On a warm day in early September, 50 Brick Bodies club staffers sit inside the dark conference room of the fitness club's Reisterstown location. One by one, they present the company's marketing strategies, corporate membership numbers, and retention statistics.
After an hour or so, there's a short break, but sensing that the energy has been sucked out of an otherwise energetic group, Lynne Brick—decked out in a black and purple leopard print dress and a gold and diamond lettered Brick Bodies necklace—raises the dimmer switch, races to the front of the room in her black platform sandals, and leads the group in a spontaneous shoulder roll exercise. She calls it an "energy breakout session."
"Feet flat on the floor!" she instructs. "Button up the imaginary zipper that runs down your middle, and place your shoulders in your back hip pocket!"
The whole routine lasts less than a minute—and no one gets out of their conference room seats—but if anyone was asleep on the job, they are fully awake now.
"That's what I do," says Brick, a former nurse at Maryland Shock Trauma. "I get people moving."
As president of Brick Bodies Fitness Services Inc., Lynne Brick—a woman who never took so much as a business class in college—can lay claim to owning one of the largest health-club chains in Maryland. (Combined membership from the five co-ed Brick Bodies, two female-only Lynne Brick's Health Clubs, and nine Planet Fitness franchises totals more than 70,000.) Clients such as Sandy Unitas (wife of the late Colts legend, Johnny), former Raven Brad Jackson, and ABC2 News anchor Megan Pringle can be seen getting physical at one of her clubs—which boast the latest and greatest in equipment and classes that cater to everyone from hard-body types to members who are grappling with medical issues.
This year, the club celebrates its 25th anniversary—a major milestone in the fickle business of fitness.
And the House of Brick is a family affair. Husband Victor is cofounder and CEO. Their daughter, Vicki, 29, is a manager at the Reisterstown Brick Bodies. Son, Jon, 25, is a manager in training.
Says Vicki, "To me, she is just my mom, but as I travel to fitness conventions, I have people from all over the world telling me that she is one of the pioneers of the fitness industry. She has a presence when she is in the clubs—everyone knows when Lynne Brick is in the building!"
The 55-year-old Brick is front and center at all her gyms, zipping around in her red 2004 Jaguar sports car between locations, teaching Zumba at Lynne Brick's Owings Mills, lifting weights at Brick Bodies Padonia, and doing an inspection walk-through at Brick Bodies Downtown.
"Both Lynne and Victor really embody that fitness lifestyle," says Joe Moore, president and CEO of International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, which represents close to 10,000 fitness facilities globally. "They came from that culture of healthy living and movement, and they believe so fervently in the product."
"I would describe Lynne as a positive force of nature," says David Patchell-Evans, a longtime Brick friend and founder of GoodLife Fitness, one of the largest fitness chains in Canada. "She tells everyone, from her children to her husband to other women, 'You can do it!' and it's not an act. That's why she is such a success."
In person, Lynne Brick is the embodiment of fitness and health. (That "brick body" branding is no mere slogan.) But she is also living proof that even the healthiest of bodies can still be broken down by illness.
On Jan. 19, 2001, Brick was awakened by Victor in the middle of the night. "He said, 'Lynne, Lynne, I think you had a bad dream. Your arms went up in the air, you lost bladder control, and you started convulsing,'" she recalls. "And I said, 'Honey, that wasn't a bad dream, that was a grand mal seizure, and we need to get to the ER right now.'"
A CAT scan and an MRI showed a meningioma, a non-malignant tumor on her right frontal lobe.
"I felt like my body had betrayed me," she says.
Within weeks, Greater Baltimore Medical Center neurosurgeon Reginald Davis was hired to perform a full craniotomy. "He said, 'We are going to cut you from temple to temple, pull your face off, drill a hole in your skull, scoop out the tumor, send it off for biopsy just to be sure,'" recounts Brick matter-of-factly. "'And when we pull your skin back up, do you want me to make it a little bit tighter?' And I said, 'Of course you're going to make it tighter!'"
As Brick made her way down the GBMC halls to surgery, she remembers a nurse asking for pointers on how to lose weight.
"It was so typical of me," she chuckles. "Here I am going in for brain surgery, and I'm walking with my arm around the nurse comforting her."
Surviving the tumor marked a turning point in Brick's life.
"Go, go, go was my middle name," she says, "and an important part of living is stopping. I needed to take the time to relax and to meditate. It's not about just going. It's about stopping and the healing therapy of taking time for me."
From the get-go, growing up in Lutherville, Brick had tremendous drive and determination.
"I was Type-A all the way," she says. "I was a first-born child. My dad, Tony [Grandi] was the assistant director of communications and data systems at NASA and helped put a man on the moon. I always said I wanted to be the first woman on the moon. If you reach for the moon, even if you miss, you land among the stars."
Brick discovered the theater arts while a student at Dulaney High School. She considered dancing professionally, but she was also strong in the sciences. Ultimately, she attended Towson University, where she majored in nursing and minored in dance.
While at Towson, Brick met Victor. It was love at first sight, at least for him. "I was a dancer, and he was always in the gym," Lynne recalls. One day, Lynne passed through the gym on her way to dance class. Victor turned to a friend and said, "That's the woman I'm going to marry."
Initially, her parents weren't crazy about the courtship. "They said, 'He's just a gym rat,'" says Lynne. "They didn't have any idea that we were going to own the gym."
For his part, Victor saw the incredible potential in his future wife. "I saw this spark," he says. "A twinkle in the eye. She was this beautiful girl with a gleam in her eye who had a mix of determination, energy, and excitement."
After graduating from Towson in 1978, Brick started her job at Shock Trauma and married Victor all within the course of two weeks.
"That's how I've always done things in my life," she says. "With a bang."
Brick worked full time at Shock Trauma for three years, until Vicki was born in 1981 at which point she went part time. She also decided to join an exercise class.
"I was looking to get back in shape," says Brick.
Meanwhile, Victor answered an ad to teach fitness classes to overweight women at the Bel Air Athletic Club, the Towson Merritt, and several other area gyms.
Recalls Lynne, "He thought, 'I like sports, I'll get them to jump rope, run around the track, and play volleyball.'"
But at the time, aerobics was all the rage (think Jane Fonda and Olivia Newton-John), so the women all showed up in leotards and tights—ready to aerobicize.
Says Lynne: "Victor was like, 'Wait a minute. Lynne is a dancer. I'll get her to teach!'"
There was one tiny hitch: Brick had never even taken an aerobics dance class let alone taught one. Still, never one to shy away from a challenge, she took a crash course in aerobics by watching Morning Stretch: Joanie Greggains.
"While I was watching, I would turn to Victor and say, 'If Joanie Greggains can do that, I can do that,'" she says with a laugh.
And she could.
Turns out, Brick was a natural teacher with her own unique style.
A few months after their first foray into aerobics, Brick and Victor started their own fitness program at Green Spring Racquet Club.
By August 1985, the Bricks purchased their first health club, a 16,000-square-foot space (with a bar area and a cigarette machine—hey, it was the '80s) on Padonia Road.
"The first six months, we were struggling," admits Brick. "We didn't even know what to wear to work that first day, and every time we had to make payroll, we'd cry."
One day, she and Victor were standing at the top of the steps, watching the members file in, and they had an epiphany.
"We were feeling so miserable on the inside, but we realized we just loved helping people," she says. "We were not going to allow anything to break us down. They were going to drive us out on our deathbed before we were going to let that club fail."
By 1991, Brick Bodies Padonia was named one of the Top 25 Gyms in the United States by Self magazine, and the Bricks had paved their way.
Despite her vow to slow down, Brick's version of taking it easy would exhaust anyone else. She works countless hours overseeing the Brick empire, and her schedule is routinely jam-packed with charity events, public speaking, blogging, and a new motivational book that she's writing.
"While my pace does not appear to have slowed down [since my illness], I make deliberate choices," says Brick. "I choose what and where I need to put my energy and focus. I've learned the importance of 'triage-ing' my life."
The couple's relationship was affected by Lynne's illness as well. The duo now have daily "dates" at Starbucks and take annual vacations with their kids.
"We both realize that every day is truly a gift," Victor says, "and that we need to make the most of it. We spend a lot more time together now outside of work, and I make her slow down."
Victor has not been surprised by his wife's show of strength in the face of adversity. "One of my favorite poems is about [a woman] named Mary Lou Wingate," he says. "It goes, 'Mary Lou Wingate/As slightly made/And hard to break as a rapier blade.' A rapier blade is made of tempered steel—delicate but hard to break—and that's Lynne."