Find Your Fit, Find Your Faith

Daniel Hayes and Craig Rummel outside the Blythewood Recreation Center on Boney Road. Saturday, they launch the Blythewood chapter of F3 Nation, a free workout and fellowship program for men.

Daniel Hayes and Craig Rummel outside the Blythewood Recreation Center on Boney Road. Saturday, they launch the Blythewood chapter of F3 Nation, a free workout and fellowship program for men.

BLYTHEWOOD/WINNSBORO – It begins in the predawn darkness, when first light is but a rumor. The morning’s fist birds are warming up in their arboreal alcoves, the air not yet filled with their flitting chorus. As the sunrise splits the horizon and spills its first rays, painting the landscape in an ethereal glow, the shadows appear on the grounds of the park.

The shadows, vague at first, begin to take form, the shapes of men rising before them. Men from all walks of life, of all ages, shapes and sizes. Men of all faiths and convictions. And they are all here for the same reason – to be better than they were the day before.

That is, essentially, the bottom line of F3 (Fitness, Fellowship and Faith) Nation: to improve from day to day.

Born in Charlotte on the first day of 2011, the men-only workout and fellowship group has grown to include chapters across the Southeast. In 2013, a group was formed at The Sandlot on Clemson Road; last month, at Fortune Springs Park in Winnsboro. And, beginning this Saturday, Blythewood Park on Boney Road will host its first workout.

The Saturday workouts are the “late” workouts, beginning at 6:30 a.m. and lasting about an hour, but that doesn’t make the boot camp style sessions any less challenging. Especially if it’s your first time.

“My first exercise was awful,” said Blythewood resident Daniel Hayes, 27. Hayes, an N.C. native who moved to Blythewood in 2013, helped spearhead F3’s presence in Blythewood along with Craig Rummel.

“I didn’t finish anything,” Hayes said of his first workout in Finlay Park in Columbia in 2013. “I almost threw up. It was a very humbling experience.”

Humbled though he was, Hayes was hooked, he said, and began attending the boot camp sessions three days a week at The Sandlot, where participants go through a series of “body weight” exercises – pushups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, etc. – eventually finding his way to one of the running groups that meet two to three days a week.

“I was never much of a runner before F3,” Hayes said. “I used to actually make fun of long-distance runners. But I just completed my first half-marathon in Columbia last March.”

Since joining F3, Hayes said he has dropped about 30 pounds from a body that was “a mess” and years beyond the shape he was in as a three-sport high school athlete.

But like many other F3 participants, Hayes found something besides just improved physical health. The husband and father of three girls found the second F – Fellowship.

“I was out of shape,” Hayes said, “but I was also looking for something more than the four females I live with. I don’t get a lot of male interaction much, besides at work. I don’t get to goof around and be a guy in my house. Now I get up early in the morning and workout with other guys, cracking jokes, having fun while getting stronger along the way.”

The fellowship augments the fitness, according to F3 organizer Jason Reynolds, a 35-year-old Citadel graduate from Columbia. F3 provides a setting where men can get together with other men, share their stories, their struggles and remind each other what it means to be a Man.

“What the founders in Charlotte (Tim Whitmire and David Redding) discovered was that as they got older, they had fewer and fewer male friends,” Reynolds said. “They had the husbands of their wives’ friends, fathers of their children’s friends, men they saw at church; but these were only by-name, in-passing acquaintances. They weren’t really close friends. There weren’t a lot of guys they could really talk to about their trials and tribulations.”

But through the shared experience of the workout, Reynolds said, men form a real, lasting bond. And in this boys-only environment, men can talk freely and openly.

The third F in F3 Nation – Faith – is a little more subtle, Reynolds said.

“F3 is not an evangelical group,” he said. “The Faith aspect lies a little below the surface. We’re not affiliated with any specific religion. But we’ve found that when you fellowship with other men in these workouts, you realize we’re here for a purpose – to be a good father, a good husband, a good friend, good employer or employee. You realize you have responsibilities and expectations to live up to.

“We’re 100 percent inclusive,” Reynolds added. “We’re open to all men of any fitness level and all faiths.”

For Hayes, the F3 experience has strengthened his faith, he said.

Each workout ends with a huddle-up as the workout leader (assigned on a rotation from among the participants and designated as “The Q”) offers a prayer, inspirational words of encouragement or a scripture reading. When it came his turn as The Q, Hayes found himself in uncharted waters.

“I had never prayed in front of a group of people before,” Hayes said. “It made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t strong enough in my faith to do that.”

Before long, however, the experiences of the workout had transformed him more than just physically.

“Now, for me to have the courage, the faith and the mental capacity to lead a devotion to a group of guys, 95 percent of whom are older than me, that’s a huge change,” Hayes said.

If You’re Ready

The Winnsboro group holds boot camp workouts Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:15 – 6 a.m., and Saturdays 7 – 8 a.m. at Fortune Springs Park. The run group meets Monday and Wednesdays at 5:15 a.m. at the Town Clock.

Blythewood’s group holds its inaugural meeting this Saturday at 6:30 a.m. at Blythewood Park, 126 Boney Road. Additional boot camps are slated for Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:30 – 6:15 a.m., also at the park.

Hayes suggests that first-timers invest in a pair of lightweight latex gloves, as workouts incorporate the surrounding environment and may include hefting the odd cinder block or pushups or other activities against picnic tables or the curb of the parking lot. And, Hayes said, be prepared to be challenged.

“It’s going to hurt,” he said. “The type of exercises we do, you’re engaging muscles you don’t normally use. I’ve seen CrossFit guys show up and not be able to finish the workout.

“But the point is to keep moving, keep doing something,” Hayes said. “The point is to make yourself get better, and the only way to get better is to keep coming back.”