Love at the gym

This article originally appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser in January 2004
Love At The Gym (The Honolulu Advertiser) - January 2004

By Tanya Bricking Leach
Advertiser Staff Writer

When she first noticed him at the gym, Angela Ancog wasn't sure Eric Yamashita was her type.

He was training for a competition, and Ancog thought the jock and his bodybuilding buddies might be a little swelled in the head with inflated opinions of themselves.

But in time, her impression changed as they became friends.

He jokes that maybe it was his pickup line that drew them closer: "Why don't you leave your boyfriend at home and go out with me tonight?"

Yes, it was the laughter that got her, says the now-pregnant Mrs. Angela Yamashita, 28, who married the 37-year-old Gold's Gym personal trainer nearly three years ago and is expecting their first child Feb. 8. "Of course, he won me over with his charm, good looks and wittiness," she said.

Healthy banter has always been one of the Kaka'ako couple's strong points.

She was never one to put on full makeup and flirt with guys doing bench presses. He was serious about his workouts, too. Yet their small talk grew into romance, and the Yamashitas say they're proof that the gym can be as good a place as any to find a date.

"The gym is a scene, to some extent," Eric Yamashita admits. "If you meet in the gym, you have to make sure you have a life outside of the gym."

Losing the stigma

As marketing and promotions manager for 24 Hour Fitness-Hawai'i, Connie Soga knew all about the lipstick factor associated with health clubs.

"There's a big public stigma about it being an eye-candy fest," she said. It just wasn't her thing to get caught up with trainers or clients.

Then one day, Bret Moore walked in. He was a personal trainer at the club's Mililani branch, and he was also a military man looking for sponsors for a perimeter run for his unit. They had lunch and discussed how Soga could help. Soon, Soga became more aware of when he was in the building. ("I think I might have chased him," she said, glad now to have taken the initiative.) Their friendship, too, turned to romance.

Gym people know other gym people in this town. Soga and Moore attended the Yamashitas' wedding, and the Yamashitas were guests when the Hawai'i Kai couple got married themselves shortly thereafter. Soga's 30-year-old husband is no longer a personal trainer at the gym, and 33-year-old

Soga has a new last name: Soga-Moore.

Sport and social club

Nobody who meets at the gym wants to admit that it can be a meat market. Truth is, it's just like any other place where people with common interest gather. Singles with more than one life goal (fitness and dating) tend to pack the health clubs this time of year, and naturally, dating happens.

At a place like the Honolulu Club, which has its own bar and hosts social events, being a gym member comes along with the reputation of belonging to the place where former Gov. Ben Cayetano met his wife, Vicky.

It didn't hurt that the Honolulu Club's major renovation in 1996 made the aerobics studio visible from the weight room. It's how Bryan Kitashima first spotted Shari Saiki. They had worked out at the same time for four years before the whole world started to come into focus.

A couple of weeks after he noticed her, Kitashima ran into Saiki at a lunch spot, I Love Country Cafe.

"She would describe it as gawking," he said. He describes the way she almost backed into a planter. They didn't speak until about a week later when they were leaving the club about the same time, and Kitashima came up with this line: "How did you like that place?" (meaning the lunch spot). By the end of the conversation, they had exchanged numbers.

Today, Kitashima, 43, and Shari Saiki Kitashima, 41, are married with a two-year-old son, Lucca. Kitashima is the business manager for his wife's design company. Because they married on Leap Year Day 2000, they'll celebrate their first "official" anniversary this year with a trip to Europe. They still find time to work out, but with a baby, they no longer hit the gym at the same time.

Business and pleasure

Couples we spoke with who met at the gym say it's not the gym that keeps them together. They differed on whether working out together is best but agreed that health and fitness played highly in their attraction to their mate.

For Ruthie Tannberg and boyfriend Cal Mann, who are old enough to be "semi-retired" but young enough to want to put in print that they're, ahem, "35-plus," date nights have kept them young.

Longtime members of the Honolulu Club, Tannberg and Mann on the surface had little in common.

She is a twice-divorced German blond with a keen fashion sense who came to Hawai'i after running a beauty shop in Canada. He's a divorced, aloha shirt-wearing local father of five who sold life insurance and wasn't exactly looking for love to come along again. But a club friend played matchmaker four years ago, and they've been dating ever since, maintaining separate downtown homes but merging their social lives.

She's convinced Mann to try ballroom dancing; he's grown fond of the way she fixes fish (any fish, he says; she gets it just right).

"We have a very strange and wonderful relationship," he jokes. "She's strange and I'm wonderful."

When it comes down to getting serious, they do have some advice for a new generation looking to the gym for a little stress relief and social interaction.

"Sometimes, when you're running so fast, you forget to look at the statue with the flowers and the simple things that add value to your life," Mann said. "Our relationship is slower-paced."

They've found a way to separate workouts from working out their relationship.

If Mann wants to run, there's always the treadmill. His love life is just fine.

Tanya Bricking Leach writes about relationships for The Advertiser. Reach her at 525-8026 or