Gray: What is your big dream?

My fifth grade teacher asked what I dreamed of being when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be an anchor on the popular news show “60 Minutes.” When I was little, I watched the program weekly with my dad. I was fascinated by the documentary-style show that investigated topics like consumer fraud, medical advancements and people who had overcome adversity. I admired the stories, but also the journalists who told them.

It has been nearly three decades since I finished fifth grade in a small, Wisconsin farm town. I am not a famous journalist traveling the world sharing exposes, but I am living my dream. I create stories of transformation and help people find their voice. How? Through fitness. As the owner of Bay Athletic Club and the leader of a national fitness coaching team with Beachbody, I have found my passion and calling in life. The road to get here was not obvious and not easy, but it has been well worth every doubt and every challenge.

I share my story to help light the spark in your life, or the life of someone you care about. Our biggest dreams as a child or as an adult are not farfetched, not impossible. Sometimes our big dreams are just the daily motivation to keep us going, even if the road takes us somewhere else. My parents did not laugh at my desire to be on a national news show, they believed I would be a high performer in any profession I chose. Their belief was more important than any reward. It was their greatest gift to me and I have made a career out of believing in others.

How did I find this path? At times, I think it found me and I just followed with determination. It started in college. I was struggling with weight gain from poor food choices. I was hiding under extra pounds under bigger clothes. I was scared of the student recreation center. I went once and was lost. I found a family-owned health club outside of town where my mom was a member. I had never been a member of a health club. I thought it was only for athletes or well off families who played tennis together on Sundays.

It is funny to think back on my misconceptions. When I joined, I avoided the weight room. That would just be embarrassing. I would strap on my CD walkman and hit the stair climber. I branched out to the group exercise studio and felt welcomed. My instructors, Jill and Kristin, helped me meet others. They remembered my name and made me feel successful even when I was dragging. With consistent effort, I lost 25 pounds. Jill noticed my success and invited me to become an instructor. My life changed. Everything began to blossom.

My career was booming. I was diving deep into public relations at the Wisconsin Supreme Court and later the State Bar of Wisconsin. I loved the high-energy atmosphere, the deadlines and the excitement of the legal profession and the Justices who I gleamed many life lessons from. Fitness was my hobby job. It was my joyful end to an often-stressful day. Group fitness at the health club became my release in life, my happy place and the secret that I’ve shared with thousands of others since.

When my husband and I moved to Alpena a decade ago, I started from scratch, like many others have in life. Jeff was hired to be the manager of the National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve, protecting shipwrecks and sharing the region’s rich history with students, residents and visitors. He had found his niche and loved it. I was searching for a place to simply meet people and make friends. Fitness helped me find it, again.

I started teaching classes at the local recreation center, where I met a small, welcoming group of fitness enthusiasts and instructors who immediately made me feel at home. In the next few years, I grew my classes, created friendships and just decided on a weekend trip with my husband to open my own facility.

I had a vision for a place that focused on wellness and connection, in addition to building better health and bodies. My dad had suffered a heart attack and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer (both brave survivors). When I created the look, feel and focus of Bay Athletic Club, I often thought of them. Would it be a place where they would feel welcome? Then I’d think of my own journey. Would it be a place that a self-conscious young woman would find a better path? Then I’d think of my husband. Would it be a place where a former college athlete would find fitness in a new way, off the field and simply in the game of life?

I believe that at Bay Athletic Club, we have achieved that outcome. That people of all shapes and sizes, ages, struggles and strengths can get better. The club is not about me, or any one person. It is a living, breathing organization made up of so many individual stories, connections and transformations. My true impact is creating something that others want to embrace. Thankfully, you’ll find no trophy of me at the club, but you’ll find hundreds of stories and pictures of you – people in our community who have embraced fitness as a way of life. That is something to dream big about.

The eight-year journey has been remarkable. I had a toddler and a newborn when the club first opened and life was anything but simple. I have always believed that success is not convenient, but it is worth it. To me, success is making an impact in the community, in the lives of others, in the universe. Doing something that I’m proud of and that my family is a part of. It has been a juggling act of monstrous proportions, but with the support of Jeff, Jade, Colt and many close friends and believers, it has worked. Use my story to fuel your own. The world awaits your talent and determination.