Michelle PortalatinPeople always ask me, “How did you become a Trainer?”

It’s a long-winded story.

Since I can remember I was always driven to move.  As a child I had a 2 hr self-limiting, internal timer for the amount of time I could spend in front of a television.  If I was not jumping stairs, creating obstacle courses in the backyard with my younger brother or riding my pink Schwinn bicycle, I was racing my featherweight neighbor.  No matter how many times he would win I would always try again.

My father believed it was important for my younger brother and me to learn a martial art.  Having been bullied as a kid for being small, my father wanted us to be able to defend ourselves if we were ever in a similar situation.  Living in the quiet and safe neighborhood of Maspeth, Queens and being a little on the stout side we never encountered the same fate but we sure enjoyed going to Miyazaki Karate in Flushing, Queens for sport! It was invigorating, exhilarating and challenging. I had always wanted to learn ballet but my parents refused.  Karate was my only option and since doing nothing is never an option for me, I tried it and came to love it!  I was once told, “Good thing you didn’t learn ballet because you don’t have the body type.” Ouch!

I also struggled with my weight.  My parents are ectomorphs (body type that is naturally thin with a high metabolism) which I did not inherit.  My father could scarf down a half gallon of ice cream and half an Entenmann’s cake regularly, and still maintain 170 lbs.  When I repeated the same eating habits I paid a consequence.  Overindulging in sweets which often happened in my household caused my endomorph/mesomorph body type (easily gains muscle and easily gains fat) to be 5’4” and 150 lbs in high school.  My little brother wore “Husky” jeans.  On top of the sweets my family also loved fast food.  On Queens Blvd, close to where we lived, you had your choice of the gamut on a mile strip, Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, White Castle and Roy Rogers.  Since my mother oftentimes worked late and my father didn’t cook, fast food was a convenient option.  My parents, like the rest of America in the 80’s, did not realize that fast food was making their children overweight.  Thankfully, all the high intensity workouts at Miyazaki Karate 3X/week kept us from becoming morbidly obese.

Karate came to an end when I was a senior in high school and my family moved to Oceanside, Long Island.  During my first year in college I found a substitute, Iron Island, a local gym.  That is when I began to win the battle to lose weight, by learning to make better food choices and how to strength train.   Iron Island was owned by Dr. Ken Leistner, or “Dr. Ken,” a svelte, lean, incredibly strong, passionate writer and chiropractor, that led a team of Powerlifters.  He is the man that taught me how to squat.  The gym membership included a customized training program which Dr. Ken wrote himself.  The exercises were taught by his staff of trainers.  After completing the 8-week program he would design a new program using progression.  I was excited to see my body transform, energized from the way it made me feel and motivated to continue.  I was lucky to live near Iron Island because of this service.  As a college student, I couldn’t afford to hire a personal trainer.  In hindsight, without his systematic program that taught proper technique, I probably wouldn’t have seen results, become frustrated and quit.  Strength training became a new outlet for physical activity, a stress-reliever when I entered the work-force and helped me make the best of my body type.

Next came the big idea…“I can become a Personal Trainer.”  Hofstra University, where I attended, offered a Personal Training Certification.  I was majoring in Communications with a minor in Psychology and the psych classes were my favorite. I thought I could combine my passion for fitness and fascination with the human psyche to work in the fitness industry.  When I mentioned my idea to my mother she shot it down immediately, claiming it was not a “Real Job.”

So back to the original plan, graduate college and work in Corporate America.  This made my Mom happy…but it didn’t make me happy.  After working for different publishing companies I realized that whatever career I chose, ultimately I had the same day-to-day tasks, so I better love those tasks or be seriously unhappy.  I also realized that the one constant throughout my life was fitness.  Wherever I lived I belonged to the local gym, ran and biked in the local park and was happy to share whatever knowledge I had with friends and fellow gym members.  It is what felt most natural.

In 1992 I got my first personal training certification through ACE (American Council of Exercise) and started training friends for fun.  In 1993 I moved to Forest Hills, NY  and became a personal trainer for New York Sports Club but only part-time, hesitant to make fitness my career.  During that time I became certified through NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) and expanded my knowledge base to include, anatomy, kinesiology, biomechanics and overall wellness.  I truly find helping others with their own health struggles to become more fit and achieve goals rewarding and it never seems like work.  In 1994 I quit my 9-5 job and starting personal training as my career.

 I have not looked back.