A Generation of Family and Fitness
Harbor Athletic Club in Middleton, Wisconsin, is multi-generational in a couple ways. One, the club boasts programs for toddlers up to older adults, and two, different generations of one family have owned the club since its founding in 1984.
“My parents were the founders,” said Melissa Ernst, who now co-owns the club with her siblings. “It’s been a very unique experience. I’m blessed to have been able to see it grow over the years and get to work so close with my dad. I learned management and leadership skills and how he managed people — he really wanted to be different.”
According to Ernst, the club has had a family focus from the very beginning, but it has taken off in the past decade. “We were always a family friendly club, but the whole development of youth programming really started to grow in the past 10 years,” she explained.
At Harbor Athletic Club, kids can participate in a wide variety of youth programs, from swimming lessons, weight training and boot camps, to TRX and much more.
“We’ve really honed in on our market being the young family and I think young families are looking for places where their whole family can do things,” said Ernst. “Especially with childhood obesity, I think parents are looking for ways for kids to be active, especially those that aren’t necessarily into sports. So providing something everyone in the family can do and bond over, we’ve really just built on that mindset and just tried to offer a lot more options. We’re kind of sought after now as a place for the family to go.”
Ernst explained the club’s youth trainers specialize in making youth programs fun and try and be creative when developing new classes or programs. In fact, one of the more popular youth classes is one that draws inspiration from NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. “A couple of our trainers set up a variety of different obstacles in our big gym,” explained Ernst. “We have monkey bars, tires, ropes and slides, so they’ll set up a unique obstacle course the kids can conquer and get timed on. We try to make it a special event.”
The class was so popular they decided to create one for adults. “We’re going to do a family one next month,” said Ernst.
According to Ernst, it’s been great to see members of all different ages walk through the club’s doors. “You’ll see newborns in here and then 99-year-olds as well,” she said. “We serve a very wide range of people so it’s pretty cool to see all generations in one place.”
This is something Ernst has witnessed since a young age. “My siblings and I grew up coming here everyday, seeing what my dad did. I worked here throughout high school and came back after college. My path took me a few different directions before I decided this is where I wanted to be long term.”
By Rachel Zabonick