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Originally published Friday, April 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM

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Curves gym finds new life in the Central District

When the owner of the Leschi Curves announced she was closing, Lisa Ingraham bought the machines and opened one herself.

Special to The Seattle Times

To check it out

Curves on Jackson

402 22nd Ave. S.

206-325-6200

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ONE BY ONE, the women at the Curves gym in Seattle's Central District lined up to talk — bubbling over with stories about how Curves had changed their bodies and their lives. They all mentioned how grateful they are to Lisa Ingraham for saving their gym.

"She made it happen," said Mary Beth Mead, 63.

Curves is a women-only gym chain that once was everywhere, espousing the benefits of a strength and cardio workout that could be done in 30 minutes or less.

As the concept took off, its devotees became fiercely loyal, which leads us to the Curves in the Central District.

Ingraham belonged to a Curves gym in the Leschi neighborhood. She liked the Curves system, which keeps you moving every 30 seconds to a new machine or a recovery board where you can do cardio. In and out in a flash.

Then the owner at Leschi told her people that she was closing up for personal reasons. The members met, and worried. The closest alternate Curves were in West Seattle and Ballard, too far for most.

Nobody else stepped forward, so Ingraham did the research. A King County social worker, she had just finished a master's degree at the University of Washington, and the 34-year-old was wondering what else to do with her spare time. The social worker in her wanted to help the community, especially seniors who relied on the gym as their main social and fitness outlet. She decided to open a Curves herself.

Her attitude, she said, was that even if it didn't work, "I'll learn a big lesson."

Ingraham bought the machines from the old location and emailed the Leschi membership continuous updates as she hunted for a space. She found it on South Jackson Street.

In September 2012, five months after the Leschi location closed, Curves on Jackson opened.

These days, women — clients range in age from 22 to 92 — show up at the spacious gym and hop onto one of 14 weight machines set up in a circle. A recorded voice tells them when to move and step onto the recovery boards, where they march vigorously and wave their arms around before moving on to the next machine.

They chat with each other and with a coach, who sometimes has to encourage them to talk less and push harder. (The faster you go on the hydraulic weight system, the harder it gets.)

Being there reaffirmed for me that a great community is key to staying fit.

Ann Lawrence lost 15 to 20 pounds at Curves. Lawrence, 73, says the gym is diverse socioeconomically as well as in age and ethnicity. She likes seeing people outside her own age group.

"It inspires me all the time," she says. "It keeps me moving in the right direction."

Mead, who lost 38 pounds through the Curves workout, says she gets free therapy there.

"I love being with women," she says. "I love how we push each other and support each other."

Ingraham still needs to reach another 30 or so clients to break even, but the gym is growing since a grand opening in February. The first week she opened, people were so excited they clapped for her and brought her muffins, chocolate and flowers. Now, "it's nice to walk in. People are happy."

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Alan Berner is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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