It's Good for Me!

First in Fitness makes a difference in people's lives. Here are a few of our members stories which we hope will inspire you to make a commitment to yourself to get fit. These stories are examples of why we say that First in Fitness is "Good for Every Body!"

Erin Preston
Five years ago, Erin Preston turned 35 and decided she needed to do something different. “I wanted to set some new goals,” she said. So she connected with triathlon coach John Spinney and began training in earnest. Now that training is paying off. “I am in the best shape of my life right now,” she said. “I’m in better shape than when I was in high school.” And the next big test will come in Quebec in August when she enters the Mt. Tremblant Iron Man. She’ll swim 2.4 miles, jump on a bike and ride 110 miles, and finish with a 26.2 mile marathon. If that sounds daunting, consider the preparation. “I train about 15 to 18 hours a week,” she said. A daily workout might include 100 minutes on a bike followed by 70 minutes of running, or an hour of running followed by 2,000 yards in the pool. Oh, and some strength training thrown in as well.

Those workouts are carefully crafted with the help of Spinney and the sophisticated triathlon training system called QT2. He creates each day’s workout for Preston with exact instructions for the cadence, pace, and ideal heart rate for each activity. Preston faithfully logs all her workouts in an online computer program so Spinney can customize her progress. Spinney – an experienced triathlete and training specialist for QT2 -- offers Masters Swim Clinics at the First in Fitness pool for fitness swimmers, triathletes, masters swimmers and open water swimmers. Preston also trains with Donna Smyers, a local resident who has competed in and won her age group at the Iron Man Triathlon in Hawaii - Donna also offer Masters Swim morning workouts at First in Fitness “Erin is an awesome athlete and great to work with, Spinney said. “She is very coachable and works hard to incorporate feedback around things like swim technique or improving strength.”

And what advice would a world-class athlete have for those of us with less lofty fitness goals?
“I think it's important to initiate relationships with like-minded individuals and to not be afraid to ask questions,” she said. “Some of the bodybuilders can seem intimidating, but I am constantly asking them for advice and amazed at how receptive they are to teaching me specific exercises.”

How does she juggle work, family, and a rigorous fitness regimen?
“Some people think the training is a lot,” she said. “But some people get out of work and sit around and drink beer and smoke cigarettes. This just seems like a better way to spend my time.”

Her modeling may be paying off; both her daughters are avid swimmers and her oldest is now competing in Sprint triathlons and is swimming faster than her mother. “When the kids were younger, I spent a lot of time on the side of the pool wondering if this was time well-spent,” she said. “It seems like the investment is paying off.”

Preston has been a member at First in Fitness for more than 30 years; she started coming with her parents when she was 10. She works as the Practice Manager at Onion River Animal Hospital.

Charles Johnson
It might be a stretch to say First in Fitness saved Charles Johnson’s life, but only a slight one. In 2008, Johnson was embarked on a trip along the Maine coast. He was out on Penobscot Bay in Maine sailing his hand-built dory to an outer island. The wind kicked up suddenly and was blowing 40 knots and the offshore tides began nudging him out to sea. Johnson was forced to take down his single sail to avoid capsizing and had to resort to rowing. As a former pilot for the Coast Guard on Search and Rescue missions, Johnson knew how precarious his plight was.

“I rowed for three hours,” he said, before getting out of the wind and tides. “ It was a little scary to be rowing with all your might and be going backwards and you look over your shoulder and there is nothing but open ocean.

As hard as that was, Johnson was ready for it – he had been spending time on the rowing machine at First in Fitness in anticipation of some rowing on the trip, just not three hours worth into the teeth of a gale. “I had callouses on my hands from rowing 10,000 meters three times a week.” That adventure is now just a footnote in an active life history.

Johnson has been a member for nine years. “I was really reluctant to join at first,” he said. “I liked my exercise outdoors.” But he had just retired from a career as the State Naturalist for the Agency of Natural Resources and his wife suggested he try it “and lo and behold I really liked it. I like the routines and I like the energy of the place and the people.”

Now working as a writer (his latest book, Ice Ship, was published last fall) Johnson spends time alone in his office so getting to First in Fitness not only serves as a place to stay in shape, he gets to socialize and see friends.

Typically Johnson works out three times a week for 90 minutes. He uses the treadmill, the stationary bike, the rowing machine, and various combinations of weights, bands, and stretching.

“Colin Wales (a Certified Personal Trainer at First in Fitness in Montpelier) has been really helpful to me,” Johnson said. “He knows what he is doing and has provided good information on core strengthening and balance.”

At age 72, Johnson has no lofty fitness ambitions. Rather he works just to maintain what he’s got. “It’s too easy to let things go,” he said. “When you have fitness as part of your routine, you miss it when you stop.”

Elsa Dahl
Elsa Dahl is a National Masters Weight Lifting Champion and you can often see her working out at First in Fitness in Montpelier. She calls herself a champion “by default.”

“I’m not the best athlete,” she said, “but I ended up with the gold medal because there was no one else around. It was the first time anyone ever competed at my age.”

Elsa is 80 years young and her journey to the top has been one largely of serendipity. Elsa was a nurse for 50 years, a profession that consumed her.

‘When I was younger, women didn’t do athletics and certainly not weightlifting,” she said. But in 1985 Wedgewood opened in Berlin and she started going to the gym to get in shape. When she retired in 2000, her neighbor, George Brown, the football coach at Montpelier High School encouraged her to attend a clinic to learn about the Senior Games where she threw the discus, the javelin and the shot put.

“I was told I needed to learn explosive power if I was going to improve. I had never heard of explosive power but found a coach in St. Albans who had written about it.”

Dahl had found Jackie Brown, a Canadian former marathon athlete who had switched her interest to weightlifting and is now the coach of the Northern Power Weightlifting Club. Under Brown’s tutelage since 2000, Dahl learned the basics and still travels there once a week to train.

“Jackie is great,” Dahl said. “I know if I had a man training me I would have ended up hurt. I would have been working on strength not technique. Jackie is all about technique. She is a perfectionist.”

And it has paid off. Elsa has competed in and won many weightlifting events including the national championship she just won in California in April. She battles arthritis, has had shoulder surgery, and she still is in the gym once a week for a two-hour strength and conditioning session and still drives to St. Albans once a week to lift with Brown.

Brown doesn’t agree with Dahl’s self-assessment of being on top merely by being the only 80-year old competitor. “She has earned every bit of it,” Brown said. “She works as hard as any athlete I know.” And even though Dahl has gained some notoriety with being national champion, she takes it in stride.
“I really don’t care about winning, Dahl says. “I am competitive, but the records have never turned me on.” Instead, she is pleased when people want to have their pictures taken with her or women 30 years younger tell her she is the motivation they need to begin a fitness program.

“I’m not pushing weightlifting,” she said. “ That’s just the vehicle.”

Steve Barrows

“When I turned 40, I decided I didn’t want to die in the body I was living in,” said Steve Barrows. “I was not happy.”

Still, for nearly 20 years, Barrows exercised only intermittently. A foot problem made weight-bearing exercise difficult. Finally, four years ago Barrows realized retirement was not that far away. “I’ve heard people say that when they retire then they are going to get in shape. I didn’t want to do that. For the first time in my life I wanted to be in good shape because it felt good. There was no other reason than that.”

So Barrows, who has taught in the English Department at U-32 for 38 years, joined First in Fitness and is now a hardcore member of the morning shift, a group of committed individuals who begin their day working out and sweating. Arriving by 6:10 am, Barrows begins a grueling self-imposed regimen: 30 minutes on the Concept 2 rowing machine, 15 minutes on the elliptical machine, and 15 minutes on a recumbent bike.

“I go as hard as I can,” he said. “It was hard at first, but I forced myself to like it.” Now it’s hard for Barrows to not show up 6 days a week. With the help of trainer Claude Stone, Barrows regularly logs his time on the Concept 2 and has accumulated more than 7 million meters in two and a half years.

Not only has Barrows slimmed down from 186 pounds to a svelte 150, he is wearing clothes he has not fit into since high school. Best of all, however, is the way he feels

“I now have this natural energy that propels me all day,” he said. “ I like the way I feel. I am more positive about everything, I deal with people better, and I can eat almost anything I want.”

His wife, Kathy, who gave him his first guest pass to First in Fitness for Valentine’s Day, quickly noticed a change in attitude. “After a workout he says ‘I’ve done the hardest thing I’m going to do today’ and so everything after comes easier,” she said. “He’s a nicer person to be around. I know it sounds a bit cliché, but he has really found a fitness home.”

Barrows agrees. “Everybody is there doing the best they can trying to improve themselves, and isn’t that a great place to be? It is such a positive place with a positive vibe. Everybody supports everybody else. It’s a great way to wake up.”

Michael Knight
"We are currently juggling one daughter in Level 1 swim class, one in Level 2 swim class. Both are in and out of the nursery in between. I can do all this and still be able to workout. I have seen an increase in their abilities and confidence from their exposure to the club. The girls respect and admire the staff as well as club members. I hope to get them involved in the tennis program soon. First in Fitness allows me be a good example for my daughters and helps me lead them on a path towards a healthy lifestyle."