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The Personal Fitness Counselor

With a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, Meredith Nelson, MEd, helps clientele plow through barriers to fitness.

Subject: Meredith Nelson, MEd

Company: PrimeTime Fitness Inc.

The Participant Becomes the Professional. Meredith Nelson has always been an active person; however, she didn’t think her interest in a healthy and fit lifestyle would transform into a career path. Her educational studies were first
focused on music, and after achieving a bachelor’s degree in the subject, she went on to obtain a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. “I never anticipated being in the fitness industry,” recalls Nelson. “My enjoyment of running, aerobics and working out gradually grew into my current career.” Nelson had been taking aerobics classes taught by a friend at a nearby gym, and it was her friend who suggested she make the transition from participant to professional. Nelson heeded the advice and began teaching her own classes at the gym. “From there, class participants would ask me fitness questions, as would members who would see me working out on my own in the gym,” she says. It now seemed inevitable that her hobby would eventually become her livelihood.

Island Girl. Prior to opening her own fitness facility, Nelson spent time at the helm of a large gym, which laid the groundwork for what would become a tremendously successful personal training facility. “Working as a manager, I was able to see how things could have been done differently,” she says. “Listening to members comment about what they didn’t like about the gym helped me create a plan for a smaller, more intimate facility. At the same time, I was able to determine what members did like and tried to do the same . . . or better!” In July 2000, Nelson opened PrimeTime Fitness, a 400-square-foot, one-on-one gym that quickly grew into a 2,800-square-foot health club facility, hosting about 100 personal and group training clients and 100 monthly gym members. Nelson doesn’t cite any specific reasons for such growth, but believes it may have something to do with the location. “I did what I could to meet the demand! Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, is a small town, and islanders welcome any opportunity to do everything they want or need to do, without leaving the island.” One might wager, however, that location is secondary to her focus on customer service. “Word travels fast around here, and one satisfied customer will lead to many more,” she says. “I try to resolve any conflict to the customer’s benefit, even if it is not in my best interest (within reason!).”

Rehabilitation Fitness. Nelson’s unique educational background initiated her
interest in working with special populations, which make up the majority of her
current clientele. “As a counselor, I have worked with special populations on learning to live with and make accommodations for their limitations,” she says. “As a fitness professional, I strive to enable people with various disabilities to enjoy being as fit as possible.” Nelson believes that her counseling expertise helps
enhance her ability to properly communicate with those who have unique challenges. “Helping [clients] formulate their own plan simply by listening to them talk through their own obstacles has been a huge benefit and instrumental to the growth and success of PrimeTime Fitness,” she says. “A big part of counseling is not telling or advising others what to do but helping them make their own decisions.”

Maintain Focus. Nelson also credits sticking with a niche for her current successes. “I do not try to train bodybuilders or elite athletes,” she says. “I could train those people—I am armed with the knowledge to do so—but I have a certain sense of responsibility to those with disabilities.” She states that focusing on a specific clientele has led not only to heightened expertise and financial gain but also to rewards not measured by facility growth and bank dividends. “The real challenge (and reward!) is in seeing clients do something they thought would never be possible, even if it is as simple as reaching up to place an item on a shelf, picking themselves up off the floor if they fall, or handling a stressful situation by going for a run or using deep breathing techniques.” Money can’t buy that kind of satisfaction.

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor, and IDEA's director of event programming.

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