A fitting place to meet

Exercise: The Web site Fitnessdate.com gives those into physical fitness a place to check out others with similar interests.

May 20, 2001|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Sun Staff

In her quest to find a soul mate, Kim Huffman has tried the usual ways of meeting men -- matchmaking friends, the gym, bars. And when the athletic 31-year-old heard about a new Internet dating site for people who are into health and fitness, she was intrigued.

The Laurel resident and part-time fitness instructor signed up at Fitnessdate.com, filled out a profile, sent in a photograph and watched the e-mails roll in. After a few weeks, a personal trainer from Belair caught her attention, and they started corresponding.

E-mails turned into phone calls, and the two decided to meet for a drink at the ESPN Zone in the Inner Harbor.

"I was a little nervous, mostly excited," Huffman says. She and her date talked for a couple of hours about exercise, past relationships and their expectations for the future.

It was that last topic that proved to be a problem: They were both looking for a long-term relationship, and they realized they weren't right for each other.

"He was a nice guy, but ultimately we decided we weren't a match," says Huffman who has exchanged a few e-mails and calls with him since then.

But she is not giving up on Fitnessdate.com. "I really liked the idea that there was a site directed toward a particular interest," she says, adding that on general dating Web sites, you never know how serious the other person is about a healthy lifestyle.

Fitnessdate.com was founded earlier this year by three women in Cherry Hill, N.J., who, like Huffman, enjoy working out, want to meet someone who shares their interests and were tired of the bar scene.

Co-founder Cindy Bongiovanni, who says she has been working out since Jane Fonda released her first exercise video 20 years ago, had survived her share of unsuccessful dates. She remembers one guy whose personal ad said he was attractive, athletic and fit, but who turned out to be overweight and out of shape. Bongiovanni, who had dressed up to impress what sounded like the perfect guy for her, excused herself and drove home, angry and frustrated.

A few years later she was exercising on an elliptical trainer at the gym and using a built-in Internet connection when the dating service idea hit her.

"I was so tired of scrolling through all these guy's profiles looking for someone with similar interests," says Bongiovanni, 43."I thought to myself it would be really cool if there were a dating site just for people into health and fitness."

She turned her idea into reality with her friend, Helena Bergen, 43, and Bergen's sister, Joan Balotin, 42, both of whom exercise regularly.

Some people are scared to try an Internet dating service, says Huffman, who works out at the gym and also likes to inline skate and go hiking, because they worry that others online are desperate. "I never thought that," she adds, and judging from the early success of Fitnessdate.com, she is not alone.

Since the Web site was launched in January, its founders say, the business has grown to more than 1,400 members. Membership is heaviest in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but the site has several hundred users in Maryland, Washington and Virginia and a few from other states.

Using the Internet to meet someone, says Bergen, has its advantages. It's time-efficient because you can search for potential dates according to specific criteria, and you can learn a lot about people before you ever meet them. The biggest reward, the Web site's founders say, is the chance to meet someone with similar interests.

"Opposites attract couldn't be further from the truth today," says Bergen. People are busy, and their free time is scarce. Whatever the interest or hobby, she adds, "If you can do it with your mate, it creates closeness."

When users visit Fitnessdate.com, they can select several search criteria, including gender, age, marital status, education and habits such as smoking or drinking. From the list of possibilities, users can click on longer profiles that include a person's physical description, personality traits, favorite activities and short essays on who they are and what they are looking for.

People can also post up to five photos, and those who do usually get the best response.

Bergen stresses that clients are "not just people who lift weights." You don't have to be buff or pass a fitness test to join, she says. You just have to be into physical fitness and looking for others who are, too.

Visitors can post their own information, submit pictures and browse the site for free. But to get someone's e-mail address, you have to become a paying member -- $19.95 per month to $99.95 for a yearlong membership.

Bongiovanni, who is divorced, says "There are a lot of professionals, a lot of guys for me to choose from" on the site, but "I am so busy I don't have time to get together with any of them."

Huffman recommends the Internet for dating, "but I would say ... be smart about it." She advises people not to give out their home phone numbers or addresses. Instead, she says, use a cell phone and meet dates in public places.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.