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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 0.0° F  Fair
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Not a fitness club
The new Ford's remains an old-style gym
Ford Sheridan
Ford Sheridan
Credit:David Medaris

The smell of fresh paint. That is the first thing you notice when you walk through the door - that and the explosive sound of boxing gloves hitting punch mitts. Then the exposed ductwork and brick walls come into view, and your attention is drawn toward the boxing ring, the punching bags, and racks upon racks of dumbbells that show the patina of heavy use. Also: two squat-cages flanked by dozens of 45-pound Olympic plates, benches and bars galore, and, off in the corner, ranks of Atlas stones and other paraphernalia used in strong-man competitions.

Welcome to the new Ford's Gym at 2114 Winnebago St., next to snow-removal and lawn-care equipment dealer Anderson-Thomas and a few short blocks from the gym's former location, now being razed for Todd McGrath's Union Corners development.

After months of searching (an odyssey chronicled by gym member Stosh Jonjak in an Isthmus cover story last January), Ford Sheridan has found a new home for the city's most gym-like gym - a temple of power-lifting, bodybuilding, boxing and mixed martial arts. "We're not a fitness club," Sheridan emphasizes. "We're a gym."

While the relocated Ford's Gym has an impressive collection of new equipment for circuit training and cardiovascular conditioning, it shuns the banks of televisions and many of the more lavish accoutrements familiar to patrons of some fitness clubs. "Most of the people that come here are trying to escape that," Sheridan says.

Many of them helped with the relocation. One of the gym's members is a principal with Accipiter Properties, a real estate management and development firm that specializes in adaptive reuse on the near east side.

"Accipiter owns this building," says Sheridan of his new digs. Anderson-Thomas once used it for storage, he explains, but was looking to downsize. With the horizon looming on his lease at Union Corners, Sheridan visited the new site and saw its potential straight away.

He contracted with Findorff Construction to refurbish the building to suit the gym's needs. His wife, he notes, is a project manager for Findorff, and "knows the numbers and how much things should cost." Work on the project started in October, and included "a lot of sweat equity on our part, and a lot of long hours."

The gym's last day of business at its old location was Friday, Dec. 15. By Dec. 18, Ford's was open at its new location. "It was overwhelming how many people showed up to help us move," says Sheridan. He rented a 26-foot truck with a lift on it, and a U-Haul of about the same size. Five or six loyal gym members showed up with their trailers.

Scanning the tons upon tons of mass arrayed throughout Ford's Gym, one confronts the limits to the old adage that many hands make light work. Everyone got one heck of a workout that weekend, Sheridan confirms.

Membership rates start at less than $30 a month for a one-year commitment and climb to $85 for a 15-visit punch card. Boxing classes and personal training sessions are available at additional cost.

Sheridan estimates his current membership base at somewhere between 200 and 300 people, a number that allows him to be on a first-name basis with all of them. Until he goes through one complete cycle of membership renewals, he adds, he can't be certain what percentage of existing members have followed him to the gym's new location. Given that he has moved less than half a mile from the old site, he says, "there's no way I should lose anybody."

He reckons the gym could handle 500 or 600 members, "easily." Of the five people on staff, Sheridan says, he is the only full-timer. But he notes that the new location boasts about 9,600 square feet. The gym itself occupies about 7,200 square feet on the first floor, including the boxing ring. Longtime boxing coach Bob Lynch is still on board, Sheridan adds, along with former professional boxer Andrea Nelson.

Sheridan has also engaged in a symbiosis with Twisted Fitness, which occupies the building's mezzanine and has classes in mixed martial arts, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Ashtanga yoga and Pilates, among others, and also offers therapeutic sports massage and nutrition counseling.

"We get a lot of general-fitness people from this neighborhood," Sheridan notes. "Somehow, we put all these people together and it works."

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