The grand opening of Planet Fitness on Saturday didn't just bring Cowlitz County residents out into the cold and into the gym, but it prompted the return of a Rainier native to the community she grew up in.
Cecilia Newman, 36, moved to Rainier with her family in 1990 from California right before she entered seventh grade. After graduating from Rainier High School in 1996, she moved to Rohnert Park, Calif., to help her cousin run a local printing business.
She didn’t know that nine years later she would be the vice president of operations for Planet Fitness and oversee the 22,000-square-foot location at Kelso’s Three Rivers Mall — only miles from where she spent her teenage years.
“It’s a fluke how this all ended up. I went to school in Rainier and worked out across the river in Longview. Even once I moved to California and started working at Planet Fitness, my family kept telling me that we needed one in the Longview and Kelso area,” Newman said, adding that her mother, father and brother live locally.
Although she doesn’t have a college degree, Newman said she has management experience from helping her uncle run his automotive business in California and ran her own day care in 1999 when her two children were young.
By 2006, Newman was ready to pursue a career outside her home, she said. She began working at the front desk of her local Planet Fitness in Rohnert Park and said she trained others on how to be managers.
“They wanted me to be in management, but I wasn’t ready. My family was number one,” Newman said.
By 2008, she became the manager of the gym. By 2010, she was the VP of operations and oversaw 10 Planet Fitness gyms in Alaska, Washington, Nevada and California.
The owners of the Rohnert Park gym, Newman said, were the first to open the franchise on the West Coast, she said.
When Rouse Properties approached the owners in 2012 and asked if they were interested in opening a gym in Kelso and they said yes, Newman said the project became her own.
“It’s the first model that I built out myself. They told me this is my club and I’m going to open it,” she said, adding that she owns 4.9 percent of the Kelso location.
Newman said she’s proud to bring a gym she believes in to her home community.
“It feels good to bring something that has such a value and that so many people can afford. It’s helping the community thrive and helping the community get healthier and happier, and it brings people together,” she said.
Known for its “judgment-free zone,” Planet Fitness prides itself on providing a non-intimdiating environment.
One of its best known features is its “lunk alarm” that gym staff set off when a client refuses to heed warnings about mishandling weights or loud grunting.
The gym also offers “bagel Tuesday” on the second Tuesday of each month and “pizza Monday” on the first Monday night of each month. It also requires that buckets of Tootsie Rolls be filled and overflowing at the desk at all times, Newman said.
While the food policies at the gym are controversial, Newman said it’s about providing members with a social experience and with a treat to reward themselves for their hard work.
“If you’re working out and doing your time, then you have the right to treat yourself,” Newman said, adding that the Tootsie Rolls are a fat-free and low-calorie way to keep sugar levels regulated.
Kelsea Green, 19, of Kelso said she’s looking forward to pizza night.
“They don’t make you feel self-conscious and you can still eat what everyone else does and feel healthy while doing it,” she said.
The opening of the gym is the mall’s third major recent development, which had lost major anchor stores Sears and The Emporium. Sportsman Warehouse opened in August where The Emporium was located, and Regal’s soon-to-be 50,000-square-foot, 12-screen cinema is expected to open later this month where Sears once stood.
For Newman, opening the Kelso gym means more than overseeing another location: It means more time with her family.
“I’m very connected to every gym and I try to get to each one every six to eight weeks … but because I have my family here, I will have to stop myself from visiting Kelso too often.”
For details on membership prices and more information visit www.planetfitness.com/gyms/kelso-wa-1094 or the gym’s Facebook page.