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Become better, faster, stronger

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At Gallup School of Strength

Workout buffs and couch potatoes alike at some point in time have come across weights with the built-in handle while shopping at big box and sporting goods retailers.

But, these weights, formally called “kettlebells,” are not a part of some new fitness fad. Kettlebell weights and training go back hundreds of years, according to Gallup School of Strength co-owner Greg McNeil. He said the word “kettlebell” was first noted in a Russian dictionary, compiled in the early 1700s.

Gallup School of Strength specializes in strength training, primarily centered on the use of the kettlebell. Depending on fitness level, students can engage in workouts using the 11-pound kettlebell on up … even surpassing 100-pounds. Training centers not only improving strength, but also flexibility, breathing and overall stamina.

“This training is really a skill-based training that gives the client elite results,” McNeil said, adding that clients will also notice marked improvement in mobility and flexibility.

McNeil opened the studio, located at 104 Boardman Dr., about five months ago with his partner Lorelei Thompson. Thompson grew up in Counselor, NM –  a remote hamlet north of Crownpoint in Sandoval County. She attended boarding school at Rehoboth Christian School. She currently works at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital as a surgical technician.

McNeil refers to what they both do at the studio as “training,” versus workout. Both “coaches” are certified in the “StrongFirst” method of Russian kettlebell training. McNeil’s mentor, Pavel Tsatsouline, a Russian Special Forces veteran, was the first to certify McNeil as a StrongFirst coach.

McNeil got his start about a decade ago while working as a licensed counselor. One of his clients trained with kettlebells, so one thing led to another, and he started training with Tsatsouline.

Tsatsuouline is credited for  kettlebell fitness being brought to the United States.

Up until recently, the couple was living and working in Albuquerque, training clients. But McNeil would soon fall in love with the rural charm of the Gallup area and surrounding reservation.

Thompson saw the sparkle in his eyes when they visited her family on the Navajo Nation, and when they hiked the scenic, remote areas. Soon, mere talk of moving to the area, then opening a fitness studio, was shaped into reality.

McNeil hails from North Carolina and bounced around a bit before arriving in New Mexico. His resume includes a decade served in the United States Air Force. He also worked as a hospital emergency room technician.

McNeil earned his bachelor’s degree in technology and his master’s degree in clinical counseling. His profession as a counselor – his desire to help his fellow human overcome grief and post-traumatic stress disorder – spilled into the physical fitness realm.

Additionally, he’s also a certified instructor of the Tibetan 5 Rites, and a Wing Chung martial artist.

Thompson grew up living a traditional Navajo lifestyle, splitting time between school at Rehoboth and time with her family in Counselor. She grew up with the wisdom of Navajo medicine men and elders, and the kind direction of teachers and dormitory managers at Rehoboth.

The holistic mind-body approach to the StrongFirst kettlebell training resonated with her.   Students train barefoot, which she says, “allows for the power to come from the ground up,” and it’s that closeness to the earth that helps students with balancing and using key muscle groups.

And Thompson shows her strength by demonstrating the “Turkish GetUp,” which resembles a Yoga type move (as pictured) with her holding a 26-pound kettlebell high in the air. She can also strike the pose using a 53-pound kettlebell.

She’s in her fifth year of training, and Thompson said she and McNeil must undergo re-certification every two years.

“And we have spot checks through those two years,” she said. “Like any job, we look for feedback.”

And speaking of feedback, the duo’s clientele sing their praises. Just read though some of the testimonials from actual local clients.


For 16-year-old Vinell Mariano, he noted an improvement in his athletic performance over the past five months of StrongFirst training. His first passion is bull riding, and his father Vincent Mariano coaches him and other youths as part of the “Get Tough Bull Riding Association.”

“[Vinell] needed to get stronger and faster,” Vincent said. “Since training, his reactions are faster and quicker.”

Vinell, who attends high school at Rehoboth Christian, also engages in basketball and runs track. He trains at Gallup School of Strength three times per week.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said, adding that he also experiences cardio benefits as part of the workout.

He’s now able to do “swings” with a 70-pound kettlebell.

McNeil noted that he’s gone out to see Vinell in action at the rodeo, lauding him for his confidence and quickness, and for racking up the competition buckles.

“His performance is amazing, and his stability and coordination has improved dramatically in the short time he has trained with us,” McNeil said.


Christy Costley

Costley, owner of Christy’s Optical Warehouse in Gallup, suffered from a bad back, having surgery to mend the injuries.

She said that after eight months of healing from the surgery, she decided to dabble in some exercise, which included walking, some light jogging and weight lifting. This caused some noted improvements.

Costley discovered Gallup School of Strength by happenstance, and had used kettlebells in the past. She met with McNeil, joined, and three months later she’s impressed with the results.

“My muscle strength, cardio, and flexibility have also improved,” she said. “Coach Greg has taught me a lot about how to improve my skills and pushed me to want to be the best I can be.”

Cyndi Jarvison

The director of Gallup Small Business Development Center admits that she has struggled over the years to find a workout that worked out for her and brought forth desired results. She had tried lifting weights, but questioned whether she used them properly.

When Jarvison began working with McNeil, she noted that she was able to accomplish some fitness goals by learning how to breathe properly during training sessions.

“The muscular and cardiovascular gains that I have made while training with Greg have far surpassed anything that I thought I could do,” she said. “Before Greg my workouts weren’t doing anything for me.

“I need to continue to improve myself through sound mind and physical agility, which I plan to continue doing with the Gallup School of Strength,” she added.

Liz Sanchez

Sanchez said she’s no stranger to fitness, having worked out doing cardio, aerobics and weight lifting for quite some time with limited results. But, she describes her three-months of training at Gallup School of Strength as “truly amazing.”

“I have become mentally and physically astonished of my progression within my strength and weight loss,” she said. “If you are seeking expertise training and results, I highly recommend Gallup School of Strength.”

Nancy Gonzales

A self-described athlete, Gonzales had to put working out on hold when she started encountering dizziness, vision problems and headaches. She was diagnosed with Arnold-Chiari 1 Malformation. While there’s no cure, surgery and medication were the only prescribed treatment options.

As a fan of neither, she opted for Gallup School of Strength. After three sessions, her dizziness went away, and she’s feeling better. Gonzales is pregnant with her second child and continues her training with McNeil and Thompson.

“I feel rejuvenated, stronger, more flexible – and this is thanks to my coaches who have been with me every step of the way,” she said. “This is a very quiet and peaceful environment which helps you concentrate, so that you can execute your skills with proper form and technique.”


For information on joining, please contact Gallup School of Strength at (505) 203-6164. Web: Gallupschoolofstrength.com

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