Darlene Yatim | Modern Day Transformer
By Kimberly Dunbar
According to Benjamin Mee in his memoir that was later turned into the 2011 movie We Bought a Zoo, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and something great will come of it.
Just as Mee and his family transformed an old, broken-down zoo into a place people wanted to visit, Darline Thorp Yatim has done the same for Shrewsbury Health and Racquet Club (SHARC).
In 2009, Yatim was working in membership sales at the gym, then a men’s hangout for racquetball where most of the club’s revenue was generated from the bar. “I was trying to sell a building that I didn’t like or even want to be in,” she said. “I knew that if someone came in, renovated it and put some money into it, it could change people’s lives.”
Yatim, who had recently lost 150 pounds and experienced a personal transformation, decided she would be that person. After finding a bank that would back her in what would become the Great Recession, Yatim purchased the building and put in $750,000 worth of renovations.
In addition to bringing the building up to code, updating the equipment, refurbishing the outdoor pool and gutting locker rooms that hadn’t been redone since they were built in 1971, Yatim also installed an indoor pool. “Every family club needs a pool,” said Yatim, whose fitness background began in aquatics. Today, that pool is used for classes for seniors, swim lessons for children and is a spot for the high school and town swim teams to practice.
According to Yatim, since her takeover, membership has increased 500 percent, as SHARC’s focus is placed heavily on family and community. “I run the business the way I would want it to be,” said Yatim, a mother of three. “I’ve lived here for 12 years; I am the market. If it’s something I want, or kids and parents are going to want, I know I’m hitting my market.”
Yatim knows her market well because she, like millions of other Americans, struggles with her weight and finding time to exercise.
“In school, I was an athlete,” she said. “I was captain of the cheerleading squad and varsity in three sports. I stayed active in college, but then I started working 60-plus hours a week.”
With a sedentary lifestyle and no structured sports available, work and high stress caused her to gain weight. Yatim, who said she had “eating disorders from one spectrum to the next,” started getting fit and healthy after being a stay-at-home mom. She got certified and taught group exercise for three years before landing in the sales department of the old club.
“SHARC is welcoming because I have been everywhere,” she said. “From a successful athlete to someone you couldn’t pay to walk into a gym, I’ve seen it all. I want people to be healthy mentally and physically.”
Yatim said SHARC strives for excellence, which means tailoring group fitness schedules to her members’ liking and learning everyone’s first name when they walk in the door. “I want it to be like Cheers. I want them to feel like it’s their second home,” she said.
“When [new members] come in, my hope is that they’re not given the basic tour of the equipment because we have the same equipment everyone else has,” she said. But not everyone else takes the time to ask members their needs, their likes and how much time they have to exercise. “We assess your goals and figure out how you can do things here that are realistic.”
And Yatim, who “went back to bad habits” after getting caught up in the stress of running the gym, certainly practices what she preaches. “I try to pick exercises that I enjoy and not just to burn calories,” she said. “That sucks. You will crash and burn. Find something you love doing and that will make you show up every day.
“I’ve lost, gained, lost, gained again ~ now I’m losing,” Yatim said of her weight. “You can always start again. Don’t look at it as ‘I failed again,’ because you always have an opportunity to start again.”
Sometimes, it only takes 20 seconds of insane courage.
For more information on SHARC, visit shrewsburyclub.com.