, to the 6:30 am college athlete groups, and perhaps my favorite, the famous 9:30 am adult group, I've crossed paths with so many different people from so many different backgrounds. To give a bit of context, Walter demands two things out of everyone that works out in a group. That you 1) pick a partner who you don't know and 2) know everyone's name by the end of the workout. 

Looking back, it is absolutely incredible on how these two seemingly minor details have had such a major impact on my life. Week by week, month by month, year by year, I got to know so many people very well, very quickly. We all couldn't have been any more different. In a group last fall we had three mothers, a professional athlete, a recently married male math teacher, a high school lacrosse coach, and a young EMT all working out together in the morning. I can't tell you how many times the only thing I knew about my partner was their first name before I had to sit my sweaty butt on their legs to hold them in place for off-bench oblique. It taught me so much about being open minded, being respectful, and learning to get along and be on a team with all types of different people. We may have had nothing in common outside of the gym, and we may have been at completely different athletic levels. But the best part is that it doesn't matter. Because at IPF, if you show accountability, grit, loyalty, kindness and inclusion, you'll earn the community's respect. That's my biggest takeaway from 10 years at IPF. Earning the respect of the people around you outweighs any gains you make in athletics.

In closing, I would like to say that my business partners, Kristie and Samantha, are now officially working out at IPF and neither have completed an unassisted pull up yet.