PHYSICAL FITNESS SELLS AT COLOSSEUM GYM Owner started as personal trainer


While the owner of the Colosseum Gym and Fitness center helps his patrons become physically fit, his East Columbia business is getting stronger.

Since opening the gym in February 1993, owner Drew Sandberg and 17 other certified personal trainers have instructed and trained 500 people how to firm and tone their bodies. And they've allowed clients of the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County to work out and receive personal training for free, he said.

"It relieves stress and helps build their self-esteem," Mr. Sandberg said of the 6-month-old program. "They [abused women] get caught in a cycle. Everything's bad. No one's doing anything good for them. Now they can come to a place that's friendly and they don't have to be afraid."

Recognizing Mr. Sandberg's commitment to fitness and the community, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce nominated the 30-year-old for the 1995 Maryland Entrepreneur of the Year. Although he didn't win the statewide honor, "I'm so thrilled to be even considered," said Mr. Sandberg, one of a handful of fitness center owners in Columbia.

The 5,000-square-foot gym in the 9100 block of Red Branch Road near Columbia's Village of Oakland Mills has treadmills, bicycles, stair-climbing machines and tons of free weights. Personal trainers guide clients on how to lose weight, strengthen muscles, build endurance and eat healthful foods.

Yesterday, grunts punctured the air during the workouts. In one corner, personal trainer Jason Graham helped Kathy Jordan, a travel consultant, strengthen her arm muscles. As she squeezed the machine's black pads together 18 times, he provided encouragement.

Ms. Jordan is on a mission: "I stopped smoking and Jason has been very supportive," she said, adding she's trying to avoid gaining the 8 to 15 pounds smokers typically gain during withdrawal.

Preparing to lift 135 pounds, Dave Dixon, 32, a county police officer, said he's been coming in for four months and has seen results.

"I'm stronger," he said.

The gym is an outgrowth of Mr. Sandberg's personal training service called Fitness Maximus, which he started in 1989 in his two-bedroom condominium in Columbia. While he was majoring in physical education at the University of Maryland at College Park and working at a health club in Montgomery County, a friend suggested that he open his own personal training business. He quit school and opened the business with one client.

"I'm a fitness guy," said Mr. Sandberg, who stands 5 feet 8 and weighs 208 pounds. "That's what I am. I've always done fitness."

At first, people visited his makeshift gym or he went to their homes. Business soon exploded.

"I got to the point where I was training 12 people a day, six times a week," he said. "It was incredible. I couldn't keep up that pace."

To accommodate the growth, he hired and contracted with other trainers and opened the gym with about $65,000 from two investors. Gross sales from the gym and his personal training service last year were $300,000 and projections for this year are more than $500,000.

Warned by a friend that the Columbia Association would try to prevent him from opening the gym, which would compete with their recreation facilities, Mr. Sandberg said that was not the case. "I had no trouble from them," he said.

Unlike larger fitness centers, Mr. Sandberg said, the Colosseum gives people one-on-one attention.

After a $75 initiation fee, monthly membership fees range from $30 for students to $100 for special summer memberships.

Today, in addition to the gym's 500 members, Mr. Sandberg has 200 private clients. They range from 8 to 75 years old and include corporate executives, medical professionals and business owners. Mr. Sandberg also trained Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

There are plans to add 1,000 square feet in August for more equipment, Mr. Sandberg said.

His work stretches beyond the gym. He also works with the American Heart Association and plans to give a used 1987 Dodge to a client at the domestic violence center so she can have transportation.

Young people are targets of his fitness programs, too. "You know how many kids are out of shape?" he asked. "Out of shape kids become out of shape adults."

Matt Cetlinski, 30, who won a gold medal in relay swimming in the 1988 Olympics, said he's grown leaner and stronger in the year since Mr. Sandberg became his trainer.

"A personal trainer is like a coach," Mr. Cetlinski said. A trainer is there on "the days when you don't really want to do it, or when you're not doing something quite right."

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