Family bonds through physical fitness

September 23, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Nicolé Verbrugghe, 46 (right), recovers momentarily while her son Julien Verbrugghe, 18, pulls himself up from the ground using gymnastics rings. Photo by Chantelle Lusebrink

Nicolé Verbrugghe, 46 (right), recovers momentarily while her son Julien Verbrugghe, 18, pulls himself up from the ground using gymnastics rings. Photo by Chantelle Lusebrink

“I didn’t hear you ring the bell,” Nicolé Verbrugghe, 46, said breathlessly to her 18-year-old son, Julien Verbrugghe, on the next rope. “It doesn’t count unless you ring the bell.”

“I rang it,” Julien said, sliding down the 18-foot rope to the ground. “I’m on four. What number are you on?” 

She responded gruffly, “Three.” 

Such is the sparring that has gone on between mother and son for the past five months.

But the competitive atmosphere at Gravity Janes, a fitness gym in Issaquah, hasn’t driven a wedge between them; it has brought them closer than ever.

“We’ve never spent this much time together,” Nicolé said. “He’s a total guy. He cared for me, but we didn’t have anything like this. It was a total parent/child relationship. It still is, but now, we’re able to talk about other things, too.” 

“I think she is happier than she used to be, because she is healthier,” Julien said. “That rubs off on everyone.”

But it wasn’t always such an easy relationship, Julien remembers.

Like most teens, he and his older brother would come home from school and head straight to their rooms — in the family’s basement — and wouldn’t be heard from until dinner. 

After dinner, they’d traipse back downstairs for the rest of the night, Nicolé said. 

But then, she was different, too.

Weighing nearly 200 pounds, suffering from severe back pain and stressed by work as a financial analyst, Nicolé wasn’t the picture of health. After back pain forced her to have surgery and physical therapy, she said she realized the brunt of her problems weren’t going to go away without a significant lifestyle change.

So, she found a local fitness club. 

“I used to walk when the children were little. When I started working out, I’d try the treadmill, then the elliptical or weight training, but those got mundane,” she said. “So, I’d go back to walking, then gain weight again.”

Nothing could hold her attention, she said. That is, until she set foot in Dave Young’s first boot-camp class.

Young, a former full-time broadcaster turned fitness instructor, turned her life around by challenging her to measure her fitness by increasing repetitions, maximum weight tests and improving her times, she said. 

“I am an A-Type,” she said of her personality. “So, the measuring and the challenges are good for me.”

Young said his workouts are also unique in the fact that they are rooted in activities humans have historically engaged in for survival.

“They didn’t like us too much there,” she said of the first fitness club where she and Young worked out together. “They don’t like you grunting really loud.”

“Or walking on your hands,” Young added. 

That is when Young opened Gravity Janes and Nicolé followed. 

In his gym, you won’t see any fancy cardio machines or power-assisted weights. In place of fancy equipment are kettle bells of varying weights, gymnastics rings, 18-foot ropes and heavy barbells.

For cardiovascular exercise, you have your own two legs or a rowing machine, again powered by you.

“Everything in here is designed to mimic nature,” Young said. “The body recognizes that work and you don’t end up with just visual fitness but useful fitness. Carry boxes, moving from place to place” 

When Julien finished his final high school swim season in February, Nicolé was able to get him into train with her. 

Weighing 150 pounds, Julien had a typical swimmer’s body — tall and skinny, Nicolé said.

“I was always sick or had a cold, too,” Julien added. “I would try to get to 165 pounds, but never could. When I came here, Dave couldn’t find me on the body fat chart.”

Their mother/son competition has led them both to healthier lifestyles.

Lifting 135 pounds of weights from a dead lift, completing 10 muscle-ups on rings and climbing the ropes against his mother have allowed Julien to add healthy muscle and stay at about 175 pounds. 

In the two years since Nicolé has been working out with Young, most recently starting a nutrition regimen with her family, she has lost nearly 80 pounds. 

“It has transferred into regular life,” she said. “Just everyday, normal activities are much simpler.”

“I dare say she’s turned back the clock at least 20 years,” Young said. 

“But it’s not just about the exterior,” she said. “It is all-encompassing for us — fitness, nutrition, everything.”

Most importantly, it has made their lives better, Nicolé said.

“Now, I can’t get him to go down there,” she said of his basement room. “I think the quality of our lives have changed.”

“Yeah, and those of the people around you,” Julien said, jokingly. “If I said that before, I’d bet all hell would have broken loose.”

Nicolé snapped a towel at him, laughing. 

“But it goes back to us having a better relationship now,” Julien said.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or 

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One Response to “Family bonds through physical fitness”

  1. mom on September 25th, 2008 11:00 am

    We love you; you have always been the best mom in the world but tough. What a beautiful article. Your husband deserves some credit, too, doesn’t he! Steve and I are very proud of you both, Julien and Nic. Grannie.

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