We would like to thank the Daily Voice and especially Tom Renner for taking the time to interview us. Tom was an absolute delight to speak with and we hope he bounces back from his knee injury and is ready to start running again this Spring!
Maryelizabeth Carter and Michele Santiago might be the most unlikely duo to start a personal training business. But speak to them for more than a minute and you just know they have the passion, drive and personality to make their business, The Underground Trainers, a permanent fixture in the region’s fitness community.
Maryelizabeth and Michele launched their business in June at Alumni Chiropractic in Rutherford, at 22 Sylvan St. Carter comes out from a career in the music industry, while Santiago had a career in fashion and merchandising, and worked part-time as a group fitness instructor.
The women met during a six-month fitness training at the National Personal Training Institute in Lyndhurst. They attended daily six-hour classes and earned personal training certification. NPTI students learn a variety of personal training programs, and study health screening, cardio and respiratory fitness, nutrition, muscular training, anatomy and physiology.
“We were established in our careers, pretty high up in what we were doing,’’ Carter said. “But we just weren’t happy. We didn’t want to work for someone else. We got along really well, enjoyed each others company. One day I said ‘Hey, we should start our own business.’ She looked at me, and I immediately knew she was into it.”
The following day, Santiago presented a business plan and started looking for spaces. They found their space at Dr. Matthew White’s chiropractic office. “He said there was a room opening up and it would be a great space for personal training,’’ Carter said. “The next day we visited and started purchasing equipment. We figured out what we needed and started bringing in clients in June.”
The world sometimes seems saturated with personal trainers, but Carter and Santiago bring infectious enthusiasm, extraordinary service and nutrition counseling to clients, which distinguishes them from competition.
“We really care about our clients,’’ Santiago said. “We’re almost 24/7, seven days a week. We’re always responding to clients, and if we can’t get to work with them right away, it’s within a day or two.”
Underground Training’s nutritional component adds an element to the program that is also unusual for most personal training programs. Both women are certified nutritional counselors. Carter also speaks from her own experience. She has lost more than 170 pounds since beginning a commitment to fitness a few years ago.
“It’s an important part of our program,’’ Carter said. “It goes hand-in-hand with being an athlete. You can’t go out and run a good 5k and be eating Snickers bars. It’s just not going to happen.”
She related the story of a client who fought diabetes. “He lost 87 pounds and is no longer diabetic,’’ Carter said. “But I told him he still has to watch his sugar intake. This isn’t your ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. We had a day where all we talked about was nutrition, and gave him a list of foods that were good for him.”
The women start by giving each client a health and fitness assessment. They also evaluate a person’s readiness to begin a program and obtain medical releases. They also keep in contact with doctors if a medical release is needed, per the client’s consent.
Clients typically train for an hour 1-3 times a week, and usually purchase a 10 or 20-pack contract. Carter and Santiago work by appointment, but are understanding when clients need to cancel due to emergencies.
Their backgrounds could not be more intriguing or diverse. Carter worked in the music industry for 22 years in a variety of roles. She was a disc jockey, magazine editor for a music publication and Director of Promotion for several businesses. She also owned a worldwide international management and consulting company for musicians and artists.
“I was at the top of my game,’’ Carter said. “But I was overweight and unhappy. I never felt like that before. I found a love for nutrition and helping people work out. I want to help make people feel good about themselves. I love the rewarding feeling of personal training. And the music industry has not rejected me. In fact, they’ve embraced me.”
Santiago graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked in fashion merchandising for a decade. “The novelty in the beginning was great,’’ she said. “I got bored sitting behind a desk and looking at spreadsheets. It did nothing for my creativity. I got up, had my coffee, went to work and came home. I wasn’t happy. I was fortunate enough to get out and find something that I love to do.”
Now both women are all-in for their personal training business. They have also embraced the local community with programs such as a “Back-to-School” fundraiser where people contributed non-perishable food items in exchange for discounted training sessions. The donations were distributed to the Rutherford Food Pantry. “Giving back to the community is an important part of our business,’’ Santiago said.
For all of their knowledge and skill, perhaps the most important quality they share is their passion and commitment to fitness. They realize motivation ebbs and flows. They bring a can-do attitude that inspires all of their clients.
“Everyone has different concerns,’’ Maryelizabeth said. “People say, ‘I can’t do that.’ That’s not an option for us. You can do it, and you will do it, and we will help you get there. It’s up to them to go home and do things we do here. We’re going to be their biggest cheerleaders, we’ll follow up, we’ll encourage them. We’ll get there together. The key is communication.”
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