On a chilly morning outside Alexander Graham Middle School in Charlotte, 25 sweaty guys end a workout in a huddle, heads down, arms on each other’s backs, sharing a prayer. It’s the same place a movement called F3 — fitness, fellowship and faith — started almost four years ago, encouraging men to run, bend and bond. F3 doesn’t have a paid staff or dues, and attendance isn’t tracked. But thousands of men in more than a dozen North Carolina and South Carolina cities show up, typically two or three times a week, for 5:30 a.m. workouts that mix running, sprinting and exercises such as squats and push-ups with a touch of spirituality. The group’s mission is to “reinvigorate male community leadership,” says Tim Whitmire, a business-development officer for Charlotte-based tech company DealCloud Inc. He started F3 in 2011 with Dave Redding, a lawyer at Tison Redding PLLC in Charlotte. Workouts follow several tenets: They must be free, open to any fitness level, held in a publicly accessible location, led by a participant and close with a nonsectarian prayer, which F3 calls a “Circle of Trust.” Only men are invited because organizers believe guys need a place to be guys. Community service such as mentoring elementary-school students is encouraged. While F3’s website says the group is open to those of all faiths or no faith, members are overwhelmingly Christian.
Organizers are ambitious about growth, with F3 expanding into other states including Louisiana and Virginia through word-of-mouth, social media and a website. Networking is an obvious draw for the mostly 30- and 40-something professionals who make up most F3 participants. But the group’s most distinctive feature may be its insistence that guys give each other goofy nicknames such as Spooky Jon and Purple Crayon. The names are often insulting in a good-natured way, which Redding says helps F3 men see themselves as part of something more than a fitness group. “It adds to the mystique,” says Scott “Easy Rings” Williams, a Raymond James Financial Inc. bond trader in Charlotte. His nickname’s origin is too convoluted to explain, but it has to do with the basketball team at UNC Chapel Hill, where he played and his father, Roy, coaches.
Chatting after their predawn Charlotte workout, Williams and Bank of America Corp. consumer-lending sales director Steve “Blue” Hitzemann agreed that F3 offers a welcoming place in an often-cold world. “It’s talking to this guy,” says Hitzemann, looking to his friend. “It’s meeting buddies. That’s the biggest thing for me.” Says Williams, “I tell my wife it’s like growing up in the tree-house club.”