You’re a Personal Trainer…for Seniors? How did you come up with that??
You are so young to be doing this. How much experience do you actually have?
Why should I trust you with my Aging Parent?”
I’ve heard many of these questions over the years. So what’s my story? How did I go from a shy Ottawa girl to the CEO of AIM Fitness?
Believe it or not I have 20 years of experience working with seniors. (What!? Did you start when you were 2 yrs old?) No, but almost! My experience all began at the young age of 12 when my best friend’s mother encouraged us to volunteer at her workplace: a Long-Term Care Facility for Seniors. She told us that she needed help running the senior’s activities. (Secretly I think she roped us in to keep us out of trouble after school!). I still remember my first day with the group of seniors playing bingo, bean bags and helping with a craft. I remember feeling very intimidated and nervous about being around such old people, but it didn’t take long for me to feel comfortable as I realized that seniors are just like everyone else. They may be older in years, but they still love to laugh, have fun and they can be very competitive during a Bingo game!
My experience continued to grow throughout high school and university as I volunteered at various Senior’s Residences in between my classes. It was at this stage that I was told how patient and compassionate I was. I loved having senior ‘grandparents’ interested in what I was up to. I loved listening to their stories about their past. I saw the benefits of human interaction and how seniors who were lonely could become young again when they had someone who listened and cared.
My volunteer experience directly influenced my career path. In university I studied Psychology and Gerontology – the study of Aging -because I knew that I wanted to pursue a career working with the aging population. I didn’t quite know my calling yet, but I did know what I didn’t want: I could never see myself sitting at a desk all day. I wanted to have a job that was fulfilling, active and different every single day!
So how did I get into the fitness industry?
In University, after Life guarding for a few years, I decided to get certified as an Aqua Fitness Instructor, since it looked a lot more fun than standing guard. Although it was scary at first to be at the front of the class with all eyes on me, I quickly realized that this was such a good fit for me. I loved motivating and cheering people on and I liked the challenge of thinking on my feet as I came up with new exercises.
This led to an opportunity to teach Chair Exercise Classes at a local senior centre, where I taught part time for 8 years. I considered this my “fun job” and decided that I would always do fitness “on the side” since I enjoyed it so much. I never considered this to be a career option.
One day the senior centre that I taught at was invited to a beautiful, new retirement residence that had just opened up. I saw this as an open door and so I tagged along for the tour and brought my resume along with me. After a successful job interview, I was offered a part-time job which led into full-time as the first Recreation Manager at this brand new retirement residence! I worked as the Recreation Manager for three years and during that time planned activities, events and kept all the seniors living there busy and active! Some of these seniors were happy to be there and were very independent and still played golf and traveled often. Others were not as independent and had many health conditions because of being sedentary much of their life. I communicated with the families and saw how exhausted and worn down they were from the many years of care giving for their senior parents along with the busy demands of life.
A friend of mine noticed that I was getting asked to teach more senior’s classes, but because I worked full time I couldn’t teach any more. With the aging population increasing, there would be an even bigger need to help more seniors stay active and maintain their strength.
There was an opportunity here!
At this time, I decided I was ready for a new challenge and a new project. I made the decision to transition from my part-time hobby into a full-time senior’s fitness business! This was very scary for me because I did not know any entrepreneurs who could give me advice. I was stepping into the unknown. I was fortunate to have some great support and with an open mind I knew that I would be learning as I went along.
The first few years of business were exciting, challenging and a huge learning curve. I offered group chair exercise classes for seniors at churches and senior centres and one-on-one personal training in senior’s homes or condos. After a year-and-a-half of being in business, I nearly burned myself out by working with 5-6 clients per day because I didn’t want to turn anyone away. My business was growing, but could I keep up with the demand?? I remember the days of staying up until midnight every night in order to prepare for my new clients and classes, do my billing and accounting and then waking up at 6am to work with clients for the full day and end my evening with a networking event.
As much as I loved what I did, I was exhausted and run down. Was this what being a business owner was like? This wasn’t what I had expected. I knew I couldn’t carry on like this for much longer. Something had to change. I realized that if I wanted to continue growing (and thriving) I would need to hire another personal trainer to help me with my client demand. Right around that time, I attended a fitness conference where I ran into Michelle who was recently certified as a Personal Trainer. Right away I knew that she was the answer to my prayer! With her experience in rehab at the Ottawa hospital and her love of seniors, she was the perfect fit for AIM Fitness!
Having Michelle join the team helped in so many ways. All of a sudden I had support, someone to brainstorm and solve problems with and someone to take on new clients! With a new team member, I started to have more time and emotional space to do more! We started to do presentations, we organized events in the city and attended more networking events!
Since the beginning of my fitness career, my goal has always been to impact senior’s lives physically, mentally and emotionally and to help them improve their strength and mobility in order to make living in their homes safer. I see how seniors need to laugh, chat and have fun along with the exercises. My approach is to make exercising enjoyable and social, so at the end of the session, the senior client feels amazing and is looking forward to the next session! Over my career working with seniors, I have seen many caregivers burn out and I realize that the more independent their senior parent is, the less of a strain it is on the care giver.
Over the past five and a half years, my team has been growing. I now have 3 Personal Trainers joining me on the AIM Fitness Team and an enthusiastic sales and marketing assistant!
It’s taken me many years, but I have gotten much better at learning how to balance my work life with my personal life. I’ve learned how to delegate, shut off my brain at the end of the day and book frequent vacations so I can fully disconnect in order to come back refreshed so I can be on my A Game. I have hired business coaches over the years to help me stay on track and focused on my goals! Learning to let go of control and instead focus on gratitude and staying focused on the BIG vision is key to growth.
One thing I love about what I do, is that AIM Fitness has been able to provide peace of mind to caregivers! So many caregivers are pulled in different directions with their career, kids, life and their own self care. Seeing a parent age can be heart breaking and challenging. My team at AIM Fitness loves supporting the family by keeping them in the loop and offering updates on their parent’s health so they can have a short break.
This Fall, AIM Fitness will be celebrating 6 years of business! Our goal is to help 100 more seniors living in Ottawa. I have a big dream of doubling my team and expanding out of Ottawa one day! If you are caring for a Senior Parent and you see their health declining, please reach out. We have helped hundreds of seniors over the past 5+ years and we’d love to support you and help your Aging Parent live a healthier life!
Download my free eBook here: “5 Steps to Help your Aging Parents Live a More Fulfilled Life”
Please reach out- I’d love to hear from you 🙂
xo Meg 🙂