Friday, July 6, 2007

The R&B rhythms from Beyonce bounce off the mirrored walls of the compact fitness studio, and Darnell Wallace gasps for breath as beads of sweat from his face pepper the carpet like a hard rain.

He is determined to finish this set of push-ups, buoyed by his forceful yet sympathetic instructor.

She is relentless.

“I’m kicking their butts,” said Jane Greene whose program combines strength training with running and very little time to catch your breath. She just turned 61 but she looks more like a fitness trainer in her early 40s .

Another recruit, JoAnne, is visibly exhausted 30 minutes into a one-hour workout. But she, too, dutifully carries on, answering, “Yes ma’am,” when urged to push herself harder.

Ms. Greene, known as GI Jane, opened GI Jane Fitness in Capitol Hill in 1993. Shortly after, she moved it to the current location on Eighth Street in the Eastern Market on the Hill.

The boot-camp workout philosophy closely resembles the physical training of soldiers. The workout is effective because it engages the entire body — heart and muscles — by going from one exercise to another with no rest.

For Ms. Greene, GI Jane Fitness is more than a business. It is an expression of her penchant for healthy living.

Raised in the strictest of Catholic families in Anacostia, she is one of 10 children and not the only child to take a special interest in physical fitness. Her older sister, whom she lived with while attending St. Francis De Sale School in Northeast, was a professional bodybuilder in the 1950s.

But more than anyone else, her father provided her strong will and endless drive.

“He would come home from work, and we would all stand at attention,” she said. “He was an awesome presence. He gave us the work ethic.”

Horace Greene, who worked as an offset printer and bookbinder in the District, served in the Army during the Korean War and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Instead of heading straight into college, as the Vietnam War continued on a seemingly interminable path, she followed her father into service and signed up for the Foreign Service in the State Department. Based in Europe and Greece throughout the 1970s and 1980s, she watched from Germany as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese.

During her service on various military bases, she also watched with a keen eye the soldiers’ fitness routines.

“I thought it was interesting that they obeyed their commander so firmly,” she said. “They had a leader who kept them in shape.”

She came back from overseas in the early 1980s ready to begin a career in business.

But GI Jane Fitness would have to wait several more years to become a reality. Instead, Ms. Greene went to the Small Business Administration as a contract specialist to help entrepreneurs with their own businesses.

Armed with a degree in business management from Berlin University in Germany, she toiled for the federal government for a decade. Then, feeling “unfulfilled and empty,” she looked to her religious upbringing and decided it was time to return to her roots. In 1997, she was born again.

“Things got to point where I was looking around at mankind to make things happen and I wasn”t getting it,” she recalled. “It was time to look somewhere else.”

From that point forward, she said, life has been filled with peace and prosperity. Always fanatical about working out and eating healthy foods, she began teaching the first boot-camp classes out of her apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast.

Her first clients came from Gallaudet University. Because the campus was so close to her home, many students lived in the same building. With marketing consisting of paper advertisements posted in hallways and exits, the boot-camp fitness program was born.

“Before I knew it, I had a house full of students working out in my living room,” she said.

It wasn”t long before she gave all her furniture away to make a room for a more adequate workout space. In 1997, Fox News did a story on the burgeoning success of her workout style, known already as the boot-camp workout. After the story aired, Ms. Greene said she fielded phone calls from across the country seeking advice on how to conduct a boot camp.

A widow since 1979, she said her busy lifestyle does not allow time for relationships. Instead she is consumed with helping others attain their physical and mental fitness. She is a taskmaster, but underlying her GI Jane persona is a genuine hope and compassion for her clients.

Between going to Mass both Saturday and Sunday at Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church at 14th and East Capitol streets in Southeast Washington and teaching workout classes, she spent last weekend studying for classes she takes online at Ashworth University in pursuit of a master”s degree in business administration.

“I try to emulate my father. Just like we knew he had our best interests at heart, they know I”m a good person,” she said. “So they don”t mind me being rough with them. It”s just like dad.”

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