TOFTE, Minn. (WCCO) – When Tangee Harrison lost her job, she lost her identity and her peace of mind, too.
“Well, I’m depressed,” she recalled. “I think I’ll go to KFC and get an 8-ounce bucket and eat it all by myself, in darkness and shame, because God forbid anybody sees me eat like that.”
One day, she woke up and decided to make a change. She sat down at the computer and started researching spas.
“Something in my head went, it’s not a spa you need,” Harrison said. “You’re really unhappy with your body — do something about that.”
She googled “boot camp” and ended up finding Fitness North, a new luxury, live-in boot camp in Tofte, Minnesota. Located at Surfside on Superior, on the North Shore, it was co-founded by O’Neal Hampton, the Minnesota man who was on The Biggest Loser.
“The first few days, your body will say, ‘How dare you do this to me? I’m gonna shut down, I’m gonna stop, I’m gonna ache, I’m gonna get sore, I’m gonna teach you not to do this to me,’” Hampton said.
His business partner, Sheryl Babbitt, believes Fitness North teaches its participants that they’re a lot stronger than they think they are.
“Your mind will shut off before your body does,” she said. “And when they think that they’ve had enough, we push them to that next level.”
Harrison’s first full day of the two-week camp session started in late February.
“It’s intense,” she said then. “I can’t believe so much of the day has already gone by.”
It was lunchtime, and Harrison had already exercised for three hours and hiked for two more.
The trainers push the campers to go harder and faster.
“I am so tired,” Harrison said, “but it’s good.”
She is spending more than $4,000 to get whipped into shape.
“I would have spent this on bigger clothes and pastry and doctor bills,” she said. “So I should spend it on me.”
Fitness North rates run anywhere from $3,300 on up for a two-week stay. Like most places on the North Shore, it costs a little more in summer and fall.
When Harrison weighed in, she was 198 pounds. Forty percent of that weight was fat.
“I just really thought I was going to die if I didn’t change what I was doing,” she said.
At dinnertime, Harrison and the other women in her townhome have to make supper themselves with only a handful of ingredients — no butter, no salt, no cheese, no beer, no milk, no bread.
That evening, there was ice on Lake Superior, and ice on the knees of the campers at the fitness lecture.
“We’re gonna have our weak moments,” lead trainer Leif Anderson told the campers. “We’re gonna have our breaking points.”
The next morning it was still dark when the campers headed to their first workout. Their 5 a.m. workout was a grueling circuit training session. They worked out again at 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. At 10, they went hiking on steep terrain near Tofte.
It’s intense, but Harrison is up for it.
“I have a 15-year-old son who’s never seen me anything but fat,” she said. “I’ve neglected myself. It’s always, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow.’ And the next thing you know, 15 years have gone by and at some point, you have to say, ‘That’s enough, it’s me time.’”
Seven weeks later, Harrison is at her home in St. Paul. She’s 25 pounds lighter, strong enough to beat up the punching bag in her living room and to resist a Reese’s peanut butter cup.
“I can have that anytime I want, once I’ve hit my goals, and I’m in maintenance,” Harrison said. ”It’s like I’m not living in a never-again universe. It’s just not right now.”
Harrison runs almost every day and does group fitness classes, too. She gets advice over the phone and online from a Fitness North wellness coach. If she wants to check in with her fellow Fitness North campers, she just jumps on Facebook for instant encouragement.
“It’s not about a Reese’s peanut butter cup, it’s not about sleeping another 30 minutes in the morning, it’s about getting where I want to go,” she said.
These days, Harrison has a problem she only dreamed about before — clothes that don’t fit.
“I can’t wear any of this anymore, like this dress,” she said, while holding up a short-sleeve black number. “I loved this dress, but it’s like a tent on me now.”
Harrison is still looking for a permanent job, though she’s made some money working as a culinary assistant at Fitness North. Even though the boot camp cost a lot of money, Harrison has no regrets.
“I don’t regret one cent I spent. I don’t regret one moment of pain I went through while I was up there, I really don’t. It was worth it. It’s changed who I am,” she said.
It’s changed her into someone faster, stronger and happier than she ever thought she could be.
Watch Amelia Try A Workout At The Boot Camp!
Paula Engelking, Producer