PROFILE: Fitness and faith – A journey to discover purpose in life

By BRIANA HARRIS / Staff Writer

Personal trainer Constance Kelly celebrated the third anniversary of her business Body of Work in Nov. 11, 2016. She knows better than most that the road to success is a bumpy one paved with self-doubt, yet grounded in faith.

Constance’s client roster has grown from four people in her sister’s garage to 35 people in her Pelham-based fitness studio today. And we all know that greatness can emerge from a garage – just look at powerhouses like the Walt Disney Company, Mattel, Apple and Google.

‘What’s the point?’ you ask? It’s that everything starts as nothing. But with God at the helm, Constance is working on a master plan to build a fitness empire.

But her story doesn’t start in Shelby County. To get a full scope of Constance Kelly, you have to go back to where it all started in small-town Marion, Alabama – population 3,686. There she grew up having big dreams of playing basketball in the WNBA.

“I can remember being about 4 years old and dribbling a ball through my legs,” she said. “I couldn’t tell you how I did it, it just came naturally to me.”

Her mother LaQuita Lipscomb said that as a child Constance was competitive and always had a drive to win.

“She’s just always had a winning spirit,” her mother said. “Even if it was the Christmas or Easter play at church, whatever it was, she had to be the best.”

Lipscomb said Constance inherited her athleticism and competitiveness from her father and uncles, who all played sports.

She played point guard in middle school and continued playing in high school. She landed a scholarship to play at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa and later transferred to Troy University with on another basketball scholarship. She was a natural athlete, but growing up she didn’t have access to the resources that would help turn her into a WNBA star.

Her high school in Marion didn’t allow female athletes to use the weight room, so she didn’t begin lifting weights until college.

“When I got to college I was behind,” she said. “I had natural ability, but other girls were faster than me and stronger than me. I actually did not like lifting at all.

“You still have to have work ethic and be focused for it to work,” she said. “I played my four years and then I was done.”

After graduating college in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in sports fitness management, she moved to Inverness to live with her older sister.

“After college I felt lost and out of place and I grieved the sport that I had loved for so many years,” Constance said.

After reading to book “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren, she believed that if her purpose wasn’t to be a professional basketball player, then it had to be something else.

“The Purpose Driven Life” asks the question: ‘What on Earth am I here for?’ Constance received the answer from Pastor Althea Long at Bridging the Gap Ministry in Fairfield.

Constance grew up going to church every Sunday, but she said it wasn’t until after she graduated from college that she developed a relationship with God.

“The Lord spoke to the pastor there and told her that I was a personal trainer, and when she told me that I laughed,” Constance said. “It was funny because if you talk to any of my college teammates they would tell you that I hated working out.”

But being a believer in God and a believer in prophecy, Constance listened to Pastor Long. About a month after her conversation with the pastor, she set out to become a personal trainer.

She had two mentors, personal trainers Curtis Starks and Eugene Byrd.

“Curtis Starks knew a lot about the body,” she said. “He allowed me to develop my own personal training style. Eugene Byrd taught me the business side. He taught me to see it as my business, my livelihood and about client relationships. They both really helped mold me into the trainer I am today.”

Constance spent about three years learning from others and growing as a personal trainer. During that time she also became a certified trainer through the American Council on Exercise. As she learned about nutrition and health, she changed her personal eating habits because she wanted to be the example for her clients.

As a new trainer, she had more personal training job offers than she could accept.

“I literally had to turn down jobs because I was getting so many offers. But it all came together when I was a personal trainer at Fitness Together Greystone,” Constance said.

She worked there for six years and during that time she amassed the largest training roster and was promoted to general manager. Somewhere around her fifth year mark, she started having thoughts of starting her own business.

“I fought that voice in my head for about a year. But then I started to become very uncomfortable with being comfortable. I had this yearning to start my own business. It frightened me, but I also had faith,” she said. “I knew that if God was telling me to do this, then that meant he would supply my needs.”

She knew that if she didn’t take the risk she would always wonder what could’ve been. In April 2013, she turned in her two-week’s notice without having another job lined up.

“Before I put in my two-week’s notice, the feeling I had was fear,” she said. “I was afraid of the unknown, but as soon as I turned in the notice the fear went away. I knew that I had made the right decision.”

Stepping out on faith

Constance started out training four people in her sister’s garage in Pelham. Seven months after quitting her job, Body of Work opened at 2156 Pelham Parkway, Suite D. Instead of getting a loan from a bank, she invested the $12,000 she had saved up into renting a space for her business.

Kobe Bryant, someone who Constance has been a longtime fan of, inspired the name of her business. She recalled one of his interviews during which he stated that at the end of his career he wants to be known for a body of work, not just one performance.

“That just stuck with me,” she said. “I want to be known for a body of work and help people achieve their body of work.”

The Body of Work logo, BOW, features a the numeral 3 as both the B and W. Constance said the numeral 3 represents the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the process her family was there cheering her on. Her stepfather and uncle painted the walls of her business purple and her mother helped set up and organize the interior.

“They believe in me, but they think I’m too hard so they don’t work out here,” she said laughing.

The first year of business was the hardest, she said. Although she had learned how to run a business, there’s no instructions manual on how to handle every situation that may arise.

“You have to fight through the feeling of, ‘Oh my God, what did I do,’” she said. “I felt boxed in at my old job, but here, we can pray, we can turn on gospel music, we can do whatever we want because it’s mine.”

For the first two years she ran the business on her own. She learned the ins and outs about where best to advertise and how to balance both aspects of the business: being a personal trainer and business owner.

Back when she was working at Fitness Together, she got an opportunity to be featured in a three-minute Fox 6 segment called Shape Up Sunday two times per month. Shortly after starting the business, she received a call from Fox 6 asking her if she wanted to take on the task every Sunday.

For two years she was featured in the segment every Sunday, which allowed her to gain a loyal following.

“It was exciting and I got a lot of great feedback. I would get a plethora of phone calls from people telling me that they loved what I was doing, that I’ve been an inspiration to them or asking me if I had any work out DVDs. It was more confirmation that I was on the right path,” she said.

Right now she’s enjoying being a newlywed, having married Frenchman Jeremy Bouet on March 27, 2016, and is figuring out what expanding her business would entail. She dreams of one day opening fitness studios throughout the Birmingham area and possibly producing work out videos and having more of an online presence.

 

More than just a personal trainer

With the main focus of Body of Work being exercise, Constance also provides nutrition coaching by helping clients create a food plan.

When clients first seek help from Constance, she evaluates their current state of health and assesses their fitness goals during a consultation. This helps her create a blueprint for the client.

“The goal is always for my clients to achieve their best body goal,” she said. “We never do the same work out routine twice. Each session is different.”

In addition to one-on-one training, Constance offers classes and bootcamps for her clients. There are never more than five people in a class so that she can still give individual attention to each person.

Former client and friend Amy Gartman said she lost 15 pounds, reduced her body fat and went from being able to do two pushups to 50 pushups.

Gartman, who trained with Constance for two to three years, described Constance as being very attentive and understanding. The two met when Constance worked at Fitness Together.

Gartman, who has three children and lives across town from Body of Work, said that Constance would still be her trainer if Body of Work was located closer to her home.

“I would without a doubt recommend her to anyone who is thinking about getting a personal trainer,” Gartman said. “So much of what I learned I still try to maintain today.”

But over the years Constance has learned that being a personal trainer is more than just exercise and proper nutrition. It’s being a friend and confidant, offering a listening ear.

“I wear many hats,” she said. “Sometimes I end up talking to them about the problems in their life because they maybe feel like they can’t talk to anyone else. People come in with pain, whether it’s in their body or in their heart. People have cried and asked me to pray with them.”

And other times, clients introduce her to their families and tell her funny stories about their pets. She’s created real friendships and relationships with her clients. Constance and Gartman have maintained a friendship even though Gartman is no longer a client.

The two recently attended an Alabama football game together, Gartman attended Constance’s wedding in March and they go out to dinner from time to time.

“You learn a lot about each other during the training sessions, which creates a greater trust and you feel more confident knowing that someone really believes in you.”

She’s also been an inspiration to her family, encouraging them to be more proactive when it comes to their health.

Constance’s mother said she’s been instrumental with helping family members who struggle with weight get on the right track.

Lipscomb said that often times people who struggle with their weight tend to have low self esteem and Constance works to build them up before they even begin a workout regimen.

“She’s motivational. She encourages you and makes you believe that you can do it. When people come in looking for a quick fix, she gets their mind ready and then proceeds.”

Constance’s desire to see her family members live healthy lifestyles stems in part from the death of her grandmother.

“My grandmother, who was my best friend, died from diabetes in 2006,” she said. “By the time of her death she’d had both of her legs amputated. I can remember as a child seeing her eating fruit, wheat bread and giving herself insulin shots.”

On the weekends when she came home from college, she and her grandmother would go on walks together whenever she wasn’t feeling well.

“I would tell her, ‘Well come on, let’s go for a walk. It’ll make you feel better,’” Constance said. “And afterward she really would feel better.”

She remembers that her grandmother would tell her to stay away from white foods – like white rice, bread, potatoes and flour. She said it’s a lesson that she has remembered through the years, also.

So far Constance’s mother has lost 18 pounds. She helped her mother develop an exercise plan that includes exercising for 30 minutes per day during her lunch break at work. As a result, Lipscomb said her blood pressure medication has been reduced.

“Once your mindset changes, your goals change,” Lipscomb said. “It’s a lifestyle change.”

In August her hometown’s only fitness center opened. Prior to the opening of the fitness center, Lipscomb said Marion had been without a fitness center for about 10 years. Constance said sometimes she can’t help but think that if resources had been available in her hometown, her grandmother might still be alive today.

“It’s hard to watch someone go from being very independent to dependent,” she said. “My grandmother’s mind was still very strong and sharp, but her body had given out. I can be that voice in my family to tell them that it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Constance has made it her life’s work to inspire and be of use to others.

“It gives me fulfillment to help my family and my clients. They bless me,” she said.