Strength in Numbers

Strength in Numbers

Happy laughter and rounds of cheers and applause aren’t among the sounds you expect to hear during a 9 a.m. gym workout. But at Strength Haven Athletics, which held its inaugural workout two Sundays ago at 310 Winchester Avenue, communal joy is the foundation.

For SHA owners Mike Haggerty and Torrie Long, starting a small business wasn’t high on the to-do list. Between their full-time jobs and young families, they had other priorities. Yet, when their home gym, District Athletic Club, was purchased and slated for conversion by Ascent Climbing Gym, the longtime friends and coaches couldn’t escape the feeling that something special was disappearing. That sentiment was echoed by members of the dissolving gym, distraught by the impending loss of a space they loved—not necessarily because of the programs or the equipment but rather the culture that had been cultivated there.

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“Another place just wouldn’t have felt the same,” Haggerty explained to me between waving to dispersing athletes and helping his toddler open a water bottle. The first group workout, a cross-training routine, had just finished, and community members new and old milled about, celebrating the grand opening with donuts and champagne. Having worked at the old gym until a few months prior, I recognized people who’d been exercising there for close to a decade, and I saw members who must have just joined. Almost 50 people had crowded into the corner unit on Winchester Avenue to check out the new space and show their support, and dozens more had effectively RSVPed, “I’m on vacation—but see you as soon as I get back!”

In a rare quiet moment, Long chatted with a prospective member drawn to the opening due to the close proximity to her house. But what convinced the person to join the day’s workout was the inclusive vibe and the variety of ages and body types, meaning that, for Long, the mission was already accomplished. “My hope for this place is to show that fitness is accessible to anybody, no matter where you are in your life, you can come here and get to know us and have fun,” she says. “’Cause if it’s not fun, then what’s the point?”

The morning’s workout—a version of a routine they’ve named “Helen,” the first one taught to this community over a decade ago—reflected this perspective. Through each step, adaptations and adjustments were offered and incorporated, and encouragement flowed freely. It was much more chaotic than a normal class—the workout had to be split into waves since the crowd was much larger than a typical 5- to 15-person group—but the sense of joyful movement and camaraderie remained the same. “Working out with people who you know are going to constantly encourage and support you, both in the gym and out, makes a big difference,” Long says.

Still, some change is afoot. Haggerty and Long say they want SHA to establish its own identity, using this fresh start as an opportunity to hone in on personal training and group classes emphasizing high-quality coaching. Specific program areas include powerlifting and Olympic-style weightlifting (they’re different), plus functional fitness.

No coaching was necessary during the morning’s celebratory toast. In a motley circle, holding bagels, protein shakes and plastic cups of champagne, the newly reestablished fitness community raised a glass “to new beginnings, transitions and more greatness to come.”

Strength Haven Athletics
310 Winchester Ave, New Haven (map)
(203) 213-1998
Website | Instagram

Written and photographed by Miki Cornwell.

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