Army veteran Danny Farrar and friend Dave Posin have opened their third Soldierfit location in Columbia. (Luke Lavoie/Howard County Times)
Life hasn't been easy for Danny Farrar.
The 35-year-old Army veteran has been obese, unemployed, homeless, a victim of a sexual assault, and even suicidal – he says he tried to kill himself in 2011. He also lost his mother and brother within a six-month span.
His troubles, he says, stem from a variety of places, including post-traumatic stress disorder from his tour in Iraq from 2005-06 and 9-11 – his Army unit was one of the first responders to the Pentagon.
But in many ways it is Farrar's military experience that saved his life, he says, because without it he would've never founded Soldierfit, a physical fitness and training company he started with friend and business partner Dave Posin.
Two months ago, Farrar and Posin, 33, opened their third Soldierfit location in Columbia, their first two locations opened in Gaithersburg and Frederick weeks apart in 2013.
Located on Oakland Mills Road off of Snowden River Parkway, the duo believe the Columbia location will be its most successful to-date.
The business, as the name indicates, is heavily influenced by Farrar's military background. The members are called 'troops', the instructors are called 'black hats', a Civil War reference, and the gym is even decorated using military colors and props.
But it's not a gimmick. The biggest thing Soldierfit borrows from the military is the team-oriented philosophy, says Farrar. The gym community, which numbers around 150 in Columbia and over 1,000 in Frederick, is just that: a community.
"Our motto here is pride not ego. Pride means I have a deep love and respect for what I do. Ego means I think I'm better than you," Farrar said.
Posin, who served as an area director for Fitness First and who Farrar says brings the business chops to the partnership, said the business model was created to foster a platoon-type atmosphere among the members.
"Somebody will sign up, go on Facebook and post: 'Had a great work out at Soldierfit.' And people they have never met in their life will go on there and say: 'Great job, keep up the good work,'" Posin said. "They will get 20 posts from people they've never even met. Just supporting them, pushing them along, congratulating them on their success."
Farrar said they want to be open and welcoming to all body types and all levels of fitness acumen.
"We do fitness, but that's not the goal," Farrar said. "I used to be 300 pounds; I'm not worried about the biggest, fastest, strongest. That's why when you go in here, there are no mirrors."
He added: "I've literally shaken people's hands and said, 'We aren't the place for you'."
In addition to the atmosphere, Soldierfit delivers a different fitness model than most traditional gyms. The foundation of the business is its classes, which are done in large groups.
"The biggest thing that most people use when they go to the gyms is the classes. Why can't we have a business that is just classes?" he said.
The business started in 2011 renting space in area gyms that didn't have a regular class schedule.
The class schedule, which run from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. weekdays, 9:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sunday, remains the business' "bread and butter," Farrar says, but they have since branched out to martial arts.
The martial arts offerings include kickboxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and a kids program called "Little Ninjas."The Columbia location also has a free weight section.
Posin said Columbia was chosen as its third location because of the strong demographics in the area as well as input from existing 'troops.'
"We got a lot of steam from members saying come to Columbia, and the numbers checked out," he said. "People here are interested in living a healthy lifestyle."
Posin said the Columbia location could surpass the Frederick location, currently the biggest, in a year if the current pace keeps up.
Farrar expects it to be the best yet: "This place is blowing up."
The pair expect to continue expanding as well; they are in the process of awarding their first franchise, and have aspirations to be a national franchise in 10 years.
But as they grow, they won't lose sight of what makes the different, the pair say. Part of that difference is their support of veterans and military families. Farrar says discounted rates are offered to veterans, and any direct family member of a veteran killed in action in the "War on Terror" has a free lifetime membership.
Farrar also started a nonprofit affiliated with Soldierfit. It's called "22 Needs a Face" and its purpose is to bring awareness and support to the high suicide rate among veterans.