They show up at the gym at the crack of dawn, Sunday morning.
Actually, it’s noon. But when you’re slinging drinks and cleaning up messes until the wee, wee hours, noon feels like the crack of dawn.
But there they were — two dozen employees of Seville Quarter — surprisingly bright-eyed if bushy-haired. No Bloody Marys here. Just blood, sweat and tears. OK, just sweat. But you get the idea.
They’re just part of the 48-employee contingent competing in a fitness training and weight loss competition, based on the popular reality TV program “The Biggest Loser.” They’ve divided into two teams, and since each employee put $20 in the pot, they’re playing for cash prizes, their health and self-esteem and bragging rights.
Seville isn’t doing it to save in health care costs — most employees are part-time and don’t have health insurance through the company. Club managers say the only goal is to foster camaraderie and make the employees healthier and happier.
Jill Wake left the End O The Alley back bar at Seville around 4 a.m. She lumbered into Omni Fitness on Davis Highway eight hours later. Still, it wasn’t as bad as you might think.
“Since we started this, I’ve been eating better and working out and I’ve been waking up earlier,” said Wake, 31. “I wanted to tighten up and lose a little bit. I’ve got a little ways to go. But we’ve been working our butts off.”
“I’ve lost 13 pounds so far,” said manager/bartender Lisa Merritt, beads of sweat above her smiling lips.
A day after the group’s Omni workout, she had kicked and twisted and bent and wiggled for nearly an hour on the Phineas Phogg dance floor at Seville.
But she was only kind of boogieing. Actually, she was one of about a dozen employees and friends participating in Seville’s new weekly Zumba exercise class.
Seville’s program is by no means a new idea. Employers are increasingly looking at such health initiatives to boost wellness.
Doug Mitchell, 48, whose family owns and manages the long-standing and popular nightclub, said it’s inspired by other businesses doing the same.
Seville even had its chef prepare a special menu for employees, emphasizing tuna, hummus and other healthy choices.
“I just loved the idea and thought it would be great for our employees,” said Mitchell, a fit golfer and tennis player who still works out with his staff on Sunday. “And we’ve made it a little contest with a little money. People get healthier. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
But before victory, first must come pain. Or at least a serious buzzkill.
“Watch this. Use your hips and swing.”
Patt Porter, 39, a hulking hulk of a specimen of ripped and chiseled manhood, squatted, pinched the teeny 8-pound weight in his paws, held it out in front of his torso and swung it like a feather.
Some of the employees were still wiping nuggets of sleep from their eyes last Sunday. So he did it again. And again.
“Use your hips, and up and swing. You’ll do that for 30 seconds and move on.”
There were two more stations in the side room that the Seville employees had commandeered that morning at Omni.
Porter, one of the two team coaches, demonstrated each, while the competition’s other coach, Brett Nicolich, 27, stood to the side offering encouragement.
Nicolich, a Seville barback, is a budding fitness trainer and bodybuilder. Porter, a Seville bartender, is a personal trainer at Omni, which is offering Seville competitors four weeks of free membership during the eight-week program that began four weeks ago.
“Everyone’s serious about getting in better shape, but it’s a friendly competition,” Nicolich said.
But the winning team’s trainer — determined by the team with the biggest percentage of weight loss — gets 20 percent of the haul, with the rest divided among individual weight loss winners.
“Yeah, I’d like to win,” Porter said, turning to Nicolich. “We both would, of course. But that’s not what’s important.”
The program is serious. Teams have weekly weigh-ins, they train in groups and alone, and they have each started diets based on team leader recommendations.
The group even has its own Facebook page, where members offer encouragement, share dieting and exercise links and advice, and hunt down exercise partners.
“Dieting is harder than the exercising,” said 48-year-old office manager Nancy Rodriguez, who has started regular one-mile walks through Navy Point since being assigned to “Team Patt” “I’ve had to give up sugar and white things. And my Coke. I love my Coke.”
Still, it’s working. Rodriguez has already lost 6 pounds. The competition ends Sept. 11.
Many of the contestants are already in fairly good shape. They’re on their feet constantly. Stretching for bottles of this. Lugging boxes of that.
(The teams were split so that all “the skinny waitresses” didn’t end up on one team, Rodriguez said.)
But, let’s face it. Bar culture doesn’t necessarily equate with health living.
There are plates of chicken wings passing by all the time. Alcohol is flowing. The hours are dark, always dark.
“Food and alcohol,” said Coti Taylor, a shaggy-haired bartender hoping to tone up and drop a few pounds. “And sleeping strange hours.”
Soon, Taylor is going through his stations. He squats and lifts with his hips, though the weight no longer seems like a feather.
He hits the push up board with gusto, doing pushups with his left hand on the elevated board, his right hand on the floor. Then, brutally, the left hand goes to the floor and the right hand goes to the board.
“Thirty seconds,” Porter barked at Taylor and his comrades at the various stations. “Switch.”
It looked painful, but Taylor emerged with a breathy “OK,” when asked how it was.
“They’re getting stronger every day,” Porter said with a proud nod. “But we have a ways to go.”
It won’t be easy.
Giving up Jagermeister has been “harder than giving up the sweets and cheese” Wake said.
Merritt said she loves her wine, but she’s given it up for protein shakes and water.
But the plan is to emerge healthier, more toned, maybe a bit lighter even.
What if the group is too successful and slims down bunches? Will new uniforms have to be ordered?
Mitchell thought about it for a second, the price tag running around in his head.
“We’ll just make them tuck the shirts farther down.”