Stronger Together: Members of the F3 Nation in Helena reflect on faith, fellowship and fitness
Published 9:12 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2022
By Michelle Love
Photos By Adam Short
It’s 5:30 a.m. on a Friday morning, and the sun is barely peeking over the trees at the playground of Helena Elementary School. The members of the F3 Birmingham chapter in Helena (they refer to themselves as “The Pack”) are preparing for their morning workout. The AOQ, or Area of Operations Leader, Steven Lewis says the workout starts promptly at 5:30, and he wasn’t exaggerating.
This early-hour, physical endeavor has become routine for many of the men. Some of them are new, but after the session is over, all of them say they will be back.
For those unfamiliar with F3, it is a national network that includes 3,274 free, peer-led workouts for men in more than 250 regions. F3 stands for the three core values of the organization itself: Faith, Fellowship and Fitness. What started 11 years ago in Charlotte, North Carolina has since grown to more than 30 states and two countries with over 2,000+ scheduled workouts a week.
In the Birmingham area, there are more than 30 groups, including the “The Pack” in Helena, that meet five days a week. The Helena location started five years ago and meets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. According to Steven, they have, on average, 20 men who join the group on a given day.
“Some days, we could have 30 people, some days 10 people. It really just depends,” he says.
Steven was originally skeptical of joining the group, citing that he never dreamed of getting up at 5 a.m. to exercise. After finally caving to a friend’s pushing, he realized how different he felt being part of something that challenged him both physically and mentally. Two years later, he’s the AOQ. The “Q” means that person is responsible for the queue of exercises lined up for that day.
“The cool thing about it is it’s very fitness based, but it pushes you to a level of difficulty that’s just so challenging enough that you want to keep coming back,” he says. “And it’s not just physical, it’s mental and emotional.”
The core principles of the groups are that it is free of charge, open to all men, held outdoors rain or shine, every workout is peer led and every meeting must end with what is called a “Circle of Trust,” where whoever is leading the workout that day gives a devotional or inspiring word on how to either be a better father, be a better member of your community, or how to deal with things like anger.
Steven said those conversations push members to be more emotionally open and to motivate them to try harder at being the best husband, father, or just human being they can be.
In F3, members are encouraged to find leadership from within. Togetherness in friendship is just as important as the spiritual and physical aspects. For example, everyone who attends F3 from day one is given a nickname that sticks with you as long as you’re a member of the group. Everyone is also encouraged to lead a workout as soon as they feel comfortable to do so. It keeps participants on their toes, while also conveying that everyone is equal.
To member Landon Mumbower, F3 is more than just a social outlet. Landon says the group inspires him on a regular basis and encourages everyone involved to strive to be a better version of themselves. He’s lost 60 pounds since joining and feels more mentally and spiritually fulfilled with each meeting.
“I’ve never felt not good enough, but have been encouraged to get better 1 percent at a time,” he says. “We’re not looking for only the best, we’re looking for men to come as they are willing to get better.”
“F3 is important to me because of the strong sense of camaraderie that I haven’t experienced since my time in the military,” member Sean Roberts says. “There is a ‘small group’ mentality among us, and there is always a handful of men who will check in on you if you’re going through a rough time. There are men in different stages of fitness and faith, but we leave no man behind, both on and off the field.”
Several members used the same word when describing their experience with F3: Community. And when they say the group is open to all men, they mean men of all denominations, viewpoints and life experiences. There is no discrimination, only acceptance and encouragement to push yourself past your comfort zone to challenge yourself.
“It’s more than just a workout group,” F3 member Jason Waller says. “It’s a group of men who are willing to do hard things and push one another to get better, to not let you be complacent, but to help you grow. To have one another’s back, lift each other up and help one another with the challenges of life. It’s a community.”
When asked why he thinks the group has garnered such a following around the globe, Steven credited two specific aspects.
“I think the first aspect is it pulls on the natural desire for us to have an obstacle in front of us that’s hard to overcome,” he says. “When you have that obstacle in front of you, there are people who want to get past that and it just drives them to go forward and continue growing.”
The second aspect is the lack of social interaction groups that simultaneously allow men to open up to each other and also challenge them to be better.
“For years, men have been taught not to share or don’t let people know when you’re hurting or when you need help. F3 is the exact opposite,” Steven says. “Here, it’s understood that we’re in this together, and whatever is out there, we’re going to overcome it together. It drives people out of that negative space and shows them they aren’t alone.”
For those interested in joining the Helena chapter of F3, visit F3birmingham.com/workout-locations/ , or text or call Steven Lewis at (205) 907-1664 for more information.