LAKEVIEW — Strength of heart goes hand-in-hand with strength of muscle — at least for one local gym that's managed to raise more than $20,000 for charity in the past two years.
Mike Connelly and Ryan Steenrod, two buff but soft-spoken friends, own Rebell Conditioning, 2831 N. Clark St.
Since they opened in 2011, owners of the strength-conditioning gym and its 100 or so clients have raised more than $20,000 for charity and 600 pounds of food.
And when the gym itself wanted to upgrade recently, Rebell's members donated $12,000 in less than 48 hours through small business crowd-funding site Bolstr.
"Everyone’s kind of like one big family here," Steenrod, 32, said.
A casino night raised $8,000 for an epilepsy foundation after one of the members had a seizure. Steenrod once performed a "get up" exercise with a 50-pound weight 172 times in an hour, earning $9,000 for a member whose family was having financial problems. ("My body hated me after that," Steenrod admitted.)
And in October, Connelly, Steenrod and student Nikhil Kumra plan to hike 16.5 miles with 35-pound weights along with any interested students to raise money for Brothers in Arms, a non-profit that helps Marines and their families with travel expenses.
The gym owners choose the charity, but the members are a huge part of the the once-a-quarter events, they said.
"It’s by no means Ryan and I doing all the work," Connelly, 37, said. "It’s really a huge group effort."
When Rebell needed help, its members pitched in quickly. The $12,000 in donations from the crowd-funding effort will buy Olympic lifting plates, some dumbbells, turf and barbells, Steenrod said.
Six members donated amounts from $1,000 to $5,800 in less than two days.
It's the sense of community and belief in the Rebell system — strength conditioning classes based on kettlebells — that pushed people to donate, said Christie Herr, 31, one of the students who contributed.
"There is never a time when you walk through the door at Rebell and feel like a dollar sign," she said. "I realize how difficult it is to grow a small business, but didn't have any doubt that the guys were on the right track."
Connelly and Steenrod will continue quarterly fundraising that impacts members, and if they want to upgrade facilities, they may look to crowd-funding again.
Rebell is about the strength, educating students and about community, they said. Students will support them if they continue to support the students.
"Our members believe in what we’re doing," Steenrod said. "We believe in what we’re doing. When you believe in something wholeheartedly, good things come."