As appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Profile magazine. Republished in the Cumberland Times-News
By Charles Schelle
Amy Schwab Owens has built her life and business around helping others.
Her LaVale gym, Life Fitness Management, not only helps her clients find a path to better lives, but she and her co-owners are doing the same by building relationships with Frostburg State University students, faculty and staff.
“The students that I have that come out of the program know their stuff. They’re impressive,” said Schwab Owens, a 2002 FSU master’s graduate. “They can back up what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, which is really key when you’re working with somebody in this field.”
Schwab Owens, along with co-owners Brenda Owens, Greg Dull and Dr. Stephen Owens, Class of 1971, have made FSU an important part of their business and fitness community through offering internships, field trips and partnering with various FSU departments.
Thirteen of 15 Life Fitness Management employees have a degree from FSU. Also, Dull attended FSU for several years, and Stephen Owens, Schwab Owens’ husband, is a professor emeritus from FSU’s Department of Computer Science.
Dull appreciates what FSU’s presence is able to do for the gym.
“Frostburg State plays a huge role in our success. I believe that,” Dull said. “I get the opportunity to interview potential employees, work with them for 400 hours and decide to hire them. You can’t get better than that from an employee standpoint. It’s been extremely successful.”
Exercise and Sport Science major David Cooper, a 2016 graduate, is one of the many interns who walked through LFM’s doors. He wants to become a nutritionist and a personal trainer. He interned at the front desk in the spring, learning LFM’s approach to customer service and leading clients through exercises, then he returned after graduation to become an employee.
“Right when you come through the door, everybody has a smile on their face. It’s pretty much like a home,” Cooper said. “If you’re in a bad mood, they try to cheer you up.”
It wasn’t an intentional strategy to use FSU students and alumni when the business opened 10 years ago. A relationship of convenience evolved into one of trust at the expansive LFM club.
Schwab Owens earned her master’s degree in clinical psychology from FSU, finding a way to combine her passion for helping people break through mental barriers with her love of fitness and design. Working with Dull, everything seemed to align when she earned her master’s from FSU.
“I came out of that program feeling like I accomplished a goal,” she said. “At the same time, I’m working with Greg. I’m thinking as we’re working out, ‘You know the industry is really missing the psychological piece of what’s happening, the mental piece of the puzzle.’”
As with many gyms, people would join in January and stop showing up by March. They wanted to end that cycle and create an inviting atmosphere both physically and psychologically.
FSU students in the Exercise and Sport Science Program have a good grasp on that concept, better preparing themselves for work or an internship at LFM, the owners said.
“We want to affect as many people in health and fitness as possible, one person at a time,” Dull said.
Dull and company affect one FSU student at a time through immersive internship programs that help the students understand LFM’s philosophy, along with offering sage career advice.
“There is a baseline that we do for everyone, and that is customer service,” Dull said. “Anything they do is going to be with people. Understanding and working with people in that capacity is hugely important.”
The service is predicated on understanding where the customers are in life and what their fitness needs are. One person may train for a triathlon while the next is recovering from heart surgery and another wants to lose 100 pounds and has joint issues.
“The hardest exercise for some people is to walk up those steps and in the front door,” Schwab Owens said. “It’s easy when you’re young to not think about that.”
Understanding the basics is a necessity of the Exercise and Sport Science Program. Students are required to have three credits of field experience prior to the nine-credit internship during their senior year, said John Wright, an associate professor in the program. Students are fortunate to have LFM and Energy Health and Fitness, also in LaVale, as local sites that provide these field experiences and internship opportunities. Energy Health is owned by Mike Love, Class of 2011, a graduate of the Exercise and Sport Science Program who also teaches courses at FSU.
Graduates in the program are eligible to test and become certified under the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer and/or certified strength and conditioning specialist in addition to becoming a certified health fitness instructor through the American College of Sports Medicine.
During the internship, students have to complete a group exercise educational program as well as work one-on-one with a client during an entire semester under the supervision of a manager and provide the client with a yearlong program, whether that’s weight loss or strength and conditioning, Wright said.
“[The students’] clients are able to get a free personal trainer and our students get the opportunity to work in a one-on-one program,” Wright said.
Other duties in the internship include shadowing at a corporate wellness program to learn how to execute outreach events and the business of fitness.
Those lessons are being passed on to employees like Durell Deal, a 2014 graduate. Deal rose from intern to employee, and he wants to manage or own his own gym one day. Deal is observing how to build rapport with customers.
“I’m learning how to be more assertive in engaging people,” said Deal, who’s pursuing his MBA at FSU. “That’s part of a business, but it’s not a part of making money. It’s a skill that’s necessary to addressing people.”
Schwab Owens loves to see the progress FSU students make from intern to employee, like Deal.
“Durrell has a bright future ahead of him, and anybody would be lucky to have him,” Schwab Owens said. “I like to think we had a role in him appreciating what this industry could do for him and what he could do for it.”
Even marketing students at FSU have shared their knowledge with LFM. Multiple classes through the years chose to perform a marketing study for LFM as part of a capstone project. The reports helped reinforce the need to expand on social media and use a different approach to social media marketing, Schwab Owens said.
“They’re always surprising,” she said. “They shop your competition, which you can’t help but be curious about. They also do their own analysis and feedback. Sometimes you agree with them and sometimes you don’t, but it’s always interesting and informative and done very professionally.”
Without FSU in the community, LFM would have to look to institutions or cities an hour away or more to find the students with the necessary education and personal trainers who have a certification – which is required at LFM.
Life Fitness Management hasn’t had to face that problem since starting eight years ago. “Frostburg provides us with a whole cadre of potential employees,” Schwab Owens said.
“It’s been such a privilege and an honor to have the relationship with Frostburg that we have,” Schwab Owens said. “They’ve been great partners helping us be successful at what we do.”
For information about FSU’s Exercise and Sport Science Program, visit www.frostburg.edu/home/academic/majorminors/bachelor/bachelor-in-exercise-and-sport-science.