On crisp fall evening in 1984, a group of women gathered in an exercise facility on the south side of Carbondale. Some were wearing leg warmers, other leotards and some shorts and a T-shirt — all acceptable and fashionable for exercising.
A 26-year-old woman who had just bought the gym and equipment gently lowered the stylus on a Jane Fonda exercise LP and the women gathered would exercise together, following the actress’ directions coming from the record player.
Admittedly, it wasn’t much of an exercise program or much of a gym at that time, but that young entrepreneur had plans, and now, more than three decades later, Cathy Turner is celebrating 35 years at the helm of Great Shapes for Women.
Turner recalls the fitness industry just beginning to take hold in the mid-1980s, when the owner of the building wanted to move into something new, handing operations to Turner who was managing the almost 6,000-square-foot facility.
“I grew up on a farm in Murphysboro and had a really good work ethic,” she remembers. When the owner of the building didn’t want to do it anymore, I asked if I could purchase it all and then start with a new name. That’s how I got into it and I just grew as the industry grew. I’ve just happened to do all of the right things and it has been a very successful business all of these years.”
Turner says she did not set out to have a long-term career.
“I was just doing it to have fun and make some money. I really didn’t intend to have a thriving business. I was there to get into shape and have a good time, but it just grew and kept growing.”
Over the years, Turner saw the fitness business through lots of trends and fads.
“We started out with the Jane Fonda albums and then we went to putting together our own exercise classes, then we put things to music,” she says.
Later, aerobics was followed by step aerobics, and other new programs followed.
“For a while, there was this thing called slide, where you put on little booties and slid back and forth,” Turner says. “Then there was cardio, kickboxing, Tae Bo and eventually Zumba.”
Turner’s taught it all and maintained her focus strictly on women. She says that’s one of the reasons for Great Shapes’ longevity.
“Women have always been able to come in here and not have to feel like they needed to look great,” Turner says. “It’s private and comfortable and there’s been a lot of great friendships that have developed from this gym.”
She says Great Shapes has consistently offered programs and services that women have wanted from equipment to allow for individual workouts, to organized classes, massage services, tanning, and on-site childcare. Today, the facility offers everything from yoga to Zumba as well as personal training services.
Turner explains that at one time the gym had as many as 500 members, but competition from other fitness centers and declining enrollment at Southern Illinois University has led to fewer members, but she is not slowing down. Even at 61, she still does personal training and leads classes on occasion, although she put away the record player and albums long ago.
“I come to work every day and I don’t slow down. I’m on top of everything,” she says. “It’s been a great business all of these years. I love getting up and going to work and I love what I do. I am just blessed that I fell into something that I have enjoyed doing for so many years.”