by Cheryl Senn
Their strength is in their numbers and in their like-mindedness, according to Health And Motivating’s (H.A.M.s) workout group founder, Bennett Villarreal. What makes this workout group unique is the fact the workout group members not only work out together, but also volunteer for numerous projects and assist many families in need in Sanger.
“That’s what our group does now. It’s beyond just this little workout thing. It’s helping,” said Villarreal. “It’s about how much impact on our community, other people, and families, we can make.”
The H.A.M.’s workout group formed because there was a need by one of Villarreal’s Starbucks co-workers, Stephanie Harrell. Harrell’s daughter, Hayley Spharler, was experiencing health issues and Harrell was looking to kick-start a workout plan.
“Bennett started it as a favor to me because my daughter’s health was in dire need of some change,” said Harrell. H.A.M.s’ workouts began on December 16, 2012, at Sanger’s Jenni Park with Villarreal, Harrell, Spharler, and a few of Harrell’s friends.
From just a few members back in December 2012, the group has grown to more than 150 members and continues to grow.
Villarreal mixes workout routines at a park setting and U Can 2 Fitness gym. Workouts originally were held at Jenni Park and have moved to the City park on Church and Greenwood. The group works out every day, except Sunday, and twice on Wednesday.
Members pay two dollars per workout session in the park, and three dollars a session at the gym, if they don’t have a gym membership.
Villarreal is a 2004 Sanger High graduate, college student, and a certified personal trainer. He has always loved playing sports and feels he is following his passion by leading the H.A.M.s group. “Everyone wants to live their life and do something they are passionate about. You don’t always know if you could do it. This is something that I absolutely love.”
“It’s improved my health because I have seven kids and it’s easier to keep up with them,” said Harrell. “It helps dealing with stress when you are physically fit.”
Harrell’s daughter survived cancer at the age of five and still has lingering medical issues. “When we first started going to our doctors, it was reported that she was going to go into kidney failure if she did not stop eating and putting on weight,” shared Harrell. The lab results were not good and Spharler’s blood pressure was out of control.
“So, here we are, six months later, off blood pressure medication,” continued Harrell. “She’s lost enough weight to drop from size 16 to a size 11 pants and she was pretty excited about that.”
“Even though it’s not fun, you have to eat a bunch of salads instead of cramming your mouth full of bread,” added Spharler, who also said Villarreal helped her make better food choices and taught her how to count calories. Spharler said she feels confident now. “I felt good about being able to make myself feel better. I was very self-conscience when I first started all of this. Now, I feel confident and I feel comfortable in my body.”
Another H.A.M.’s member since its inception is Nicole Banoub. Banoub had weight loss surgery 13 years ago but gained it all back. Even with setbacks and challenges, Banoub said she has lost 40 pounds with the help of the H.A.M.s group and Villarreal.
Banoub said the workout sessions can be modified for people who have injuries, like her, with her knee injury.
The group began to meet the needs of Spharler and her health issues, then it expanded into assisting needs in the community. “I think that just happened so naturally and organically, just because that is how I am and how I live my life,” said Villarreal. “We are all like-minded people.”
One of the first community service projects the group worked on together was an 80s style workout session with all proceeds benefiting their Relay For Life team, Team One Love, and the American Cancer Society. “Group members wanted to help and we just needed an avenue to do it,” said Villarreal. “When you are by yourself, you don’t know how to do things like that, but there is strength in numbers, and it came together.”
Since then, the group has helped raise money for funeral expenses, provide meals for families who have had loved ones pass away or are in the hospital, and recently planned to help a family whose son was hit by a drunk driver.
Major milestones have been achieved by H.A.M.s members. Weight loss for some, with additional health benefits, and personal growth for Villarreal and fellow “HAMMIES”, as they refer to each other. “It’s someone getting their life back and taking control…adding years to their life and quality of life,” Villarreal said. Members of the community have benefited by the H.A.M.’s generosity as well.
Villarreal believes God is leading the group and that is why the group is growing and has the ability to help so many people.
The H.A.M.s workout group stays in contact with each other, utilizing a closed Fitness Facebook group, emails, and texting. They share their community service project ideas and invite friends to their workout sessions.
Future plans for the H.A.M.s group are to continue on the path they are on. “We have a really good group of people and it’s only getting bigger, “Villarreal said.
“I want them to feel, and know, that it’s more than just this hour workout. It’s a life thing. Not only living a fit life, with your health and wellness…this group is family,” added Villarreal. “Go HAMs.”
Watch KRL for more Sanger related articles by Cheryl!