Lem Adams took a wrong turn onto Del Paso Boulevard and stumbled upon what he considered to be the perfect home for the sports performance gym he long had dreamed of opening. Never mind that the surrounding neighborhoods in North Sacramento suffered from some of the worst rates of chronic disease in Sacramento County.
“I put Game-Fit here for a reason,” Adams said. “It wasn’t a mistake. People said, ‘Why do you want to put Game-Fit in Del Paso Heights? People aren’t going to support it, a facility like this.’ I said, ‘Because I know what this area needs. I know the student athletes and the community need this. They need a place where the person running the organization isn’t all about money.’ ”
Don’t get Adams wrong. He wants to make a profit just as much as any other businessman. He and his wife, Briana Adams, have five mouths to feed. He left a job where he was making $90,000 a year, he said, and his family is making ends meet on his wife’s salary alone. It would be nice to write a happy ending here, but Adams’ Game-Fit is struggling to break even each month.
Once a pro quarterback in the Arena Football League, Adams shares this news without one hangdog expression, without once losing the upbeat tenor in his voice. He jokes that his business is best described as a nonprofit and then segues into why it brings him so much fulfillment.
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“At the end of the day, I know my impact goes beyond athletics or fitness,” he said. “I have the ability to change the lives of students and adults here.”
That’s why pharmacist and community organizer Gina Warren received a ready “yes” from Adams when she came to him with an idea that would pay him only half his going rate. Warren, also the wife of Sacramento City Councilman Allen Warren, asked Adams to train 25 community residents who were struggling with their weight or chronic health problems. She was leading the health project on behalf of the Sacramento chapter of The Links, a service organization dedicated to improving the lives of African Americans. Warren’s involvement was inspired by the struggles that her uncles and her late father had with diabetes.
“You can tell someone to change their diet and get exercise,” she said, “but people don’t know what that means until they’ve actually been given a road map and shown how to do that.”
Warren said her personal experience and her past work in a Sacramento County clinic for Coumadinpatients showed her how difficult it is for people to change the habits of a lifetime. What Links wanted to do was to see what would happen if they created an environment where people felt safe, where they felt instructors cared about them and where they could socialize.
“That’s huge in the culture, being able to see people who look like you, who are going on a similar journey,” Warren said. “I don’t mean ethnically. I mean age-wise and size-wise. It is much more comforting to be going on a journey with somebody who’s as challenged by their weight as you and not standing next to someone who’s been fit as a fiddle their whole life and doesn’t understand what you’re going through.”
Warren also enlisted registered dietitian Michele Lites of Kaiser Permanente to offer cooking classes at the Urban League headquarters on how to make small, consistent changes that can be incorporated into everyday cooking. She also took the 25 participants to the small farmers market on Norwood Avenue to show them how much further their dollars would stretch.
Lites told me she regularly does community presentations around the region because it’s a natural fit with her employer’s mission of creating healthy communities.
“There’s a myriad of vegetables and fruits that we have in our grocery stores,” Lites said, “but if you don’t know how to cook them, if you’ve never had them before, then you’re not as apt to try (them). Human beings are habitual. The idea is to retrain, and the way that I do that is going out into the community and disseminating not only information but also foods.”
Together, Lites and Adams motivated participants, 20 of whom completed the three-month program, to lose a combined 186 pounds. Several reduced their use of blood pressure medication and one participant who has diabetes significantly lowered her blood glucose levels. The results so impressed the national Links organization that, out of 280 chapters, Sacramento’s project won the top award for health and human services work.
Adams picked up only three of the 25 participants as regular customers, he said, but Warren has since signed up two of her sons to train with him.
Of Adams, she said: “He donates to the point where he’s barely hanging on, but I told him, ‘You hang on because God knows what you’re doing. My husband gave so much before his business ( New Faze Development) took off, but that’s sometimes what you have to do.”
Adams said he definitely sees opportunities, such as The Links project, as a chance to market his business, at 1201 Del Paso Blvd., and to prove just how adept he is at motivating and training people.
“I get most excited about the progress I saw in their confidence,” he said. “Once you feel confident, you can do anything. … I’m struggling, but I haven’t gotten discouraged. I keep telling myself, ‘Things are going to happen.’ ”