They met in Mosul, Iraq, when he was in an Albanian Special Forces unit and she was working intelligence for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Now here they are in Novato, drawn by a family connection, getting started with a new business and inspiring people to challenge themselves like they never have before.
Introducing Samantha and Beqir Gjoka, owners of Double Eagle Fitness, based partly at the building in downtown Hamilton and partly in clients’ homes. They just arrived a few months ago after a year in the Washingon D.C. area.
Why “double eagle”? The majestic bird is both a symbol of the United States of America and Albania.
“It’s the two of us. We like what it stands for,” Beqir Gjoka said.
The two were married in 2009. After Samantha resigned from her five-year government post while traveling constantly, she spent 18 months in Beqir’s native Tirana, Albania, writing a memoir about a couple courting at the epicenter of the Global War on Terror and overcoming stiff odds not only to survive but hit the reset button on their personal lives and careers. The result of her work is a book, yet unpublished, titled “Dancing in Combat Boots.”
Beqir isn’t a big man but has that V-shaped appearance that leaves others saying “I wouldn’t want to mess with that guy.” He spent 10 years with the Albanian Army and was deployed four times, twice in Afghanistan and twice in Iraq. Without going into detail, he talks about his combat experience with a “you have no idea” look in his eyes and quickly notes that Albania was one of the first countries to join the coalition effort. He’s thankful to have not only survived mentally and physically but to have created a business that capitalizes on that survival instinct.
“It was a great life experience, meeting the top people involved in the war, all highly qualified and highly trained,” Beqir said. “Those people are the elite, the chosen professionals. Because of that, it’s kind of like a family. When you’re part of that, it gives you a confidence and an opportunity to really know yourself. I think most people don’t really know much they can give and how much can be taken in terms of what you can handle, what you can survive. I got to that point and I would like other people to learn lessons from that, too.”
Samantha adds, “That segueways into fitness because we believe we can get people to accomplish things people thought they never could do.”
Samantha said she can relate to heavier clients because she’s been through what they’ve been through. She has lost 25 pounds since meeting Beqir.
“Some people can really relate to me because I’ve been there, in the same spot they’re in,” she said.
Double Eagle Fitness would like to cater to the Baby Boomers who haven’t tested their limits in years. Keeping risk factors in mind, they said getting clearance with a doctor is crucial to moving forward with somebody who has been inactive for a long period of time.
“I’ve asked people from that age group what they do for exercise and they give him a look that’s like a deer in the headlights,” she said. “It’s not about vanity or fitting into a size-6, it’s just to insure that you’ll be fit when you get older and what shape your heart is in. Take somebody who’s 50 … They want to be functional and fit when they’re 70 or 80. It’s never too late to start.”
Beqir said his long-range goal is to create an 30-station obstacle course somewhere nearby to use as a fitness tool. In the Army, he competed in military obstacle course competitions against personnel from all over the world. He also competed in a military pentathlon that involved, shooting, swimming, running, grenade throwing and the obstacle course. In addition, he is a martial artist.
“It’s the ultimate test,” he said.
Another test they present to their clients is the challenge of making sure fitness work and nutrition coincide. Both of them completed a 500-hour nutrition course and work with clients on the right balance of calorie intake vs. calorie burn-off.
“The key is making it a regular routine and making it fun,” Samantha said. “There are so many adults who are members of gyms, even through their employers, but they don’t go because it’s not fun for them. We know we can make it fun for them, and that’s how you get them to make the effort worthwhile.”
To learn more about Double Eagle Fitness, click here.