Exercising Independence
At Freedom Fitness in Stone Harbor, N.J., clients find a welcoming, world-class facility in a location unlike any other
by Jenny Graham

A new era in fitness has dawned. Gone are the days when “the gym” was a place for only a select few, rife with musty smells and old, overworked equipment.

At Freedom Fitness, individuals of all backgrounds, ages and physical conditions are welcomed with open arms. The Stone Harbor, N.J.-based facility has a singular focus: helping clients lead healthier, and thereby happier, lives.

Owner Diane Bruckner and head trainer Tom Marchetti had exactly this in mind when the gym opened its doors last year. Bruckner, who had always dreamed of opening a fitness facility and a business at the beach, combined her two passions into one venture with Freedom Fitness.

“I wanted to break out of the mold,” she says. “I wanted to have a gym where everyone would feel welcome, not just people who’ve always gone to the gym. … I wanted a place where we could make a difference in clients’ lives, and we’re doing that.”

Marchetti, a Petty Officer First Class in the U.S. Navy who served the United States at home and abroad, with missions to Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, echoes this sentiment.

“When Diane and I got together, we agreed on ‘outside the box’ thinking,” he says. “Freedom Fitness stands behind what I fought for [as a member of the military] for 11 years. … People take that word ‘freedom’ and they take it to a new level when they come to Diane’s gym. They appreciate that and respect that.”

Freedom Fitness goes above and beyond for Americans who have served their country. Veterans, as well as active duty and retired military personnel, receive a 10 percent discount on services at the gym.

Marchetti emphasizes that such inclusion extends to clients with disabilities. He notes that while many gyms are not equipped to take on clients who are differently abled, Freedom Fitness is accessible to all. Working alongside people who have made fitness a part of their lives, regardless of their abilities, moves Marchetti to the core. He recounts the story of one client who is recovering from a massive stroke. He notes that the client usually requires the assistance of a pair of trainers.

“He is fighting for freedom just to get out of the illness he’s in,” Marchetti says. “He fights for that every day. He comes to me three days a week. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m doing this. That’s the purpose of this place. To see him be able to stand up for a minute—I usually get choked up in my throat.”

Bruckner shares the story of another young man with autism who was bullied out of another facility. “People [at the gym] started to make fun of him,” she says. “That kind of thing blows my mind. His mother brought him over to my gym because she knew it would be the best thing in the world for him.”

Freedom Fitness is uniquely equipped to offer classes that take full advantage of its bayside location. As such, it offers a series of paddleboarding classes that disembark from the gym’s expansive deck. Truly a one-of-a-kind facility, the gym also offers individual and group training as well as yoga, Spinning and boxing right on the deck.

Inside, clients benefit from a diverse array of state-of-the-art equipment; Bruckner and Marchetti suggest that many of the machines in Freedom Fitness’ repertoire can’t be found anywhere else in the area. This includes the Pit Shark, a machine Marchetti says is designed to offer all the benefits of squat exercises, with “direct concentration on the muscles,” while avoiding the spine compression that comes from traditional squats. The gym also has a Jacob’s Ladder, a full-body toning machine standing nearly 10 feet tall that members of the military, police and fire personnel often use for training purposes. Of course, Freedom Fitness has an abundance of standard equipment: benches, core machines, rowers, treadmills, elliptical machines, etc.

All of the equipment, Bruckner says, was hand-selected to mirror that offered by the hottest fitness studios in California and also to fill in gaps that were lacking at other area clubs.

Freedom Fitness also hosts a bevy of group-exercise classes. Remarkably, Freedom Fitness can host three classes simultaneously, as staff and clients can take advantage of the deck, studio space and the water.

“We are over the top in the area of classes, gym equipment and what we do outside,” Bruckner says. Even the hours at Freedom Fitness offer independence; the gym is open to members 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The classes, too, set Freedom Fitness apart. From bayside yoga, paddleboarding and Boxing by the Bay to CrossFit and Zumba to “rock ‘n’ roll” and “techno” Spinning—wherein a laser light show blazes to the beat of the music during class—Freedom Fitness has it all. Personal training is also available, with 1:1 classes offered in a variety of disciplines.

Children can join in the fun at Freedom Fitness, too. The gym will be hosting a series of camps for children this summer, beginning July 1, in areas including paddleboarding and boxing. Youths ages 6 and older are invited to attend the classes to get fit while having a great time and enjoying the gym’s unique location. A bonus to parents and those who aren’t “down the shore” full time, children needn’t sign up for any particular length of time to enjoy the classes. Marchetti notes that children can sign up for a week, or even a day, of classes, and that the time will be prorated.

In August, even bigger things are in store for the clients, staff and owners of Freedom Fitness. The gym will be doubling its size by taking over an adjacent space. This will allow for even more equipment and additional studio space.

Truly, Freedom Fitness has set out to change lives.

“People trust you,” Marchetti says. “Whether they want to lose weight, live longer or get healthier, people are trusting you to save their lives.”

“I think we all know today that exercise, and moving the body—no matter how old we are, whether post-surgery or recovering from an injury or because you’re a star athlete or you want lose weight—helps you live longer,” Bruckner adds. “It is a crucial part of our lives. And I don’t feel it should be something only those that are already in shape have a right to.”

Freedom Fitness
365 96th Street
Stone Harbor, NJ 08247
609-675-1546 | 609-675-0694

Photograph by Alison Dunlap