Vivid blue skies and fluffy clouds welcomed spectators at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Better Together Fitness Center in San Andreas on March 23. Alex Gonzales and Sarah Gray, the co-owners of the club, welcomed and thanked those in attendance.

Below the surface, however, a powerful bond and a touching journey detail how the two women crossed paths and made the decision to open the community fitness facility.

“We lived parallel lives,” Gray said, before they came together. The two entrepreneurs lost a mutual dear friend, which is what brought them together. They formed a friendship, and in the bond found the inspiration to start the gym; a place where community members can come and work together to counter life’s stresses and attain health and fitness goals.

“We always say tragedy to triumph … is how we feel about it. There was such a big tragedy, and we know that he wouldn’t have wanted us to stay down … we needed to do something,” Gray said. “(Our friend) believed in us more than a lot of people did – he always thought we were capable of great things, so that was like a driving force for us every time it got hard.”

Gonzales found solace in exercise and used it as a way to work through some difficult times in her life.

“My daughter Alex has suffered some catastrophic losses in the past four years. She lost her home to the Butte Fire, then she and Sarah lost a very dear friend to suicide. Throughout her struggles she has used exercise to combat depression and help her to heal and move forward,” said Jodine Mills, Gonzales’ mother. “She and Sarah have bonded over their loss and took their energies to create this beautiful facility for their community.”

Better Together Fitness is located where Calaveras Title Co. previously was. Gray’s grandmother worked in the building for 40 years as the office manager, according to Jennifer Barr, Gray’s stepmother. “I’m very proud of what they’ve done together up here – the transformation is incredible, and I hope they do really, really well,” Barr said.

The gym had a soft opening earlier this year, so it has already established a place in the community. The ribbon cutting saw a crowd of at least 40-50 friends, family and members.

“Opening a business where everybody feels welcome and to learn and grow in their health and wellness and fitness… that was the mission,” Gray said. “We’re really happy with the way that we decided to open – we did kind of a soft opening before the grand opening – and I think that that was a great way to go, because it allowed us to spend more individual time with each of our members.”

Both Gray and Gonzales are pleased with the success of the gym so far. They have morning, midday and evening workout crews, and up to 150 members have enrolled already.

“It’s like being able to breathe again – finally getting open. It was such a long haul and long nights, long mornings, being here for over 14 hours a day to try to get here,” Gonzales said. “So being open is relaxing and it’s so nice.”

Gonzales went on to say the duo is happy to have taken the leap, giving community members what they want.

“There hasn’t been something here for a long time, and we feel very blessed and excited to be the ones that have, so it’s just really been a lot of fun being open,” Gonzales said. “It’s nice to just be part of the community again.”

“Everyone seems really happy. I encourage everybody, that the more members we have, the more we can offer the community,” Gray said.

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