Strength through support

A per­fect pair: Jo Ann Runewicz (left) and Den­een Raysor (right) co-own Urb­an Boot Camp in Hunt­ing­don Val­ley. The gym has small class sizes primar­ily for fo­cus­ing on par­ti­cipants’ heart rates, speed, and phys­ic­al and com­mu­nic­at­ive im­ped­i­ments. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Three years ago, Den­een Raysor and Jo Ann Runewicz du­ti­fully in­stalled the floor to their co-owned fit­ness fa­cil­ity and mar­tial arts school, them­selves. 

Loc­ated just out­side of Somer­ton on Pine Road in Hunt­ing­don Val­ley, Urb­an Boot Camp/Cross­Fit North­east Philly as well as the UBC Strike­Force MMA academy are the work­ing suc­cesses of a fit­ness ment­or­ship, which began 12 years ago, that turned in­to a busi­ness and edu­ca­tion­al part­ner­ship. 

Raysor and Runewicz en­cour­age their mar­tial artists, Cross­Fit­ters and kick­box­ers alike to em­ploy the same con­vic­tion they used when cre­at­ing UBC: to hold their own at all times. 

Raysor, an ex­er­cise physiolo­gist, was ac­tu­ally Runewicz’s train­er at a gym she had been at­tend­ing. From here, the two forged a friend­ship and have been on a mis­sion to edu­cate the com­munity on con­sist­ent healthy liv­ing and pro­act­ively stay­ing in shape.

Their per­son­al suc­cesses are mirrored in the gold stand­ings their mar­tial arts stu­dents bring home after tour­na­ments. In her own ca­reer, Raysor has just earned the pres­ti­gi­ous hon­or of par­ti­cip­at­ing in Team Ex­ec­ut­ive Edge, a mixed mar­tial arts team for those over 30 years old with black belts, ac­cord­ing to Raysor. This elite team is based in Brook­lyn, and she is able to com­mute from her home in the North­east for com­pet­i­tions. She holds a fourth Dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do, which al­lows her to par­ti­cip­ate at the “mas­ters” level in tour­na­ments. In 2012 and 2013, she won the grand cham­pi­on­ship for the wo­men’s mixed mar­tial arts tour­na­ment held at the South­ern Shaol­in Academy in Phil­adelphia. 

But, that is not all. Raysor has also served as a ser­geant in the U.S. Army Re­serve. In con­junc­tion with her com­pre­hens­ive r&ea­cute;sum&ea­cute;, she pos­sesses a mas­ter of sci­ence de­gree in kin­esi­ology as well as mul­tiple cer­ti­fic­a­tions, in­clud­ing Cross­Fit and MMA con­di­tion­ing.

Runewicz, a doc­tor of edu­ca­tion, is also a re­gistered nurse pos­sess­ing a mas­ter of sci­ence in nurs­ing; she is a nurs­ing in­struct­or. She holds a first Dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do and is cer­ti­fied in per­son­al train­ing as well as be­ing a core strength spe­cial­ist. Runewicz also cap­it­al­izes on her ex­per­i­ence in self-de­fense, box­ing and kick­box­ing in the of­fer­ings at UBC.  

To­geth­er, their ex­pert­ise as well as health aware­ness and in­jury pre­ven­tion ex­per­i­ence render a whole­some and mo­tiv­a­tion­al en­vir­on­ment that is per­fect for every kind of as­pir­ing ath­lete with­in the “box”: from the green, out-of-shape to the seasoned, mar­tial artist. 

“We have stu­dents, po­lice of­ficers, fire­fight­ers, teach­ers, priests, re­tired seni­ors [par­ti­cip­ate,]” Runewicz said. “We want to save lives.”

In fact, ac­cord­ing to Runewicz, one wo­man who par­ti­cip­ates in UBC is in her mid-60s and just ran her second mara­thon. Suc­cess stor­ies like this are plen­ti­ful and can be im­me­di­ately gleaned when en­ter­ing the “liv­ing room” of the fa­cil­ity—which is ad­orned with pic­tures of par­ti­cipants who have cul­tiv­ated the al­most im­me­di­ate be­ne­fits of UBC. This is in­dic­at­ive of a prom­ising at­mo­sphere and a no-judg­ment eth­os of the fa­cil­ity.

“We want people to feel good about them­selves,” Runewicz said.

Raysor ex­plained that Cross­Fit has grown in pop­ular­ity over the last four years, and oth­er cen­ters have been es­tab­lished in the great­er Phil­adelphia area. Raysor ad­vises, however, that some fa­cil­it­ies do not pos­sess the prop­er cer­ti­fic­a­tions ne­ces­sary for in­struc­tion, and staff of­ten lack the ad­vanced edu­ca­tion she and Runewicz pos­sess. 

Raysor and Runewicz en­dorse an in­tergen­er­a­tion­al and col­lect­ive fit­ness ex­per­i­ence at UBC, as well as a per­son­al one. UBC is unique in its com­mit­ment to in­di­vidu­al­ized modi­fic­a­tion for par­ti­cipants of any age. This par­tic­u­lar tail­or­ing is func­tion­al, so par­ti­cipants can achieve con­crete goals—es­pe­cially in self-de­fense, weight loss and ton­ing. Moreover, Raysor and Runewicz have ex­pan­ded their of­fer­ings and de­signed a “bridal boot camp,” which they ad­vert­ised at a bridal expo. 

Raysor and Runewicz main­tain small class sizes primar­ily for fo­cus­ing on par­ti­cipants’ heart rates, speed, and phys­ic­al and even com­mu­nic­at­ive im­ped­i­ments. In do­ing so, this al­lows the Cross­Fit­ter, mar­tial artist or self-de­fense learner to work out and hone his or her body at an in­di­vidu­al­ized pace and de­vel­op new per­son­al at­trib­utes, in­clud­ing dis­cip­line and con­trol. Par­ti­cipants con­sequently col­lab­or­ate and en­cour­age each oth­er along the way—es­pe­cially in times when a per­son needs to step out­side to rest.

“We care about people,” Runewicz said. “We forge friend­ships.”

Each cir­cuit/round and func­tion­al task is timed, and par­ti­cipants are con­tinu­ally mo­tiv­ated to en­gage with a rig­or­ous—but not phys­ic­ally un­safe—level of en­ergy. Ac­cord­ing to Runewicz, par­ti­cipants get their bang for their buck as well, as every ses­sion in­cludes func­tion­al tasks that al­ways dif­fer from a pre­vi­ous class.

And modi­fic­a­tion—which is un­usu­al in a stand­ard Cross­Fit set­ting—is cer­tainly not syn­onym­ous with ease. 

“Don’t un­der­es­tim­ate us,” Raysor said. “We [also] learned how to fight like men and play their game.”

This level of in­tens­ity, though, is al­ways paired with the goals of the in­di­vidu­al.

“We have a per­son­al cru­sade to get people health­i­er and reach their max­im­um po­ten­tial,” Runewicz said. 

Al­though Runewicz and Raysor main­tain that be­ing a real­ist­ic crit­ic of one­self is nat­ur­al, self-im­prove­ment that starts in the box has be­ne­fits bey­ond the su­per­fi­cial.

“When you look good, you feel good,” Runewicz said.

Par­ti­cipants leave the fa­cil­ity in high spir­its and in an­ti­cip­a­tion of the next class, ready to face the No. 1 com­pet­i­tion—the per­son star­ing back in the mir­ror, ac­cord­ing to Raysor.

“Wo­men-run, wo­men-owned,” is their motto, and Runewicz and Raysor def­in­itely hold their own and in­spire oth­ers to do so, too.

UBC is loc­ated at 2840 Pine Road in Hunt­ing­don Val­ley and is cur­rently of­fer­ing free classes for new­comers. Vis­it its web site at www.ub­cfit­ ••

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