From Grad School to Grade “A.” Sarah Collins was all wet when she found her calling.

Fresh out of the University of Southern California with a master’s degree in gerontology and exercise science, Collins went from the classroom to the pool and found a special population just waiting to be taken care of. “I started teaching aquatic exercise classes right out of graduate school,” she says. “People with hip/knee replacements and other joint and muscular limitations often gravitate to water as a means to movement without pain.” As her participants grew stronger, many of them began to realize the importance of strength training to control body composition and increase functional capacity.

From Water to the Weight Room. Collins’s water exercise participants made the move to land-based activity and focused attention on developing the skills to move through life with efficiency and confidence. “Many people with hip replacements are very afraid of falling, so my focus on balance and stability exercises is attractive to them as their postrehab period is completed.” The majority of her clients are 50–70 years old and have at least three risk factors with joint and/or muscular impairment. “Most have lived sedentary lifestyles and are now at a stage in their lives where they are overweight and have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes,” she says. Such specificity requires a great deal of extended education in order to properly—and safely—coach her clients toward success within her scope of practice. “Each person presents unique health concerns that I need to prepare for extensively with each training session. There is no ‘garden recipe for success’ that I can use for all clients.”

Smart Connections. Collins’s commitment to her ongoing education and a strong belief in the benefits of fostering solid bonds with medical providers help move her clients toward success. “A very close relationship is necessary between the client, medical provider and trainer,” she says. In the ever-advancing world of postrehab and fitness, Collins also advocates a firm foundation of knowledge and continuing education, so she can properly address her clients’ needs. “I could not imagine being safe or effective without my academic degree, certification and ongoing continuing education courses,” she says. In addition to expanding her education and allied health connections, Collins frequently reassesses her own skill set to ensure she is not beyond her scope of practice.

The Two-Way Street. Working with special populations is an extremely rewarding experience for Collins. “Often-times, clients come to me with broken spirits and pain, and feeling as though they have lost their ability to function as fully as they want to,” she says. This is when Collins utilizes her infectious energy to build her clients up, transforming them into self-assured individuals. “With every little accomplishment—even getting up from the floor independently—I watch their confidence grow,” she says. “I was tired of feeling creaky and arthritic,” relates her client Dorothy Kaiser of Monroe, Connecticut. “My chiropractor recommended I speak with Sarah Collins, who started me in water aerobics and a yoga class for special populations. After working with Sarah—and training hard—I was able to complete the MS Bike- A-Thon in September 2005. This was a dream I never thought possible.”

Immeasureable Rewards. Collins understands the value of her work. By paying close attention to the needs of a very special population, forging relationships with medical professionals and maintaining unfaltering motivation, she reaps fulfilling rewards. “As much as I give, I receive tenfold,” she says. “My clients lift me up to become a better personal trainer and a better human being. They bring laughter, smiles and proof of what will and determination can do. Now, how great is that?!”