After 30 years of supporting Wellington and helping the community reach its fitness goals, Ultima Fitness, located in the Wellington Plaza at 12799 W. Forest Hill Blvd., shut down for good on Friday, Jan. 24 after a 5 p.m. final workout.
It was the end of a journey that began in 1990 when the Merrell family opened an independent gym in Wellington. Through three decades of up and downs, along with many thousands of day-to-day exercise objectives, the Ultima Fitness team served scores of village residents.
The gym’s standard memberships have been transferred to YouFit Health Clubs, a chain with more than 100 locations, including one in the nearby Wellington Marketplace. Personal training clients have been transferred to Resilient Fitness, located on Pierson Road in Wellington.
Taekwondo and CrossFit clients will continue to operate at the old Ultima location until Friday, Jan. 31, at which point they will head to new locations, with taekwondo students continuing under the leadership of Grandmaster Gustavo Pope and CrossFit clients staying with CrossFit program director Jeff Dempsey.
“We greatly appreciate your understanding on this matter, and we wish you the best in your journey with YouFit, Resilient Fitness or wherever your new path may lead you,” the Merrill family wrote in a letter to club members. “We spent a lot of time and consideration working with the owners of both clubs to ensure it will be a good fit for our members. We believe you will be excited at their vision for the future.”
The closure will be a loss for the Wellington community, where Ultima Fitness has been a longtime supporter of community-based events. For example, the gym was a major supporter of Wellington’s award-winning Let’s Move campaign over the past several years. Ultima Fitness was also a founding sponsor of Wellington’s Hometown Holiday Food Drive and Hometown Holiday Toy Drive, serving as a key drop-off location. The gym also opened itself to the community through several fitness challenge events and hosted several community fitness runs.
In recent years, the Merrell family has been involved in the creation and work of the Merrell Family Foundation, which aims to increase awareness of mental health resources and help erase the stigma of mental illness, founded in honor of family patriarch John Merrill, who died in 2012.
The Merrell family has also been involved in local chambers of commerce and has played a leading role in the Young Professionals of Wellington.
Owners Jess and Jill Merrell also sent a letter to staff members thanking them for their service.
“Although we deeply regret closing and have done everything in our power to remain open, circumstances beyond our control have led us to this outcome,” they wrote. “For 30 years, we have been striving to deliver the best service to our members, staff and the community. Behind the scenes, we have been dealing with issues that made it impossible for an independent business with so much overhead to continue to offer the services our clients expect in the way that they deserve. The decision was not an easy one, and we have done our best to open doors for any of you who want to continue in the fitness field.”
The Merrells further suggested that staff members consider following Ultima clients to other nearby health clubs.
“We have communicated to YouFit and Resilient what an amazing team we have and hope that you will have the opportunity to speak with them and see if either location is the right fit for you,” they wrote. “We greatly appreciate your understanding on this very difficult matter and wish you the best of luck in the next chapter of your life.”
The YouFit location at 13865 Wellington Trace is already welcoming the former Ultima members with open arms.
Cheryl Love, owner of Resilient Fitness at 11596 Pierson Road, Suite 10, said that many of Ultima’s personal trainers have come aboard with her team. “We haven’t heard back from a couple of them yet, but we have already placed five of them and their clients,” Love said.
Love, who rebranded her facility in 2019 with all new, white Precor equipment, a spin room and other dedicated exercise rooms, said former Ultima members who have been in this week were pleasantly surprised.
“Everyone is so amazed with how clean our facility is. They love the environment. The white really brings it out,” she said.
The additions to the team from Ultima are expected to fit right in at Resilient. “They are go-getters and educated trainers,” Love said.
Love added that her background in large corporations and human resources make managing the transition fairly easy. “I am meeting with each client,” she said. “They can come to me anytime.”
Resilient Fitness Manager Buondy Milazzo, said the response has been overwhelming. “We have people coming in groups saying, ‘We want these classes,’” she said. “These are people who work out together and are like a family. I am not seeing any bitterness, only grief. They are so open to what we offer.”
Milazzo added that she had 50 women come in with a single instructor. “Since October, we have been offering 7-day passes,” she said. “It is joyful to see people happy to find a new place to work out.”
As for Ultima’s specialty clients, Grandmaster Pope has purchased the Xtreme Taekwondo entity portion from Ultima and will continue serving his more than 90 families under the new name of Pope Taekwondo Academy at a location in Wellington to be announced soon.
Dempsey, the CrossFit instructor, has a location at 3130 Fortune Way, Suite 9, in Wellington where he was originally located before moving into the Ultima facility six years ago.
Dempsey is ready and willing to serve his former Ultima clients and others at that location.
“We have also given a home to trainers, Upfit and Bootcamp in an effort to help those members reach their fitness goals,” Dempsey said.
While change can be difficult, the Merrells wrote that they hope things work out well for their former clients and staff.
“Thank you for letting us serve you for the last 30 years,” they concluded.
The site that was Ultima Fitness, a 28,584-square-foot space, is currently being marketed for lease by owner the Bainbridge Companies, and there has been some interest shown in the space. For more information, contact Mary O’Neill at (561) 333-3669, ext. 108.