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Jill Brown

ACE Group Fitness Instructor, Health Coach

Los Angeles, CA

ACE Profiles |  Jill Brown

A setback is a setup for success.

At 40 I found that I was in the best shape of my life. I've been a fitness instructor since 1989. I started teaching shortly after graduating college with a B.A. in Mass Communications. I was overweight, out of shape and felt horrible. My self-esteem was in the gutter as well. My plan was to move to Los Angeles and work in production. It all happened when I moved home to New York to save money so I could move to LA. I joined a gym, and the trainer gave me a free session to acquaint me with the equipment and then put me on the brand-new, state-of-the-art cardio machine, the StairMaster! Are you old enough to remember those?? He said, "Do this three times a week for 20 minutes and work your way up." I was 22 years old, just out of college and thought I was going to die after five minutes. Pathetic! I also started taking group fitness classes in the evenings and loved them! When I started my first full-time job, I worried that I'd never muster the energy to make it to the gym after work and I'd backslide. Fortunately, my enthusiasm and ability to master the choreography (thanks to years of dancing school in grade school) caught the attention of one of the gym managers and they asked me if I wanted to become an instructor! I said yes, went through my first certification, and it changed my life. You will undoubtedly read that same sentence over and over again in people's profiles - how fitness changed their lives. One thing almost all of us share is the fact that we all want to pay that passion forward.

I went back and forth with my career once I moved to LA. My plan was to use my degree to work in the entertainment industry as a producer, but my addiction for fitness kept gnawing at me. I felt happiest at the gym. I never meant to do fitness full-time and had no plan, but somehow my avocation became my vocation. I managed to find some balance between the two careers: I blog for the Huffington Post; consult on the marketing plans for health and fitness products; host, write and produce video content for health and fitness related projects, and work with various infomercial companies on their fitness products. I couldn't imagine my life without teaching group fitness classes and doing the workouts I loved. Then one day in 2003, the unthinkable happened, and suddenly I did have to think seriously about just that. I was on my way to the gym to teach and train when I was in a terrible car accident that almost paralyzed me from the neck down on my right side. The MRI showed I had developed spinal stenosis and had degenerative disc disease. I was 35 at the time and found out I had the spine of a 65-year-old with nerve damage in both my right arm and leg that would never get better. I felt like the floor fell out from under me. One day I was happily balancing both careers I loved (writing and producing during the day and teaching fitness classes in the early mornings and evenings). The next thing I knew I was preparing for massive spine surgery and wondering if I'd ever be the same again. The doctor said it would take a year to fully heal from the surgery, but my spine disease would keep progressing (meaning I'd need more surgeries).

Finally I was cleared to teach again, and I vowed to get into the best shape I could - not just for my own ego, but to truly inspire others. Like most of us in this business, I was addicted to the accolades and hearing my students and clients say how much I changed their lives. But now I felt like I could do this on a whole new level. I could identify with people who are injured, have physical limitations, who doubt their physical abilities and who are uncertain about their bodies. During my rehab, I got certified by STOTT Pilates and began learning how to work with others who have similar spine issues. This opened a new world to me - training people with certain spine issues, low back pain and other congenital or overuse injuries. My spine disease was a blessing in disguise. Although I had to give up many of the sports I used to enjoy like boxing, rock climbing and cycling due to my neck surgery, my surgeon suggested trying other "upright" sports like rowing and Outrigger canoeing. I did this for several years until I got too busy with work and clients. So I found other methods that would keep my spine strong like suspension training, kettlebells, interval training and, of course, Pilates. By 40, I was in the best shape of my life! What I learned was that sometimes the worst setbacks can be setups for success. You know what they say ... when one door closes, another one opens ... you just have to keep your eyes (and mind) open!

One final note: I lost my mother two years ago to preventable diseases. She had heart disease and diabetes caused by smoking, addiction to diet pills, and poor eating habits. I recently got my Health Coach certification to help people work through permanent behavior changes.


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