By: Mike Collette
I had a great weekend/mini vacation/ snowed in few days with my  girlfriend, Erin Lindsay. She goes to Lehigh University which is several hours away in Bethlehem PA. I took this time to relax, unwind and recharge. I have found it quite unsustainable being at it from 5am to 8:30pm sometimes. But, that’s the life of a small business owner/entrepreneur/ coach; l love it!

On the 4 and a half hour ride home, I drove in near silence all the way back. I took that time to think and ponder over the constant thoughts going through my head. You see, I am cursed with the inability to “shut off”. I am always thinking and looking for new ways to help people and be successful. Now I said near silence because in the background of the conversation going on in my head, I was listening to a book on tape called “The Power of Full engagement”. It is kind of ironic because the purpose of this book it to teach you to be engaged, manage energy and stay focused. I’m not sure if I was sublimely hearing the purpose of the book, but I was able to focus on some positive thoughts.
One part I heard was the idea of “realistic optimism”, meaning to look at life with a realist mindset while staying positive through the process. More specifically, the focus of this pertained to having conversations with people. An area that I am quite familiar with but it emphasized listening and being fully engaged during a conversation. Fully comprehending and listening to an individuals story from their point of view; passing no judgement or disagreement; understanding completely what that person is saying. My mind started to drift and I thought about one of the first fitness evaluations I ever did.
I was 2 months into my new position as a Personal Trainer. My job description (or so I thought) was to train and help people increase their quality of life. That’s what I went to school for, that’s what I loved to do, I was excited for everyday and the next opportunity that came along.
 I met this woman, lets say her name is Mary. I met her while patrolling the fitness floor. I saw a timid older woman over near the fitness machines and wanted to give her a hand setting it up. We started with a casual conversation which led me to ask her if she wanted to do a formal fitness evaluation. She agreed so we set a time the following week to meet.
What I knew about Mary after talking to her briefly was that she was 60 years old, widowed with several children who lived back home,  out of shape but ever so optimistic about starting a fitness program. When she came in, I couldn’t tell if she was excited, nervous or shy. I decided to go by the book on this  fitness evaluation, it seemed easy enough! So  I took out the evaluation form, had her fill out her personal information and started to address her goals. So I asked her: “Mary, what are your fitness goals? Where do you want to see yourself in several months, 1 year, 2 years? And how can we put together a plan specifically for you?”
There was a brief moment of silence. As if she was not only thinking but holding back what she wanted to say. Seconds later, she put her head down and started crying. “What do I do?” I thought.  I sat there not only confused but distraught, thinking I had caused this sort of emotion. I asked her, “Mary, are you ok?” She replied: “I have cancer. I found out last week and I don’t know what to do…” I will never forget this moment.
I sat back in my seat. Speechless but filled with emotion. How do I comfort her? What do I say? How do I make this better? So I said the only thing I could say: “I’m so sorry Mary, that is awful to hear.  Everything is going to be fine.” Reassuring to some, but I am not in her shoes.
She sat there, noticeably upset. I continued to try to comfort her. She looked broken and defeated. I could see that she was asking herself, “what’s the point? Why I am I sitting here with this trainer”
 So what do I do… The only thing I knew was fitness and training. ” I want to help her” is the only thing I can think in my head. So I thought, “why don’t you?”
I sat up, looked at her and told her “I am going to do anything I can to help you through this time in your life.” You have fitness goals. This isn’t going to stop you unless you stop yourself. Mary went on to explain how she didn’t have any money, all of her money went to medical bills for surgery, medical expenses, medicine etc. I didn’t care. I wasn’t looking to get paid. I was looking at someone who was asking for my help. Who needed it.
So I set Mary up on a 3 day a week plan. I did several sessions with her, researched the appropriate contraindications for exercise while under going treatment, appropriate modifications for varying the intensity levels of her sessions and taught her how to do several exercises that would make her life easier.
Several months passed and I still saw Mary doing her routine. I would check in from time to time to say hi and ask her how she was doing. There was a time when I didn’t see her for quite a while, only to be surprised months later. She had a successful surgery to remove the cancerous tumor. It was great to hear and reassured me that positive thought and the willingness to not give up pays its dividends.
Its now been a couple years since I saw her, but it days like today helps remind me of those special people I might have made an impact on. More importantly, I defines my role in my field. Training and working with people goes well beyond periodization, training volume, intensity, load, exercise selection and all that other fun technical stuff. Building Relationships and caring about people is how you can impact a person’s life more than if they have a perfect training program.
I was excited to help Mary. I am excited every chance I get to help more people reach their goals and learn their stories. I like to think I can help everyone that comes into my facility. That’s my realistic optimism.