Jennifer Darby and Shirley Madera have a few things in common. Most notable is that each weighed nearly 300 pounds before they decided to take control of their lives and follow a path to a healthier lifestyle. And they succeeded, losing a significant amount of weight that transformed them both mentally and physically.
They were friends who shared a similar plight in that they were considered obese. They also pursued similar professional journeys that focused on healthier lifestyles. Darby has a bachelor's degree in nutrition. Madera is a professional body builder and personal physical fitness trainer.
When the two came together after losing touch for a while, they discovered their paths remained similar. During the time apart, they had both lost a significant part of their former selves, shedding a combined 240 pounds.
They reunited at a chance meeting, each shocked when they saw each other.
"We knew who the other was immediately," said Darby.
To anyone, the transformation of these women was dramatic. To each of them it was life altering and the push they needed to combine their experiences and individual skill sets to help others achieve similar goals.
Darby opened Changes Fitness & Nutrition last year on Spring Hill Drive after purchasing the business, which operated under a different name. She catered to nutritional meal planning, her forte, combined with fitness plans and personal training options for clients. Many had been with the gym for years under the former owner. Others were attracted to her no-contract approach to fitness and her take on nutrition.
Darby also incorporated a more one-on-one approach to servicing her clients with personalized attention.
But doing it alone became a difficult undertaking.
"I was climbing uphill," she said.
When the lease neared time for renewal, she made a drastic change in the game plan. She decided to call Madera and pitched the idea of becoming partners in a new venture.
"She is one of the most sought after trainers in Hernando County," Darby said. "And we got her."
Madera's ability to work directly with clients on an intimate level was the missing link that Darby needed to bring the dream to its next level.
The women fused their individual talents into the perfect marriage of fitness and nutrition under the same roof. They moved the gym to its new location, still on Spring Hill Drive but closer to Broad Street, and crafted plans that would fit a broad clientele.
"We are extreme opposites in the fitness world," Darby laughed. "And it works great!"
The new facility, renamed Change Fitness & Nutrition, opened officially at the beginning of May with a spin on its original plan. While they still educate on the fundamentals of nutrition for any positive lifestyle change, they dig even deeper into the importance of individualized plans that infuse the two into a healthier, and more successful, approach.
The added bonus is that guidance comes from direct experience.
Joining a gym is more than an effort to get fit. Darby and Madera both agree that becoming part of a facility helps the client seek accountability for his or her own healthy changes. And that provides a better incentive for commitment to change. They feel part of a connection that supports their success, the women said.
"We find that when they try and do it alone, about three weeks in seems to be the breaking point," said Darby. But when they have the influence of a team that is looking out for their success, they tend to stick to it long enough to begin seeing results.
Change works with clients from all ages and all physical conditions. One regular client, 24-year-old Amanda Spadafora, comes with her mother about three times a week for personal training with Madera.
Spadafora is a young mother of two small children, two years and five months, and was motivated to try Change Fitness primarily to lose her baby weight. But she also suffers with a heart condition that requires monitored physical fitness plans.
Madera has been monitoring Spadafora's training for about three weeks.
"She is already seeing a difference," Madera said.
Change also has added Boot Camps to their menu of structured activities. Scheduled weekly, the Boot Camps involve intense one-hour sessions, in the parking lot, designed to get clients moving and working muscle groups that aid in fitness and endurance training.
"Boot Camps are offered to moms, children, seniors ... all body types can do Boot Camp," said Darby.
The newly improved model to fitness and nutrition is an inspired concept Darby and Madera are continually growing.
Look for information about Mud Endeavor, a special ten-week unlimited Boot Camp. Mud Endeavor is designed to "bring the community who think they can't do it in and show them 'together we can.'"
Change is a high-energy, fun atmosphere. "We are a judge-free zone," Madera said.
"Everyone is different," added Darby. "We are here to help you, not sell you."