Three years ago, retiring Army physical therapist Sandra Elliott wrote a letter from Germany to Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler to let him know her family intended to play an active role upon their arrival in the city.
She wasn’t kidding about the active part.
Tuesday, Elliott and her business partner and husband, Ron Elliott, broke ground on the first phase of their new Georgia Game Changers Health and Fitness Center on 5 acres along Ford Avenue near I-95.
The first phase is expected to be complete by Jan. 1, though that could change. The groundbreaking comes about 18 months after the couple built their first business, Georgia Game Changers Running Company, near Kroger.
Designed by Maupin Engineers and financed by United Community Bank, the Game Changer Fitness Center will initially include a 16,000-square-foot building and an outdoor running track.
A second building will run along the side and developers also are seeking a healthy foods restaurant for the parcel.
Health-related businesses, such as Coastal Therapy, CrossFit Ogeechee and Power Yoga, also are expected to be a part of the center, which will cost slightly less than $10 million when finished, Ron Elliott said.
But nobody talked about the cost or expected profits at Tuesday’s groundbreaking.
“Those who work with (Sandra) know it’s not about money, it’s not about selling shoes. It’s about making a difference in people’s lives in this city, in Bryan County and in coastal Georgia,” Ron Elliott said, noting as a physical therapist his wife worked with soldiers in the military and dreamed of doing the same for others as a civilian.
The couple said faith played its part in their decisions to start Georgia Game Changers Running Company and now build a fitness center.
“I’m a firm believer nothing that we do is without the hand of God in it,” Ron Elliott said.
Sandra Elliott said the company’s name comes from the Bible.
“The phrase ‘game changer’ came up several times in one week, and when we got to Bible study and I heard these same words, I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do something with this,’” she said. “That’s when I came up with the name.”
Elliott said critics told her the name was too long for a business, but she stuck with it. The store’s positive message of being “game changers” in all aspects of one’s life and its constant presence at community events has won the store success — and friends.
“I met Ron last year about this time,” said Staff Sgt. Jeff Sullivan, a retiring Army MP who was among those who participated in the ground breaking. “He partnered up with the military when we did the Run Across Georgia, and that’s when I kind of rediscovered the love for running I had when I was younger.”
Sullivan said he’d lost that love because the Army has its way of running: ‘“You’re going to run the way we say you’re going to run, and you’re going to run as far as we say you’re going to run,’ — and that took its toll.”
A back injury sidelined Sullivan, but through clinics at Georgia Game Changers and his interaction with the Elliotts, “I found I could run again,” he said.
Sullivan, who is retiring and won’t be here to see the center finished, said he wishes the Elliotts success and plans on visiting.
“They’re a great family. They’ve done a lot for this community and they’ve built the running community up so much,” he said.
Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler also was among those who participated in Tuesday’s groundbreaking. He said Game Changers Fitness Center is a great fit for the city.
“These are the types of businesses we enjoy having,” Fowler said. “It fits in well with our small-town atmosphere. They’ve done very well with their store and we look forward to their expanding.”
Fowler also likes the owners’ business philosophy, which Sandra Elliott said is described best by something she heard from motivational speaker Zig Ziglar.
“There’s something he always says, which is that you can have anything you want in life if you help enough people get what they want,” Elliott said. “That really is the heart of this business.”
Fowler said it’s not always easy to get businesses to give back to the community, though many do. The Elliotts are among those who do, he said.
“They’re not coming in here to see what they can get out of the community,” he said. “They’re here giving something back. That’s what really makes a difference.”