Many experts have likened the rush of endorphins— chemicals linked with pleasure and happiness in our brains—that comes with physical exercise to the impact of controlled substances on our bodies. For fitness aficionados like Beto Boggiano, the positive impact of exercise keeps on giving in all aspects of his life, long after the initial rush has subsided.
“It puts you in a good place, said Boggiano, owner of Pure Austin Fitness. “It’s good for business and good for relationships.” For Boggiano, who has been sober since he gave up alcohol in 1982, the multitude of benefits that come with exercise became much more readily apparent after he quit drinking. “I was always active as a kid, but that’s when I really started seeing—this really takes the edge off of anything.”
Alcoholism is often dealt with by stripping yourself of what’s not necessary, learning to deal with your feelings and figuring out what you were running from. “You don’t need fitness to stay sober, I’m not saying that,” he added. “It’s one of the things that makes me enjoy staying sober.”
In the late 1990s, there were only a few gyms in Austin, as this was before the arrival of the huge national gyms. Boggiano, who had studied biology (St. Edward’s University, 1991) and genetics (UT El Paso, 1994), sensed that something was missing in the city’s fitness scene. What he created—a large, modern space where everyone feels comfortable enough to hang out and interact, maybe grab a smoothie and take a yoga class—has become the model for many other gyms. Almost 13 years later, it’s a vision he still believes in, even though there were naysayers at the time.
“People believed in it! I was really shocked at the response,” said Boggiano, who worked as a personal trainer and aerobics instructor during college, before becoming an entrepreneur. “They’re paying more, but our rent here is much higher. A lot of people in the industry said, ‘So-and-so will push you out of the market; you’ll get crushed.’”
In many of the corporate, more factory-style gyms patrons may go in, never look anyone in the eye, work out in the corner and then leave. Boggiano is proud that Pure Austin Fitness has built and maintained a strong community of people who embrace fitness, drawing many runners, cyclists, and all who enjoy the outdoors. Pure attracts a significant gay and lesbian clientele, but what ultimately draws people in is all of the added value, according to Boggiano. “Everyone has one thing in common. If they go to the same place every day or almost every day, they should enjoy it,” he said. “What they do here and who they meet here will lead to great experiences and opportunities. We know what our niche is. It’s the person that wants to reach their potential.”
He also does his best to foster a creative environment amongs his employees at the gym by empowering them to share ideas and, when it’s appropriate, promoting from within to move people into job roles that fulfill their passion.
When Boggiano was living with his family in El Paso, on a brief break from graduate school, he met a teacher in the performing arts department at UT El Paso who ended up being his first noteworthy connection to the gay community. “The gay community has always been around during my life, that’s pretty cool to say, compared to some generations who it seems so foreign to.” Boggiano said. “He was my first friend [in the gay community] that I learned a lot from.”
Indeed, he taught Boggiano ballet and character jazz and was one of the most strict, artistic people he’d ever met. “A lot of times you don’t get those two together,” Boggiano said. “He was creative and an incredible teacher, and he would just drill and drill on getting things right.”
For Boggiano, getting things right these days includes a tremendous amount of giving back to the community via non- profit causes that resonate emotionally or have a big, local im- pact. Andrew’s Toy Box, a nonprofit that’s dedicated to helping sick and disadvantaged children, and Be Kind to Cyclists are just two of many causes dear to his family. For many years, Pure has also sponsored and fielded a team in the Hill Country Ride for AIDS, the second-largest AIDS fundraising ride in the U.S.
At ease in his office over a morning cup of coffee, with pictures of his family in framed photos behind him, it’s clear that fitness and health have always been a part of Boggiano’s life in some way. He started mountain biking in the 1980s and re- called biking down the Greenbelt and jumping into the water at the end. These days, he bikes 120 miles per week, but during race season he increases that to 150 miles per week.
His father, now 86, was an orthopedic physician and spent more than fifty years providing medical care to as many as 50 patients per day in poor communities in Peru, where Boggiano and his sister were born. Boggiano was and still is inspired by him. One framed picture is of the two of them in the operat- ing room; another depicts his daughter Bonnie, 15, zooming mid-air on a motorcycle. He also has a son, Tyler, who is 12. In the midst of our interview, Danielle, Boggiano’s wife of almost 20 years, peeked her head in and warmly introduced herself. She works in the administrative side of the business taking care of such tasks as payroll, human resources and public relations.
Always being ahead of the curve and creating a community of fitness lovers is what has made the two Pure locations so suc- cessful. Although Boggiano is still in the stages of planning and searching for the right piece of land, his eyes lit up at the end of our conversation when he discussed his next location. “We wanna go more basic and get away from all this stuff that’s the sameness,” he said, adding that he hopes it will be a destination space for health-minded individuals. Although secretive at this early stage, he said he wants to create another “first.”
“We’re founded on things that people didn’t think were going to happen,” Boggiano said. “We do need to set the trend here, not follow it. If we’re out branding and making relationships with people, locally owned businesses, that’s building community.”