Weatherall family exercises faith to build others up physically, emotionally, and spiritually
By Scott Anderson
Some gyms paint slogans like “No pain, no gain” on the walls. Some boast of being “judgement-free zones.” At Christ Fit Gym off of Chinaberry Lane in Bossier City, the message is a bit more complex:
“For bodily exercise profits little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” — 1 Timothy 4:8
That’s because Christ Fit is not just a gym. It’s the foundation of one family’s mission.
“I want to tell as many people about Jesus as I possibly can, and I want to make a difference in our community,” said owner Billy Weatherall. “That’s certainly what this gym has done. And it starts with me. It’s been a big differencein my life, in my family’s life.”
Weatherall has long been into physical fitness. Folks used to come to his garage to work out, but he also admits to partying and drinking back then, too.
Then it all changed.
“I got saved in 2006 after the military,” he said. “I came home from three deployments and was really broken. I gave my life to the Lord. I told the Lord the day of my salvation, ‘I am going to be completely committed to you. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know much about You. But if You just give me purpose, I’ll do whatever you want.’”
At that time, Weatherall continued to welcome people into his garage to work out. But that’s where the similarities stopped.
“We went from partying and drinking, then after I got saved, we started doing Bible devotions,” he said. “I was like, ‘Guys, this is going to be a little bit weird.’ They said, ‘Bill, this is weird, but you come here, and we like it. You let us work out for free.’ And people started coming.”
And people kept coming. In fact, Weatherall said so many people came that they outgrew the garage at his home. That’s when God came back to him about that commitment Weatherall made in 2006.
“Life was just so good,” he said. “We were doing well. (My wife) was a full-time nurse. I was back in the reserves as a drill sergeant, in oil and gas, back in school doing very good. Then, in 2011, God hit me up on that promise. He wanted me to leave everything and start a gym.”
Christ Fit Gym is open at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. It offers a variety of free classes throughout the day. Each class begins with a devotion that lasts about 15 minutes. The gym also has an array of machines and free weights available for those who want to work out at their own pace.
“We just want people to come up here and get involved,” he said. “It’s my job to make sure this environment stays Christ-like. A lot of people who don’t go to church want to come here and work out. They sit through the devotions because they respect a free gym, and 100 percent of the time, they’re always asking me questions afterwards. It’s always a unique thing that they get genuine, authentic Christianity up here.”
And every bit of it is free. Christ Fit does not operate on membership dues. It is a donations-only operation.
“You can come here 1,000 times and never give a dime,” Weatherall said. “Pastors were saying, ‘Bill, this is not a good idea. You don’t have any funding.’ But when I went to sleep, God was driving me crazy. He was making my life miserable because He was telling me to go, and I was saying no.”
Weatherall said God made it impossible to do anything but commit to the vision.
“We’re gonna keep on doing this no matter what,” he said. “Until Jesus comes back or the money runs out, we’re going to fight tooth and nail to see that this place survives and continues to be a lighthouse in this community.”
Christ Fit Gym is a mission not just for Billy, but his entire family.
Billy’s wife, Julie Weatherall, was a labor and delivery nurse for 12 years before she left that job to join the business full time.
“I remember the day Billy called me about opening a gym, and how much we were going to charge,” she said. “Then I was at work one day, and he called me and was like, ‘This is going to sound crazy, but God has laid it on my heart that we need to do donations only.’ I just sat there for a second, thinking, ‘How’s that going to work? But OK, let’s roll with it.’
“We have ups and downs and all arounds, but all in all, it’s been a huge blessing. To see the growth from one room where you could fit 10 people to where we are at now, it’s really awesome.”
Julie started keeping the books for Christ Fit in her spare time while she continued working as a nurse. But as the business grew, Billy thought it would be a good idea to add a smoothie store to the gym five years ago.
“That sounds crazy,” she remembers saying. “I prayed about it and prayed about it, and I was like, ‘OK, I’ll just go part time. I’ll still keep my job, still keep my insurance. So I started kind of part time, and it was so much I ended up just quitting my nursing job.”
Billy’s sister, Jodi Johnston, recalls how she got involved in the early days.
“I remember when he told me, I said, ‘If the bank will give you a loan for $50,000 and you’ve been unemployed for a year, and she’s a full-time nurse, well, I guess it’s God’s plan.’” And the first bank he went to did give him that loan.
Johnston recalls one night in that first year when her brother called her, distressed by the fact that no one was donating to the gym and the rent was due. That’s when she threw out an idea.
“I’ve always been a huge garage sale person,” she said. “I told him, ‘Have a garage sale. People that know what you’re doing, and the kids that have come there, they love you. Nobody wants to see this fail.’”
That first garage sale brought in enough money to pay the month’s rent. Soon the garage sales became a weekly event. They kept growing, Johnston said, until they turned into the Christ Fit Thrift Store, behind the gym.
“The thrift store is one of our biggest blessings,” she said. “It has been able to provide so much.”
Billy’s brother, Bernie, has been there from the beginning, helping put in the floors and set up the equipment. But the gym wasn’t making money in those earlier days, so Bernie worked in oil and gas for seven years — “a horrible lifestyle,” he said.
“I came back home, got my life right with the Lord, and started working here full time,” Bernie said. “This gym saved my life, 100 percent.”
Bernie works with the moving and recycling arms of the operation. Those operations, along with the thrift store, help keep the gym operating on a donation basis.
Even Billy’s mother, Janet Weatherall, plays a role in the operations.
“Ever since the gym was opened, Billy has always given me a place here at the gym” she said. “Billy has been so obedient. I look at his life, and God has just blessed him.”
Christ Fit’s growing portfolio of businesses and services provides more than just a place to work out. To many, it provides an opportunity.
“Christ Fit Gym is not just a gym,” Johnston said. “We have all the special needs students work here during the day. This whole facility offers second-chance employment. We strongly believe in that. We think, if somebody doesn’t give them a chance, why won’t they go back to their old ways? It’s our job to plant the seed. If you come here, it’s gonna get planted. And if you come here enough, it’s gonna get watered, too. That’s the goal of it.”
“It doesn’t matter your past,” Billy said. “We are willing to give anyone a chance. We all have pretty bad backgrounds. We’ve made some mistakes. We’ve lived life. I’ve lived life to the fullest for the world, and I’ve lived life to the fullest for the Lord. It’s not even comparable.”
While each family member has a specialty in the operation, they all pitch in anywhere they are needed. Billy and Julie both have helped on moving jobs, and Janet has been known to help with the packing.
“If we’re all not in it, I don’t want to do it,” Julie said. “This is such a beautiful thing we have here with our family.”
As the operations continue to grow, the family remains committed to God, to each other and to every person who walks through their doors.
To Julie, it’s about being the church to people who might not go to a church building.
“I love that this place is open for everyone,” she said. “A lot of people aren’t going to go to a church building. But they feel very welcome here. It’s a come as you are kind of thing because none of us is perfect.”
For Bernie, the excitement is in seeing how God always shows up.
“I see God’s favor daily,” he said. “I see miracles weekly. It’s unbelievable. God’s favor is all over this. Truly blessed.”
And for Janet, it’s simply a labor of love.
“This gym is absolutely unconditional love,” she said. “People come as they are, and it’s always just been a warm, welcoming place. I’m just so proud of my children. I learn from them every day. They are my inspiration.”
For Billy, it all goes back to Christ Fit’s mission statement, found in 1 Timothy 4:18.
“Physical training is important, but it’s not the most important,” he said. “It’s knowing the Lord. When you know the Lord, it has eternal ramifications. It’s for here, and it’s for the future.”