Jai Gordon (left) and three other trainers from GymRatz Athletics: Neyo Harrison, Unique Harrison and Nicole Carter

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Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

At her day job, she’s known as Officer Jai Gordon. Around the neighborhood, she’s known as the woman who’s bringing a brand new fitness center to Cobbs Creek.

The new gym, which launches over Labor Day weekend, is the culmination of a long-simmering project. Back in 2012, Gordon turned 30 — and completely changed her life. That’s the year she reached out to a body builder in San Diego for fitness tips. Next thing she knew, a childhood friend called on her for the same thing.

Gordon began training the friend, who ended up losing 90 lbs over 7 months.

“That one situation with one of my friends really helped me find what my purpose was,”  said Gordon, now 37, “and I’ve been going ever since.”

She’s been going hard. Gordon established an apparel brand in 2013, and then turned it into personal training company, which now boasts a team of four trainers and an average of 35 clients. Fellow trainers Neyo Harrison, Unique Harris and Nicole Carter keep the business going — especially when Gordon is working her full time job as a Philadelphia Police officer in the 22nd District.

An average day for Gordon can start as early as 5:30 a.m. and go well into the evening thanks to after-work training sessions. But from 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 1, the fruits of her labor will culminate in a day of family-friendly fun and the grand opening of the GymRatz Athletics gym in West Philadelphia.

‘I put a gym right in the hood’

Born and raised in Southwest, Gordon still lives on the same block where she grew up. She said there’s a specific need for health and fitness education — which she feels is missing in the Black community and in schools.

“We lead the nation in obesity,” Gordon told Billy Penn. “We also lead the nation in childhood obesity. It should be a top priority in our community because if you’re not well, you can’t do anything.”

She wrote on Instagram, “I put a gym right in the hood for my community. We all in this together. We all need to prioritize our health and GymRatz Athletics is here to help you believe that.”

Nyree Bright is a friend of Gordon’s who worked with her in the police department and during their time in the military.

“I went to school at 60th and Cedar,” said Bright, a West Philly native. “We don’t have those kinds of people in the neighborhood that care. And she really cares about the kids.”

Since starting GymRatz Athletics, Gordon and her team have been giving back to the community through pop-up boot camps, nutrition education and speaking engagements. They did some with the Girl Scouts and also at an event hosted by Pa. Rep. Joanna McClinton.

Gordon has a special gift, said Bright, for working with children. Through GymRatz, she teaches kids how important eating well is to overall health. “She teaches them how to be whole,” Bright said.

From basement to brick-and-mortar

For the past five years, Gordon and her team have been training the three-dozen GymRatz clients in Gordon’s own basement. But in September 2018, she bought a property at 6157 Larchwood Ave. One year later, it’ll open as a new community gym.

Sunday’s event is a hybrid grand opening and community give-back celebration that includes the 2nd Annual Family Fit Day and a back-to-school book bag and supply giveaway.

“I just wanted family and friends to come out and just be fit for one day,” Gordon said about the new yearly event. “And that one day might change somebody’s life or motivate somebody to take better care of themselves.”

A Zumba class and health coach session are on tap for the day, along a waterslide, other kids activities, a DJ and free fruit and water donated by Shoprite and Fresh Grocer. Friends, strangers and clients donated school supplies and backpacks for the giveaway, Gordon said, plus she went around to neighborhood barbershops and beauty salons to get styling vouchers for children.

Another member of the Philadelphia Police Department’s 19th District also owns his own personal training company and will be bringing a full obstacle course to the block.

And, said Gordon, “people can come and see the gym!”

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Layla A. Jones

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...