Live Mutual: Not just fitness...family

By Shelly Gigante
Shelly Gigante specializes in personal finance issues. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and news websites.
Posted on Feb 5, 2018

To outside observers, Sudor Taino looks like any other gym. But members of the unique fitness club in West Hartford, Connecticut, which seeks to strengthen the mind, body, and spirit, say it’s really a community of mutual support. Some even call it a second home.

“To me, it’s not a gym,” said Eric Wusterbarth, a member who joined two years ago. “It’s almost like a big family. When you walk in there, it’s like everyone is a relative that you haven’t seen in a long time. They give you a big hug and it feels like you belong to something bigger. Everyone is so supportive and positive.”

That’s every bit intentional.

Sudor Taino, a name that combines the word “sweat” in Spanish with the Taino Indians who originally inhabited Puerto Rico, was founded in 2012 by Karla Medina while she was still working as a detective in the Hartford Police Department. A near-death injury on the job forced Medina to get serious about weight loss and her passion for the relationship between physical fitness and spiritual wellness was born.

“I was 80 pounds overweight and I questioned whether the accident would have happened if I had been in better shape, so after my surgery I started going to the gym,” she said. “I became more aware of the way people walk and talk and move, and it resonated with me because I have been in their shoes. I can see people for who they are and who they aspire to be and I help them get there.” 

Medina’s exercise classes are innovative, melding together different fitness genres, like boot camp and dance, or yoga and weights. The classes she previously taught at other gyms, she said, did not allow for the kind of creative freedom that she craved. (Check out some of the moves on this Facebook video)

“I don’t teach a cookie cutter regimen,” she said. “We move at the same time we meditate.”

Medina, whose family is Puerto Rican, said her membership is a melting pot of ethnic and gender diversity. Sudor Taino is a judgment-free zone where all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities are warmly embraced, and an inspiring example of the interconnectedness that MassMutual applauds.

“I tell the members that it’s my job to inspire the individual and it’s our job to motivate collectively and move together culturally,” she said. “Sometimes when you come in, you barely have enough strength for yourself and I tell them that it’s OK because right now you are being supported. When you get to a place where you no longer need that support, it’s your turn to be a support system for someone else. I plant that seed from day one.”

Today, her instructors and members proudly refer to themselves as the “Vibe Tribe,” which reflects their commitment to one another.

“People don’t understand,” said instructor Omayra Martinez-Baidy. “They say, ‘Wow, you’ve been going there a long time,’ but it’s like a healing process for us. You can be beat up from whatever the day throws at you — bad news from someone, or the kids are sick, or a problem with your job — but when you go into the club you leave it all on the floor. It’s a unique passion that we all have for each other to better ourselves and each other.”

Martinez-Baidy noted that the support system at Sudor Taino is a two-way street.

“It’s an environment of ‘I got you and you got me,’” she said. “We don’t even have to say it verbally. It’s just always there. When we walk away, we can deal with our challenges head on and that’s what we do for each other. And the members do that for us, too. They remind us why we are here.”

Ultimately, Medina said her fitness philosophy is rooted in respect.

“There’s a mutual respect that you see when we’re working out with each other,” said Medina. “Our stories may be different, but at the end of the day, we have the foundation of mutual respect. You could be in my position and I could be in yours. We’re working out shoulder to shoulder and we’re grounded in that mutuality.”

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