By: Holly Joy Berkey
Team PhilanthroFIT is one of many groups heading to the Reebok Spartan Race World Championship this October. This team of everyday athletes is preparing their bodies and minds for the mountains of Tahoe under the guidance of Coach Doug Sklar.
Sklar has been a fitness enthusiast for as long as he can remember. After earning his Master’s degree in Exercise Science and becoming a certified personal trainer in 1997, he dedicated his career to helping people of all ages achieve their fitness goals. He was a grade school physical education and health instructor for 17 years, and he coached college-level sports. On top of this, he has completed multiple Spartan Races, marathons, ultramarathons, and an Ironman. But despite this lengthy resume of physical feats, Sklar wanted something more.
He started to find it in 2001 in the formidable challenge of adventure racing. From that point on his drive to test and retest his physical limits grew until he was compelled to build a personal fitness training business of his own in New York. This service not only provides training services, but also donates part of its proceeds to charity. Sklar called it PhilanthroFIT.
A portion of the proceeds from the PhilanthroFIT Spartan SGX program are donated to Team Winter, an organization founded by Winter Vinecki, a teenage Spartan Race World Championship competitor, to raise awareness for prostate cancer.
“I started PhilanthroFIT to bring together two passions of mine: philanthropy and fitness,” Sklar explains. “We aimed to provide expert fitness training for people of all levels of skill while supporting charitable organizations that help those in need. We train people to make the world a better place.”
Not too long after founding PhilanthroFIT, Sklar found Spartan Race — he was hooked. Sklar loved the challenge and thrill so much so that in 2013 he became a certified Spartan SGX coach. His goal? To share the experience of Spartan Training with the world.
To bring people to Spartan Race, Sklar founded Team PhilanthroFIT, a group training class that focused on Spartan obstacle race training in March of 2014. “I just got tired of the traditional weekly fitness classes, where I felt that the people who attended never truly connected with one another. I wanted to coach athletes who shared similar goals, people who would commit to an entire season of training together. I want my athletes to form lasting friendships as they get stronger, healthier, faster, fitter and more confident.”
And it works. According to Sklar, “Our Spartan Training program, Team PhilanthroFIT, has become our most popular program.” PhilanthroFIT team members range in age from 21 to 59, and while many who participate in Spartan Training are first timers looking forward to their initial Spartan Race experience there are many members who are repeat customers returning to prepare for a new season.
Sklar’s philanthropic mission is part of the draw. Sara Dettore, who has been part of PhilanthroFIT for three months, says this is even more important than the physical benefits. “While I enjoy pushing my physical limits; I derive a far greater pleasure in knowing that my commitment to a competition allows for awareness and funds to be brought to a worthy cause,” says Dettore.
Aside from the philanthropy, Sklar has successfully created a strong fitness community. For Angela Machina, a second-season member of PhilanthroFIT with four Spartan Races under her belt, camaraderie is the highlight of her Spartan Training. “Being new to NYC, I didn’t know many people, but I found PhilanthroFIT and made great friends,” she says. The team makes a conscious effort to plan social times together as well; they often linger in the gym long after training has ended — just to talk and be together.
Team PhilanthroFIT alternates between high-intensity circuit training and cardio daily. “Many classes,” says Dettore, “have what we call ‘mini Spartans,’ where we complete obstacles and strength tasks with 5-to-7-minute runs in between.”
Machina quips, “Hills are pretty hard to find in New York City, but somehow Sklar always manages to find one.” After three months, the hard work pays off when the team runs a Spartan Race together. For member Avra Frucht, the atmosphere of support is a “tremendously positive inspiration. It reminds me that through hard work, anything is possible.”
PhilanthroFIT has raised more than just a few heart rates; spirits are high among the team members as well. “We are not just lifting at a gym, so I feel more than prepared [for the upcoming race],” says Machina. Dettore feels she has broken through her old limits. “I’ve always been a confident runner but shied away from obstacle racing. I felt I didn’t have the upper-body strength to tackle the obstacles. I definitely feel ready now.”
Sklar has realized his passion; and he is living his dream. “Coaching Team PhilanthroFIT,” he says, “enables me to empower, motivate, and inspire people to their highest level of physical and social performance by providing the best obstacle racing training programs available and making philanthropic contributions to our community.”
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