Dale Robinson’s road has had plenty of twists and turns, but it’s led to success.
He started GURU Fitness in his garage four years ago, an endeavor that has blossomed into a franchise business.
“GURU Fitness started in 2016, on Jan. 1, in my garage with three people,” Robinson said.
Now, GURU Fitness has around 200 clients, but the growth didn’t happen right away.
“Even though I started with three women, they weren’t super consistent,” Robinson said. “There were days I’d host a class and no one showed up, but I kept pushing, kept persevering, kept marketing, I got into Fit4Life. When I started offering the 90-day challenge, I had over 70 people in one class.”
Robinson admits he had a few doubts, but they were fleeting.
“For a second,” he said, when asked if he was worried when he started out, “but I reversed it to positive self-thoughts. Even when it wasn’t happening, I kept pushing, kept persevering, kept marketing and believing in myself.”
That belief has carried him far.
Robinson served time for conspiracy to traffic in cocaine, and he discovered his love for training while in prison.
“When I was in prison, I had younger kids begging me to train them,” he said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to train someone. I want to get my workout done and get out of there.’
“Once I started training it took off, and I realized that’s what I wanted to do.”
It was in prison that the name of Robinson’s business was born.
“There was a guy there that kept calling me guru, kept saying ‘you’re the guru,’” Robinson said. “The guys in my cell came up with the acronym, ‘Generate Unique Results Ultimately.’”
Robinson was released from prison in July 2015 and tried to find work as a trainer, an effort that proved futile.
“I’m grateful no gym would hire me,” he said. “I applied to almost every gym in Lexington, and no one called me back. I could have lied and not checked the box if I was a convicted felon, but I checked the box. Being a convicted felon did not stop me from being a good trainer; it did not stop me from being a good person.”
Robinson did find work at OWL (Opportunity Work and Learn).
“They hire convicted felons,” Robinson said. “I didn’t like it, but I had to do what I had to do.”
Robinson eventually left Fit4Life and opened GURU Fitness on Nov. 25, 2017. He and his wife, Taylor, are co-owners.
For Robinson, training involves more than workouts.
“We tell people if they’re not going to show up, we don’t want your money,” he said. “We take a different approach, where the psychology aspect means as much as the physical aspect.
“We can change any body, but you have to change the mindset so they’re not the same person they were before doing the body change.”
That involves discipline.
“Motivation will only take you so far, and then discipline takes over,” Robinson said. “I get up every morning at 4:30. Am I motivated to get up at 4:30? No, but I’m disciplined to get up at 4:30.”
In 2018, Robinson founded the Wanda Joyce Robinson Foundation, which strives to improve outcomes for children of incarceration. It was named for Robinson’s late mother.
Amy Nance Snow, one of the three women who were Robinson’s first clients, is co-founder and president.
“I’ve known Amy since high school,” said Robinson, a 1995 graduate of Franklin County. “When I came back, she was working with kids, helping at the Kings Center.
“I wanted to help kids going through the same situation as Wan’Dale and Dalevon (Robinson’s sons). They had good people and good support and knew they didn’t have to follow the same footsteps I did.
“We knew there were kids in that situation who might not have that support, who need people to help them stay on the right path and follow their dreams.”
The foundation serves about 300 children, and the board has grown from five members when it started to 26.
“We have family meetings once a month,” Robinson said. “We host birthday parties and take kids on field trips. We’re starting a mentor program where every kid will have a mentor, and they’ll meet with their mentor at least once a week.”
The foundation also takes children to Paul Sawyier Library to pick out a book, provides a bi-monthly program at the Kings Center and offers help to high school students who will be taking the ACT.
“It’s a blessing,” Robinson said. “Kentucky has the second highest number of children (in the country) whose parents are incarcerated.”
Dale and Taylor Robinson also go to Franklin County High School once a month to talk to children whose parents are incarcerated.
“There are 100 kids, and those are the ones who show up,” Dale Robinson said.. “There could be more. I talk about what I did.
“We help them write their goals down, and we have them write down steps to reach those goals. I tell them they don’t have to go to college, they can go to vocational school, work with their hands.
“We let them know they don’t have to wear a suit and tie to be successful. That’s why every time I go I wear jeans, tennis shoes and a GURU T-shirt. That’s my success.”
It’s a success that’s grown since opening GURU Fitness.
“We don’t consider ourselves a gym,” Robinson said. “Technically, we are a gym, but most of us consider ourselves a family and community. Everyone looks out for everybody else. If you lose your job, someone might say ‘I’ve been able to get you an interview for a position out here.’”
That connection is one of the things Robinson likes about his job.
“I always have a talk at the end of class,” he said. “I take a different approach. It starts with ‘I am.’ If you say I am not smart, you’ll always think you’re not smart. If you say I am beautiful, you’ll see yourself as beautiful no matter what someone else says.
“One thing is me and my coaches are vulnerable about our life experiences with our classes. I don’t think too many trainers want to put themselves out there.”
The facility offers GURU Elite, GURU Kids and GURU kick boxing, which is taught by Dalevon, his older son who is a recent graduate of Eastern Kentucky University.
His younger son, Wan’Dale, is a student at the University of Nebraska and a standout on the Husker football team.
The Robinsons’ daughter, Eliza Joyce Robinson, was born in March.
“Taylor is the pilot of this whole thing, and I’m the flight attendant,” Robinson said. “Everyone sees the flight attendant. No one sees the pilot, but without the pilot that plane doesn’t move. Taylor is that pilot.”
That teamwork allows Robinson to pursue his life’s goal.
“I love my work,” he said. “There’s nothing I’d rather do than help people become better people.”