“When you’re not allowed to give up, you change”

FLINT, Michigan -- Words from a former wrestling coach have left a lasting impact on Flint’s Jake Saldaña: “Get uncomfortable with the uncomfortable, then you’ll never be uncomfortable again.”


As Latinx business owners in Flint, Jake and Ashleigh Saldaña have created a place inside Sal’s Gym (1113 University Avenue) where members of the community can challenge themselves and meet other people wanting the same thing: growth.


Jake grew up on the corner of Avenue A and Rankin with his large Hispanic family. His grandfather moved to Flint to work for Buick without being able to speak English. The same grit and tenacity found in his ancestors has always been flowing through Jake’s veins. He knew one day he wanted to give back to the city his family came to in his own way.


“When I found wrestling, it humbled me when I got held down by another person against my will,” he said. “And I thought I was the toughest person. You need to get checked. You need to do things that are hard. When you're not allowed to give up, you change.”


Jake and Ashleigh both were heavily involved in coaching wrestling and gymnastics when they met. As their relationship grew so did their vision to live life in an extraordinary way and take risks together. When they started dreaming of opening a gym in Flint, people didn't understand their vision. With the same courage as his grandfather and with the support and teamwork with Ashleigh, three years ago the Saldaña’s finally opened their gym in Flint.


The Saldaña’s have always felt they were “destined” for the space they have created at Sal’s Gym. They have overcome more than just the struggles of a new business, they have overcome the uncomfortable. The pandemic created new challenges and necessity brought out their creativity.


Sal’s gym originally started out as a crossfit gym, but the style and mode of their programs didn’t feel authentic to who they were and what they wanted their gym to be. At first, when the original lockdown was put in place last year, Sal’s switched to zoom classes and eventually over the year they were able to switch to individualized workouts for their members.


“We’re always trying to figure out how to make things better,” Ashleigh said, noting that Sal’s Gym was able to retain 99 percent of its members during this difficult time.


“We really grew a lot from it and we were able to make our business our own and more fantastic,” Jake said.


They remained accessible and creative while supporting their members who wanted to continue growing during the pandemic. After the last 11 months of lockdowns and quarantines, the Saldañas feel they are finally true to themselves and living authentically. On any day of the week, they can be found at the gym coaching and encouraging members. Both of their children play in the gym and have essentially grown up watching their parents sacrifice to build a business and give back to the community.


The Saldañas have several visions and goals for their future with a focus on more community outreach programs. “Now it is about continuing to keep running that flame and keeping it lit and trying to keep growing with our members because that's the one thing that this transition has done is allowed us to do is grow with the people,” Jake said.


They hope to eventually expand and create programs for teenagers and kids in the community. As coaches they have both exhibited the ability to share their knowledge but also adapt to the different people they work with in the gym. Their focus on community, growth, and overcoming discomfort over and over have brought them to the place where they are now


“There's people of all different walks of life in here. It's true,” Jake said. “You know, and you can learn a lot from other people as long as you have those meaningful conversations.”

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Read more articles by Jenifer Veloso.