Outside of my family, there’s no one that’s done more over the past decade to help improve my middle age quality of life than Josh Bowen. And yesterday, the physical trainer completed a brutally exhausting 36 hour marathon — doing what he does best and loves most — for a cause that will dramatically improve the lives of dozens of needy Kentuckians.
If you were casting the part of a gym-ratty, muscle-headed, body-sculpted personal trainer, you wouldn’t need to look much further than Josh Bowen. A Lexington native, Henry Clay High School and UK graduate — with a shiny bald pate, subtle goatee, arms as yuuuuge as Donald Trump’s ego (and festooned with inspirational sayings and lyrics of his idol, Tupac Shakur) — Josh is the kind of guy that you never would want to encounter in a dark alley. (Former UK hoopster Randolph Morris would likely agree…but that’s another story.)
Truth be told, Bowen is a compassionate, bookish introvert — who when not training clients at his Aspires Fitness studio, is usually devouring the latest health and exercise science literature, or penning books and blogs to share his deeply researched advice. Indeed, his persistent self-tutelage, plus the deep admiration of his clients, earned Bowen recognition by Life Fitness — the world’s leading manufacturer of exercise equipment — as one of the top ten “Personal Trainers To Watch” in its annual global competition.
Josh’s consuming curiosity was piqued a little over a year ago when he trained a particularly uncoordinated client for the Lexington Rotary Club’s “Dancing with the Stars” competition. The charity benefiting from the semi-celebrity hoofing was Surgery on Sunday, a remarkable local non-profit that provides free surgical services to the working poor. Since its creation in 2005, volunteers have donated nearly 90,000 hours of service to treat more than 5600 needy patients.
Josh hit upon an idea. Aping the Dance Blue model — except with fitness instead of foxtrotting — he’d lead a 24-hour marathon training session to try to help folks who, in Bowen’s words, “fall through the cracks of the health care system and cannot afford to address health setbacks.” When he suggested setting a $20,000 fundraising goal, Josh states that “they looked at me as if I were crazy.” But with a big hand from Surgery for Sunday staff and volunteers, Bowen secured thirteen corporate sponsors, and used social media to sign up trainees for 24 one-hour group fitness appointments in return for $20 contributions. To help spread the word, he asked his well-connected clients to enlist their well-connected friends, and earned publicity from the likes of actress Laura Bell Bundy, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, and even the King of All Kentucky Tweets himself:
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) January 27, 2016
On game day, Bowen showed up at the studio at 4 AM, conducting an interview with WLEX-TV’s shock-jock/bon vivant Lee Cruse. By 6 PM, the trainees began to trudge in. Bowen barked to the troops and led series after series of hamstring-stretching, ab-crunching, leg-lifting, bicep-flexing, rope-slamming and bottled-water-guzzling. 163 sweat-drenched clients later, the venture had raised $21,540. Surgery on Sunday’s Executive Director, Anna Taylor — a Bowen client who joined him for the entire 38 hour experience — noted that this sum will fund the charity’s entire program for nearly five months, assisting with transportation, medication, and of course, pain- and disease-ridding surgeries for 71 Central Kentuckians.
Lexington Urban County Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe worked out in the Saturday 10 AM slot, driven by the chance to support a noble cause: “My father passed away 11 years ago from terminal cancer. Most people simply have one wish: to be well. I can’t make people well, but supporting Sweating for Surgery was an opportunity for me to use my good health to spread good health to others.”
Whitney Hines, a medical device saleswoman who hired Bowen a year ago to help prepare her for her wedding — and braved four sessions of the marathon, including the midnight shift — credits the success to the sense of community and family that the trainer creates for his clients: “I’ve worked with a lot of trainers, and many had their own agenda,” Hines notes. “Josh’s client focus is so great, he develops great friendships. People wanted to come out and support him…There’s a real community aspect to his work.”
Lindsey DeMoss, who started at Bowen’s client and now trains clients herself, says the event is really indicative of who Josh is as a person: “My son was stillborn six months ago, and Josh was always there for me. He’s just a committed person with a huge heart.” Having joined Bowen for 13 hours of the marathon, DeMoss pointed to the crowd as a symbol of the effort: “It was a great mix of people, from little kids to 80 year olds. They all reflected on Josh’s spirit, as well as the incredible charity that we helped.”
Josh’s spirit, in turn, was boosted during the all-night affair by the wide variety of participants. “My favorite moment was at 2 AM…The early adrenaline was disappearing, and my exhaustion caught up with me,” Bowen explains. “A 69-year-old husband and wife team who I had never met showed up out of the blue…They were big dancers, but had never seen a trainer, so I gave them the most basic workout…They were as cool as the other side of the pillow, and gave me a lot of uplift and inspiration to make it through the rest of the night.”
Now Bowen and the whole crew who joined him can enjoy the uplift of knowing that the $21,540 they raised will change the lives of 71 needy Kentuckians. Want to help more? Please click here to contribute to Surgery on Sunday, and help make a special event even more successful.