By Rebecca Tierney
Most people live their whole lives without having their dreams realised – this is not the case for Craig Russell.
The personal trainer from the East End of Glasgow is in the final stages of renovating a former church in Govan into a physical embodiment of his lifelong dream: to own his own gym.
The project is something that has always been in the back of Craig’s mind but it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that his visions had the chance to come to fruition in the shape of a C-listed church in Govan’s Skipness Drive.
Built in the late 1890s and opening in 1900, the disused building has a number of beautiful features that Craig was keen to retain, including the grand organ.
The transformation, which began with the removal of pews and flooring, has taken place entirely in a global pandemic and has not been without its trials and tribulations.
Aptly named The Sanctuary, the gym hopes to open its doors in early January of next year. I caught up with Craig to delve into the mind of someone whose passion and drive has allowed his dreams to become a reality.
Craig credits his passion for fitness as beginning with an involvement in football growing up: “As a teenager, I loved playing football. I played for a local team as goalkeeper, but…I wasn’t fully committed to it.”
What started as a non-committal hobby soon spread into every area of his life: “I spent a little bit of time in the military where…I almost had to love my fitness, and I think that’s where I developed a real passion for fitness and a healthy positive mindset.
“Over the years [after I left the military] I did a lot of endurance tests like 24 hours on the treadmill, half marathons, etc, but these weren’t enough for me because everyone was doing them. I like doing stuff that other people think ‘no chance, that’s crazy’ about.
“I ended up doing the Glencoe Mountain Marathon which was absolutely incredible – one of the best events I’ve ever done.”
Craig puts a lot of emphasis on the plethora of benefits that come from being involved in fitness beyond the everyday fitness maintenance.
“The reason I went down the road of personal trainer and gym owner is because it helps massively with my PTSD. In the past, I knew that anytime I was struggling with it, I would go and do my training.”
In 1954, the first director-general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Brock Chisholm, famously stated: “Without mental health there can be no true physical health.”
Research shows that exercise is an effective adjunct treatment that can reduce the severity of symptoms associated with PTSD.
As previously stated, Craig has been involved in a lot of endurance events over the years and some of the most prominent of these are the one with the Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH).
Craig credits training for combatting the worst of his PTSD and thinks this is down to having a goal-orientated plan.
“I always need something to train for”, the new business owner says, “Even though I’m a coach, I still find it very, very hard to consistently train if I’ve not got something to train for.”
Always having an achievable objective is what drove him to go for it when the opportunity to transform the church into his life-long vision came up. He says that the process, though “a lot less difficult” than he had initially anticipated has taught him a lot about both life, as a whole, but also about his own mental wellbeing.
“Now if something negative pops up I think ‘right, what’s the solution for this so we can fix it’ and if there isn’t a solution then I choose to walk away. I try to get any negativity away from my life. For me, this is the best way to achieve a healthy mindset – you know, if you surround yourself with negativity then negativity will grow on you.”
The project has been a massive undertaking, yet despite knowing of others who have opened their own gyms within a “minimum of three years”, Craig and his former client/business partner have accomplished it in less than one.
“To think we have transformed this project in the space of 9 or 10 months is incredible, especially given the setbacks that we’ve had.”
Craig’s not just talking about COVID, the gym owner and his business partner have, in fact, been to halt their progress and stop working entirely on more than one occasion. “It was extremely frustrating each time, but it’s all about how you react to that situation.” Drawing on his answers regarding the impact of hard times on his mental health and wellbeing Craig says even though that situation can, of course, be “very negative and frustrating” to react with anger and frustration will “transfer to everything else in [his] life.”
“I know my vision, and I know how spectacular the Sanctuary is going to be, and this is what drives me no matter how many setbacks I get.”
Craig’s vision extends beyond the gym, and he recently organised a coffee morning in the Church to welcome the community. The event gave the people of Govan a chance to see what the project would entail, and Craig stressed the importance of transparency within the community at this time. Not only did the church open its doors to the locals, but the coffee was provided by local new business Wh•eat Cafe which Craig is hoping to engage with for services such as meal prep for his gym clients.
“The service and overall atmosphere of the place is going to set us miles apart from everywhere else. Everyone will be blown away as soon as they walk through the doors.”
“There are a lot of gyms talking about how great they are or advertising themselves as ‘the best gym in Scotland’ and that’s fine. I’m not here to do that – I’ll let other people talk about it, whilst I’ll be implementing a five star standard service at all times.”
When asked about why having a five star standard is so important to him, Craig says it extends beyond a single gym and is a facet of the industry as a whole nowadays: “The gym industry is becoming a hospitality industry, but very rarely will you find any independent gyms that are [reflecting this] with their service.”