Nowadays I call myself a personal trainer.
It took me about 16 years of being a personal trainer to realize what ‘personal’ really means. Up until Michelle came through my door. It was August 2011, the time of year most active people are out and about getting their last activity in before the denver weather turns chilly. I’d been a trainer for years before this moment, first in Australia then moving to Denver Colorado. But this is the story of the session that changed me from a trainer into a personal trainer.
She sat down and cried right there in front of me.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do, mostly because I was fighting tears back myself.
Michelle had come in to see me without much hope.
A teenage athletic phenom, an accident in college led to a rabbit hole of multiple other injuries. When I met her, she had undergone a total of 17 surgeries on various joints. For some reason her mother had thought that bringing her into my downtown denver studio was a good idea. I mean, I couldn’t do worse, right? (right?)
The run of the mill personal trainer is rarely that.
Michelle went on to tell me that she had gained 70 lbs. She was on anti-depressants. She was 27. That’s a younger than my normal client but I treated her just the same as I do all my clients – with respect and empathy for their current situation, and care for their story.
I’ve always believed that people have a story to tell about how they got to where they are – I’ve found it’s important to listen to these stories as they usually contain the information that will help them get through the challenges that lie between them and the place they want to be.
I’ve been studying as a trainer for about 20 years, but it’s only been about 8 years since I learned my ‘functional manual release’ techniques from the renowned physical therapist Gary Gray. I’d learned much first hand from other experts as well such as Michol Dalcourt, Chuck Wolf, Paul Chek, Charles Poliquin and countless other industry leaders, but for some reason this moment in time felt different. Studying under the Gray system had given me new tools, a new way of looking at the body and integrating in all the other methods I’d before used on a piecemeal basis. Hobbling in, Michelle sat on the therapy table and looked at me with hopeless eyes. Her mother sat patiently in the background, listening but not contributing. Michelle told me her story of athletics – of the things her body had once been able to do. She spoke of the things that meant so much to her, that kept her sane, kept her alive. Of experiences she’d had with another denver personal trainer in her youth and physical therapists in her teens. Of surgeons in her adulthood.
I explained to her that I wasn’t a therapist, not a chiropractor, not a bodyworker. I’d ‘sat by the fire’ so to speak with all of those experts and listened attentively to their advice. But I wasn’t any of those professions. I was just a personal trainer (at least, that’s what I had considered myself up until I realized what ‘personal’ really meant). But for some reason I looked her in the eye… and told her I was going to help her.
I told her she would walk out of my training studio free of pain. I don’t know why I made that commitment to her. It was probably one of the more stupid things I’ve done. But once it was out, I couldn’t take it back.
I can’t really remember what happened in the next 30 minutes of our personal training session.
I just remember that moment when all of my training, my research, my fusion of knowledge kind of ‘came together’. I was seeing her body the way it was currently moving, the way I wanted it to move and the different muscles and joints that were ‘getting in each other’s way’, so to speak. At the end of the 30 minutes, I stepped back and looked back at her posture. She seemed to be standing taller. her grimace had been replaced with the beginnings of a smile.
Taking a leap of faith, I asked her to walk over to the open space in my fitness studio and take a walk. She did so without pain for the first time in 6 years. A smile grew across her face. Her mother stood, as if the tension was too much to sit.
I then asked her to give me a lunge. She did.
Returning back from the lunge position, she started crying. Her mother rushed to her side to give her a hug, both of us confused, in that place where you’re looking for more information but aren’t sure whether to wait for the crying to slow or just to start repeating yourself until they recognize you’re talking.
Michelle spoke between breaths: “That… is… the first time…I can remember… lunging without pain.” I sighed a deep sigh, then immediately stifled emotions, playing it all off as if it happens to me every day. True to my word/foolishness, she walked out of there free of pain. Over the next few months, Michelle went on from that point to return to athletics.
Following a tailored food plan I built for her she lost the 70 lbs she had gained, no longer needed her medications and was cleared from being pre-diabetic (I missed that part at the start, didn’t I?). I’ve since had clients that have lost over 100lbs, clients that I’ve taken from desk jockey to athletic, from lost hope to inspirations to others, from “I can’t” to “I did”. But Michelle was the client that meant the most to me – the one that showed me what was possible when I tried to put together ALL the tools that were at my disposal. That session was truly a turning point in her life and also one in mine. She’s a client that I will always be grateful for.
Grateful for her attention to detail in the questions she asked.
Grateful for her taking the time to do the work in session and the homework at home.
But most of all grateful for the trust she placed in me, for my first truly ‘personal’ training session.
Be true to your goals,