Michael Karolchyk has built his unorthodox fitness brand by offending nearly everyone. He calls himself the health conscience of America, but is he really trying to help you, or is he more interested in helping himself?
Karolchyk's friends call his peculiar way of representing himself "stretching" or "storytelling;" if you want a piece of his time, you simply have to accept it. The gift for self-aggrandizement comes naturally for any Jersey guy, as second nature as spending a weekend down the Shore or rooting for the Yankees. "My dad called him the biggest bullshitter in the world," one friend says. "I just think he thrives from being in the spotlight."
The way Karolchyk tells it, his life is one long confrontation: of getting beers dumped on his head, of late-night calls and hate-filled e-mails from overweight women, amusingly furious at his offensive ads. He portrays himself as a human version of an 18-car pileup, but outside of the stunts he'd staged for my benefit, there was little evidence to back up his accounts. He gave an appearance of openness ("You're seeing my life in ways no one else has"), but he rarely answered my serious questions—about his mother, his second wife, how much money his gym was really making. I asked to speak to his parents; he wouldn't tell me his mother's name. I asked to speak to his wife; he said no. I asked for a formal sit-down interview with him, but he kept dodging me, preferring to have me follow him around like a dog. I'd been riding shotgun on his take-no-prisoners crusade, but I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something, maybe many things, he'd been trying to hide from me.
I called Brown University. The registrar's records show that Karolchyk attended but never graduated. He got the class ring, I later learned, as a gift from his mother during his junior year. Obviously, that meant he was unlikely to have been accepted to Emory, which meant that the elaborate scene with his grandfather—Karolchyk's stated motivation for making him who he is—also could be untrue. And despite numerous stories of Capital Grille melees described to me in e-mails ("You missed a damn good night the other night.... What a beautiful ending to a night of major betrayals and major developments!!!"), no one at the restaurant could confirm his accounts.
I kept looking. Karolchyk had told me he owned the Curtis Street building and the loft, but the Denver Assessor's official records list Karolchyk's former father-in-law as the owner. In a rambling, convoluted e-mail responding to my questions about the discrepancy, Karolchyk wrote a byzantine explanation for the ownership structure. "We have left if [sic] completely ambiguous and confusing ON PURPOSE," he wrote. "MY QUESTION: WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE ANTIGYM AND YOUR STORY???"
I again asked to speak to his parents; instead, he gave me lists of fired employees and clients whom he thought would add to his "most-hated" moniker and fuel his image as a rebel.
Fed up, I looked up his parents' number and called his mother.