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Gurnee Park District goes all in to make new FitNation facility a success

FitNatimembers go through core workout with slam ball new “green turf.” Shown are (from left) trainer Jacki Kreis Lourdes MaravillWendy

FitNation members go through a core workout with a slam ball on the new “green turf.” Shown are (from left) trainer Jacki Kreis, Lourdes Maravilla, Wendy Notson, and Paul Chenie Maravilla. | TINA JOHANSSON/FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: April 4, 2014 3:41AM

Steve McMichael, a member of the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears in the mid-1980s, held court Saturday at the grand opening of FitNation in Gurnee, as people stood in line seeking his autograph.

“This is one-stop shopping for fitness,” said the celebrated football star and former pro wrestler as he graciously penned his name for autograph seekers and bantered with them good-naturedly.

“I wish my mom was here,” gushed an excited Carol Andersson of Wadsworth, pointing out that her late mother lived across from the Bears’ training facility in Lake Forest.

“She knew every one of them,” she added after chatting with McMichael and getting his autograph.

The Gurnee Park District acquired the former Gold’s Gym on eight acres on Nations Drive (off of Dilley’s, north of Route 132) in October for a reported $9.1 million and renamed the 75,000-square-foot facility FitNation. It boasts a fitness center, a five-lane swimming pool, two hot tubs, a spin room and a parking lot for 500 vehicles.

“The biggest advantage here is the child care,” said McMichael, pointing to the baby-sitting service at the gym where members can leave their children at the child-care center when they go about exercising.

Health, stressed the VIP who played college football at the University of Texas, is “most important when you get old.” Acknowledging that he is 56, he said he is in good shape because of the residual benefits from playing football. Currently, head coach of the Chicago Slaughter of the Continental Indoor Football League, he last played professional football in 1994 for the Green Bay Packers.

“If you think I’m somebody, I’m happy to agree with you,” he said modestly.

Despite a snowy day, the gym was packed with people for the grand opening, a gala event with raffles, contests and free refreshments. Many came to sign up for membership since Saturday was the last day for the special discount.

Significantly, those who had been members before the park district took over the gym agreed almost unanimously that the place is much cleaner and more organized.

The park district has upgraded the gym and bought new equipment since taking over, according to Shawn Zimmerman, fitness manager.

“We just love this place. It’s cleaner and better-equipped,” said Glen Merry of Grayslake who has been a member since it was Gold’s Gym.

Pointing to his bulging stomach, Merry, who came with his wife Brenda, said he said he planned on shrinking it a bit.

“It’s much cleaner and better organized,” said Mauricio Sarabia of Waukegan as he sat relaxing in a hot tub by the swimming pool after a workout.

“The water quality is much better,” he added.

Chuck Crane, a member when it was Gold’s, remembered some of the equipment was broken down.

“They’ve fixed and replaced them,” he said approvingly.

The former owner had fallen on hard times in recent years as revenue from membership dues dived because of the down-trodden economy.

The park district has set a goal to drive the membership to 5,500 people, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Gilbert. Currently, it has more than 4,200 members.

Meanwhile, the upgrading is continuing with plans to add more power-lifting equipment and a much-needed, dedicated family locker room, said Zimmerman.

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