The Rutherford Report—Gym Revived by Owner Who Battled Cancer

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“The more things you do to help your health, the more you'll be able to do.”

—Jack LaLanne
Gym Revived by Owner Who Battled Cancer

Gary Peterson was told he had just a few months to live after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2010.

The life-long health and fitness enthusiast had owned and operated Spa Fitness for Women in Upland for 30 years before selling the business in 2005 and moving to Henderson, Nevada to start a new life.

“That decision was very tough for him,” said Dr. Konnie Vong, who became romantically involved with Gary after a long friendship. “Nobody knew the business better than him.”

About five years after the sale, Gary got calls from members who said the gym had suddenly closed and no one could reach the new owners for answers. Eventually, the property went into default, and Gary decided to reopen it despite his prognosis and the battle ahead of him.

Encouraged by his loyal members and Konnie, Gary chose to remodel and reopen the facility as Shirlee’s —The Ultimate Women’s Gym. The gym had been named Shirlee’s Fitness Center prior to Gary purchasing it in 1982. The name is actually an acronym for Strengthen Hearten Inspire Restore Love Encourage Empower Support.

After a stint in the United States Air Force, Gary got his start in the fitness industry in the 1970s working as a district manager at the Jack LaLanne Health Club in Torrance.

Occasionally, the gym would offer women-only or men-only days, and Gary noticed the women-only days attracted a lot of clients. As an added bonus, the gym was also cleaner and smelled nicer on days men were excluded.

So, when Gary eventually opened his own gym in 1982, he chose to make it a women’s only facility

“(Women) feel more comfortable coming into a gym and getting their exercise when they aren’t being ogled by men,” Konnie said.

Shirlee’s also differentiates itself from larger, corporate gyms by limiting the number of people who can join. This helps keeps the crowds in check so members can make the most of every visit, Konnie said.

The gym features 10,000 square feet of indoor workout space, complete with an array of fitness equipment from free weights to tread mills to stationary bikes and more. In addition, the facility offers a range of fitness classes including Aqua, Zumba, Pilates, Yoga, Spin and more.

For those who prefer to exercise outdoors, Shirlee’s features an outdoor track, boot camps, pool, and cabanas where members can stretch or work out with weights and fitness machines in the fresh air.

While he was given just months to live, Gary battled cancer for four years before he eventually succumbed to the disease in October 2014. His fitness legacy lives on thanks to Konnie and her team at Shirlee’s.

Visit to learn more about this Second District business.
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