You've got to hand it to Brent Cook. Most guys fully intend to keep working out all their lives but somehow don't quite manage to pull it off.

Their gyms don't quit on them, they do.

Cook, on the other hand, has never stopped working out even though his gyms keep going out of business.

To make his persistence even more impressive, he's owned the gyms.

Cook opened his first workout facility in downtown Salt Lake City in 1980 at the Crossroads Mall, calling it Sports Mall Metro. That lasted until 1993, when the now defunct Crossroads Mall wanted his space for a towel store, also now defunct.

He moved across Main Street to the ZCMI Center and opened Metro Sports Club & Wellness Center, which lasted another dozen years or so until about a year ago when they started tearing down the ZCMI Center.

People figured that would be it for a businessman who had every reason to be fed up with a downtown that kept falling down around him.

But all Cook saw was an opportunity to open the buffest gym he could imagine.

He moved west to The Gateway, the only downtown mall still standing, rented an upstairs location, and this past June opened the Metro Sports & Sanctuary Day Spa & Salon — his longest named and most opulent workout gym yet.

Although calling it a gym is like calling Gibraltar a rock.

"I really wanted to do this one right," says Cook, "I wanted a whole holistic experience." And to him that means $300,000 worth of imported Italian exercise equipment, complete with aroma therapy that blows in your face while you're on the treadmills, four-nozzle showers in the locker room, cross trainers that simulate ice-skating workouts and a Tai Chi (a Japanese nonballistic exercise) room.

And next door, in the spa, it means enough cutting edge, feel-great, stress-eliminating therapy — pedicures, manicures, facials, steam baths, soaking tubs, Vichey showers (with seven nozzles to hit all chakra points in the body) and no less than seven different kinds of massages — that by the time you emerge you won't even worry about how you're going to pay for it all.

Salt Lake has never seen anything like it.

For some, that could be because they have no idea the old Sports Mall Metro and Metro Sports Club have morphed into this return of the Roman Empire.

But for Cook, moving on instead of moving out was always a given; just another chance to upgrade.

Since starting out in the fitness business by cleaning lockers at Bob Rice's European Health Spa in Murray 40 years ago — he went on to open spas for Rice around the country before branching out on his own — he's seen the best and worst of workout places.

Thanks to Cook's more stable enterprises — his Murray-based Sports Mall has been in continual business for 31 years — he's been able to absorb the bumps and lumps and downturns in downtown Salt Lake and turn his setbacks into his latest and greatest creation.

If they hadn't kept closing him down, he wouldn't be looking so good.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 801-237-2527.