Just after daybreak, a dedicated crowd is warming up at San Francisco's Kezar Stadium, the group has been growing steadily since the COVID-19 crisis, but to say they're working out religiously would be getting ahead of the story.
The first thing to understand is, they're working out hard. Socially distanced at 6 feet apart, the training begins with sideways lunges, with much more to follow. Just ask Justin Dunaway, who's lost somewhere in the range of 40 pounds.
"The first day I came out here, I threw up because I wasn't active with any activities physically, you know as far as high intensity workouts," says Dunaway.
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Christian Lewis started with a goal of changing his physique and the way people perceive him, at over 300 pounds.
"As a big dude people are always looking at you differently, like why you that size?" says Lewis.
Supplying the workouts and the motivation is Demario Carter, or minister Carter as church members know him. Carter grew up as an athlete in the city's Western Addition. A community he wanted to give back to, when the COVID-19 crisis hit.
"A lot of the people didn't have memberships to gyms. Along with the pandemic that's killing us also, lack of exercise, diabetes, high blood pressure all of those things that come with not getting exercise or it not being available to us," Carter explains.
While some regulars push their limits, others ease into the workouts. Either way, it's a welcome break after months of sheltering.
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"This class has been very good to me, mentally, spiritually and emotionally," says Shante Saulsberry.
Carter's church, formerly known as Hamilton Memorial recently relocated from the city to the East Bay. He says most of the people working out now are not members, but have maintained tight knit relationships from the Western Addition and Fillmore neighborhoods. It's one of the reasons he doesn't charge for the sessions.
"It's not about money, it's about love for people, about giving back. We don't get the best opportunities to be healthy, but we can do it, it just takes us," Carter believes.
And perhaps a little added motivation free of charge, for a community reaching for new heights.
Carter has also created a nonprofit, "ministry + muscle" and hopes to hold events and possibly extend the workout model into other underserved communities in the future.
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