In rain or snow, in sunshine or darkness, about 10 to 20 men gather every Tuesday at 5:30am near the sledding hill in Central Park for an intense workout. Their routine usually features 45 minutes of burpees, leg lunges, push-ups, and no-holds-barred repeats up and down the hill—especially tricky on icy mornings—among other exercises. To mix it up, they might also add their sole piece of fitness equipment: a cinderblock that the guys heave up and down the hill or lift as a dumbbell while the group hoots with encouragement. Although they appreciate the fitness benefits of these arduous workouts, fostering meaningful friendships among its members and doing volunteer work for the community are equally important missions for this non-profit group.
The group is called F3, which stands for Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith. For these men, F3 represents a combination of pushing one’s limits and developing supportive come-as-you-are camaraderie. They wrap up each workout with a huddle referred to as “the circle of trust.” This gives them an opportunity to express words of thankfulness, check in on family or work challenges, and conclude the session with a prayer. Then, before most of their neighbors have rolled out of bed, they head off—stronger physically and mentally—to face the day.
The tight bonds that are built among the members are key. Each man answers to a nickname, bestowed on him by the group, and the laughs come as fast as the reps. Richard Diaz is nicknamed “Princess” by the group in honor of his four daughters. “You can go to a fitness gym, run on a treadmill, and not talk to anyone,” says Diaz. “But F3 is fantastic because you have all these brothers who show up and hold you accountable.”
Founded in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2011, Chief Executive Officer John Lambert says F3 was a response to the problem of “middle-age male loneliness.” Now the F3 network includes more than 3,400 workout groups nationwide, with each group offering workouts that are always free and always outdoors, two of the non-profit’s “core values,” says Lambert.
In October of 2021, Northfield resident Todd Meikle helped launch a Denver F3 branch located in Central Park. He had traded his gym membership for a Peloton Bike a few years earlier, but he missed the connections of in-person exercise. “I didn’t realize the impact of working out with other guys,” says Meikle. “F3 is awesome because it offers both fitness and friendship.” Meikle, an executive at a global telecommunication company in his day job, is known as “DD,” for the double DD’s in Todd, in the F3 group.
Digging deeper into the F3 mantra, Meikle notes that “the first F, Fitness, is the magnet for us, the second, Fellowship, is the glue, and the third, Faith, is the dynamite. While we’re not a religious organization, we do believe we’re not the center of our universe.”
That dynamic also inspires the men of F3 to help out in the community. They come out on weekends to perform volunteer work such as serving breakfast at the Denver Rescue Mission to help feed homeless people or repairing fixtures at a center for women who have escaped domestic abuse. “It’s so easy—in a pandemic, or not in a pandemic—to coast, to go into passivity,” Meikle says. “F3 is an opportunity to engage, and the alternative seems like an unhealthy place to be.”
Although the F3 fellows take turns leading workouts, their sessions always begin and end at “the shovel.” This refers to an actual shovel that is clasped to an American flag and that they use for a home base during workouts as a reminder of their missions. “The missions of F3 are to plant, grow, and serve where we are,” says Meikle. For Meikle, serving extends from the Saturday outreach projects to how the men interact when they’re pounding through drills. “Some guys are crushing it, and others here are trying to keep up,” he says. “The F3 motto is ‘leave no man behind, but leave no man where you found him.’ And our attitude is that we’re just glad you’re here because if a guy is going to wake up at 5am and come out in the cold, that’s 80 to 90 percent of the battle.”
To learn more or register, visit f3denverco.com.