Ortiz led her students through four rounds of group crunches, which, done en masse, resembled a Rockettes kick line, but for your abs.
Ortiz led her students through four rounds of group crunches, which, done en masse, resembled a Rockettes kick line, but for your abs. “Samantha was intense back in high school, as intense as she is here,” said Jose Aguirre, a condominium concierge who met Ortiz playing volleyball at Midwood High School in Brooklyn. He drives in from Queens to take the class.
“Samantha runs a fast-paced circuit that changes minute to minute, so you’re always on your toes,” said Brooke Dawson, a lawyer who lives in Brooklyn.
Ortiz’s tortuous workouts earned her the distinction of best instructor on ClassPass in 2017. But students like Aguirre and Dawson also come for the community that Ortiz, 29, has created since she and her family opened Triple Threat Bootcamp in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens just over two years ago.
Bootcamp regulars are a mélange of public-school teachers, real estate agents, nurses, professors, actors and doctors. “It’s one of the only fitness classes I’ve come to that’s majority people of color, majority people from the neighborhood,” said Amber Fares, a documentary filmmaker. Last month, Ortiz held a women’s natural-hair workshop — including a primer on how to refresh curls after a good sweat — in the studio.
Ortiz opened Triple Threat Bootcamp with her mother, Aileen Ortiz, and sister, Christine Ortiz, in 2015.
The women are now players in New York’s trendy and often lucrative boutique fitness world, but their original goal was to honor Juan Ortiz Jr., the husband and father who helped plant the seeds of the business. In 2013, he was transforming the family’s three-car garage in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens into a fitness studio. Samantha had been teaching boot camp classes in their living room, using her clients’ body weight and the stairs as equipment. Juan was an entrepreneur who started his own plumbing company and had become inspired by his daughter’s hustle.
Juan died before he could finish the project. He had been taking medication for a chronic kidney condition, which he had fought since he was 16. The family was devastated.
But the women were determined to finish what Juan had begun. They had noticed a smattering of commercial gyms in the area but found small-group training — Samantha’s specialty — to be sorely lacking. So they sold their home and Juan’s plumbing equipment and put all the money into opening Triple Threat. A boot print on the wall of the gym pays tribute to Juan’s old work boots, which Samantha and Christine helped him pull off after work.
The “triple” in the gym’s name refers to the three female proprietors: Aileen runs the nutrition program, Christine is in charge of operations and Samantha is the master teacher.
The family has always been on the front lines of gentrifying Brooklyn. In the 1970s and ‘80s, crime and drugs were a problem in Crown Heights, where the sisters grew up. Christine recalled her parents being strict and never letting her play outside. But by the time Samantha came of age in the ‘90s, the streets were becoming safer, and her parents gave her more latitude.
“Samantha was the mayor of the neighborhood at 8 years old,” Aileen said. “She’d round up all the kids and bring them to Hamilton Metz Field to play softball in the Police Athletic League.” Today, in the warmer months, Samantha marches her students down Washington Avenue and has them run relay sprints.
Samantha teaches the bulk of the week’s 24 classes, but she takes Sunday off, as does the entire studio. “We need that day to reset. We need it to spend time with family,” Aileen said. By keeping the number of classes small and the business family-run, the Ortiz women hope to offer the studio as an intimate and bespoke experience, they said.
Samantha, Aileen and Christine quickly discovered that female studio owners are underrepresented in the boot-camp world. They still field inquiries from strangers asking to speak to the owner, not realizing she was the one who picked up the phone.
No one in the family had ever run a brick-and-mortar business before Triple Threat, so the learning curve for the Ortiz women was steep. “We realized early on that it’s important to have an emergency fund set aside for when the boiler doesn’t work, or the laundry is down. Those are the times we really miss our dad and think about what he would say,” Christine said.
“He always said the same thing,” Aileen added. “Anything can be done.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.