If you didn't know better, you'd walk into the Tracey Gardner Method studio and think you're in SoHo. It's dark, urban and completely out of character for its New Albany-area strip center. But none of the 50 people who have packed the place for a Thursday evening class seem to mind. In fact, the atmosphere is a big part of what draws them in droves.

"I love it. Nothing has ever motivated me as much as this," says Nikki DuRussel, a 31-year-old mother from New Albany who gives up the only free time she has for this class. "You almost get a high. You can go in there having the worst day and come out feeling really good about yourself."

Gardner, 37, is strong, lean and sculpted-a far cry from the college party girl who smoked two packs a day and was addicted to pain killers. "If anyone would have told me (then) I would be addicted to fitness," she said, "I would have said they were crazy."

In an effort to turn her life around, Gardner started studying yoga and practiced myriad styles, but was uninspired. So over several years, she developed her own method-a combination of strength training and endurance, using body resistance to build core strength and shed pounds. Gardner eventually began to teach it, and before long, her classes were packed.

Last year, she mustered the strength to open her own studio. Today, after less than a year, Tracey Gardner Method boasts 1,800 clients who come from all corners of central Ohio to get their fix. Their goals vary, from toning arms to losing weight to managing pain, but their exuberance is the same-and unwavering.

Gardner believes the environment is almost as important as the exercise. The concrete floors are heated, lights are dim, steam is pumped into the 105-degree room, scented candles provide aromatherapy, and an eclectic mix of music provides added inspiration.

"I wanted to create a place where everyone would find peace and happiness," Gardner said.

DuRussel certainly has-and she lost inches in the process. "Six pounds in three months," she said, "without doing anything else!"

"It's amazing-the music, the energy," she added. "When you're done, you feel like you've been out at a club, drenched in sweat, but happy knowing you pushed yourself to the limit and beyond."

Fellow addict Amy Ramey, 42 of Johnstown, attends at least three to five times a week to ease the pain of spinal stenosis.

"I wanted to try Tracy's class before undergoing surgery, and I never could have imagined what would happen," she said. "When I started, I could not stand up straight. Now I do."

Gardner said that among the lives changed is her own. The mother of two boys, 11 and 8, went from a stay-at-home mom into an accidental business owner who is now extremely ambitious-and driven by the thought of transforming lives. Her voice becomes almost animated when she talks about Ramey-who no longer needs surgery on her spine-or the woman who discovered that bariatric surgery isn't the only way to lose weight.

Gardner's drive and determination haven't gone unnoticed. She's now a spokesperson for Victoria's Secret Sport. You'll find the "Tracy Twist Cami" in VSX stores, as well as her first DVD, "Essentials One."

"I love it all so much-the stories, the happiness," Gardner said. "It's amazing where this has taken me."

For more, visit TraceyGardnerMethod.com. Watch Tracy Gardner on Andrea Cambern's "Female Focus," which airs weekdays at 5 p.m. on 10TV News HD.