Reaching for her Ziploc baggie of Trader Joe’s baby carrots, Katie Valley, a power-lifter and half-marathon runner, exhales.
It’s sort of a rare luxury for the group exercise instructor. She takes out of, what she calls her lunchbox, but actually resembles a small carry-on suitcase, various pre-prepared and portioned healthy snack packs. Since the junior health services administration major spends half her day in the fitness rooms and weight floors of the Recreation and Wellness Center, snacking throughout her daily workouts is not optional. It’s a matter of survival.
“I eat more meals here than I do at my own house,” Valley said.
With so little breathing room, Valley has learned to budget her every minute. Sundays are reserved for cooking all her meals for the week.
On Tuesdays, Valley starts with a group training course at 10 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., after which she has back-to-back boot camp, total core, and flex classes, followed by a client.
She hesitates to change out of her Chuck Taylors for her next class because she said she’s been wearing them since before they were cool. She stalls a minute, her loose blonde braid waving back and forth as she greets friends passing by, from Ricio, the custodian, to former patrons. Then she slips on her Nikes. After all, Valley knows that the boot camp group is sure to bring the intensity to the workout so she has to be prepared.
“Patrons are a reflection of the instructor so you have to set the example and be super positive and enthusiastic from the start. Your patrons feed off of your energy,” Valley said.
After a quick cardio warm-up run around the courts, it’s time to head back inside the fitness room. Lined with mirrors along the whole front, it could easily intimidate patrons who are insecure about their physique. Valley demonstrated the next abdominal crunches and announced they would do five sets.
“Use the mirror! It’s your friend. Check your form,” Valley advised her patrons.
The veteran group exercise instructor knows better than to embarrass a participant by calling them out on poor form, and instead she likes to suggest that to get the most out of their workout they try a different position.
Then it was back on the courts for multiple sets of push-ups and planks on the mats.
“Push it. Push it! I know you’re tired,” she booms.
Valley is compassionate but firm as she glances at the ladies breathing heavily, and dripping in sweat, anxious to get to their water bottles for their 20-second break. Many participants agreed that Valley is one of their favorite instructors because of her style and energy. Between motivating the group, coaching them to ensure they had the right form, and doing the set, Valley balances quite a bit during her classes. She said she owes some of her sanity to her handy notebook filled with lesson plans always by her side.
What makes her hectic schedule gratifying is the progress and excitement she sees from her patrons, she said. Brandon Johnson, a personal trainer who began his workout regimes at age 12, agreed with Valley that a rewarding aspect of the job is witnessing his clients’ progress.
"I like seeing them make gains, because ... the longer you workout, the slower your gains are," Johnson said.
Whether the client Johnson works with is focused on making gains, or instead on losing weight, seeing them achieve their goal is what makes him happy.
For Valley, another motivation for the 29 hours or so she puts in each week is mentoring new hires. She is thrilled team-teaching with new instructors who shadow her.
But it also means covering for a friend who may be sick, like she did the time she had to cover her colleague’s Zumba class. The attendees in the studio weren’t initially pleased to hear not only was their instructor being replaced by Valley, but also they would be kickboxing instead, when they had never done it before.
“They loved it. They were so sassy and so fun and then like half of them showed up to my kickboxing class two days later,” Valley said, smiling proudly.
As the next group of participants file in for total core, Kanye West takes over the playlist. Valley set the tone for the high intensity, fast-paced workout by opening with a class rule,
“If I see you texting, I’ll kick your phone out of your hand,” she said-- only half jokingly.
With the students laughing in response, the tension in the room drifted away. Valley radiated positivity as she screamed over the music, “You can do it! 20 seconds left, finish strong!” Her “U Can Finish” t-shirt summarizes her dedication in a nutshell for her patrons. Valley’s voice began to crack a little and she wondered if she’d get through the day without losing her voice.
Half an hour later, and Valley switches gears yet again as she teaches a flex class. The 15 participants watched attentively as Valley got in one flex position after another, glancing down every few minutes at her notes.
Meghan Flanagan, Valley’s immediate supervisor, says Valley’s passion for fitness and exercise has helped her progress and become the go-to person for all classes ranging from total core, to kickboxing, to boot camp and 20/20/20, a combination hour-long class consisting of 20 minutes of cardio, 20 minutes of strength training and 20 minutes of flexibility training. Beyond that, Valley helps create the unique family atmosphere of working at the RWC.
“We call Katie the ‘mama bear’ of the team because she cooks for us, takes care of us. She’s just one of those that looks out for everyone,” Flanagan said.
Valley’s high-energy and upbeat personality helps her manage her nonstop routine. But after long days at the RWC, she definitely looks forward to her seven hours of sleep every night.
“I don’t unwind. I go home and there are four giant men asking me what’s for dinner,” Valley said. “This job is so fun, it’s like who needs to unwind?”
Grabbing a cookie from her family-sized lunchbox, Valley, smiling ear to ear, is headed off to motivate another client.
Story by Annie Lottman