After 17 years of climbing the corporate ladder, 30-year-old Sherry Nicely noticed she was getting winded — both metaphorically and physically.
"I was just never really satisfied or fulfilled, and sitting behind a desk doing accounting I realized that my health wasn’t as good as it could be," Nicely said. "You know, that sick and tired of being sick and tired kind of feeling? I thought I was way too young to feel that way."
So Nicely did what most people do: she joined a gym.
"I couldn’t wait to come home from a stressful day at work and go to the gym to work out my frustration," Nicely said.
But a gym membership didn’t quench her craving for fitness. She immediately got a personal trainer for a few sessions to take her fitness to the next level.
"It was my passion and my hobby," Nicely said. "I constantly had my head buried in a fitness or nutrition book or magazine."
While visiting her family on vacation four years ago, her mother found an article about becoming a personal trainer in one of those very fitness magazines. She asked her daughter, "Why don’t you do this?"
For the first time Nicely began thinking about turning her passion into a career. "It never occurred to me to do what I love for a living," Nicely said.
After eight months of hard thinking and tough training, she became a certified personal trainer, quit corporate America and took a job as a personal trainer at Fitness Together in Alexandria. She felt right at home at the Fitness Together franchise, saying, "I knew that was the right place for me."
After a few months working in Alexandria, Nicely took the plunge and opened a franchise in Fairfax. She believed the private, one-on-one personal training was something she could offer to Fairfax-suburban neighborhoods that no other franchise could.
"I truly feel that we put the personal back in personal training," Nicely said. "I could actually see changes and positive results I was making in my clients’ lives. Two of my clients have changed so much that they became personal trainers themselves."
Fast forward a year and the Fitness Together franchise in Fairfax was a success. Everything finally fell into place, and her world began to calm down. That is, until friend and employee Fernanda Winchester asked Nicely if she had ever entered a body-building competition. Now she was ready for another adventure.
Now 40, Nicely began training for her first figure competition, a division of bodybuilding meant for "very fit, well-toned but a softer body type" than what most people envision when they hear the word ‘bodybuilder.’ The competition is drug and steroid-free, usually requiring drug tests or polygraphs beforehand.
"My only goal was at the age of 40 to step on stage and look like I belonged there," Nicely said. "I didn’t go in thinking, ‘I’m going to win this.’ It was just, ‘What am I made of?’ ‘Do I have the discipline?’"
Nicely proved she had the discipline when she completed the Mount Rogers figure competition, but had a hard time sticking to her strict diet due to cravings when she began training for her second figure competition, the Natural North American last May.
"I’m human," Nicely said of her struggle. "I’m like any other woman. I don’t pretend that I’m not. When I’m in training it’s very disciplined and strict, but it’s worth every minute."
Difficult as it may be, the training and experience don’t just help Nicely, but aid her in becoming the best trainer she can be.
"The discipline that the body figure competition requires has caused her to have more sympathy and offer more inspiration to her clients," said Nicely’s friend Dave Sutton. He described her new-found interest in competing "a full-blown passion for fitness and nutrition."
But Nicely is so much more than just a trainer to her clients; she’s living proof that hard work, discipline and goals are all a person needs to change his or her life.
"A lot of women have a myth that they’re just going to look a certain way when they get beyond 40, and I’m here to teach them and prove them differently," Nicely said.