Gabe Fisher loves fitness, youth and faith. He uses these passions to help vulnerable people in Fish Hoek, South Africa find direction and purpose. The youth he is mentoring call themselves “Silverbacks”.
As the director of ER’s L327-Fitness life skills program, Gabe knows the value of giving these youth healthy choices as an alternative to the drugs, gangs and violence that destroy so many lives.
“Every year we do a capstone event to celebrate the fitness we’ve earned throughout the course of the last 12 months. Last year we did “Murph” (scroll below to learn what a Murph is) in the Karoo,” Gabe said. “This year we wanted to up the ante and show our athletes what they are capable of accomplishing. We created the 24-hour challenge to do that.”
“It went exceptionally well. We stayed on time down to the minute, which was great. There were no injuries. We had great local support and our team and athletes were encouraged.
“The main participants were our six most dedicated L327 athletes. We also had a local sea and rescue team participate, as well as people from our community,” Gabe said.
“There is value seeing people accomplish hard things. Your investment in L327 allows us to craft these life-changing moments.”
Matthew & Gabe Find Their Purpose through Fitness
Oct. 31, 2022
When passion and purpose intersect, it’s a beautiful thing. Two young men who live 8,200 miles apart are using functional fitness to change people’s lives. Matthew Sheets and ER’s Gabe Fisher are “all in” on helping others find their purpose through intense workouts, friendship, mentoring and faith.
Matthew, 25, grew up in Chattanooga. He attended college, travels internationally and owns Be Strong Health & Fitness gym. He’s engaged to marry his girlfriend Lauren. Charmed life, right? That rosy description belies the challenges Matthew endured to reach this point.
Matthew grew up in a broken home, endured some childhood struggles, and became disconnected from his biological father. As a young adult, he felt empty and aimless. “I was enrolled in college, but I was not enjoying it. I also worked a couple of random jobs.”
Matthew’s path forward was uncertain and filled with discouragement.
Growing up, Matthew found fulfilment in sports and competition. In the midst of his struggle to find direction, he re-discovered his passion for health and fitness. He began pursuing a career in fitness by shadowing trainers at a local gym to help him get certified.
While working with the gym’s clients, he met Mark, a South African who was passionate about fitness and his faith. While Mark’s passion was uncompromising at times, he also “spoke the truth in love”. Mark filled a void in Matthew’s own faith journey. When Mark invited Matthew to travel to his homeland in South Africa in 2019 to attend a missions conference, Matthew jumped at the chance.
The trip to Johannesburg, South Africa was life-changing for Matthew. During the conference, he had an “intense personal encounter with God” that helped crystalize how he could combine his love of fitness and his faith.
After returning to the U.S., the gym where he was working fell into duress. In August, 2020, with encouragement from Mark’s family, Matthew took a huge step of faith and relaunched the 400-square-foot gym as Be Strong Health & Fitness. COVID was raging during this time, so the way forward was scary.
Matthew leaned into his faith and has been riding a roller coaster for the last two years. “It’s been hard, but the business is gradually growing. I’m learning. There is nothing like it in the Chattanooga area,” he said. “Our personal touch differentiates us from big box gyms.
“This place is unique. All of our clients know there is something special about this gym. It’s filled with spirit and meaning, all shaped by our staff. It’s the Lord’s business and I am just shepherding it. I see the gym as missionary work. When you have a heart for people, it carries over to your relationships and people respond to that.”
Matthew made a second trip to South Africa in 2021, this time to compete in an ultramarathon in Cape Town. The course was 44 miles and included some difficult terrain. “I had a really good race” he said. “It was very fulfilling and 95% of it was on rugged trails.”
On that same 2021 trip, he met Gabe, who runs L327-Fitness, which is part of ER’s Life Skills programming in Fish Hoek. L327 is designed to rescue vulnerable kids from life in gangs, drugs and violence through functional fitness, faith, and mentoring.
Seeing what Gabe and L327-Fitness were accomplishing reinforced Matthew’s passion. He is invested in seeing L327 make a big impact and supports the program as a donor.
“I would like to see L327 become a core pillar in the (Fish Hoek) community. They are creating a safe space for people who are marginalized and forgotten. Gabe is doing an incredible job of fostering life-change. L327 is a very unique and powerful ministry.”
“Gabe and I are like-minded. We want to bring our passions to the Lord as a sacrifice.”
Since his trip to South Africa, Matthew has reunited with his biological father and has a dream to launch a second gym in Chattanooga.
At ER, we are committed to helping you fulfill your purpose in life. This applies to volunteers, donors, staff, and especially the people we serve. We’d love to have you join us. Read how you can get involved with ER here.
Silverbacks Rise at L327-Fitness Camp
In 2021, ER’s Gabe Fisher launched L327-Fitness to mentor young men in South Africa to lead successful lives. To end the year, he invited six “Silverback” boys (interns) to participate in a fitness camp. This took place at a community farm in Beaufort West operated by ER partner ATAIM. Below Gabe shares the results of this two-day camp.
One of the main tenets of functional fitness is being fit enough to tackle the unknown and unknowable. I took this to heart when planning our camp experience. At each stop on the trip from Cape Town to Beaufort West, the six apprentices had to complete a challenge.
Our first challenge consisted of holding a 6-kilogram (15-pound) weight overhead and completing a 20-meter burden carry.
Our second challenge was a classic – the Sally up Sally down plank challenge. The boys completed this challenge in the parking lot of a gas station in the small town of Laingsburg. Needless to say, we got a few wayward glances.
Our final challenge began 1 kilometer from the entrance to the farm. I spoke to the boys about paying respect to those who paved the path before us. I told them we are only capable of reaching the stars because we stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. At that point, each apprentice was given a 6-kilogram (15-pound) weight. We would complete the last 1 kilometer to the gates of the farm doing a farmer’s carry.
We needed a workout that would challenge the apprentices. One of the greatest benchmark workouts in functional fitness is “Murph”. Murph was named after a fallen service member and is performed at many gyms on Memorial day in his honor. A Murph consists of doing exercises consecutively for time:
- 1-mile run
- 100 pull ups
- 200 push ups
- 300 air squats
- 1-mile run
The boys did really well. They all completed the challenge in less than one hour. We completed our camp with a fitness clinic and a time of fellowship. What a great weekend!
Scroll below to learn more about L327-Fitness.
Thomas Finds Purpose as Fitness Apprentice
Finding purpose in life takes many forms. Sometimes, it starts with a chance meeting in a grocery store. See how one young man from the settlement of Masiphumelele found acceptance and purpose in ER’s new functional fitness program.
By Gabe Fisher, L327-Fitness Director
Thomas’ path to L327-Fitness began at a local supermarket chain in July. While checking out, I struck up a conversation with the cashier. She noticed my accent and asked what brought me to South Africa.
After sharing about Extreme Response and the Fish Hoek Dream Center, she asked if there were any programs for youth. With excitement, I told her we just launched the L327 Functional Fitness program.
She responded that her nephew was at home “sitting around” and was looking for something to fill his time. I told her he would be welcome. She told me he would be there.
Low and behold, the following day a spindly young man from a local settlement appeared at the gym, having no clue what he was getting himself into. Fast forward a few weeks and Thomas* became the fifth member of our Silverback crew (the name the group chose for themselves).
Fourteen-year-old Thomas is the strong, quiet type. As a fitness apprentice, he is filled with potential. He and the other Silverbacks are growing physically and emotionally. I see his self-confidence and leadership qualities developing week after week.
My hope for Thomas is that he grows to realize his full potential as an image-bearer of Christ and he realizes amazing success as an adult. Learn more about L327-Fitness here.
*Name changed for privacy.