By Kevin Redding
A Rocky Point fitness club owner is determined to get people in shape — inside the gym and beyond it.
Since 1989, North Shore residents have been going to Personal Fitness on Route 25A not just to run on the treadmill and get fit for beach season. They go to have their lives transformed by Ed Darcey, the gym’s owner, trainer and “overall cheerleader and therapist,” according to gym members, who are made up of athletes, parents, children, developmentally disabled residents, people in wheelchairs and those struggling with drugs, alcohol or abuse.
“Ed is an inspirational, motivational, kind, empowering and passionate trainer,” said Faith Powers-Raynis, who joined the gym after suffering a spinal cord disease that paralyzed her from the waist down. “Ed is helping me to rebuild the muscles that I lost … I know with Ed’s help, I just might get back on my feet.”
“He’s a wonderful soul,” Lisa Monaco said. “He makes you feel comfortable and pushes you as far as you can go.”
Rob Geneva, a longtime customer turned staff member, said Darcey makes the atmosphere feel less like you’re in a gym and more like the bar from “Cheers.”
“Anybody is welcome and you just get that feeling right when you come in,” he said. “You’re not intimidated.”
Darcey, 54, a Shoreham native and Riverhead High School graduate, said he has always felt a need to help and protect those around him, whether it was a kid at school being bullied or a homeless person on the street asking for money. It’s a feeling that remains.
“If someone needs a hand, I’m going to try and reach out and do my best to help, especially those whose lives maybe aren’t what they should be,” Darcey said. “A lot of our members here see the gym as an outlet, like a second home. Sometimes they’re more comfortable here than they are at their actual home. They come here, get in shape and we all root each other on. I’m trying to help give them a better life if I can.”
A football player throughout high school, Darcey pursued a degree in physical education and health at C.W. Post, where he received his gym certification after three years. In his late 20s, he decided to take advantage of some empty space next door to his parent’s long-running carpet business on Route 25A, and he’s been there ever since.
“From the beginning, I tried to make it very personal and hands-on,” he said. “Lots of other gyms are these big franchises. This is a family-type atmosphere. We have members that have wheelchairs and walkers, and kids with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. But in my gym, everybody’s the same. Some may have different limitations and abilities, but they’re all the same to me.”
The first time Rocky Point resident Rich Grundmann went to the gym, he saw a young woman with Down syndrome running on a treadmill and mentioned to a nearby trainer that his 12-year-old son Alex had cerebral palsy, wondering if he’d be able to get involved with the gym. The trainer encouraged the father to bring him by.
“After just one session there, my son just lit up,” Grundmann said. “And the personal attention they gave him was incredible. He’s been through all sorts of therapy, personal and occupational, but the trainers here really pushed him and he loves it. It’s amazing the amount of strength he’s built up since going there.”
Alex, he said, moves around in a walker and sometimes a wheelchair, and has a lot of spasticity. The trainers work on stretching his legs and arms to gain more mobility.
“It gets frustrating for him at school because he looks around and he wants to do all the sports the other kids do and wants to feel like a regular teenager,” his father said. “But whenever he leaves the gym, he’s on cloud nine. There’s something about that place and Ed where everyone fits in. It’s like a big family.”
Amy Dias of Middle Island, who sustained a traumatic brain injury after a car accident on Middle Country Road in 2003, said Personal Fitness helped her feel confident again. Following the accident, which left her in a coma for nine months, doctors told Dias she would never speak or move again. A year after she joined the gym, she was walking with a cane and talking. She even lives on her own now.
“I’m not afraid to talk to people now and they definitely strengthened my right side, which got affected most,” Dias said. “I love everyone at the gym. Ed is wonderful and really helped me.”
And how did he do the impossible?
“He cares,” she said. “He honestly cares about every individual person.”
The gym owner also helps out in the local community, frequently lending a charitable hand to Ridge Full Gospel Christian Church, where he recently helped to feed and clothe the homeless on Thanksgiving. He raises funds and promotes any and all shelters and charity drives in the area, and is a regular contributor to Betty’s Closet, a store inside the Rocky Point Middle School cafeteria that helps raise money and collect toys and food for families in need.
“Whenever I post something about an upcoming event on my page, he’s always ready to help,” said Betty Loughran, the Rocky Point PTA member who created Betty’s Closet. “He gets all the gym members involved, donates gift cards and goods and whatever the community needs. He’s just a really good person. The gym is always open and if kids in the community are ever in trouble and need a place to go, he’s there for them.”