By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When you spend nearly two decades as a firefighter, you learn that things never come easily and that if you want something in life you can’t give up no matter what odds might be stacked against you. It’s the type of profession that attracts people who believe they can make a difference every day. It’s tough to be a firefighter every day without the spirit, drive and determination of a winner. It’s a job that requires a lot from those who are called to duty.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, Margate firefighter and current gym owner Tom Sher knew that if he wanted to keep his business alive he had to fight for it, find a way. Sher owns Quest Fitness — a passion born in his basement with a few buddies during his early firefighter days that has now grown into a successful business even with the hurdles Sher has had to face.
The former Holy Spirit basketball player and rower has been athletic all his life, even training for and competing in triathlon events about a decade after graduating from high school in 1991.
“I’ve been involved with Quest Fitness for about five years. I started training people in my basement. I got certified in Russian kettle bells in 2008 and had a couple of my buddies working out with me in my basement, and we were doing it every morning,” Sher said.
“My buddy John Slattery got me into kettle bells and I couldn’t even get through the workout. And I was in prime, top shape for triathlons, but it’s a whole different type of being in shape. My ego got to me so I went out and trained to get certified (in kettle bells), took this challenging test and in 2008 I got certified,” he added. “We started out in my basement, the moved it to the garage and when we got up to 40 people in my garage, my wife was like, ‘you gotta stop this.’ The neighbors were getting all upset because we had people using their electronic car door locks at five in the morning. So, I went out to a couple of gyms and ended up with Quest Fitness and the previous owner, Courtney. She moved on and it kind of fell in my lap.”
Sher, now the owner of the group fitness platform, faced a dilemma last spring. Local gyms were taking a beating with the onset of coronavirus and a couple of South Jersey stalwarts, Island Gym and Tilton Fitness, had to close their doors due to lack of revenue. Quest, which had been housed on Tilton Road in Northfield, had to find a new location that was more tenable and sustainable in the long run. Sher also wanted something with a little more room to expand. That led to a meeting with the brass at Greate Bay Racquet & Fitness in Somers Point, and a new partnership was born this summer. Greate Bay converted one of its squash courts to a full-blown workout room, and that’s where Quest now conducts its business. The partnership is part of a complete renovation inside Greate Bay, as the giant fitness center now has a completely updated and modern look.
“We were supposed to be in here May 1. I was looking for a bigger space because we were outgrowing our previous space in Northfield. Greate Bay was looking to change one of their squash courts into a workout room and that became the Quest Fitness room. We had 95 people (at our old location) and here we’re over 100. If I had never talked to Greate Bay, I would have been out of business. Occupancy might only be 25 percent, but this place is so big that you can have 150 people in here at 25 percent, and the same thing with the Quest room. That can hold 47 people who are six feet apart, although we try to keep it at no more than 20 per class,” Sher said. “People have been looking to get back into a routine, find that class that they like, so it’s been working out well for us. And Greate Bay has been phenomenal. They give us great exposure. And we’re like a fishbowl, people look in the room and are interested in what kind of workouts we’re doing. And the great thing is if you sign up for Quest Fitness, you get access to everything Greate Bay has to offer. If my clients want to do something extra, they have spin classes here, yoga classes.”
So, what separates Quest Fitness from other fitness routines? Sher said it’s mainly the use of kettle bells combined with high intensity workouts, and the ability of members to monitor themselves and push themselves at their own pace. Quest mostly does group classes and team training and Sher has employed some recognizable names as trainers. Anna Gordon is a former lacrosse star at Mainland Regional High School and the current head coach at Absegami High, and Kelly Klever coaches girls lacrosse at Mainland. A.J. Holland is an area baseball star who has played professionally.
“We’re different because we focus on strength, endurance and flexibility. Strength training comes from our kettle bells, endurance comes from the high intensity workouts and flexibility is our main thing. We come in and roll out on the foam rollers then we get into a dynamic warm-up for another 5-7 minutes, then we’ll go into a 25-minute workout. We always finish with a cool down since I have a yoga background,” Sher said. “We do train individuals, but we focus more on the group training. We’ve done soccer, lacrosse, crew teams, basketball teams — pretty much any sport. We’ve trained a lot of the Mainland teams and a lot of youth teams as well.
“I have great trainers and they are a big help,” he added. “We have Kelly Klever, the Mainland girls lacrosse coach, Anna Gordon was a Division I lacrosse player who played at Mainland, A.J. Holland was a professional baseball player and Meghan Wiemer, who is another collegiate lacrosse player from Egg Harbor Township.”
Sher said Quest Fitness is the type of workout that can be structured around any age group or experience level.
“My dad trains in here and he’s 74 years old, so we have everybody,” Sher said. “You can be a high school varsity athlete or just somebody who’s trying to get back in shape. And it’s your workout, I post it on the board and myself and the trainers just make sure you’re doing it correctly. If you have to modify it you can — if you can’t go for 35 seconds, go for 20 seconds. Whatever it is, people modify it so they get the best workout for them.”
As 2020 comes to a close there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and how life will look in 2021, but Sher said he’s confident his business can weather the storm and come out strong on the other side. And he believes his partnership with Greate Bay will only boost the overall profile of Quest Fitness in the years to come.
“Who knows what the next few months will hold with COVID, but I think in the future, when we can train without masks and when they open up the showers and steam rooms here, it’s going to be a home run because we have access to everything here. Some gyms have been forced to close, but luckily enough they’ve been able to refurbish here at Greate Bay,” Sher said. “We’re open and people want to get back to working out, and the cleanliness is unbelievable. They have people cleaning so much, they almost follow you around, and they have sanitizing stations everywhere. Plus, the trainers here are great and they have a good reputation and a good following, so that helps. We’re grateful that we’ve been able to team up with Greate Bay.”