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From members to owners – local couple takes the leap

New FIRE Fitness Camp Howard owners Megan and Mike Podnar offer specialty camps benefitting H.O.O.A.H. Wisconsin

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October 3, 2023

HOWARD – Everyone’s path to entrepreneurship is different – unique to them and their journey.

For Megan and Mike Podnar – the new owners of FIRE Fitness Camp Howard (1718 Velp Ave. in Howard) – it came after Mike underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2019.

“I saw typical results for that type of procedure, but then I hit a plateau where I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my wellness journey,” Mike said.

Mike said he tried several gyms but didn’t feel strongly about their programs.

“Then I had the opportunity to participate in a VIP camp at FIRE Fitness Titletown, and I immediately fell in love,” he said.

Mike said FIRE’s pre-structured routine makes it easier to set doubts aside and participate.

“The gym can be a scary place for a lot of people, and FIRE is about getting rid of that intimidating nature and creating a welcoming culture – whether it’s their first time working out or they’re a seasoned athlete,” he said.

FIRE, Mike said, stands for Functional Intensive Resistance Exercise, and each session is 30 minutes.

“The camps are led by a personal training coach who is certified, and they’re structured to where essentially all you have to do is walk through that door and work out,” he said. “You don’t have to think about how you’re going to move or what muscle groups you’re going to work. And that was what sunk its teeth into me.”

Megan said she joined FIRE Fitness about a year later, after Mike became a certified coach, and said she also experienced a shift in her wellness journey.

Mike and Megan Podnar are the owners of FIRE Fitness Camp Howard – located at 1718 Velp Ave. in Howard. Submitted Photo

“They opened a new location in the area, FIRE Fitness New Franken, and I went with some girlfriends to try a VIP session,” she said. “Before FIRE, I hated working out and struggled to lose weight by dieting alone, but I instantly fell in love with the workouts, the people and everything that FIRE stands for, and that kickstarted my journey.”

Mike said to become a certified FIRE coach, he was required to take an online class and undergo a day of supervised coaching by FIRE’s most experienced staff.

“The franchisor requires online training provided by FIRE, and then you go down to headquarters – the original FIRE Fitness location in Plover, Wisconsin – and you meet with the training staff there and spend a day going through the FIRE process,” he said. “Then they give you the opportunity to coach some afternoon classes under their guidance, and the day ends with a feedback portion where the team decides if you’re ready to advance and get certified or if there’s more work to be done.”

After becoming certified, Mike said he started coaching at multiple FIRE Fitness locations throughout the area, and soon he and Megan began considering opening their own franchise location.

Taking the leap
The couple said they eventually decided to take the next step and purchased FIRE Fitness Camp Howard on June 1 of this year.

“FIRE had become a daily routine in both of our lives (at that point),” Mike said. “I was coaching at multiple locations, and we had originally aspired to get into the fitness space because of what it’s done for both of us, so we looked at starting a couple of different new locations up. Then an opportunity arose to purchase the Howard location from the previous owners.”

Megan said FIRE’s focus on both physical and mental health set it apart for them.

“FIRE became a passion of ours after we went through a transformation – mentally and physically – and we realized now we want to be on the other side of it and help other people,” she said.

Despite encountering some challenges as new business owners, both Mike and Megan said they found support in the FIRE Fitness community.

“It wasn’t easy to transition from members to owners, but the franchise supports us,” Mike said. “We’ve had other FIRE locations help out, and the previous owners also helped guide us through the transition. The clients have also been welcoming.”

Mike said FIRE Fitness focuses not only on their clients’ physical health, but also on creating a community both in and outside the gym.

“Obviously, there’s direct science tied to the cortisol produced by exercise, but there’s an even more important aspect to the mental side, which is that tight-knit community and culture,” he said. “You start to get to know people as you’re working with them day in and day out, and it brings a new level of accountability to your wellness program and journey, as well as building new friendships.”

As clients get into a routine, Mike said they begin to build a shared community.

“We know every member by name,” he said. “We get to know everybody’s story, and it’s the same thing for all the clients. As you come to more camps and as you get in your routine, you get to know each other and you support each other.”

Mike said the community aspect builds itself at FIRE.

The Podnars said FIRE Fitness focuses not only on their clients’ physical health, but also on creating a community both in and outside the gym. Submitted Photo

“As you are working hard, you’re high-fiving each other, you’re laughing, and you’re having fun,” he said. “You work hard, but you’re having fun, and that’s what helps build those relationships.”

As a franchise business, Mike said FIRE is also beneficial for clients who travel.

“One nice thing about FIRE that we hear a lot from clients with unlimited membership is they can go to any location… and still get the same style of workout,” he said.

Giving back
As franchise owners, the Podnars said they are committed to helping the veteran community – specifically H.O.O.A.H. Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization focused on eliminating veteran suicide in the United States.

“I’ve been donating to H.O.O.A.H. Wisconsin for the past five years,” Mike said. “I was introduced to the organization through a friend of mine who served in the military. Once I started my wellness journey, he asked if I’d join him in their annual Ruck March, which spans 22 miles of the Fox River Trail because an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day.”

Though he hasn’t served himself, Mike said it is a cause he holds “near and dear” to his heart.

“Having an organization that’s willing to give our veterans an outlet, whether that be financial, physical or mental, is (important),” he said.

When he first became a coach, in an effort to support the cause, Mike started a weekly Sunday specialty camp with all the proceeds going to H.O.O.A.H. Wisconsin.

Mike said when they became franchise owners, they continued the camps.

“We charge a $15 drop-in fee for those specialty camps,” he said. “We also now have a Ruck team that does the run every November – last year, we were able to raise $7,000.”

For more on FIRE Fitness Camp Howard, visit

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