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The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

South Central gym acts as a sanctuary

Johnathan Chung
Tony Lozano stands outside his gym.

Tony Lozano grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where he said gangs, violence and gunshots were common. 

It seemed few local businesses promoted a healthy lifestyle.

That’s a big reason why he helped start Fuerza Gym in the area a few years ago.

His co-owners and close friends, Gustavo Castillo and J.C. De La Cruz, shared a similar vision for a place one could get away from the stresses of everyday life, powerlift and get fit.

In the past decade or so, he has been pleased to see more healthy markets and cafes springing up.

A gym with a bench press, weights and a black floor and ceiling.
People work out at Fuerza Gym to get stronger. (Tony Lozano)

“When I was growing up in South Central in Crenshaw, it wasn’t always like that,” Lozano said. “There was always violence going on, shootings, always gang members trying to attack innocent people here on the streets.”

Lozano himself was a victim of school bullying and communal violence.

He vividly recalls an after school attack on kids at his high school:

“It was after school, and I just remembered these teenagers who would be troubled around my block. Punk kids. I’m not sure why. I guess for their enjoyment. Anyway, they saw how small I was and just wanted to scare me, knowing who controlled which block, and…I was punched and kicked. Thankfully, they didn’t take anything from me, but things like that just occur for no reason.”

This incident initially affected his self-esteem and confidence.

But he sought help from friends and family. Talking to them and getting their advice helped.

He made use of thrift store items to create a backyard gym.

“I made my gym at home, my backyard: A little bench press, a couple of dumbbells, a kettlebell, random bricks, water jugs, stuff like that,” he said.

Over time, Lozano secured a job and purchased his first gym membership.

But the pandemic meant that commercial gyms were overcrowded and potentially not safe.

So he, his friends and then-fiancé, Mia Ruby, worked out outdoors and eventually, formed Fuerza Gym after getting a loan from the bank.

During an intense recent training at Fuerza, Taylor Ramirez, encouraged by her trainers, pushed 120 pounds on a shoulder press machine, breaking her personal record of 98 pounds.

Ramirez, a member of the gym, said she’s a fan of its workouts, cardio routines and calorie counting program.

“I’ve been here for two months, and so far, I’ve lost around seven to nine pounds, which is an amazing goal for me,” she said.

Another gym member, Alexis Morejon, said the coaches keep you on your toes.

 “Tony or even sometimes Gustavo might be on [me] because I’m not doing something right or they’re like, ‘Yo, you gotta be able to push that weight. They scream at you, respectfully, but they’re gonna push you and I feel like at other gyms…you could hire a personal trainer, but they won’t even tell you if your form is wrong,” Morejon said.

Andrew Gafford, owner of Bottle Bar Liquor Store at 6042 S. Crenshaw Blvd., said limited access to quality food and high obesity rates create health issues in the neighborhood and local gyms can help offset that.

“We don’t have the best quality foods here in Crenshaw. Rent’s high, gas is high as shit, everything high. You’re going to want to buy cheap food to survive. Yeah, it’s going [mess] you up but it’s sure damn cheap and keeps your tummy full,” Gafford said.

In addition, Lozano’s wife, Mia Ruby, said she envisions opening a vitamin shop to educate children and adults about healthy choices, emphasizing the couple’s holistic approach to wellness.

“Right now, we’re trying to have our own vitamin shop to teach kids and adults what to drink. We shouldn’t be drinking [sports drinks] since they doesn’t have enough magnesium and so much sugar and chemicals,” she said.

Data from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health shows that in 2015, Compton had higher diabetes and obesity rates than other parts of the county.

Lozano said he grew up seeing similar trends, and that’s why he hopes to help make a change.

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