This Trainer-Client Duo At VIDA Fitness Is Seriously Inspiring
By Mekita Rivas, VIDA editor/member
At VIDA, we pride ourselves on being an inclusive, open environment that makes everyone feel welcome and comfortable. No matter your story or background, we’re here to guide you along your own unique fitness journey!
Today, we’re introducing you to Juan Natal and Emily Harrison, a personal trainer and client duo who have been working together since January 2018. You can regularly catch them slaying their way through a serious strength training circuit at VIDA Fitness Gallery Place. What you might notice, though, is that there’s not a lot of verbal communication between the two. That’s because Emily is deaf, and she and Juan use American Sign Language (ASL) to power through their workouts.
They connected at an interesting time, not too long after Emily was recovering from two surgeries on her left hand.
“I met Juan back in January 2018, when I was first determined to make my New Year’s resolutions, and I knew I needed help with recovering my left hand,” Emily says. “When he first asked me, ‘What do you want?’, I made it very clear: ‘Kick my ass.’ He took me seriously — he kicks my ass every single training session.”
Juan, who speaks English and Spanish in addition to ASL, says that conducting a personal training session in sign language can be challenging, but also very rewarding.
“It is mentally exhausting, but I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he says. “I enjoy it because it’s always a learning experience for me, just as it is for her. She teaches me how to communicate efficiently, as well as some of the lingo deaf people use because there are different types of sign language.”
Because of her deafness, Emily explains, many people think it will take a lot of effort to communicate with her or that they might embarrass themselves. Some individuals even mock signing in front of deaf people or tell them how sorry they are that they can’t hear.
“Juan isn’t one of them,” she says. “He has a lot of courage to learn ASL in order to communicate with me and to make sure I accomplish my fitness goals. He is rare, and I have a lot of respect for him.”
For other people with disabilities who might be uncertain about joining a gym and working with a trainer, Emily emphasizes the importance of keeping an open mind.
“Allow the personal trainer to learn from you and you learn from them,” she shares. “That’s what we did, and the experience created a strong bond in our personal trainer and client relationship.”
And without a doubt, Emily is a certified beast in the gym, clocking in five to seven workouts every week. She typically trains with Juan three times a week and takes several Group Fitness classes when she’s not working with him.
“I love various workouts because they all help me build my endurance and strength, and switch up my muscles,” she explains. “Now I am drawn to weight training, and someday I would love to have a female bodybuilding appearance. Maybe it’s just a dream.”
But if Juan has any say in it, that dream could be much closer to becoming a reality.
“We do a lot of Olympic weightlifting,” he says. “We do a lot of big movements. We’ll do some squats and a lot of deadlifting. I incorporate bodybuilding moves because she wants to work on them. If she wants to get strong, that’s what I do.”
And Emily couldn’t be happier with the progress she’s made so far — she has lost weight and gained muscle, and she’s becoming stronger every day.
“It is worth every minute and investment,” she says. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have gotten my results. I really enjoy the fact he challenges me with my workouts.”
As for Juan, he hopes that his experience with Emily is just the beginning. He wants to work with other deaf people to help them reach their potential in the gym, too.
“I simply want to educate people as much as I can,” he says. “If I have the opportunity to work with someone with a disability, not only does that person benefit from me, but I benefit from them because I learn to understand how they communicate and how they go through their daily routine. It’s a different point of view, and sometimes that’s refreshing. That person can broaden your perspective on how you see things and help you understand how everyone has a different story.”