Celebrating the Basic Training Community at Columbia Athletic Club
How did a CA group fitness class grow into a community whose pride reaches the Grand Canyon AND the Guinness World Records?
It all started when Basic Training (originally called Bootcamp) launched at CA’s fitness clubs back in 1998. These early morning military style workouts combine running, strength training and calisthenics — but it’s so much more than just a workout.
“We’re from all walks of life. Basic Training is like a mini United Nations where different ages, races, professions and fitness levels bond and support each other,” says Kevin McAliley, who has been showing up weekly for the past five years. “Our kids and grandkids even come to join in on the fun.”
Meet Darrell “Golden Arm” Gough
If you go to Columbia Athletic Club, you’ve likely been greeted by a warm hello from longtime CA personal trainer Darrell Gough. Darrell started running bootcamp about 10 years ago, when the previous instructor George Alston turned 70.
“George is like my ‘Athletic Club dad,’ he taught me so much,” Darrell says. “Our bootcamp assistant coaches, Mike Manning and Terry Streib, also inspire me. The blessing of Basic Training is all of the wonderful people.”
According to Darrell, all you have to do is show up as yourself — there’s no flashy equipment or special fitness experience required.
“Darrell is the glue of bootcamp. He gives us so much motivation and always keeps us laughing,” says Kevin. “We call his expressions Darrell-isms. One Darrell-ism is birthday pushups, which has become a fun tradition…though slightly grueling for some birthdays!”
Another special aspect of Basic Training is the group’s enthusiasm for supporting each other’s passions and community projects.
“We have become a major advocacy group for Complete Streets, the Howard County Office of Transportation bike lanes and pathway enhancements, environmental awareness boards and other worthwhile causes,” says Kevin. “We held virtual meetings for HoCo By Design General Plan feedback during the pandemic. We gather for 5K, 10K and longer running and cycling events to support those in need.”
Let’s never forget that this is a group that has even taken on the Guinness Book of World Records! Back in 2011, George and Darrell joined forces with other Columbia bootcamp instructors to break the record for “Largest 60 Minute Circle Workout.”
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A strong sense of community
Edie Manney started going to Basic Training for 10 years ago to improve her fitness. She immediately felt welcomed by how friendly everyone was, and says her husband even noticed her mood boost on Basic Training days.
“It’s such a special community, it’s what Columbia is supposed to be,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who you are outside of the class. We’re a family.”
When Edie experienced some medical issues, she had to take a break from working out — and that’s when her Basic Training friends rallied around her with meals, visits and gift cards. Even when she had to use a walker, Darrell kept her going with words of encouragement.
“Darrell is in another league with his fitness, but he meets people where they’re at. He’ll tell me, ‘This is where you’re at right now, let’s keep moving forward,'” she says. “Every gym should have someone like Darrell.”
A few years back, Darrell also experienced a similar situation when he was diagnosed with cancer. He says he “never felt alone” due to the support of his Basic Training crew. Recently, a few members of the group even flew out to surprise him and cheer him on at the World’s Toughest Mudder competition in Atlanta.
For Colleen MacLean Vernon, who started coming to Basic Training in July 2022, it was amazing to join such a ready-made community after the the pandemic.
“After being at home with three kids during quarantine, I felt so isolated. Everyone at Basic Training welcomed me right away and made me feel so good,” she says. “From doing relay races to push-ups with our arms linked, we sweat together and laugh together. Darrell makes everyone feel seen and included.”
Colleen even brought her eight-year-old daughter Bryna to join in on the fun and do her birthday pushups.
“My daughter was so excited to come, and she had the best time,” she says. “Everyone was so kind and I could tell she felt like a rockstar.”
Join the Basic Training community
According to Darrell, everyone has a place in Basic Training.
“Anyone who wants to increase their fitness is welcome. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a strong runner or just started working out,” he says. “There is a progression in each eight week cycle, where we build up mileage, core work and strength training. You will see improvements and make awesome friends!”
Basic Training meets at 6am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in the front of Columbia Athletic Club or the lounge area. To reserve your spot, call the Athletic Club or sign in at the front desk. Learn more here.