The DeAscanis Family

Faith, family and fitness. If you had to sum up the DeAscanis family in three words, those would definitely be the ones you would choose. (And if you had room for a few more, friendly, focused and food would definitely make the list!) 

It all started nearly ten years ago, in the fall of 2012. After serving two tours in the Marine Corps and spending some time working for a lifestyle brand with a store in TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Antonio was working both at an engineering firm in Wilmington and as a personal trainer in Pike Creek when his cousin brought her best friend, Kelly, to one of Antonio’s boot camps. “I kinda made her pass out,” recalls Antonio. “It was a very hard workout,” Kelly concurs, and Antonio jokes, “It was a test.” While Kelly’s equally joking response is “I don’t know if I passed,” clearly she did, because Antonio asked his cousin for her number.  

While it may seem that fitness and family were what brought Antonio and Kelly together, faith definitely had a hand in it as well. Antonio is a devout Catholic with 5 siblings, one of whom is a priest. He calls the faith his parents instilled in him “a great gift,” and he had been attending St. Hedwig’s Church for a while when he met Kelly. He still marvels that “I prayed for a wife at a Polish parish and then I met a Polish girl.” They had their first date on November 15, 2012, and on that same date exactly two years later, they were standing at the altar in St. Hedwig’s and becoming man and wife.  

The following year was a very busy one for the Antonio and Kelly. They started a family with the birth of their oldest son, Leon, now 6, and they started a new business as well. “I was getting the call to do fitness my way and there were certain avenues I wanted to explore,” explains Antonio. “I was 32 and had Marine Corps experience and I was ready to be my own boss.” He opened Blk Ops Fitness in a garage in Browntown. His coworkers at the engineering firm told him that location might be a gamble, but Antonio felt like it was blessed, explaining: “My dad [Galileo “Leon” DeAscanis] was dying, and the last night I had with him I told him I found the location, so it was almost like he blessed the whole start of the business.” Leon’s funeral flag hung in the gym in Browntown, which was otherwise decorated with a very Californian vibe, with graffiti on the walls and a DJ setup for parties.  

Six years later, the business is still going strong, despite two moves – first to a garage next to Gallucio’s on Lovering Avenue, then to its current location at the former Astra Zeneca campus/future site of Avenue North on 202 in September 2020 – and a pandemic that really put the fitness industry through the ringer. Leon’s funeral flag is still on display, a reminder of just one of the hardships the DeAscanises have faced over the years. The most recent was losing Kelly’s father, David Radulski, who battled cancer for over two years before passing in August 2020, just weeks before Blk Ops Fitness opened to its current 6,000 square foot location.  The flag is a constant reminder to “Never Quit.  Never Give Up.”, which is a lesson Antonio tries to instill in everyone who comes to his gym or listens to his Blk Ops Podcast on Spotify. “That’s how we got here, but we’re honest about the fact that it’s difficult.  We want to inspire others to push forward when faced with adversity in life,” says Antonio. 

The gym isn’t the only thing that’s moved: in 2016, Antonio, Kelly and their son Leon moved into their current home in Greenville. Finding the house almost seems like kismet: “We actually found it separately,” Kelly remembers. “I was at work looking at houses and he was at home and the same day we said, ‘Oh, I sent you a house through email.’ We both looked at it and it was the same house.” It was a great location, right across the street from Antonio’s brother and close to Kelly’s job as a pediatric nurse at Nemours Children’s Hospital. Still, it wasn’t an easy sale, as the house was scheduled for auction that weekend and they needed to convince the seller to let them buy it before the auction and to let them use Antonio’s GI bill for the purchase. “It was a lot of ‘no’s, but I just had a lot of faith that it felt right,” says Antonio, “so we stayed persistent with it and we were able to get it for the price we wanted and then we began our journey of trying to make it livable.” 

Meanwhile, their family was growing, as they welcomed Giuseppe, 4, and Felicity, 2. With a growing family, a growing business, and a sick father to care for, Kelly quit her job as a nurse in July 2020. Now she’s pulling quadruple duty as a wife, a mother, a partner in Blk Ops Fitness who handles all the administrative work, and a homeschooling teacher for Leon. While she is not a teacher by trade, Kelly and Antonio decided to homeschool Leon because of the pandemic. “We were lucky our children weren’t in school when everything happened, so since they were not already in school and it was going to be a weird year potentially, we decided, ‘Ok, we’ll just try to figure things out and see what’s going on in the world and we’ll take another look at it down the road,’” explains Antonio. While they’re only halfway through Kindergarten and thus haven’t made any decisions yet as to what will come next, Kelly loves homeschooling so far. “I actually like to see exactly how he likes to learn,” enthuses Kelly. “The time that I have with all of them home, I’m never gonna regret that. So yeah, it’s tough, but I’m going to remember this forever and so will they.” 

It can also be tough for Antonio and Kelly to get any alone time, given their three kids and seven-day-a-week business. Still, they manage to squeeze in couple time when they can, whether that means watching cooking shows or just cooking together. They also have as much family time as possible, playing with the kids in the backyard, watching movies, bringing home the gym’s DJ equipment for glow dance parties, and having weekly family dinners on Saturdays and Sundays, whether alone or with family. “On Saturdays and Sundays, with the Italian culture, we have to have big meals together or it just doesn’t feel right,” says Antonio. “It’s what makes the week worthwhile.”