Teamwork focus of new strength-training gym

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  • TOP PHOTO Marcus Applegate squats a new personal record of 506 pounds at Beast Athletes Dec. 7, while owner Donny Tudahl cheers him on at the newly opened gym in Evergreen.

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    Beast Athletes owner Donny Tudahl squats more than 300 pounds during a practice.

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    Kristiana Konkol squats during Thursday night practice for the Beast Athletes Powerlifting Team. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Donny Tudahl cheers on his fiance, Kristiana Konkol, while Aaron Cross spots her during a Beast Athletes Powerlifting Team practice. Tudahl opened the gym Dec. 2 and will host a grand opening Jan. 6.

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    Tracy Blaylock, of Kalispell, lifts during squat practice while Aaron Cross spots her at Beast Athletes on Montana Highway 35. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Bert Stone, 30, of Bigfork cheers on Marcus Applegate during a Thursday squat practice.

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    Beast Athletes owner Donny Tudahl prepares to lift.

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    Marcus Applegate, of Columbia Falls, loads a barbell with weights Dec. 7 during squat practice for the Beast Athletes Powerlifting Team. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Beast Athletes owner Donny Tudahl gives a few pointers to 16-year-old Wyatt Jensen, of Kalispell, during squat practice Thursday, Dec. 7. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Aaron Cross, of Kalispell, squats at Beast Athletes, Dec. 7. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Aaron Cross, of Kalispell, lifts during squat practice for the Beast Athletes Powerlifting Team, Dec. 7. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Beast Athletes owner Donny Tudahl puts on his weightlifting belt during squat practice Dec. 7. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • TOP PHOTO Marcus Applegate squats a new personal record of 506 pounds at Beast Athletes Dec. 7, while owner Donny Tudahl cheers him on at the newly opened gym in Evergreen.

  • 1

    Beast Athletes owner Donny Tudahl squats more than 300 pounds during a practice.

  • 2

    Kristiana Konkol squats during Thursday night practice for the Beast Athletes Powerlifting Team. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 3

    Donny Tudahl cheers on his fiance, Kristiana Konkol, while Aaron Cross spots her during a Beast Athletes Powerlifting Team practice. Tudahl opened the gym Dec. 2 and will host a grand opening Jan. 6.

  • 4

    Tracy Blaylock, of Kalispell, lifts during squat practice while Aaron Cross spots her at Beast Athletes on Montana Highway 35. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 5

    Bert Stone, 30, of Bigfork cheers on Marcus Applegate during a Thursday squat practice.

  • 6

    Beast Athletes owner Donny Tudahl prepares to lift.

  • 7

    Marcus Applegate, of Columbia Falls, loads a barbell with weights Dec. 7 during squat practice for the Beast Athletes Powerlifting Team. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 8

    Beast Athletes owner Donny Tudahl gives a few pointers to 16-year-old Wyatt Jensen, of Kalispell, during squat practice Thursday, Dec. 7. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 9

    Aaron Cross, of Kalispell, squats at Beast Athletes, Dec. 7. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 10

    Aaron Cross, of Kalispell, lifts during squat practice for the Beast Athletes Powerlifting Team, Dec. 7. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 11

    Beast Athletes owner Donny Tudahl puts on his weightlifting belt during squat practice Dec. 7. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

The energy is palpable inside Beast Athletes.

It’s after 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, but the newly opened gym is a hub of activity. Nearly two dozen weightlifters mill about the 5,500-square-foot Evergreen facility, which opened its doors Dec. 2.

Rock music blasts over the speakers while members of the Beast Athletes Powerlifting Team rotate through the racks, squatting stacks of iron while their teammates encourage them on. In a far corner of the gym, Marcus Applegate psyches himself up for a lift, which could be a new personal record.

Applegate is built like an ox, with biceps the size of grapefruits and shoulders muscles that ripple across his back like a miniature mountain range. He tightens a leather belt around his waist and turns to face the rack. His friendly demeanor turns serious for the moment, and like a man on a mission, he charges over to the weights and sets his shoulders under the bar. By then, a crowd has assembled around him, ready to offer support.

Applegate lifts the loaded bar and sinks into a deep squat, his face contorting with effort. Behind him is gym owner Donny Tudahl, ready to grab the weight in case the load proves too heavy for Applegate. But to a raucous chorus, he straightens his legs, bringing the weight up with him to complete the rep.

Five hundred and six pounds.

Phew.

“It’s 100 percent you. You come in and work out and … it’s just you and the weight,” Tudahl said of lifting. “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond. If you leave it at the door, this is your getaway, it’s your therapy, it’s your whatever you need it to be.”

Not every member of the team is built like a bull. Yes, there are certainly a few serious lifters, but equally prevalent among the ranks are single moms, veterans and high school athletes. The athletes’ backgrounds are diverse, but they come for the same reasons — for the thrill of lifting iron from the floor and for the team that’s with them every step of the way.

It’s exactly the type of environment Tudahl had in mind when he opened the facility — a gym where serious work could be done, but that was also welcoming to fitness newcomers.

Tudahl’s own athletic journey began when he was introduced to the gym in the sixth grade. Fitness continued to play a big role throughout his life and the Bigfork native eventually worked his way up to becoming a free agent for the NFL. After medically retiring from football, Tudahl began his strength-training coaching career.

In 2014, he caught the powerlifting bug and won his first competition by a hefty 400-pound margin. Powerlifting is scored by the combined total of three movements — the deadlift, squat and bench press. Tudahl’s current PR is a total of 1,851 pounds — a 645-pound squat, 495-pound bench press and 711-pound deadlift.

But he stresses that while Beast Athletes is home to a 25-member powerlifting team, the gym is about more than just lifting heavy. Tudahl’s clientele ranges from elderly folks and wheelchair-bound people to serious athletes. More than a dozen trainers take clients at Beast Athletes, but the gym also offers an open membership without a coach. When it comes to coaching, Tudahl said his trainers are willing to work with almost any budget — group sessions with a max of three participants start at $15 each.

“Functional strength training is really, really important. It doesn’t mean a 500-pound bench press. It means, what’s wrong with you? — and let’s strengthen that,” Tudahl said. “It’s OK to suck. It’s OK to not know what you’re doing. My favorite clients are people who have never done it before. I teach them the correct way and they just grow so quickly.”

Tudahl said he also enjoys seeing the benefits of fitness cross over into his client’s daily lives.

Applegate is a prime example.

The Marine Corps machine gunner served for five years and was deployed three times — twice to Afghanistan and once in Yemen. When he first got out of the Corps, Applegate said he struggled to find direction. He closed himself off to friends both in and out of the service.

“I had no idea where I wanted to go, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life because up to that point it had all been military,” Applegate said. “I lost all my sense of direction and Beast Athletes essentially gave me something to focus on, gave me something to take every part of my past, everything that was going through my head and pinpoint it onto something.”

Since he’s started powerlifting, Applegate said he’s less depressed and less angry than he was eight months ago.

“At some point … in everyone’s life, they feel like they’re alone,” he said. “Being part of this team has showed me that I’m not. It’s given me that family feeling.”

Beast Athletes is located at 1430 Highway 35. For more information about the gym, visit www.beastathletes.com.

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

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