Carriage House continues

Lira family’s commitment to fitness still growing

By Julie Gerke

South Jacksonville —  Eleven or so years ago, Jeff Austif was running two or three miles every weekday. His niece suggested he try cross-fit training as a way to change up his routine.

So he joined a few other like-minded souls in a residential garage, lifting weights, doing pull-ups and push-ups, jumping on boxes, pushing tires and climbing ropes.

And boy, he was tired fast.

Austif, now 60, remains a core athlete at Carriage House Cross Fit, 1845 S. Main St., which graduated from the garage of owners Natalie and Pete Lira to a larger, rented space without running water, to today’s gym, just south of the South Main Street/Vandalia Road intersection.

The program has paid off for Austif, of Franklin. “The stronger I get in here, the less I hurt,” he said.

The Liras both come from physical fitness backgrounds: Natalie was a college gymnast who transitioned to power lifting after an injury. Pete, a former D1 football letterman, coached and taught physical education at secondary and college levels.

Carriage House has classes several times a day, and the Liras share coaching duties with a few people who started as clients. Daily routines are written on whiteboards and start with warm-ups that might, to some, look like an entire workout. Depending on the day, clients work on movements to target specific areas of the body. They might climb a rope, use rings or bars to work on pull-ups or push-ups, swing or lift kettlebells or dumbbells, use a rowing machine, ride a stationary bike, throw a medicine ball, lift weights, integrate squats or step or jump onto wooden boxes of a variety of heights. Some exercises are done solo; others involve a partner, switching off after a series of reps or a certain amount of time.

The idea can be intimidating. Face it: Could you push over a tractor tire or do a chin-up on a six-foot bar? Have you climbed a rope since your president’s physical fitness test?

The Liras scale workouts to a person’s ability. One client had trouble getting into and out of a chair, and started there, with basic moves designed to build strength and mobility. Other clients may have a more athletic background, and work on endurance of time or weight.

Keeping active as we age is important, Pete Lira said, because “as we get older, we still want to be functional.” An exercise in the gym may make it easier to carry a grandchild or favorite pet, or to twirl a jump rope for a young neighbor.

Carriage House has a core group of about 35 clients — as with many businesses, Covid cut deeply into numbers — but the smaller group has become tight, with athletes sharing friendships outside the gym and producing even a wedding or two (and resultant baby showers).

For the Liras, the business is more than dollars and cents; it’s more of a calling. “We do this because we enjoy doing this,” he said.

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