MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — He stood there, a little perplexed, a little bemused, staring into the camera lens.
“Is it working?”
No, it wasn’t really working.
“Am I sideways?” he said.
He was definitely sideways.
“Now is it working?”
“How about now?”
Let me just say that the Marines have had better days than this one. The execution was not necessarily up to the standards of the Corps.
“Hey, this is Facebook live, y’all,” said Tony Ludlow. “A little growing pains here.”
We know the feeling, Sarge.
We are all adapting to new technologies. We are all Zooming and Slacking and FaceTiming like never before.
So there was Ludlow — a 62-year-old, story-telling, pushup-loving, self-deprecating, former staff sergeant who is closing in on his PhD — sending his longtime fitness boot camp out over Facebook live.
“The other day, the views were up to nearly 2,000,” he said. “I don’t even know what that means.”
It means we all like connection, and laughter, and people who remember our names. That — more than the pushups — is why Ludlow’s boot camp has been around for more than 20 years.
“I started it in 1999,” Ludlow said. “The idea of a boot camp was totally new back then. I read about a program like it in Washington, D.C. So I spent two months putting flyers out. There were five people who showed interest. At the end of the month, there were only three.”
And here Ludlow explains the difference between a fitness boot camp and actual boot camp.
“If you’re on Parris Island, nobody is going anywhere. In Memphis, people can get in their cars and never come back. The drill instructor breathing fire was not a sustainable model. So I looked at it as something else.”
Ludlow’s boot camp turned into more of a winking sort of a boot camp. Part exercise class, part therapy session, part comedy club. Ludlow may be even better at stories than he is at sit-ups. He has an impossibly — almost comically — expressive face.
“After 10 years, I gathered up a cross section of the group, maybe 25 people, and I broke them into five smaller groups,” Ludlow said. “I asked them why they joined and why they kept coming. The No. 1 answer in three of the five groups was ‘Tony remembers my name.’ In the other two groups, that was answer No. 2.”
So the boot camp grew and prospered. Ludlow would regularly have upwards of 100 people join one of the three daily sessions he taught in the parking lot behind Christ Methodist Church. But as the years passed, there was more and more competition — from Orange Theory and CrossFit and Iron Tribe and Bikram Yoga and Pure Barre and ATC Fitness and you know the whole sweaty list.
“My observation was that the same percentage of people exercised,” Ludlow said. “There were just more choices around. It’s like when churches borrow members. But I kept doing what I do. When we hit the 20-year mark last summer, that was a nice moment, it really was.”
And then the world stopped. The gyms closed. All those new places had to shut their doors. So Ludlow — after suspending his daily gatherings — took his weights and his stories to a nearby park and flipped on Facebook Live.
“Some people have said, ‘Oh, Tony, you’re going to put all your stuff out there and your competitors will steal it,’ ” he said. “I don’t think our competitors can steal what’s really going on with us. They can steal the exercises, but the exercises are available from any number of sources. They can’t replicate the dynamics of the group, or the encouragement of the group. They can’t steal the way that being together — even on video — makes everyone feel.”
It’s that feeling that we’re all looking for, isn’t it? Especially these days? So maybe it’s no surprise that Ludlow’s Facebook Live sessions — you can find them under “Sgt. Tony’s Fitness Boot Camp” — are becoming more and more popular.
“The other day, we had people from 10 different states and one person from Japan,” Ludlow said. “Now, I obviously don’t know how many people are actually doing the exercises. But I guess I hope they are.”
Ludlow didn’t mean anything by that last comment, just so you know. He wasn’t calling us fat. But this lockdown isn’t having a slimming effect on the most of us. So you might think about joining him someday.
After two decades, the genial staff sergeant is still at it. Now available on FaceBook Live.
Or — to bring this back to where we started — it seems to be working, Tony. It seems to be working just fine.
This article was written by GEOFF CALKINS, The Daily Memphian from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.