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Monday, October 18, 2021

Transforming the game: Local crossfit gym uses art to inspire

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Jesus Martinez leans on the cold metal of a pull-up bar and laughs with his 6 p.m. crossfit class.

Red-faced and sweaty, his students move about the room lifting weights, dropping to the floor in pushup position and straining their muscles as they hang from the bars next to Jesus. He leans down occasionally, straightening a leg or calling out words of encouragement to those struggling to finish an exercise.

The class members huff a breath of relief when they finish a tough set. They stretch. Then they stride past the art hung down the length of the room toward a large whiteboard to read off what comes next.

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Jesus Martinez, the owner of Visionary CrossFit, talks about the concept behind his gym. He said he and his wife are both artists, and he owned a gym in California. They “combined their talents” and formed Visionary Crossfit.

One room over, his wife, Carrie Martinez, paints.

“With the art, people are being exposed to culture and beauty while they work out,” she said. “It’s like mind, body and spirit all at once. Uplifting yourself in every way that you can.”

Jesus and Carrie own what may be the only art-gallery-crossfit-gym fusion in the country. They opened their unique business, aptly called Visionary CrossFit, on Main Street last January. The main workout room serves as an art gallery, and framed pictures are hung along the wall behind weights, pullup bars and workout gear.

“We wanted to incorporate all our passions into one place,” Jesus said. “We thought, ‘Let’s try a gym and gallery and see how that works.’ We’re just trying to be different. We don’t want to be the average crossfit place.”

***

Every morning, Martinez wakes up at 5 a.m. to start working on the whiteboard that showcases his daily workouts. He said he spends about three hours working on his board, hands collecting smears of ink on the sides as he draws each line with dry-erase markers.

From a bright-pink unicorn in a spacesuit to the side profile of a woman surrounded by highlighter-yellow halos, his drawings always include a motivational quote and aim to inspire.

It’s a way to relax before a day full of sweat and exercise. Each drawing is a reflection of his style of art, and is a way for him to connect his two passions. When they drawing is done, the day begins.

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Monday through Friday, Visionary CrossFit hosts eight classes a day. They begin on the hour every hour, and he takes a break during lunchtime.

Every day, a new, elaborate drawing made with a dry-erase marker works its way across the board as the sun rises. The drawings incorporate the workouts he thinks up and an inspirational quote.

Then at night he erases them.

“It’s just some time for me to be alone and think about stuff,” Martinez said. “My family is still asleep, they day hasn’t begun yet — it’s therapy. Then when I wipe it down, it reminds me it’s not permanent. We’re only here for a short amount of time, and stuff isn’t really that important. We get hung up and worry about stuff that never really happens, so erasing it is good for me.”

Despite difficulties finding a committed consumer base to even out the money they dumped into the longshot venture, the couple says they don’t regret a thing.

“We’re just trying to create a space for creative, like-minded people to get together,” Martinez said. “We want a broader audience. Crossfit can be kind of cookie-cutter sometimes. When we set this up, I wanted it to appeal to students, to mom-and-pop locals, everyday people who want to do crossfit.”

***

For both the Martinezes, it’s about transformation.

Just a few years ago, Jesus felt overweight and wanted a change. In many ways, his health was a work of art in progress.

“I used to be obese. I was close to 300 pounds. I wanted to make a change. I wasn’t happy with my health, so I walked into a gym and met a coach that was coaching crossfit. I started doing it, and I lost close to 100 pounds in a year,” he said. “It was really transformational for me. I never worked out or played sports or anything, so I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the transformational aspects of it and what it can do for you.”

In 2013, he became a certified coach, using his experience to shape others’ bodies into something they could be proud of.

Carrie said Gainesville is the perfect place for creatives like her and her husband to grow, and she loves where their gym is located: in the thick of the burgeoning arts district. A visionary artist, her sunlit studio faces historic North Main Street and is full of paint, canvases and her completed works of art.

Broad, tall windows let in natural light, and tables with buckets of crayons and markers sit in the center, waiting to be used.

And their art is anything but normal. From a blacklight gallery that includes 3-D glasses so the art pops off the wall to the chandeliers made from recycled water bottles hanging from the ceiling in the weight room, Carrie and Martinez seek out art that shows transformation.

They create their own, but they also feature work from their favorite inspirations. The couple walk around their space and point out the different pieces, finishing each other’s sentences and describing them with passion and reverence in their voices. They love showing off the designs and telling the story behind each piece and each artist who is featured in their unique mecca of fitness and culture.

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“I look at my clients as a piece of art now, too,” Jesus said. “I’m molding them physically and mentally and they’re turning into pieces of art. I’m so lucky.”

He and Carrie work to build relationships with every client who walks in their door. He gives the regulars nicknames, and she even has some of them model for her paintings.

Last year, as a part of Gainesville’s 352walls project, the couple painted a mural on the side of High Dive in downtown Gainesville. The wall depicts an enchanted woman holding an orb, but the inspiration for the woman in the painting works out at the gym. Her name is Stephanie.

Their very first client, 21-year-old UF student Mariah Justice, is now a coach.

The history and economics senior said she joined the gym because she loved the atmosphere, and it’s where she realized she wanted to take her skills as a crossfit athlete to the next level.

“I saved up some money and paid $1,000 to get the level-one certification from CrossFit,” she said. “I’ve been coaching at Visionary for eight months, and I love it so much.”

She said although she graduates in May, she wants to stick around Gainesville because she couldn’t imagine not being at Visionary.

It’s home.

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“I could literally not say a single bad thing about Jesus and Carrie,” she said. “They are the most kind, gentle people I have ever met. I talk to them about everything, and Visionary is my home away from home.”

It’s not just art. It’s not just crossfit.

It’s the life that Jesus and Carrie Martinez have built for themselves in Gainesville and hope to continue for a long time. The couple have been together for 17 years, married for 10 years and are raising two sons.

“People kind of look to us for inspiration because we’ve been together for so long,” Jesus said. “Couples don’t really make it too long these days, so they see us and they think, ‘Huh, I guess it can work.’”

***

Jesus uses his background as a graffiti artist and Carrie hers as a surrealist artist, and the couple agrees that their art and styles mesh well.

Neither have college degrees. Instead, they rely on self-taught passions from the heart. When the city commissions them to paint murals, they said they combine their styles to produce art that inspires.

At the gym, they have about 50 clients who are committed to membership, and about 30 more in different stages of trying it out. Jesus said in the past month, they’ve seen classes grow more than ever before. They rent out their space for events, too, and host parties that go late into the night.

Later this month, they’re having a Halloween party for all ages.

For them, it’s a testament to how they have been able to assimilate into the city and set their own trends in the process. After their first year, they figured opening Visionary was a mistake.

But lately, they feel grateful.

“We had a vision,” Jesus said. “And we said, ‘We’re gonna put all of our eggs in this one basket because we believe in it.’”

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