When we emailed Steve Pulcinella of Iron Sport Gym way back in December based on Alexander’s recommendation about visiting him during our trip, he didn’t have much to say. He cracked some jokes and invited us to come over, but what we were intrigued by the most was his honesty. We were two complete strangers from another country and he didn’t hesitate to warn us that it was a pretty slow period for Iron Sport and that most of his members had just only recently quit.
His story is moving. He started in a roughly 1,500 sq.ft garage gym – a facility that he put together mostly so he had a place to train at. With a highly successful powerlifting and strongman career, he needed a place that wasn’t a regular commercial gym, and there was no better solution that starting his own place. Iron Sport was one of the first few gyms to have great equipment for powerlifting and strongman, and allowed you to do things like lift heavy weights that most other ‘health clubs’ frowned upon. If you enjoy lifting heavy and like to try out cool stuff in your training, this would have been your dream come true. And as expected, it was for many in and around that area of Philadelphia.
Everything was going well – people who understood the value of and respected the space were showing up. In fact, it was going so well that Steve Pulcinella was now forced to consider growing, therefore shifting to a bigger space. A much bigger space. And so he did. By early 2,000, Iron Sport was now functioning out of a 7200-sqft space, now with added weightlifting platforms!
When Iron Sport was clearly leading the race, the American fitness industry started to evolve – CrossFit, among other trends came in, and even some of the more loyal Iron Sport members wanted to check out what else was out there. To stay on top of things, Stevey P decided to go all in – they added more strength equipment and weightlifting platforms, discarded the cardio stuff and became more niche. Unfortunately for him, this meant his audience was now a lot more limited to those who subscribed to a style of training that could be done with purely the tools and equipment available at Iron Sport. And as you can imagine, that number might not have been too big.
Despite the fact that it was now a lot harder for him to pay his bills, let alone make a profit, Steve Pulcinella was someone who wasn’t willing to give up his integrity, he was someone who would go all the way to stand behind something that he strongly believed in – the sport of strength. He was someone who wasn’t willing to sell out for the sake of making more money and he wasn’t going to change who he was.
As people who are on the verge of setting up a gym, Sandeep and I have had to ask ourselves some hard questions based on the lessons we learnt at Iron Sport. What sort of gym do we want to be? Who do we want to cater to? Will we be forced to pick between keeping our integrity and selling out – even if just a tiny bit?
We know that answers to those questions will show up as we grow, both personally and professionally. But one thing is certain – we want to strive to be like Steve Pulcinella. We want to always be honest about what we’re made of.