Faces of the J

Faces of the J: Friendship + Fitness Beyond the Exercise Studio


Mark Madden was never an exercise class guy. He used to walk the hills in downtown Seattle on his lunchbreaks, but once he retired, his doctor told him needed to find new ways to stay active. That’s when he did something he never thought he would: he asked his wife, Margie, if he could tag along to one of her exercise classes at the J.

“I was shocked,” Margie says with a laugh. But Mark caught on quickly and was soon attending class with Margie three times a week.

It wasn’t just the fitness aspect of the class that kept Mark coming back, it was the social group too. In addition to working out together, a group of about a dozen men and a dozen women always go out for coffee after class. The men head to Einstein’s Bagels where they’re solving the world’s problems, dissecting last week’s Seahawks game, or catching up on the latest news. The women grab tables at McDonald’s and discuss recent travel, books they’re reading, and what’s going on in their lives. “The coffee is almost more important than the exercise class,” Margie jokes. “Even if people miss class, they always make it to coffee.”

Cliff and Theo Argue have been part of the exercise and coffee groups for the past seven years, and they echo the Maddens’ feeling of camaraderie. “It’s more than just coming here, working out, and going home,” Cliff says. “It goes beyond the four walls of the J.”  

They experienced the deep friendship of the group first-hand when Theo had open-heart surgery last year. “It was amazing,” Cliff says. “People brought food, they stopped by, we felt a huge outpouring of love.” And when Theo was ready to head back to class, she was greeted with smiling faces, hugs, and support.

“It’s that connection that keeps us coming back here,” Theo says. “There are other gym programs we could go to, but with this group, there’s such joy when we get to be together.”

In addition to their coffee meet-ups, the group has an annual summer party at one participant’s house, and instructor Karen Beck hosts a holiday party every December. They take overnight trips to Leavenworth and Bainbridge, go on hikes, have movie nights, and celebrate birthdays together.

That bond makes this so much more than just an exercise class. It’s what helps night-owl Theo wake up for a 7:15 am class, it’s what helped turn Mark and Margie into “exercise class people,” it’s what makes it easy for Cliff to go to his doctor and tell him that he’s been following through on his fitness plans. And they all acknowledge this bond is something you don’t find in every workout class or fitness facility – it’s something special about these people, this instructor, and this organization.

“My kids say it’s the best the thing that ever happened to me,” Margie says. “They can see we’re happy and healthy and I think a lot of that is because of the classes here.”