By Kimberly Hundley
“This is not a politically correct gym!”
The commentary floats from inside the small Fit Ops therapy room, where two clients toss spicy banter as their prone bodies are stretched and pivoted into flexibility.
The speaker is Joe Porter, who’s just become aware that the Scottsdale Airpark News writer in the foyer can overhear every word. A 1968 PGA Tour player who scored even bigger in Scottsdale as a commercial real estate agent, Porter changes tack, abandoning tales of his Arnie Palmer comeuppances for a livelier prey: the burly man gripping one of his thighs and demanding resistance pushback.
“Fit Oops!” Porter hollers, ribbing Fit Ops owner Carson Kemp. But “Awesome Carson,” as he’s known at the hybrid gym and training facility, is a former Army Ranger with more than 200 special-ops missions to his credit. He’s not only immune to locker-room-style goading, he revels in the stuff.
It’s all part of the Fit Ops experience—where jokes buoy the serious work of clients driving and striving to meet their body goals.
This isn’t the kind of one-size-fits-all gym where legions of gladiators pound treadmills and grunt over weight circuits. Between his missions in Afghanistan, leading soldiers in physical training and “just being clumsy,” Carson managed to break 30 bones over the years, and the combined experience left him with a heightened insight into how people should move.
“It helped me be able to adapt to any kind of situation—whether you have a bum knee or you’re a 25-year-old perfect athlete or a pro golfer,” he says. “If your goal is stay relatively pain-free and move well, that’s kind of my gig.”
Porter and his current “banter buddy,” retired attorney John Simon, are among those clients dealing with injury. A disease destroyed Porter’s nerves’ ability to talk to the muscles, causing his knees to hyperextend so he needs a walker to get around.
“I was supposed to have been in a wheelchair years ago,” Porter says. “Carson keeps me loose enough that I can keep going and keep fighting.”
Simon’s body is crisscrossed with scars from 22 surgeries, including one to transplant skin over the missing chunk in his right calf after he “danced with a drunk driver.” Simon has been coming to Fit Ops for five years, preferring the customized and always varied program to the “cookie-cutter” routine of insurance-paid physical therapy.
“The thing that makes this place different is, mentally, they make you feel better,” Simon says. “When I come in here, my pain will be an 8 or 9, and when I leave it will be a 7 or 6. Just to take the pain down a notch and give me a couple hours in a day to run errands—it’s huge.”
Fit Ops’ emphasis on flexibility and stretching make it the “piece between physical therapy and the gym” for clients grappling with injuries, Carson explains. “It’s easy when a top athlete comes in here,” he adds. “But when someone has [serious issues], you’ve got to be creative, and you’ve got to know what you’re doing.”
Golfers, whose game lives or dies on flexibility, also seek out Carson’s unique brand of training. Clients have included professional football players, triathletes and many professional trainers from other gyms.
Fit Ops’ dynamic stretching “is powerful and essential—for a golfer or anyone really,” says Mike Petty, president of Scottsdale’s Communication Links, a golf-marketing company. “I’m sure there are other programs that help with flexibility but none that I’ve seen that work like theirs.”
You never know who you’ll see at the intimate gym, which is tucked in a nondescript commercial strip east of Scottsdale Airport. Classes are held all day on the hour. One trainer may be leading eight members through partner workouts; a lone, young woman may be balancing on quivering pink ovals designed to strengthen core strength; a silver-haired man may be focused on rolling a ball beneath each foot to limber the delicate tendons.
Newcomers to Fit Ops begin with a hands-on evaluation from a staff member. “Then we put you where you need to be,” Carson says. Most clients start out with personal training sessions two to three times a week. Some are ready to drop into the hourly group workouts right away, others need to learn to move better first.
The guiding light in any one program, though, is the individual’s goals. Whatever that goal may be, Carson’s pledge is to get the person there, while always limiting the risk of injury.
“He knows how to push me farther than I believe I can go,” says Petty. “And he does it without ever being condescending or overbearing. He has a great knack for being ‘military’ Carson and ‘teddy bear’ Carson at the same time.”
The man himself admits he’s been known to pick on people’s weaknesses, but that’s exactly how they improve. The most important component, he says, is attitude.
“If you come in here, and you have no ego and let me teach you something new or even something you think you know, you can achieve pretty much anything—if you train your butt off.”
7645 E. Evans Road, Suite 145
Membership is $150 per month (includes unlimited group-style classes); $450 for 12 half-hour personal training sessions; $750 for 12 one-hour sessions