Commuters up at dawn may have seen a group of active early morning men in and around Town Center Park in Kingwood.
A bunch of guys, adult males, maybe 20 or 30 of them. They were, well, exercising. Sometimes in the dark. Sometimes at dawn. In all kinds of fierce Lake Houston weather — humidly hot, frosty cold, even in the pouring-down rain.
The ever-intrepid Tribune saw them and wanted to know. Who are these all-weather guys? And what “contraptions” were they building in the park?
Tony Austin had the answer and James Durkee had the explanation.
Austin is the Australian-speaking, longtime Kingwood resident whose official title is director of the Town Center Park Association. Durkee is the unofficial spokesperson for F3 Kingwood The River, the official name for the group of guys meeting daily in the park.
Durkee is the guy Austin directed to the curious Tribune.
“I got to know the F3 guys because they exercised early morning in the park as I was setting up for events,” Austin explained.
Town Center Park has always been a serene oasis in the heart of Kingwood. The perfect refuge for those employed in the shops, medical and professional offices in and around the park.
The pandemic, however, changed all that.
“We saw a huge impact during the Covid lockdown when lots of people would buy take-away food and have a picnic in our park,” Austin said. “For many, it was their first visit and ‘discovery’ of the park.”
That was the catalyst for the Town Center Park Association installing four picnic tables which, Austin said, “ … are in frequent use.”
Town Center Park also turned out to be the perfect location for F3 Kingwood The River, a free bootcamp-style workout for men, according to their Facebook page.
“Our founding father is Bill Swendsen, the heart of our group. He lives in Crosby, was part of the original F3 group in Houston that met at Memorial Park. He wanted to start an F3 group in the northeast part of Harris County,” Durkee explained, “and thought Kingwood would be a great location due to the population density and the park. Location and amenities are especially important for a successful AO.”
“AO” in F3 lingo stands for “Area of Operation.” To communicate with an F3 enthusiast can be challenging since the F3 world is packed with military-styled acronyms, abbreviations that make perfect and logical sense if you know military-ese or begin to pick up the tongue.
Durkee, the spokesperson, has the lingo down pat and gives a quick explanation of what F3 is, how it came about, and what it can be for men in Lake Houston.
“F3 is a network of men’s small workout groups built around the three Fs — fitness, fellowship and faith,” explained Durkee. “It was launched nationally Jan. 1, 2011, with a New Year’s Day workout in Charlotte, North Carolina.”
There are F3 groups in nearly every state and major municipality include 19 in the Greater Houston area. That adds up to more than 3,000 daily workouts across the United States plus the United Kingdom and Australia.
The Kingwood group is F3 Kingwood The River. The group normally consists of 10 to 20 participants at a time, coming from Kingwood, Atascocita, Humble, Crosby and Porter.
“There is a second AO (Area of Operation) spawned from The River that is located at the Eagle Springs Athletic Club in Atascocita and called The Flight Line,” said Durkee.
How do you become a member?
“Just show up,” said Durkee. “You are immediately welcomed into the first workout and given an F3 nickname.”
First timers are added to the distribution list and emailed instructions to join “Band” which is a phone app like Twitter and the method F3 uses to communicate with each other.
“A typical ‘AO’ consists of five to 20 men,” said Durkee. “We believe there are more than 57,000 PAX (participants) worldwide. We accommodate all men, all races, creeds and levels of fitness and our ages range from the teens to 70s.”
The workouts, according to Durkee, are based on five core principals. They take place outdoors, rain or shine, heat or cold, mostly in early mornings. They always are free, are led by a rotating “Q” or workout leader — who doesn’t need training or certification, are physically challenging bootcamp-style that are inclusive of all men who show up. And they always end with a Circle of Trust.
“No one is ever turned away, and no one is left behind,” Durkee said.
As for those workout stations in the park, Durkee explained that F3 Kingwood had discussed setting up exercise equipment for some time.
“The idea to put in pullup bars was something we’d discussed for some time,” he said. “Other AOs (locations) naturally had the equipment due to being located at schools, parks and the like, and so included pullups in their workouts. It was something we wanted to have.”
The group also thought the equipment would be something that could help Kingwood by expanding the functionality of the park.
“The men came up with the idea and our park board approved it,” Tony Austin said.
Members of both area F3 groups, The River (Kingwood) and The Flight Line (Atascocita), designed it, dug into their collective pockets to buy the material and install the equipment.
“We will continue to maintain it and are discussing future plans for additional equipment, perhaps dip bars,” Durkee said.
Durkee has kind words to say about Austin and the Town Center Park Association.
“Tony and the Town Center management have been incredibly hospitable since our humble beginnings in June 2018,” he said. “Tony has been expanding the offerings at the park to make it more usable and more inviting. We are very thankful for his work and his excitement around our project. We couldn’t have done it without him.”
Community good works, like the workout stations, come naturally to the F3 guys.
“There are countless ways we help our brothers and local causes in the area,” Durkee explained. “We collect donations for brothers having trouble. Help each other with moves. Provide general support when someone is struggling with any issue — family, sickness, depression. And there always are good causes to support.”
Durkee listed many including the L3 Kingwood Thanksgiving Run, Toys for Tots, Humble Area Battered Women’s Home, blood drives and Wreaths Across America. F3 Kingwood recently aided an Afghan family with housing and supplies as they moved to Kingwood.
The Houston F3 group was featured in a 2017 article in People Magazine outlining how they “ … sprang into action in the days after Hurricane Harvey …” in water rescues and home cleanups.
Learn more about F3 at their Houston website, f3houston.com/home. Then take a look at Kingwood The River’s lively Facebook page, packed with bright, cheerful videos that may encourage even sleepyheads to join the fun — rain or shine, Facebook.com/F3Kingwood. Atascocita/Eagle Springs area residents should check out, The Flight Line, facebook.com/F3Atascocita.
First timers will be introduced to the members by their F3 nicknames. “Most of us don’t remember each other’s real names,” the Facebook post says. Then, the first timer gets his first nickname, the F-N-G, Friendly New Guy.
As for Town Center Park, Austin hints that there is more to come and for Kingwood residents to be excited about.
“We will look at creating a strategic plan for the park to continue with these initiatives,” he told The Tribune.