You can expect some peaks and valleys in your initial year as a small business owner. But Nate Witkowski certainly could not have predicted anything like this.
As his Warrior Fitness gym in Malden approaches its first anniversary, Witkowski’s whirlwind journey has gone from a hectic start to survival during the pandemic to the current gradual transition toward normality.
“I know how important it is for people to come to the gym not just physically but for their mental health,” said Witkowksi. “The clients, I can’t even express the gratitude I have for their support.”
Witkowski grew up in Melrose and was a two-sport star at Malden Catholic and Avon Old Farms before playing baseball at Bentley University for four years, graduating in 2014. From there, he jumped into the corporate world, working in sales.
But in 2016, he abruptly quit his job, took a two-week vacation to Thailand, and came back focused on making his mark in the fitness world.
Witkowski had already dipped a toe in, working with online clients on the side, but he expanded his efforts, renting space and time in Peabody and then Melrose. That’s when he got an Instagram message from friend Shane Kinnon — alerting him to a gym available in Malden — that changed everything.
“Being an entrepreneur and studying marketing at Bentley, owning my own business was always on my mind,” said Witkowski. “It was the dream since the beginning to have my own space. The way it happened, I wasn’t actively looking for a spot, just trying to build a client base, but when that message came across, it was just perfect timing.”
At the beginning, not only was Witkowski trying to get his new business off the ground, but also serving an internship at Boston University with Strength and Conditioning assistant coach Kyle Czech. Three or four days a week, he would go to Warrior Fitness from 5-8 a.m., rush off to BU until 1 p.m., then return to train clients from 3 until about 8:30.
Then the pandemic hit, and with it a shutdown that was a devastating blow to so many gym owners. But with his experience with remote training, Witkowksi was more prepared than most to navigate the difficult times, devising programs for clients to do at home while stuck in quarantine.
Eventually, as the state began to open back up, Witkowski was able to work with small groups outside and 1-on-1 with clients inside until the recent Phase 3 guidelines in Massachusetts have allowed gyms to operate at 40% occupancy.
Witkowski said that he was introduced to the importance of spending time in the gym early on in his career by Malden Catholic baseball coach Steve Freker, but that only now are young athletes and their parents realizing just how crucial it is to their development.
In training, he stresses what he calls the “Warrior Lifestyle,” which is more than just a fitness regimen but an overall outlook when it comes to the mind and the body.
“I’m not completely sure where it came from, but it’s almost the first thing that came to my mind,” said Witkowski. “The Warrior Lifestyle was sort of the marketing of the business, not so much just working out being the most important thing to do to be your best but also looking at it in a holistic way, from a mental side with discipline and accountability, and living it day in and day out.”
Witkowski has worked with elite athletes like Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, a relationship spawned with the former Terrier great through his BU internship, but gets just as much satisfaction seeing tangible results from the average person just looking to get in better shape or striving for a healthier way of life.
“That’s the best feeling there is, whether it’s a 5-pound jump in deadlift or just being able to get your arm above your head with better shoulder mobility,” said Witkowski. “It doesn’t matter how big or how small the achievement or what your goal is. There is no cookie-cutter approach to it. Everyone has different goals and it’s my goal to help them reach those goals, whether it’s inside the gym or outside the gym. Getting that promotion, playing D1 baseball or winning a Stanley Cup, it’s all sort or the same.”