Sheldon Sanders celebrates 15 years as local gym's manager this week

SUBMITTED PHOTO: SHELDON SANDERS  - Sheldon Sanders, right, holds up the trophy won by local Molalla strongman Jeff Rose, left, for the Oregon Feats of Strength strongman competition last year.

It's a rare thing to see an establishment stand the test of time in our fast-evolving world, one where new buildings and apartment complexes spring up like plants in the spring time, and the old ones fade away like a once-loved sandcastle sinking into the beach.

This week, Cutting Edge Fitness manager Sheldon Sanders celebrates his 15-year anniversary with the local gym, which has become a hub for all things health and fitness for those in the local community for nearly 16 years.

The road there

Sanders has had a passion for fitness – weightlifting in particular – since he was young. He said he idolized the men he saw on the cover of Muscle & Fitness, a magazine that has been in publication since the 1930s and was founded by Joe Weider, whom many view as the godfather of bodybuilding. Sanders said he envisioned himself being that big, and that there are mounds of pictures of him as a kid flexing his muscles to the camera. When he was 12, he received his first Gold's Gym weight set, and then he was hooked.

He lifted weights all during middle and high school, and then in his junior year, he was entrusted with the keys to open and run the school's weight room.

While that was the beginning of Sanders' lifelong yearning to run a gym, it wasn't the turning point that made him realize that goal. Also in his junior year, he took a body conditioning class, and he said that is when he really became passionate about fitness.

As soon as he finished school, he moved from Glide to Roseburg, and got a job right away at Roseburg Athletic Club. He was there for about a year, and then moved up north when he landed a job with the now ancient Hollywood Video (HV)—ah, gone are the days of browsing the aisles looking for a new VHS for the night, where you felt like you'd won the lottery if it was already rewound for you.

But right next door to the HV in Raleigh Hills was Powerhouse Gym, where he got a second job. He worked there from 1992 to 1994, and then moved back south, this time to California to stay with HV. Sanders moved around quite a bit, eventually coming back up to Oregon in 1997 and got his jobs back at the same Powerhouse Gym and HV locations, finding himself moving up the corporate ladder with HV.

But then HV closed as the movie rental industry began to evolve, which Sanders said brought him out to Molalla as he found himself stepping through the doors of Cutting Edge Fitness. Little did he know that he had found his home, the place where his strongest friendships would develop, where he could share his passion for fitness with a local community eager to share it with him.

More than just a gym

Fast forward 15 years, and Sanders is still at it. Whether the person walking through the door is an old friend or a new face, Sanders treats them like they are family. He makes them feel welcome and comfortable–genuine traits he possesses that don't seem to be present throughout the fitness industry, where most gym-goers are simply known as the card they sign in with. Sanders knows the membership number of every Cutting Edge Fitness member, numbers that represent their place in the long history of the gym.

"I think what's kept me here is that I love the people, I love the job," he said. "It's the people that keep me here more than anything."

What makes Sanders special is simple: he treats everyone he meets with respect and kindness. From seasoned bodybuilder to high school athlete to fitness newcomer, Sanders has the ability to make everyone feel comfortable at Cutting Edge Fitness. He has flourished in his career for that very reason, and it has inevitably led to lasting relationships.

Sanders said he has numerous close friendships that formed as byproducts of their shared connection through Cutting Edge Fitness. He specifically singled out Clayton Stonehocker, Mike Couture, David Bacon, Jason Ritter, and Jim Smith.

"Those are my best friends, formed through this place," he said.

Ritter walked through the door during our interview and didn't hesitate to share his thoughts as well.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: SHELDON SANDERS  - Sheldon Sanders, left, with Jason Ritter, in costume for Halloween 2016 outside Cutting Edge Fitness.

"Sheldon is a staple of this place; it it weren't for him, a lot of these people wouldn't be here, I truly believe that" Ritter said. "Sheldon is a guy that's done so much for the town, all the fundraising that he's done, it's amazing, he's an amazing guy."

Community involvement

From fundraising to send local celebrity strongman Jeff Rose to a national competition, to supporting Share the Love every year, to donating profits to someone in need from the community, Sanders feels it is his duty to help.

"I have, thanks to the business and to social media, a platform where I can help," he said. "We have 1,200 people on our Facebook page that are going to see this stuff," Sanders said about the promotion of local efforts throughout the community. "It's easy and I like doing it, to just get the word out; I just want to help where I can."

Sanders seemed almost puzzled by my inquisition into his eagerness to give back to others, a sign demonstrating how naturally it comes to him. It's part of who he is, and it's a huge factor that has kept his friendships and the business thriving.

With time, comes change

The gym itself is seeing some changes this year as it has come under new ownership; longtime Cutting Edge fitness class instructor Jill Lantz along with Josh Ferguson have become co-owners. The gym will move to 24 hours as Sanders will work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the doors locking after that as members will use security cards to swipe and unlock the door for access. The gym is getting all new cardio equipment, which will be switched with the weight machines downstairs as they take the upstairs space. The gym will have 24-hour surveillance and the interior will get a new look as the walls will be painted.

But despite the changes, the gym's foundation will remain the same. Sanders is there to stay. He is comfortable saying that Cutting Edge Fitness has become his life.

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