Three days into a tour with his band, Grammy-nominated August Burns Red, lead singer Jake Luhrs learned the remaining concerts were canceled due to COVID-19.
Returning to his home in Lititz, Luhrs was hit with another setback. The Iron Fit Gym he had relied on for years announced in May it was going out of business due to the pandemic. The 35-year-old started going to Iron Fit after he got divorced to help address his emotions. The workouts pulled him into the next chapter of his life. He built friendships with guys at the gym and was a part of a community.
Now, his Lancaster-founded band’s tour was canceled and the place he went to for solitude was shut down.
He decided it was time to take matters into his own hands.
Luhrs chose to start a business in an industry hit hard by COVID restrictions. He’s opening a gym, but with a twist – it has special focus on mental health.
YourLife Gym, 2301 Harrisburg Pike, the former site of a Gold’s Gym, includes mental health resources from Luhrs’ nonprofit, HeartSupport, which he founded about 10 years ago.
YourLife is about 6,000 square feet with classrooms and equipment ranging from a pendulum squat to a Multiflex machine. Luhrs hopes to have 500 people purchase packages that provide various levels of access.
The doors open Saturday as similar businesses across the country struggle.
A quarter of the country’s 40,000 fitness facilities could close by the end of the year without financial help from the federal government, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a trade group that represents fitness facilities.
Nonetheless, Luhrs is optimistic that he is meeting an urgent need at just the right time.
“I saw a lot of people hurting mentally,” Luhrs said. “I thought, man, we need something like this. … something that will help almost like a medic station for people … when we are going through one of the most traumatic seasons of our lifetime.”
Luhrs’ responses to the following questions were edited for space and clarity.
When did you get into fitness?
I think I got into fitness probably around 2015 or 2014. I kind of used it as like a source or tool for like therapy to get through my divorce at that time. After seeing the transformation that my body started taking and the fact that I was using exercises … as a way to self-love and self-care, it really helped just kind of pull me into the next chapter of my life. It kept me in a positive mindset and really just helped me with understanding the idea and importance of loving myself and taking care of myself in order to do the things that I had dreamt to do in my life.
How have you managed to fit fitness into your schedule?
I’m pretty determined to fit it into my schedule especially because of the type of lifestyle that I live usually on a non-COVID year, which is very busy, on the road and surrounded by lots of people. So, the gym is also almost like my sanctuary …. I get to go to the gym and no one knows me there. No one’s trying to ask me to do things or I can kind of just block everything in my life out and just focus on me. So being able to do that every day … is really good for balance in my life and gives me a moment to just take a breath and relax. If I’m going to perform on a stage for an hour and a half every night and people are paying money to see a performance, then I’m going to be able to give them the show that they deserve and that they paid for.
What made you open YourLife Gym?
I had this vision of opening a mental health gym since I was 24 and then I had the vision again, like about two years ago and I just didn’t have the time. So, what happened was I came home from this tour and then I started seeing all these businesses closing and Iron Fit was closing. I felt called to open this gym, YourLife, and I had the time, ambition and desire. Seeing COVID really ruining a lot of people and a lot of businesses, and then the social injustice and the division that we have right now with our political stances and leaders going on, I decided what better a place (to start a gym) than my own backyard.
What’s the process of getting this all together in three months?
It looks a lot like waking up at 6:30 a.m., getting a cup of coffee and then going down the list of what can we do today to build this gym. So, one day it might be, hey you got to hang the mirrors. You got to get the mirrors that you bought from Iron Fit and you got to install them into your gym because it costs too much to get brand new mirrors and it costs too much to get people to install them for you, so you got to look up some YouTube videos and go do that. We got to go to Home Depot and grab some paint because we’re going to paint the offices today. We’ve got to swing by the gym and open it up at 7 for the contractor that’s building the yoga and small classroom for us.
How big is this gym?
The gym’s a little smaller because we’re actually going to be a little more exclusive. The reason why is very intentional so that we actually make a legitimate impact on our members. If we were to have 6,000 members there’s no possible way that me and my team would be able to make an actual impact in those people’s lives because there’s too many of them, I would get lost, I wouldn’t be able to remember their names, so that’s why we’re trying to have our space smaller and more limited so that we can really engage ….
What’s the mission of this gym?
I’ve understood the importance of physical fitness … but I think a lot of people skip their mental health. It’s really important because that’s where we live. We live in our heads and we have to make sure that we’re mentally healthy in order for us to respond to what’s around us and the decisions we make. It’s a very big part of our day and there are things in our mental health like stress, anxiety and triggers that we don’t really discuss a lot, so what I’ve chosen to do is incorporate mental health exercises, resources and classes. For example, we have a men’s and a women’s small groups that happen once a week where we have our staff have a discussion about mental health topics and all the mental health stuff is actually coming from my nonprofit.
What made you start your mental health focused nonprofit, HeartSupport?
I’ve traveled to over 50 different countries and after shows I go to the merch table and I would talk to my fans. There’s a lot of people out there that were really willing to share with me because they connected with my lyrics or they connected to my music. These people are telling me this because they’ve put me in a position where they respect me and they wanted me to hear it. But then I’m looking at like normal life – I never have people coming up to me telling me what they’re going through. So, there’s obviously a very large hole in our community, in our lives, where we don’t share a lot of the things that we’re really going through. So I wanted to create a place that people could do that. We have like thousands of people that come to HeartSupport a month to talk and to engage with our community and to look into our resources.
Do your personal mental health challenges go with having HeartSupport and the gym?
I’m a big believer in mental health and I think that it’s something that needs to be recognized as something that’s important …. Going through my own uphill battles, my parents got divorced when I was really young. A close family member of mine kind of struggled with heroin. I definitely didn’t have like a picture-perfect upbringing. However, the only way that I can be good with all of those things that have happened in my life is for me to encounter my mental health and for me to engage those things. Once you start to let go of these things, you start to have more joy, more peace and more love for yourself. There’s so much freedom in going and finding your healing for whatever those things are in your mental state.
How do those mental health experiences impact your music?
I think as far as August Burns Red, we’ve always written lyrics that are very real to us. We’ve always been that type of band where were going to write about challenges, life and always give the light at the end of the tunnel …. I don’t know that I would say that our lyrics are very aggressive in talking about mental health but they deal with mental health because we’re talking about feelings and emotions and situations ….
What was it like releasing the album “Guardians” during a pandemic?
Dissatisfying for sure because we spent so much time and thousands of dollars on production for that tour. “Guardians,” the record that we just released in April, is about community, helping each other and a lot of things about overcoming struggles in life, so we’re like this is crazy because the lyrical content that we have for this record would be really helpful for our fans right now so we can’t postpone, we have to release it.
How have you been handling the pandemic?
It’s been a life changing experience for me. Not just because it’s a pandemic, changing the way that we all process and live our lives, but you’re talking to a guy who’s been on tour his entire adult life. There’s never been a time in the past 15 years that I’ve sat at home for longer than two months. I’ve had a lot of time to self-reflect and kind of go through my own processes as to like where I want my life to go, the types of things that are important to me and my goals. I miss touring. I miss being on the bus, seeing the world and meeting people and playing and performing in front of people, so it’s been a mixed feeling.