by Danny Cohen
John Riker Thomas stands in the parking lot of an Altadena strip mall that until three weeks ago housed a laundromat, a check cashing facility and several fast food restaurants. That was before Thomas and his corporation, CoreTrain, bought the strip mall and quickly transformed it into the 100th CoreTrain Fitness Center with an adjacent CoreTrain Market. In three hours, the doors will open and eager fitness junkies will flood the gym, just as they have since 2006. “This is the dream,” says Thomas, “helping people to get in shape. We are saving lives.”
Little is known about John Riker Thomas, and he likes to keep it that way. He believes the mystery surrounding him and the origins of CoreTrain help to elevate the brand. It wasn’t until 1993 that Thomas’ name pops up in public records after joining up with the military. According to the free public records checker, he was deployed to Somalia and took part in the Battle of Mogadishu. Shortly thereafter he left the armed forces and it wasn’t until 1999 that the paper trail picks up again with Thomas working in Kenai, Alaska on a fishing line. Thomas claims that the missing years “were my grad school of life. No books required.” In 2002, he was arrested in Alberta for inciting a bar fight and extradited back to America. With his military experience he was able to land a job working security at the pharmaceutical firm hPharma.
In 2006, Thomas moved to Seattle and began working as a personal trainer. After years of saving and a loan from an unknown source, he opened up Riker Gym. It started as a typical fitness center, but soon Thomas began to craft what would soon become known as CoreTrain. Aside from the typical workouts, there are specific training programs and diets made to “promote wellness in the body and mind. We get all cylinders working.” In 2007, Thomas reopened his gym as the first CoreTrain Fitness Center and soon had a few dozen customers who were on different CoreTrain exercise tracks. The most committed customers on the Platinum Trail track, spent at least five days every week at the fitness center and were amongst the first employees that Thomas hired.
In 2008, Thomas opened up four more locations around Seattle, and began to sell powders and food as part of CoreTrain’s diet program. The building next to the original CoreTrain location was bought and turned into the first CoreTrain Market to sell the powders and food. In 2009, as imitation CoreTrain centers began to pop up all over the country, Thomas created a franchise program to best the competition. The first franchisees were Kay and Mark Polanian in Phoenix.
The Polanians were serial business owners, having operated and shuttered over a dozen stores in the past two decades, including paint your own ceramics, an eBay shop, juice bars, and three web cafes. The four CoreTrain locations in Phoenix continue to be the only successful venture they’ve ever entered into. “We sold our condo for the down payment on the first location, and lived above it for the first two years.” says Mark as he and Kay drive me around Phoenix in their CoreTrain-branded Nissan Cube. “We love CoreTrain,” says Kay, “Before, we were like lost souls. Wandering around a desert. We needed to get all cylinders working.”
It was Mark who first had the idea after watching a stunning presentation at the Southwest Franchise Expo that included John Riker Thomas. “From the first moment I saw him on stage, I knew this was the business for us,” says Mark. In a YouTube video of the presentation, we see Riker emerge in a warm-up suit with three women in black leather Castro hats. He runs through the CoreTrain fitness program and business, enticing those in the audience to “come into the fold and learn to soar on all cylinders.” The video ends with streamers, lights and smoke. “Afterwards, when I spoke with JRT, I knew that it was my dream not only to get people in shape, but to save lives,” says Mark. The Polanians spent 6 months learning the CoreTrain regimen and business before opening up their first fitness center.
While not held secret, the business strategies are rarely overtly stated. Fitness Center employees are encouraged to get customers to join groups that will not only train together, but meet outside of the gym for social activities like a meal. Soon, customers are urged to attend the daily classes, are embarrassed to miss sessions, and even shamed for dropping out. Sometimes harassment follows those who leave CoreTrain, such as in the 2009 Flagstaff trial Donalouge vs. Wintin, where Professor Matthew Wintin was being publicly bullied and terrorized. “That was an issue with a franchise member when were just starting that program,” says Thomas. “We have a much better background check policy and a more stringent system of checks and balances now. CoreTrain is deeply saddened whenever we lose a member, but we would never want to inflict any type of fear that the public could learn about.” However, those customers that stick it out and show promise are moved up to be trainers themselves. Those who become CoreTrain employees are made promises such as being your own boss, growing rich, and getting to visit the corporate home of Freewind, Utah.
In 2010, the CoreTrain corporation bought a small town in Utah right near the Idaho border and renamed it Freewind. Thomas soon took up residency, and today visiting Freewind is an exciting and enticing carrot for CoreTrain members. The official statement from CoreTrain is that Thomas lives in seclusion in the heavily fortified and private town because he needs complete control to continue his “revolutionary work in the world of physical fitness and cylinder working.” Whether this is true or not is unknown. It is virtually impossible to sneak into Freewind, and those who visit don’t speak a word. “It’s a special place,” says Kay Polanian. “Sharing the beauty of Freewind with outsiders or those not ready wouldn’t serve anyone any good.”
Freewind is now a town of 1,200, and home to all of the CoreTrain subsidiaries: CoreTrain Market, the grocery store; CoreTrain Construction, the private contractor used to build the Fitness Centers and all of Freewind; CoreTrain Savings & Loan, the combination bank/relator company that helps with relocation to Freewind; CoreTrain Panopticonics; a media company that produces and distributes videos and films.
It is possible, however, to glean some information about the town based on state documents. Thomas most likely lives on a vast 147 acre estate in the northeast corner. The rest of the residents live either in small bungalows on the estate, or in dormitories. There is a shipping facility, a CoreTrain Market, a world class CoreTrain Fitness Center, a movie theater and a security office. Additionally, there are CCTV cameras on each street corner and a refuse incinerator. A FOIA request revealed that while the town generates 30 megawatts annually, the buildings that can be seen from satellite photos would hardly use that entire amount.
The evening before Thomas flew to Altadena, he held a première event in Freewind for CoreTrain Panopticonics’ first feature-length film Save The Nation. Previous CTP productions were sold as DVDs to continue the training at home, but Save The Nation is a hardcore near-future action thriller. Thomas himself stars as Rax Pullsafe, a small town business owner who bands together with others to take back the United States (using lessons learned from the CoreTrain fitness regimen) from a dictatorial President in the year 2024. Thomas wrote the exciting, pulse-pounding 82-minute long movie himself. CTP is planning for a spring release to coincide with new special Save The Nation workouts to be taught in all CoreTrain Fitness Centers.
Last year, CoreTrain raked in just shy of $2 billion and is on track to break $5 billion in 2013. How did this company explode so quickly? How did Thomas raise the initial capital? Perhaps there’s mischief at work?
In March of 2012, a joint investigation between the FDA, HHS and the Commerce Department was set up to find out if there was illegal doping going on within CoreTrain. The investigation was shut down by higher-ups, supposedly because of budgets disputes, before anything conclusive was found. There is one piece of evidence: a single vial of an unknown drug found in the dumpster of a Reno CoreTrain Fitness Center that the FDA tested on a pig. The pig got super buff, became submissive, and died eighteen hours later. The FDA is not sure how widespread the use of this drug may be, if at all, and there are no known tests to detect it in the bloodstream.
When I ask Thomas about this, he says “if it killed a pig in eighteen hours, how could I still be here? Would I be talking with you if I supposedly had been taking it for the better part of a decade?” Thomas contends that the investigation was simply launched out of jealousy that the FDA did not think of the patented CoreTrain fitness régime first.
All of these questions answer themselves when you actually meet and sit down with Thomas, as Kay and Mark Polanians did, and as I did. Thomas gave me a tour of the new Altadena CoreTrain location before it opened to the public, offering to give me a free training session himself. He takes me through the basics of CoreTrain, outlining the physical, mental and professional advantages. It wasn’t until Thomas pointed out how my cylinders had not been fully working before that I realized how addicting CoreTrain can be. I hadn’t ever felt my cylinders so much.
When Thomas speaks, his piercing light blue eyes take hold of you as he goes on about the benefits of CoreTrain. This really is a sophisticated daily regimen that works your cylinders. Without passing the daily tasks, you cannot move on. And there is such pressure to move on and not be left behind, that you work hard. And there are the results which speak for themselves in 37 gold medals, 6 body building world records and Pekiti-Tirsia Kali world champion Dekru Gube. All winners thanks to CoreTrain’s magnificent cylinder working practices.
Back in Altadena, only 45 minutes after the ribbon cutting, the 100th Fitness Center is packed. Thomas is not surprised. “What people want are all their cylinders working. Customers come to a CoreTrain Fitness Center, and before they know it, their body is feeling better, and soon their mind is too.” Thomas spends the day shaking hands and posing for photos before leaving in a helicopter parked on the roof.
As we sit in the helicopter bound for Freewind, I let Thomas in on my worry that my cylinders will shortly start to unwork themselves. “Don’t worry,” he says, “There are 4 major cylinders in each of us: Mind, body, spirt, hope. Each of those major cylinders can further be divided into eight chambers. Here, take this.” And Thomas slides me a brand new copy of the wonderful CoreTrain Handbook as we hum away from the sunset. ♦