We are HealthFitness, and we’re “better” people. We believe that achieving better health is a unique lifelong journey that is best achieved when people have help along the way.
Help from people like Sarah Stoddard, a HealthFitness Personal Trainer at the Blomeyer Fitness Center, located in the middle of the campus at Emory University in Atlanta.
Training a new population
Participating in sports, strength training and fitness have always been an important part of Stoddard’s life, including playing collegiate level basketball at the University of Georgia.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in sports science, Stoddard then pursued her master’s degree in exercise physiology. Although she often worked with athletes, it was during this time that she started working with the elderly and people with chronic disabilities—including spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease. “I enjoyed helping them find ways to strengthen their muscles and exercise—even if it was only using electrical stimulation,” she says.
As a result, Stoddard found her passion for helping these unique populations. “I always thought I would train athletes, but after working with elderly and people with disabilities I knew I wanted to make a difference in their lives as my career.”
After graduating with her master’s degree, Stoddard took a position as personal trainer at the Blomeyer Fitness Center at Emory University. Stoddard took the job at Emory because of its mission to help make physical activity a lifelong habit for its members—which includes a large retiree population. “I love that Emory allows its retirees to come back and use the gym,” she says.
The word got out quickly about Stoddard’s expertise and her training schedule quickly filled up with a roster of retirees. “Blomeyer is a close-knit community,” she says. “Many of the retirees wouldn’t be interested in fitness, but they have friends that are interested. As a result, I get a lot of client referrals and train many people who know each other.”
Boosting confidence a priority
When getting new clients, Stoddard says the first challenge is finding ways to increase their confidence. “The retiree population is afraid of aging,” she says. “They’re afraid of falling, getting hurt or doing an exercise wrong. Some of them have never been in a gym before so they are very intimidated. I work to build their confidence and show them that their bodies are still very capable of moving and improving.”
Stoddard also makes a difference for clients who face specific challenges, including a breast cancer survivor whose bone density was depleted due to hormone replacement therapy. Her doctor advised her to start weight training or she would get osteoporosis, but she had never lifted weights before.
“When we first met, she was afraid because of the surgery and that she would tear something or hurt herself,” Stoddard says. “I trained her very slowly to build her confidence, gradually increasing the weights and the variety of activities.”
Now, three years later, the woman says weight training has changed her life. She is a regular at the gym, knows how to use all of the machines, is cancer free, her bone density has improved and she is off all medications. “It was an honor to be able to build her confidence and show her what she is capable of doing,” Stoddard says.
Developing a healthy mindset
Stoddard says her training shows there’s always room for improvement when it comes to fitness, but her aging clients often feel like “it’s all downhill from here.”
“I teach them how to have healthy mindset so they can feel better and enjoy their quality of life,” she says. “Several clients are grandparents and they still want to hike, travel and play with their grandkids.”
For example, one of Stoddard’s 80-year-old clients had a goal to hike Machu Picchu in Peru. “We worked to strengthen her legs and train on a lot of incline machines and she was able to do it,” she says.
Never stop learning
To Stoddard, taking care of her health and learning new things—like martial arts—are equally important to her overall wellbeing. “I’ve been a basketball player my whole life, but when I stopped playing competitively I found I was missing something,” she says. “Taking martial arts classes allows me to be fit and learn new skills.”
She also attends conferences to stay on top of the latest fitness and training techniques. “You never stop learning in the fitness world,” she says. “I make it a priority to learn the latest trends on stretching and mobility for my clients. Whether it is foam rolling, balance, or stability exercises, I practice everything on myself before I share it with my clients.”
Stoddard also loves learning about nutrition—so much so that she is now pursuing her second master’s degree—this time in nutrition. “As a personal trainer, my clients look to me as their health expert,” she says. “Good health is fitness and nutrition, and I want to answer their questions and educate them in every area.”
Although Stoddard is a lifetime learner, she admits that she learns a lot from her clients and they are wonderful teachers. Her oldest client is 98 and he shares stories about his life during his personal training sessions. “My clients give me a different perspective on life,” she says. “It’s an honor to hear their stories and help make a difference in their lives,” she says. “I am extremely fortunate to have such a rewarding career.”
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