The Gym of Aspen struck by hardship, owner perseveres |

The Gym of Aspen struck by hardship, owner perseveres

Despite adversity, The Gym of Aspen will be opening in a new space on Mill Street Jan. 1

Vince Contreras with his children after he was diagnosed with Stage 5 kidney failure.
Courtesy photo

The Gym of Aspen closed Nov. 1, after nearly 10 years of serving the community. However, as the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. That’s how the owner, Vince Contreras, came to look at it. 

The news of the closure came as somewhat of a surprise to Contreras, who said by the time he was getting his investors together, he was told that the building owner, Bill Murphy, was going in a different direction. 

With the gym’s reputation and presence in the community, Contreras was hoping the lease would be extended to him. However, he learned there will be a new, higher-end gym opening in the former location.

“I believed that he was just extending it because he wanted the gym to stay the same, and I don’t see it staying the same,” said Contreras. 

He found out the lease was being taken over by someone else the day before The Gym of Aspen’s was going to end. Still, Contreras spoke about the events leading to the closure with nothing but empathy and understanding. 

“He has bills to pay, too,” said Contreras. “I’m trying to have empathy and to think of what people are going through and why they do what they do.” 

“I’m not losing,” he said. “I’m learning.”

However, before the lease extension was looming in his mind, Contreras was busy fighting another battle. His health.

Fall down seven times …

Last January, Contreras was in a car accident that left him with ongoing neck pain that lasted several months. In June, he woke up pleasantly surprised that he was in no pain. With this, he decided it was time for a hike. 

While he was lacing up his hiking shoes, he felt an internal shift, something had gone off-kilter. He fell over and started losing his hearing and eyesight. He began slurring his words. 

“I called my girlfriend, she’s a PA, and I said, ‘Hey, how do you know you’re having a stroke?”‘ said Contreras. 

At the time, he was with his ex-wife, Jennie, and his three children. Feeling stubborn, Contreras advised Jennie that he didn’t think calling an ambulance would be necessary. He thought that perhaps the pain would fade. That is, until he got up and fell again. 

Jennie called an ambulance, which came within 20 minutes. When Vince arrived at Aspen Valley Hospital, he was vomiting and his blood pressure had shot up over 200. 

Upon learning he had in fact suffered a stroke, he was also diagnosed with Stage 5 kidney failure. From Aspen Valley Hospital, Contreras was transferred to an ICU in Denver. 

“I woke up in a room with tubes and all that stuff, and it was pretty scary,” said Contreras. 

After his release from the hospital, the long recovery process was looming ahead. Three times a week, Vince makes the two-hour trek from Aspen to Grand Junction to undergo dialysis for four hours at a time. 

“If he doesn’t, then he literally could die from the toxins building up in his body due to his kidneys not working,” said Jennie Contreras. 

Within the next six to 12 months, Vince will need a kidney replacement. While he waits, dialysis is essential to his health. 

Still, while The Gym of Aspen was still open, he would carve out time to train clients.

“He still would schedule clients that he could work on or train with before he had to leave for Grand Junction,” said Jennie Contreras. “And he started doing that immediately after he got out of the rehab facility.”

“He’s literally walking with a cane, and he’s training clients and showing up for them,” she said.

Losing the lease for the gym was just the icing on the cake, he said..

“I’m a firm believer that we get knocked out seven times to get back up eight,” he said. 

A community space

The gym could be described as a real luxury — not in the terms of high-end prices or fancy equipment. It was luxurious in the sense of community and belonging. It filled a gap in Aspen.

For locals and visitors alike, The Gym of Aspen was a community hub. It offered sturdy equipment that got the job done, and perhaps even more importantly, people supported each other through their goals and hardships. 

The equipment was hand painted red, adding a personal touch. Photos of bodybuilders hung on the walls, with trophies lined up on shelves. People sat on the couch in front when they had nowhere else to be, or preferred the company of the gym’s patrons over the confinement of Aspen apartments. This became especially true as Aspenites bogged down during pandemic lockdowns. 

“We noticed a lot of people would come to the gym, and it was just like, there was always a couch there,” said Jennie Contreras. “It was a place where they could kind of escape, and just feel like they have their own space for a moment and not always be stuck in their little apartment.”

The clientele was broad, from un-housed people in the valley to ultra-wealthy out-of-towners. 

“It doesn’t matter who you were, and how much you made,” said Contreras. “It was going to be the same.” 

Andrew Parrot wrote in Aspen Daily News that The Gym of Aspen was like riding the RFTA, in that you have the opportunity to “meet the people who make our town turn.”

Ray Cooke, a trainer at the gym, echoed the sentiment, saying the gym had the feel of a barber shop or a coffeehouse.

“Everybody knew everybody,” said Cooke. “It was like a close-knit family.”

One door closes, another opens

Upon learning that the space The Gym of Aspen was in was going to be taken over, Contreras got to work securing a new space. 

He reached out to Mark Hunt, a well-known Aspen developer, asking if he had any places available. Hunt was eager to find Contreras a space. 

“Without his help, this wouldn’t be possible,” said Contreras. “For him to go out of his way for someone little like me, that’s a big thing. That says he does care about community,” 

With this, The Gym of Aspen will be reopening Jan. 1 on Mill Street. Contreras said the new gym will offer the same experience as the former location, just in a smaller space.

“I don’t care what it takes,” said Contreras. “I’ll be there to make this work.”

There is a GoFundMe for Vince Contreras still taking donations.