Inspire the World to Fitness®
IDEA member Chris Kelly used his expertise to help level the fitness field for underprivileged women.
IDEA member Chris Kelly, personal fitness trainer and owner of CK Wellness in Manhattan, New York, can trace his enthusiasm for fitness back to his childhood, when he helped his mother train for marathons. “I held her stopwatch during timed miles and screamed from the sideline on race day with my Dad,” Kelly says. “Even though I was very small, her relentless determination instilled in me a deep respect for the benefits of proper training.”
Kelly picked up the fitness bug and was very active until an injury sidelined him and set a precedent in his life. “After tearing my anterior cruciate ligament while playing soccer, I worked with an inspirational certified athletic trainer who helped me rehabilitate without surgery. The only thing more powerful than the dread I felt after my injury was the absolute exhilaration of stepping back onto the field several months later.” As a fitness professional, Kelly says, he wants to give this feeling of joy and motivation to all his clients—it is what inspired him to choose a career in fitness.
Kelly constantly strives to offer his clients the fullest experience of wellness that he can. Toward that end, he researches ways to meet people more than halfway on their journeys to health. He takes a holistic view and applies it to his programs. “New York is the healthiest and unhealthiest environment in the world,” Kelly says. “On the one hand, the competition and edge of the city push you to be your best on a daily basis. On the other, the lack of time and space often pushes exercise by the wayside. My main challenge with clients is to help them get away from the ‘bang it out’ [school of thought] by stopping to think about the ‘why’ behind eating, exercise and how we take care of ourselves. Often their problems come not from a lack of motivation, but from stressful situations that trigger reactive behaviors.”
It was this realization, among other things, that spurred Kelly to create a site called thespotter.net, which began as a webzine but grew into a “workout buddy database, advisory board of local experts and online member support group for virtually any fitness goal.” “In the gym, a spotter is someone who provides support for your goals, but because we can’t always get [to the gym], our site focuses on providing the information and motivation to provide similar support for your daily routine,” Kelly says.
As a complement to his wellness website, Kelly decided he would reach out to the community in a unique way. “Living and working in New York City can be expensive, stressful and generally unhealthy unless you can afford an assistant, boutique shopping, grocery delivery and a membership at an exclusive club,” he says. “I wanted to impart the idea that true wellness is not just being in physical shape; it’s also how you feel about yourself on a daily basis.”
Kelly and other volunteer experts from thespotter.net decided to sponsor a makeover that paired individual women with professionals in fitness, nutrition, style and career. Three women were chosen through the Bottomless Closet, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to promote economic self-sufficiency by providing interview skills, business clothing and ongoing career development to financially disadvantaged women. The motivation for the idea, according to Kelly, came from watching people on the subway. “I think anyone would develop empathy for a single mom taking her kids to school or an underpaid maid on her way to work,” he says. “After numerous conversations with such individuals, I realize that being in shape is a privilege we take for granted in modern society.”
Kelly and colleagues interviewed more than 50 candidates from the Bottomless Closet. Three women were selected based on need, personality and willingness to participate: Sonja (last name withheld), Marilyn Fisher and Cindy Shgerza. The trio received professional mental, physical and social support, as well as Jenny Craig® Jenny’s Cuisine food items. “The program began with a consultation to set long- and short-term goals and included a lifestyle and fitness evaluation,” Kelly says. “We coached participants’ exercise routines, food choices, wardrobe selections and personal presentations. We also monitored changes and improvements through physical statistics, regular interviews and periodic photo shoots.” Unfortunately, Sonja injured her knee halfway through the program and was unable to continue. However, by the end of the 90-day period, both Shgerza and Fisher had lost more than 30 pounds and gone down four dress sizes. They had also improved their posture, strength, attitude and self-esteem.
The experience infused Kelly with “a tremendous sense of empathy.” “Above all, being a successful personal trainer is about learning and growing with each client,” he says. “Not only did Cindy and Marilyn challenge me to better my knowledge in fitness, but I also gained a tremendous amount of insight and empathy into the human condition.”
Kelly feels that, generally, the fitness industry overlooks underprivileged people, and fitness professionals can do more to reach out and make wellness more accessible to a wider audience. “I think we need to get past the idea that fitness requires a set of weights and a treadmill,” Kelly says. “Establishing healthy habits is about fitting diet and fitness into your daily routine. From [purely a] fitness perspective, this means going back to basics with squatting, lunging, push-ups and other body weight exercises that strengthen the muscles and mimic the demands of daily living. While the term wellness is thrown around far too much, I believe truly being in shape demands all aspects of health—social, mental and physical. Consistency is the key to any goal, and this is established through [the encouragement of] peers, a supportive environment, a favorable schedule and a diet and workout that you enjoy. As we become a busier society, I feel technology will help us support this all-encompassing approach by making information available to the masses.”
SIDEBAR: Tell Us What You Are Doing
Are your clients obese, disabled or just starting to exercise after years of sedentary living? We want to hear how you are motivating, challenging and retaining clients on a long-term basis. In 200 words or less, detail the specifics of your program and client(s), along with your name and contact information. If your success story is compelling and unique, we may use it in a future issue or on the Inspire the World to Fitness® section of the website.
Mail: Sandy Todd Webster
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Joy Keller is a senior editor of IDEA Fitness Journal.