Buckeye Gym in Tallmadge to celebrate 35 years of operation

Brandon Roharik spends time next to a weight machine at Buckeye Gym in Tallmadge. Roharik, a BMX professional BMX rider, has trained at the facility since he was 13 years old.

Some 17 years ago, Julie Oliver wanted to change the way her body looked.

Thus, she decided to join a fitness center. In no time, her body changed significantly.

As it turned out, so did her life.

Buckeye Gym in Tallmadge is scheduled to celebrate its 35th anniversary Aug. 15 at the Tallmadge Circle.

The facility, which is owned by Julie Oliver and her husband Mike, is expected to be recognized for its more than three decades of service with a sign that reads, “Congratulations Buckeye Gym on 35 years of business.”

The gym was founded in 1985 by Tony Ceo, who owned the facility for 20 years. Not long before he sold it to the Oliver family, he had an anxious new client who developed a passion for fitness.

That determined lady was none other than Julie Oliver.

“I never stepped foot in a gym prior to 2003,” she said. “I walked into Buckeye and 18 months later, I bought it.”

She hasn’t looked back since.

Oliver’s daughter Megan eventually joined her parents and has managed the gym on a number of occasions. These days, though, the younger Oliver has taken a temporary leave of absence.

That’s because she recently celebrated the birth of her first child.

“My daughter has been involved since she was in high school,” Oliver said. “She has a business called Megafit Fitness, which is based in our gym.

“She’ll be coming back and when she does, she’ll do a lot of training in the gym. It’s a family affair without a doubt. My husband is here part of the time and I’m here most of the time. I left a commercial real-estate job about 2 1/2 years ago and decided to do this full time.”

When Ceo owned the gym, fitness enthusiasts with modest physiques may have been a bit apprehensive about joining.

That’s because most of Buckeye Gym’s clients looked more like The Incredible Hulk rather than the average Joe.

“The business was already pretty well established,” Oliver said. “We changed a lot of things. Tony had a good business, but he catered mostly to bodybuilders and powerlifters. We kind of kept that philosophy for a period of time and then over the course of several years, we have reached out more to women, athletes and that kind of thing.

“The thing that we hoped was that, first of all, a female-owned business would maybe make people feel it was a little softer and friendlier because it is intimidating when you first walk in here. I love to say, even to this day, when you walk in, the heavens have opened up and you are in your home or you walk in and you say, ‘There is no way in the world I could work out here.’

“It has definitely helped us to grow. It definitely improved the business and that diversity made a big difference for us.”

Oliver would know.

Six months after she gave Buckeye Gym a try as a client, she morphed into a formidable fitness guru.

“I started in October and then the following year in April, I actually competed in my first bodybuilding competition,” Oliver said. “I did about 10 total before I decided that was enough of that and moved on to some other things.”

Some of those other things involved changing the culture of her prized facility. The gym has partnered with Jason Lucas and Stephen DeJournett, who are the founders of Fitness Fanatics. By the way, Lucas, who is a trainer at Orangetheory in Fairlawn, is former NFL star Ted Ginn Jr.’s brother.

“They just have a great philosophy,” Oliver said. “They’re actually considering renting some space in the plaza to stay close to us and still do their kind of concept.”

There is a third member of Fitness Fanatics as well. He’s a former NFL player who once gave Tallmadge fits during the mid-2000s.

His name is Delone Carter, a former All-Ohio tailback at Copley High School.

“[Former Blue Devils quarterback] Allen Price trains here and he has become buddies with Delone,” Oliver said. “There was a picture of four different players from that time and Allen said, ‘We should do a reprint of the picture of all of us today and what we’re doing today vs. where we were in high school.’ Delone did cause some issues for us, but he’s a great guy.”

As the Olivers got settled in their business, they had one specific goal in mind: make everyone, regardless of their appearance, feel at home.

“This thing with Fitness Fanatics, what is really cool is that these guys have come into our gym and started training here and bringing some really neat diversity to this facility as well as to the city of Tallmadge,” Oliver said. “They have some great backgrounds.

“They [Lucas and DeJournett] do a class over at Goodyear Park [in Akron] like a boot-camp sort of thing on Saturdays and a lot of training over here. They have a following and they brought some of those people here and we’ve sent some to them, of course.”

Carter isn’t the only celebrity who regularly pays a visit to the gym either. A professional BMX rider does too.

Brandon Roharik first discovered Buckeye Gym as a wide-eyed teen. Now 26 years old, Roharik has played a pivotal role toward inspiring youths not only in Tallmadge, but in surrounding areas as well.

“Brandon was here in the area and has done a lot of training for young kids,” Oliver said. “He moved to Georgia for a couple of years and then came back. He is pro level. He has been training here since he was 13.

“He does some training of young kids who are trying to get into the sport. Behind the gym, he sets up timers and does time trials as part of his workout.”

Thanks to a deadly, respiratory tract infection known as COVID-19, many businesses, particularly smaller businesses, have taken a huge hit.

Amazingly, that’s not the case at Buckeye Gym. Not at all, as a matter of fact.

“Our business is booming, which is hard to believe in this time and day,” Oliver said. “One of the reasons is these guys from Fitness Fanatics. They’ve really helped us through this whole COVID thing. It has just been a real blessing to us.

“We have a lot of high school and college-aged folks coming in. Right after we reopened [May 26] following COVID, we had numerous coaches and strength coaches from Kent State coming here and training, which was a real pleasure to have as well.

“Most of them have gone back to their rec center since it reopened, but many of them have stuck around and said they’ll be back for the holidays. Amazingly, the shutdown helped us in some ways, which I would have never dreamed in a million years. It really has improved our business.”

Oliver hopes her business can celebrate 40 years or even 50 years and beyond. And who knows? Perhaps there could be more plans in store to attract even more clients.

“We’re really pleased to serve the community and the surrounding communities,” Oliver said. “We’re just trying to grow. Part of this is bringing in these types of trainers who do things other than the strength training that we’ve been known for. It has really helped us diversify our clientele and provide more services to a wider group of people.

“I know just about every person who walks in the door and I call them by their name. People get along and become friends here. It’s just a whole different atmosphere than you get in many gyms.”

As for the matriarch of this successful operation, forgive her if she believes that some supernatural force may have been speaking to her when she paid a visit to Buckeye Gym some 17 years ago.

For Oliver, this experience may seem a lot like a certain 1976 chart-topper by the Eagles.

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

This version of Hotel California, on the other hand, will always be Oliver’s “lovely place.”

“It’s the only gym I’ve ever known,” Oliver said.

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, faceto@recordpub.com or @Faceto_Gannett.