Be Fit Club provides free activities, advice to promote health

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



Do you prefer to work out alone or with other people?

  • Alone. 44%
  • With a workout buddy. 21%
  • With groups or in classes. 25%
  • I don't work out. 10%

68 total votes.

Be Fit informatio

Be Fit Club is a free group that helps connect people in fun activities and stay motivated to be fit and healthy. Activities include:

• Weekly boot camp classes at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays. The location varies week to week.

• Weekly small group meetings at 7 p.m. Mondays at Living Hope Church, 2711 N.E. Andresen Road, to discuss weight loss, diet and other topics.

• Sessions with different experts every six weeks to discuss a variety of fitness and nutrition topics.

• Variety of other activities, such as trail runs, walking groups, bike rides, hikes and snowshoeing.

For more information on events or to contact organizers, visit the Be Fit Club Meetup site,

Jim Schaefer had to hit bottom, crawling on hands and knees due to the pain in his feet, before he decided to take his diabetes seriously.

The 65-year-old Vancouver man needed insulin to manage his Type 2 diabetes and was prescribed medication for high-blood pressure. He couldn't do the physical activities he wanted to do. And he feared he wouldn't be able to enjoy being a grandfather when his first grandchild arrives next month.

He had health scares in the past, but it wasn't until he developed plantar fasciitis, which causes a stabbing pain in the bottom of the foot, in both feet that Schaefer realized his life was headed in a grim direction.

"It's the 4-by-4 on the side of the head," Schaefer said. "It scared me to the point that I realized I needed to make some changes."

Luckily for Schaefer, a group of local people with a common goal was there to offer the motivation and support he needed to do so.

Schaefer's wife, Donna, had heard about the group, called Be Fit Club, at their church. At the helm of the group is May Jackson and Bruce Avery.

Jackson and Avery have each traveled their own weight-loss journeys in the past and knew that trendy diets aren't sustainable. They each found their own paths to healthier lives, and when they met at Living Hope Church, they quickly realized they had a common interest: Sharing what made them successful with other people who are struggling to be healthy and fit.

So they — along with Avery's friend Tim Schoonmaker — teamed up to create the Be Fit Club. The group is open to anybody, not just members of the church, and it's free.

The club organizers have two goals. The first is to help people connect with others for activities that are fun and promote health. The second goal is to give people access to experts who can share reliable information.

As physical health and fitness improves, people will grow mentally and spiritually, their relationships will improve and they'll find greater joy, Avery said.

"Jesus healed people physically before healing them spiritually," he said. "That's our motto."

The club uses Meetup, an event-planning website, to schedule activities. They don't require any registration and people can participate in as many, or as few, activities as they want.

Jackson hosts boot camp classes every Saturday morning. The class location changes, but they're always at places free for the public to access. She also offers weekly small group meetings that focus on diet.

In addition, every six weeks the organizers bring in experts in a variety of fields. Most recently, they had a session on resistance stretching. And through the group's Meetup site, they plan a variety of other activities, such as bike rides, trail runs, hikes and snowshoeing trips.

When Donna Schaefer heard about the group, she asked Jackson to speak to her husband.

At the time, in early February, Schaefer was immobilized by the plantar fasciitis pain. While he wanted to make changes in his life, he didn't want to hear what Jackson had to say. Jackson came to his home anyway and explained the eating plan she offers to people in the Be Fit Club.

The plan essentially encourages people to eat whole, healthy foods 90 percent of the time and man-made and junk food only 10 percent of the time. The plan is what helped Jackson, who also works as a group fitness instructor at LA Fitness, to lose weight years ago and continue to keep it off.

For the first 30 days, Jackson recommends cutting out starches and sugars to reset the taste buds and start a habit of eating healthy foods. After the first 30 days, they can start incorporating healthy starches into their diet and have weekly "cheat meals."

Reluctantly, Schaefer agreed to give it a try. Schaefer has always been a big guy at 6-foot-5, but his weight had climbed to a new high of 343 pounds.

"I didn't have any choice," he said. "I either had to make the change or I was going to be dead."

Schaefer struggled to cut breads and desserts from his diet initially, but kept his eye on the prize: A cheat meal after the first 30 days. He had the meal planned — steak, lobster, a baked potato and a dark beer — but when the time came, he decided he didn't need or want it.

He has yet to have that cheat meal.

"It has become a way of life for me now," Schaefer said. "I can't afford to go backwards."

In the couple of months since he met Jackson, Schaefer has dropped about 40 pounds. He's traded in his size 44 pants for size 40 pants. And now, five years after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, he's on his way to getting off insulin. His blood-sugar levels are finally reaching "normal" ranges, even as he's being weaned off his medication.

He's working to improve his balance and flexibility, and soon hopes to join the Saturday morning Be Fit Club boot camps.

Seeing transformations in people like Schaefer is what inspires Jackson and Avery.

"That's what excites us," Avery said. "To see people start to live."

And they know those successes will have a ripple effect on the rest of the group and, they hope, the community.

"We just want people to live a long, peaceful, healthy life free of disease," Jackson said.