Colebrook artist recreates interior of Torrington gym

TORRINGTON – What happens when a self-taught muralist with spray paint and a graffiti pen joins a gym with hundreds of square feet of blank walls?

A recreation of the workout space, that’s what.

Colebrook residents Marina Diaz and her partner, Jason Mikolajcik, joined Nautilus Plus Fitness at 789 Winsted Road this past winter. Dan Bergeron, the facility’s personal trainer, learned that Diaz had done murals at big box stores and other places. He approached Bruce Kasenetz, co-owner of the facility, with the idea that Diaz paint murals there.

Then, Kasenetz met with Diaz. “We got to talking, and we kind of collaborated on some of the ideas that she thought might enhance the facility,” he said. “We were just looking to create a better atmosphere.”

They agreed that she would paint a mural on a wall in the entryway. If Kasenetz liked it, she would pitch more designs for a bigger wall.

He asked what the entryway mural would look like. She asked him to trust her.

“She wouldn’t tell me. She told me, ‘I’m gonna do one. Is it OK if I do it?’ I said, ‘Do you think maybe I should know what it is?’ She said, ‘No, it’s a surprise,’” remembered Kasenetz – known to most as “Coach” because of his years teaching physical education at Torrington High School. So, he took the chance.

The completed 125-square-foot mural features a 16-foot-wide American flag with the words “Nautilus Plus Fitness” and a barbell bent down by its own weight. “East. 1975” is in a small oval.

“I came up with this design under wraps without Coach knowing,” Diaz said. “The logo’s in the center, but it’s a family, like a good old American family.”

Kasenetz liked it, of course. It’s the logo he created years ago, one he wears on a blue-and-white T-shirt. As agreed, they met to discuss another mural for the larger wall in the gym.

Diaz took photos of the wall with her iPad. Using a design program, she was able to create a virtual design of her idea to show Kasenetz.

“The first two didn’t cater to his image of what this business is, and then I said, ‘Let me go home and kind of get some ideas,’” she said. She also talked to some of the other clientele, who suggested showing images of a strong arm with a fist, a woman power lifting, a man lifting dumbbells, and a runner.

“When we had talked about what Nautilus is, it’s not your traditional corporate gym,” Diaz said. “This is a true home setting that caters to the clientele. You have your moms; you have your elderly people trying to stay in shape; you have your young kids coming out of high school; and you have us, who are middle-aged. They’re really catering to everybody.”

The finished mural, with an electric black and blue, spray-painted background, depicts all these themes, she said. The four main images and hundreds of sharp triangles are made with a bright white graffiti pen in a sort of connect-the-dots concept, reminiscent of constellations on a star chart. It completely covers a long wall just inside the gym, an area of ​​nearly 400 square feet.

Diaz and Mikolajcik worked night after night, putting in more than 50 hours, moving machines out of the way and then moving them back before the sun came up.

“We picked them up and we put them down,” she said. “It’s a good thing we come to the gym.”

Diaz has no formal art training. She worked 14 years in upper management for big box stores, working 70 hours a week.

“I was very good at my job, and I did love my job, but I wasn’t passionate about it,” she said.

With encouragement from Mikolajcik, she left corporate America to pursue her art.

“I think the only positive thing that came out of COVID was that a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of artists dropped their corporate jobs and pushed forward with their dreams,” she said. “And having him (Mikolajcik) as my cheerleader in the background, he helped me make that final decision.”

Mikolajcik is a retired Marine veteran with a Purple Heart, she said. He served in Iraq and was injured in Fallujah. They have two children.

He also helped with the logo in the entrance, she said. “We did it in one night after hours. He keeps me on point and on schedule.”

Kasenetz opened Nautilus Plus with business partner Fran DuCotey in 1975 on lower East Main Street, he said. They moved briefly to Water Street before moving to their present location about 25 years ago. The 10,000-square-foot space includes a 2,000-square-foot expansion completed in 2008.

Kasenetz said, ““Despite the change in the climate in the fitness industry because of the COVID situation, we still continue to offer that same workout environment we started 47 years ago. We are proud of that, obviously. We have bought new equipment and a lot of expansion, but we still offer that same hometown atmosphere to the people who are looking for that. Still today, we are getting new members.”

When he was teaching at Torrington High School, he helped develop a fitness center there, he said. He was one of the first to open a Nautilus facility in Connecticut, he said.

For more images by Marina Diaz, see rawartists.com/twistedrootsart. For information about Nautilus Plus Fitness, go to www.nautilusplusfitness.com/ or call 860-489-4929.

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