YMCA personal trainer Tracey Ashall, left, leads Sarah Pertoso in an exercise to strengthen her core muscles. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
Sarah Pertoso works her way through 10 burpees, squat thrusts with a push up thrown in, and is a little winded. She’s got nine more sets to go, each decreasing in number, and personal trainer Tracey Ashall offers some words of encouragement.
“Let me tell you, you’re looking fit already,” Ashall said.
With only a 15-second break in between each set, the exercises are testing Pertoso by the end, but she makes it through, and Ashall gives her a high five.
“Excellent, Sarah,” said Ashall, a native of the U.K., in her British accent.
Pertoso said she has been visiting the Covington YMCA for over four years, but this is only her fourth session with Ashall, a personal trainer at the Y.
“I need someone tough, but not scary,” said Pertoso, pleased with Ashall-supervised workouts.
In September, Ashall began working at the Covington YMCA, where she is a personal trainer, class instructor and running coach.
Her employment with the Y is a return to the place which ushered her into adulthood and the working world more than two decades ago.
At 17, Ashall, living in England, found herself homeless after not being able to reconcile differences with her family. She lived at a YMCA for two and half years, where she gained employment training, assistance in landing a job and help with finding an apartment.
“As you get older, you really realize how much it impacted your life,” Ashall said. “I’m very honored to work at the Y and to support its efforts to bring together the community through its mind, body and spirit motto. It has maintained these ethics since is origination in London in 1844.”
Though Ashall, 40, is now building a career in physical fitness, she’s always had a keen interest in working out. She started competing in foot races at age 9, and continued to run as a hobby throughout her life.
She’s held a series of jobs including those in sales for the banking and hotel industries. In her 30s, she moved to Bahrain to be a disc jockey, and she started to train more seriously for races. In 2004, she competed in the New York Marathon, and used her participation in the race to raise money for an orphanage.
In 2011, while in Bahrain, Ashall met and married Jonathan Fischer, who was serving in the U.S. Navy at the time. His service brought the couple to Gulfport, Miss., and Fischer recently took a position as a project manager for Baxter, which brought the couple to Covington.
Ashall, a National Academy Sports Medicine certified personal trainer, teaches several classes at the Y, including circuit training; strength, core and balance; and triple threat, a high-energy workout. She is currently in training to instruct indoor cycling.
“It’s an amazing job,” said Ashall of her position at the Y.
Ashall also established the Y Run? club in September, as an eight-week program to prepare athletes for the Fuzz Run. Club members wanted to continue with the group running and now they’re preparing to compete in the Cheerios Challenge 10K, an event organized by the Y, on April 19.
“We couldn’t do it without her,” running club member Swan Whigham said.
Ashall works with runners on proper running techniques, adding that core strength is essential to success in running.
“I’m very proud of my group as some of them have never run before and they have been consistently training now since the group began, plus I have some people who haven’t been able to run and were injured or had medical issues that set them back and they have been able to gradually get back to their fitness level again,” Ashall said.
Ashall participated in the Boston Marathon last year and was celebrating her completion of the race with her husband and friends when the terrorist bombs exploded. At first, they mistook the sounds for construction but then quickly realized the seriousness of the situation. She said they weren’t afraid, but rather they were upset by the attack.
“You can’t really celebrate what you’ve just done. They took that away from us. So this year, is my redemption,” said Ashall, who is looking forward to running in the Boston Marathon again on April 21.
Ashall said she enjoys teaching physical fitness because being in shape provides longevity.
“You know what I call it? Life insurance,” Ashall said.