Growing up as the youngest of four boys in his family, Tom Wlodkowski’s brothers always looked out for him.
“Despite my being blind, they expected me to do everything they did,” Tom recalls. “We would run, ride bikes, even play baseball—my brother, David, spending hours teaching me technique and timing and yelling, ‘Swing!’”
As a young adult, Tom was happy, self-confident, and fit. But a move and a new job caused him to fall off his exercise routine. Eager to get back in shape, Tom learned about a personal trainer named Max Calder, via Max’s fitness blogs, and he tracked him down at Anytime Fitness in Villanova, PA
In March of 2015, Tom made a phone call, inquiring about a membership at the gym.
“I mentioned only that I wanted to get in better shape, my fitness background, my age, and that I was interested in personal training—nothing else,” Tom said. “Max [the owner of the gym] met me at the door, said hello, and led me around the club, describing all the equipment and explaining how we would train together and have a blast doing it. That was that—there was never a sense of concern, any special treatment, or feeling that I wouldn’t be pushed just as hard as anyone else. Just the way I like it.”
After a few months of training—strength, power, balance, flexibility, and conditioning—Max asked Tom if he’d ever considered completing a triathlon.
“My first reaction was, ‘You’re crazy,’” Tom said. “But then, as we worked through the concept and Max explained how he thought it would be possible, I got very excited.”
Max says he suggested the triathlon idea to Tom because he knew that others watching Tom compete might be inspired to strive to reach their fullest potential.
Max recalls telling Tom: “Too many people spend all day feeling sorry for themselves. Seeing you running, biking, and swimming could change their lives.”
That sealed the deal for Tom. He accepted Max’s challenge and last month they completed the TriRock Triathlon together in Philadelphia, running side-by-side, biking on a tandem bicycle, and tethered together during the swimming portion of the race.
“I designed a rubber loop system that fit around each of our waists with a five-foot cord between the two loops,” Max said. “We discovered during training that Tom tends to swim to his left, so I was always positioned on his right—it being easier to guide him and keep him straight when the tether was taught. We practiced biking for months and got very efficient and fast, setting a tandem bike course record for adapted athletes. For the run we used a hand tether—a two-foot cord with a handle on either end. Tom runs to his right, so I kept him on my right and would pull every 10-15 feet to keep him straight.”
Of course, they also talked to one another frequently during each portion of the race. Tom was thrilled at the finish and it was a day that neither he nor Max will ever forget. Via a GoFundMe page, they also raised nearly $6,000 for the Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports, which allows the organization to purchase two brand new high-performance hand cycles, which allows single and double-amputees to compete in races.
Max’s passion for helping others isn’t limited to training members of his gym. For the 2nd consecutive year, Max and nearly a dozen Anytime Fitness gym owners have devoted their time and effort to support the Broad Street Run, the largest 10-mile race in America.
“This year, approximately 50 franchisees and staff members collaborated on a sponsorship of the Run’s cool down zone,” Max said. “It’s just fun to see so many people challenging themselves and having fun at the same time.”
As for Tom, he says Max is no ordinary gym owner and that his Anytime Fitness club in Villanova is no ordinary gym.
“There’s a special vibe at Anytime Fitness,” Tom said. “The atmosphere is warm and friendly. The quality of the staff is second to none and there’s a feeling that all are welcome, accepted, and appreciated—on equal terms. Members are given the respect and support they need. It’s a family, and a club, that you want to be a part of.”