By Debbie Anderson July 12, 2022 August 19th, 2022 No Comments

The Happy Camper

By Beatriz Terrazas
Photos by Beatriz Terrazas

An early fan of the Gladiator brand and its ‘better together’ philosophy, Brooke Bradley Nicholson remains focused on building fitness and community

It’s dawn in a Southlake parking lot. People are tossing medicine balls, jumping rope and dragging fire hoses to a playlist that ranges from AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” to “Baby” by Justin Bieber. Welcome to Brooke Bradley Nicholson’s Camp Gladiator. By the time her first of three consecutive sessions starts at 5:30 a.m., she has been up for almost three hours.

“CG,” as it’s nicknamed, is a nationwide fitness brand that was founded in 2008 in a Dallas parking lot. CG trainers are certified from nationally accredited organizations. (Full disclosure: The writer has taken CG classes from Nicholson.)

This has been Brooke’s routine three times a week — with little variation — for the past 12 years. Yes, it’s part of her livelihood, but guiding people of all ages and fitness levels on the path to better health is the culmination of a quest to help others and, at the same time, build community.

“My parents taught my sister and me the importance of serving the community,” says Brooke.

“At CG, we have a saying that we are ‘better together.’ What I love most about CG is the sense of community, how together, we can achieve so much more than we can alone — and it is way more fun. “Out in that parking lot,” she says, “magic happens.”

Civic Lessons

When she was in second grade, Brooke’s family moved from Dallas to the historic Westlake home built by architect Charles Dilbeck for E.M. “Ted” Dealey. Dealey was The Dallas Morning News publisher from 1946 to 1968. The house (named “Paigebrooke” after Brooke and her sister), its restoration effort and its eventual relocation 2 miles from its original site are now a part of local history.

But what shaped Brooke’s life was not just the house itself but how her civic-minded parents, Scott and Kelly Bradley, shared it with others. “It was a place where many community projects and events took place,” says Brooke. The Bradleys recently sold the house and will be living out of state for a while. After that, they’re “open to whatever the universe has for us,” says Kelly. whether it’s coming back to this area or getting on a cruise ship for several months.

Kelly and Scott Bradley named their Westlake estate Paigebrooke for their two daughters. The property was recently sold as the couple look for a new adventure.

Included in her parents’ legacy is Metroport Meals on Wheels, which Kelly founded more than 40 years ago. Brooke recalls preparing and boxing up meals in her family’s kitchen, then delivering them. “We would frequently visit the seniors or take them to doctor appointments or to run errands. Every Christmas, Dad would drive the tractor pulling the flatbed with hay bales, and we’d go caroling at their homes.”

Her father served on the Keller school board and was mayor of Westlake for 14 years. Her mother was a Westlake alderwoman and served on the town’s historical society.

“They were the visionaries behind Westlake Academy and are among the founding families,” says Brooke.

Her father also gifted Brooke his love of fitness. When Scott did weekend runs with friends at White Rock Lake in Dallas, his wife and their daughters handed out snacks from the family station wagon. Brooke has since run 10 marathons.

A Search for Meaning

After high school graduation, Brooke volunteered with Amigos de las Américas, an international youth development program. She spent the summer in Ecuador administering rabies shots to cats, dogs and monkeys.

She was accepted into the Peace Corps, but the only countries with open slots were battling AIDS epidemics, and her doctor advised her against going. College beckoned, so Brooke enrolled at Pepperdine University in California and got her degree in international communications with a minor in nonprofit leadership.

In 1996, she married Dack Nicholson, and the couple eventually settled in Trophy Club. They had a daughter, Riley, in 1999, and a son, Reece, in 2001.

Brooke with Dack, her husband, and daughter Riley. Dood, of course, wanted to be in the family photo, too.

By the late aughts, Brooke was still looking for a perfect job fit. She had tried incorporating her interest in health into a meaningful career, and she and Dack had both landed in pharmaceutical sales. Two rounds of layoffs and what she considered unethical use of some drugs left her disenchanted.

“And that’s when Dack said, ‘Why don’t you do what you love?’ ” says Brooke. She took his advice and built a client base around personal training while volunteer coaching Westlake Academy’s cross-country runners.

In 2010, she met Jeff and Ally Davidson, the couple who started Camp Gladiator in ’08. She visited a few camps and was impressed. “And the community! It was fun, and it was a good workout.”

Almost immediately she was assigned to a Southlake group. “I don’t know how I was fortunate to fall into it, but it’s just such a perfect fit for me,” says Brooke.

A Walking Inspiration

Her campers like her energy and corny jokes. But it’s her extra efforts that endear her to them: the walks and bike rides with them on weekends; the pop-up workouts and runs over Christmas break.

“Brooke is a walking inspiration,” says Tasha Kelly Tolbert, who has trained with Brooke since 2013. “We used to go jogging after boot camp when she had a break, and we used to solve all the world’s problems — only the world didn’t know.” And she credits Brooke for keeping them safe after the initial COVID waves. “She adjusted our workouts so we were spaced out and didn’t share equipment, so we could still see our friends.”

“Brooke has built a great community within all her CG classes,” says Jason Ferrara, who has worked out with her since 2017 and has, along the way, added his wife and kids to the program. “We all go together at least once a week.”

“CG has helped us become stronger, more confident and, frankly, tougher. We truly have fun working out together, and Brooke loves having the family there.”

Brooke Bradley Nicholson and her Camp Gladiator class are all smiles after a sweaty early-morning workout. Dood, Brooke’s dog, is there for moral support.

Campers are often inspired to run half-marathons or sign up for a triathlon after they realize how strong they are, says Brooke. “When I see people doing things that they didn’t think they could do, I get joy out of that.”

But she always comes back to the community.

She has seen campers attend memorials for members who’ve died. She has seen them set up meal trains for someone going through cancer treatment. They celebrate family additions with her. One of her regulars is in California taking care of a grandchild. “She just recently sent me a picture of her grandbaby,” says Brooke.

One recent morning just before her 6:45 a.m. camp, Brooke found herself watching and listening to the campers. “The guys are all talking, the women are all talking. Everybody was so excited to see each other,” she says. “I hated to break up the talk to start the workout because they’ve truly become friends.

“The connection is something that I notice on a daily basis,” she says. “I enjoy the community, and it does so much for my soul.”