When Rebecca Yount looks up during one of her circuit training classes in Orange County, California, she sees a group of individuals with a lot of potential, not a collection of nameless faces. Everyone matters to her, but her attention is riveted on the deconditioned person hiding in the back corner, shoulders scrunched, eyes avoiding the mirror at all costs. She feels she knows that student because she used to be in the very same place.

Five years ago Yount was the kind of person fitness professionals try so hard to inspire. She was overweight, out of shape and miserable, with no clue about how to change her life. A series of events jumpstarted her will, and today she’s the one offering a helping hand.

A Familiar Story

Yount’s story is not unusual. It’s a thread in the American-lifestyle quilt. She simply got caught up in the trappings of excess eating and sedentary living. No, she didn’t overcome a life-threatening illness. The obstacles in her daily life were stones, not boulders. However, from her point of reference, every day seemed like a cursed repeat of the one before. Yount had spent years in “mommy mode,” putting everyone else first while denying her own needs. This left her with a skewed sense of self. She’d lie awake at night tormented by the same thoughts: “Why was I not able to exercise today?” “Why did I eat that extra helping at dinner?”

She had packed on at least 40 pounds over a decade. This surplus weight shrouded her in helplessness and defeatist thoughts about herself. She had one foot in the past and the other in a future that looked bleak. She knew she had to do something, but she had no idea where to start. Then she got the motivation she needed.

“My daughter got tired of hearing me complain,” Yount said. “And I started to recognize that I was setting a bad example for her. So we joined the gym. I went to low-impact classes 2–3 days a week. I was exhausted; I would take one look in the mirror and cry, but I kept going. In the beginning I went for my daughter’s sake. She was my inspiration.”

After 9 long months, Yount was discouraged because she had lost only 3 pounds. Instead of giving up, she added strength training to her regimen. During the next plateau she hired a personal trainer. His professional expertise made the difference, and she lost the rest of the weight, reaching her goal in time for her daughter’s wedding. “They say it takes a village to raise a child,” Yount says. “Well, it took [a group of people at] my gym to get this girl into shape. I will be forever grateful for their part. It was worth every penny I spent.”

A New Way

This is the part of the success story that takes an irregular turn. One of Yount’s favorite sayings is, “You can’t take anyone anywhere you haven’t been.” Although she had reached her weight loss goal and felt better than ever, she knew she had more work to do. Her uplifting attitude and exuberance inspired everyone around her. Soon her instructors were encouraging her to become a fitness instructor.

“I thought it would be fun, but I was not sure I could do it,” Yount says. “They all seemed so good, coordinated and fit! So I first went to an instructor-training seminar. I got so excited; I thought maybe it could become a reality. I said, ‘God, if you can use me to encourage others, then open the doors wide.’ That same week, several gals came up to me and said they were so discouraged—they couldn’t seem to get their act together—and asked if I could help them. I sent away for my AFAA packet, and when it came I took one look at it and thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ My husband studied with me, gave me tests and kept telling me I could do it. I went to the aerobics room and practiced, practiced, practiced on my own.”

Today, Yount is being considered for a master instructor role in her gym and she frequently gives talks, not only about her life as a deconditioned person, but also about her experience as a rookie instructor. Her journey to wellness taught her many lessons she applies to her new fitness career. “I can’t compare myself with others,” she says. “I keep my eyes on the path ahead. The musical phrasing, 32 counts, moves, warm-ups, cooldowns—all of that was difficult, and I wondered if it would ever make sense. I’m one of those slow but sure girls, and I still find myself hearing something the 10th time and going, ‘Oh, that’s it!’ I am as determined to succeed on this journey as I was on the other one. I won’t quit.”

From her special perspective, Yount encourages other fitness professionals to see the rising star in everyone. “Just like it’s easy to love the beautiful people who have their lives together, it can be easy to buddy up to the people who don’t seem to get it,” she says. “We all need encouragement. We don’t know what’s going on inside an individual until we take a close look and care—really care.”