Although Trina Gray holds degrees in Journalism and French from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a background in legal writing and reporting, as a former high school and collegiate athlete, fitness has always been her true passion.
She started teaching group exercise classes 20 years ago at a local gym and has never looked back.
In January 2006, what was once just a vision became reality when Trina opened Bay Athletic Club — an award-winning full-service health club located inside what is now the Mid-Michigan Medical Center in Alpena, Michigan. Since that time, she has assembled a team of 30 personal trainers, group exercise instructors, fitness assistants, an exercise physiologist and a doctorate in physical therapy. This unique medical alliance is focused on creating a healthier and happier community through fitness.
She also founded Team Rockstar Fit, a mastermind online coaching team of fitness professionals or fitness enthusiasts who want to grow a career in fitness, and in her spare time she is a national fitness presenter and mother to teenagers, Jade and Colt.
Trina took a few minutes to share her journey with us and hopes to inspire others in the fitness industry to follow their dreams.
How did you get started in the fitness industry?
I got started in the industry when I was an out of shape, somewhat lost 21-year old college grad. I joined a local, family-owned gym in Madison, Wisconsin to get in shape for my sister’s wedding. I started in the back of the group fitness studio. I was self-conscious and out of shape. I loved the music, the supportive people and the time flew by. As a former high school athlete, I had found a new groove. The group fitness director noticed me. She changed my life by inviting me to get certified. She thought I had a spark. She complimented my drive and consistency in classes. I had great results, losing 22 pounds and finding a new passion. I never looked back. I got certified as a group fitness instructor in many formats — from RPM to Body Pump to Body Flow. I was working a full-time job as a journalist during the day and was teaching classes in the evening. It was my happy place. It was where I came alive. I met great friends; I poured my heart into sharing fitness with others. I always anticipated it staying a hobby job. My degree from the University of Wisconsin is in Journalism and Mass Communications.
Have you had a mentor or someone you’ve looked up to?
Todd Durkin has been a mentor and friend in the industry for more than a decade. He is equally supportive of my business growth as my personal happiness. He’s a workhorse and knows that I am, too. We are wired to achieve and accomplish; that can lead to burnout. He has encouraged me to find “mellow yellow” time and time to work on the business and not in the business. He given me tools to write, reflect and plan my life.
Was there ever a time in your career where you felt like you were just spinning your wheels? If so, how did you get through that and on to something better?
I have always been in forward motion, but sometimes in too many directions at once. Years ago, I attended a high-performance conference and learned to evaluate and prioritize my “roles” in life and found that I was overcommitted, spread out and not able to be my best. From the being on the board of Chamber of Commerce to coaching kids’ soccer to presenting to owning a business to coaching to corporate wellness, I was everywhere and often felt nowhere.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made? How did you remedy that mistake and how has it made you better?
Fitness is an industry that can give you life and also steal from your life. The biggest mistake I ever made was sacrificing too much of my own life for the sake of growing the business in a way that was not smart or strategic. Early on as a club owner, I was trying to be everything to everyone. I was teaching classes and boot camps non-stop in my own club and said yes to everyone. I started teaching off-site classes at night in communities an hour north and south simply because they asked. I felt compelled to take all opportunities. I was scared to say no. I missed out on time at home with my young kids. I was constantly on the go, eating in the car and tired. It only lasted a couple of years until I brought my focus, time and energy back “home” to my own health club. I focused my time and priorities and learned to be okay not doing it all.
How do you balance the demands on your time and the opportunities that come your way with family time, time for yourself, time to work out, eating right, etc.?
We know that we must put our own oxygen mask on first in order to serve others. Sometimes it takes an injury, illness or meltdown to bring this to the forefront. I opened my full-service health club at 29 years old with two little kids under two. Burnout, fatigue were inevitable. I loved what I was doing. I justified the imbalance because I felt purposeful.
Over the years, a knee injury, nodules on my vocal cords and strains in relationships brought balance back into perspective. For the past decade I’d say that I have really nailed my own nutrition, fitness and mindset. I do regular personal development (books, podcasts). I drink a lot of water, I eat healthy, eat mostly at home, enjoy splurges and never stress about nutrition. I strength train, go on long walks, paddle board, teach Pilates and boxing classes, work out at home with Yoga and meditations from Beachbody. I have found a love of variety and movement beyond just torching calories.
What is one principle you have always lived by?
I have always believed that success is not convenient. That is true for parenting and business. It’s not convenient to have tough conversations, create expectations and set boundaries for our kids. It is not easy to be a good role model and make tough decisions that are not popular. It is not easy to encourage them when they are hurt or struggling and not fix the problem for them. But all of this extra inconvenience leads to a better, more successful life for them. My teenagers were just babies when I started my career. They have amazing work ethic and drive. They have a strong head on their shoulders.
Likewise, it’s not convenient to own a health club, face all the struggles that are inevitable in employees’ lives, manage demands from members, teammates and the community. It’s not convenient to work nights, weekends and be at the whim of others’ lives. It’s not easy to run an online coaching team of thousands of people coast to coast. However, I like being a servant leader. Creating thriving, successful businesses leads to a life of more choices, freedom and purpose. I have been able to travel the world, pay off debt, meet amazing human beings and contribute to the best industry on the planet.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self — 5, 10, or 20 years ago — what would it be?
I would warn myself at all those stages that there are tough roads are ahead and assure myself that I am built for it. I can do hard things.
What do you think is the greatest opportunity in the fitness industry right now? What do you think is this industry’s biggest deficit?
People need connection and community now more than ever. We have so many ways to create that — in person, virtually and (even better) both. Fitness professionals who create fitness communities, tribes of people supporting each other, will thrive. We can help people in the community get to know each other and cheer each other on. Those who insist on selling the same packages, delivering the same services in a vacuum will suffer.
Our deficit is looking at the past; what used to work. I used to just teach group fitness in person, expecting 20 to 30 people per class to show up in my studio without a doubt. These days, in the pandemic world, all of our classes are “hybrid” both live and virtual. A normal class for me now is 10 people in the studio with me and 15 on virtually. I teach to them at the same time. I make the people at home feel like they are with us. They are up on a big screen in the studio. We see their pets, home decor, porches and living rooms. Instead of leaving them out, we brought them in the fold. We evolved our classes and our technology. I created formats that are easier to follow, use less equipment and small amounts of space.
What is in your future one year from now? Five years from now?
A year from now, I’ll be where I am. Running my clubs, coaching my Beachbody team, raising kids, visiting my daughter at college, cheering on my son in football, and enjoying lake life with my fiancée and her three young kids. I have slowed my trajectory a bit. I love what I do and I am happy with doing less and doing it better. I have created a life of freedom and want to enjoy it. Bigger is not always better, better is better.
Five years from now, I can envision a different role. I could be ready to work in my clubs and not own them. I will always want a way to contribute locally, even as much of my career is online and virtual. I like having my feet planted somewhere and making a difference there. I will be dropping in to see my kids at college, taking them out for brunch or going to a football game, whatever they are up for. I hope to be an author by then, or maybe a podcaster. I have always wanted to share my message and connect with people about life, parenting and business lessons. But I am taking my own advice for now and not taking another role before I’m ready to give one up.