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My Week in the Woods…Tennessee Fitness Spa!

Tennessee Fitness Spa (TFS) obviously strives for a inclusive environment…it’s a family business. Joe and Nancy Shaw welcomed their first guests in 1991…I was there around 1995. I met Joe (who has since passed; however, his wife, Nancy, is still living the dream). She still attends workout classes (along with their GM daughter, Rachel Miller) and I have had the pleasure of working out with this beautiful woman for three decades now. I have visited here in my 20s, 30s, and now in my 40s wagon-wheeland their dedication has never waivered. Each visit, I feel like a part of the history…a part of the family. There are usually not more than 30 people that stay at a time. You actually get to know all the  folks ~ from all walks of life and geography. I have never, not once, felt judgment from a guest. We see each other in spandex, in bathing suits, and on Friday we sing Karaoke ~~ sober! Believe me, you’ll become lifelong friends with at least a handful of these ladies…there’s a quick bond!!

I pulled into camp about 1pm, got checked in, and proceeded to unpack before my best friend in the world arrived to join me for our week-long adventure. An hour later Laura arrived and we gave each other the biggest hug. Because we haven’t seen each other in 3 years, we may have even squealed a little (but please don’t tell anyone…we’re usually very calm and cool hippie chicks ~ no squeals allowed).
The area was just as I remembered it; although they added an obstacle course and a spin room, so I was super stoked about those additions. What is amazing about this place is that the spin room has two recumbent bikes included for those recovering from knee surgery, just getting back into fitness, or are just at an age where “jumping hills” isn’t their thing but they still want to participate. Seriously, Tennessee Fitness does everything they can to make EVERYONE feel included and completely capable. It’s a warm, inclusive environment. While Laura was catching a quick nap to make up from her crazy long drive, I walked around the area to do a little photo shoot. The creek, the natural bridge, the rustic charm of all the buildings…ahhhh ~ this is going to be a great week.

a quick path to the on-site creek…
one of my favorite photos…a little barn on the way to Danny’s Loop…

OK, so here’s the deal with the morning walks. No matter what your fitness level, you have guided walkers…generally three of them. You start out right outside the mess hall, after breakfast, and stretch all of those tight muscles. There are three site walkers that keep up with the front of the group, the middle, and the last. Some mornings are all about the woods, the hills, and nature. And some mornings, you get to walk asphalt for a more secure footing. Then there’s me. I love group fitness ~ I love the camaraderie and the fun jabs. But my morning walks at Tennessee Fitness were all about me. I looked at the variety of walking trails, picked my journey, grabbed my camera and took off solo. Is this what TFS would recommend?…probably not. They like to know where their folks are in case you twist your ankle or a mountain cat decides to befriend you…but I’m a rebel, so I did my own thing in the mornings. I’m a mom of two teenage girls, so these walks afforded me mental opportunities to explore areas of my life that the stress-filled day-to-day dealings generally have no time for.

The dining hall…

First, know this. The incredible kitchen staff will accommodate any food preference you have…vegan, paleo, don’t eat cheese, allergic to nuts, whatever you throw at them, they’re on it. But the main takeaway is this…you don’t have to cook…or go grocery shopping…or meal plan. Food just magically shows up at just the right time of day! Belinda heads this crazy, awesome group and if you don’t fall in love with them immediately, then you weren’t meant to love. You’ve heard the song, “I was country before country was cool”? Well, Belinda had free-range chickens before free-range chickens were cool. She grew up on a farm, became educated in the food industry on many levels, and now runs a stellar kitchen. You know the staff has mad respect for her because they’ve all read 50 Shades of Gray and still give her guff because she refuses to read the series. Good for you Belinda – hold strong (but, phew…it really was a great series!!).

one part of the obstacle course…do this!!

Every day is a new day. Look at the schedule the night before and plan your day. Classes overlap, but that’s OK…just pick your madness and get your personal schedule aligned, because, believe me, you’ll hit the road running in the morning and you’ll want that map planned out the day before. My friend Laura really enjoyed the meditation classes and speeches about foraging greens for natural tea. I was more into obstacle courses and the hula hoop hoedown (yes, I have issues…please move on!).
And for crap’s sake…try Wallyball!! IT IS SO MUCH FUN! I have played every time I’ve been here…in my 20s, 30s, and now 40s. Someone passed me today and said, “Wow ~ you seem so sweet, but man, you are a force to be reckoned with on the Wallyball court!”. I took that as a compliment but then admitted that Laura won’t even play Boggle with me. I’m just slightly competitive…just slightly…
Oh, and let’s not forget about Kimi Sue Kelley, the Fitness Director. She packs a punch in her little frame; but don’t let the bear growl disturb you (yep, she growls). Kimi Sue has been around for my last two visits and what a testament to TFS when the employee turnaround is so low. They MUST be doing something right!

I know, I know…the pool is for old lady workouts. Right?! NO ~ get that out of your head…and bring your bathing suit ~ bring two! Believe me. After hiking and spinning and disco aerobics, the pool is the most refreshing place to be. Not only is it nice on your joints, comforting on your sweat glands after crazy workouts, but it’s also a great strength building hour. Water therapy is real ~ deal with it…and ENJOY!

natural-bridgeIf you do nothing but walk around Tennessee Fitness and get zen with yourself, well, you couldn’t come to a better place. This land houses a Natural Bridge that is just an environmental beauty. In addition, the rustic touches around camp are indescribable. Look up ~ look left ~ just look…there are touches of love everywhere on this property. The Natural Bridge property has always remained in the hands of private individuals. In 1933, the property was developed as a recreational fishing camp, and then in 1955 it was updated and opened as The Scenic Natural Bridge Tourist Resort. Two of the original stone structures, a stone arch and the dining hall, still stand.
The Scenic Natural Bridge Tourist Resort resort closed to the public in the 1960’s but later the property was given a new look and it served as a venue for country music concerts. Well-known artists such as George Jones, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap, and Bill Monroe performed during the 1980’s in the lovely outdoor amphitheater.

Amber Falls Winery ~ Ask for Gabe!!
Amish Country!

So, you can still stay on campus on Saturday; however, most folks go explore. There are at least 4-5 wineries within an hour of TFS as well as Amish Country! The wine tours are fun, well, because it’s wine. But do yourself a favor and trek to the Amish homes. The honey and fresh spice prices are insanely lower than you’d ever find at your local grocer. They are absolutely organic and fresh (duh!)…due to the nature of the farmer. Purchase these specialty goods at local grocers or venture out directly to the homes. Maps are available to show you who specializes in what…furniture, quilts, baskets, spices, and so on!

Rustic charm is everywhere…!

Get to know the folks that are with you at TFS. These women (OK, a few men) have stories…amazing stories. Take the time to listen…with your heart. It will open your world and you may even find incredible similarities. To say “It’s a small world” is such a cliché , but one that just keeps proving itself to me each year that I’m on this earth. My cabin neighbor was from Enterprise, Alabama ~ my first daughter was born there when we were stationed at Ft. Rucker. Another lady was from Ashland, Oregon…just miles away from my husband’s hometown of Medford…we trek there every in-law visit (put Ashland on your bucket list by the way…beautiful and so hippie unique!)…and so on, and so on. I even met a judge from Texas who had lunch with Judge Judy before she was Judge Judy!! I remember in my twenties from my first visit to Tennessee Fitness, I met someone that was Vegan ~ it was the mid-nineties, and it was the first time I had heard this term. Vegetarian, yes. Vegan, huh? So, she filled me in and I learned something new. In my thirties, there was a young group of Jehovah’s Witnesses…they were a hoot and loved Wallyball! Only once after a few days did they try to minister to me but I asked them to keep it to the workouts and they backed off and they still hold a special place in my memory bank to this day. Meet the people around you at Tennessee Fitness ~ it will absolutely enhance your stay!

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