CINCINNATI -- Denise Bryers knows a thing or two about transformation.
Bryers was a young mother when her husband got in trouble and went to prison, leaving her to raise three young kids on her own.
She received public assistance to support her family but never wanted to be on welfare for long. So she attended program after program to learn the skills she needed to get a job. Once she got hired at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, she started to transition off welfare. She went from there to a job at Lighthouse Youth Services and started attending Thomas More College at night to get her bachelor's degree in business.
When she graduated, she got a job at the Procter & Gamble Co. and thought her transformation was complete.
"It was like, 'Ah! I made it,'" said Bryers, who is now 44. "Everyone was so excited."
She worked there for nearly four years. But Bryers discovered that, as much as she loved her job and the company, she had different dreams.
That's where transformation comes into her story again.
As Bryers tells it, working for the company and being a single mom to her three growing kids was stressful. That stress led her to overeat, and she gained about 25 pounds.
When her daughter expressed interest in going to a gym to lose weight, Bryers bought her a membership. As she began to see her daughter's success, Bryers started going to the gym, too.
"I started losing weight, and I said, 'you know what, I love this!' I learned a lot about myself in terms of nutrition and developing a meal plan for myself. I did it for my daughter, too, and she lost a lot of weight," Bryers said. "I talked to one of the trainers, and said, 'I really want to become a personal trainer.'"
So Bryers got her certification and began training clients, all while working full-time at P&G and juggling another part-time job. She got herself in such good shape that she began competing in "figure competitions," standing on stage in a bikini and winning trophies for her transformed body.
By May 2014, she was a full-time personal trainer and fitness professional. And just this month her transformation took another step forward with the opening of her gym -- Bootcamp Cincinnati -- in North College Hill.
Positive energy and support
Transformation has become Bryers' calling.
She now has clients who have been with her for years. Many started out in the Bootcamp Cincinnati classes she started at local recreation centers. She still teaches them several times each week at Evanston Recreation Center and at Woodlawn Training and Community Center.
At her Bootcamp Cincinnati gym, Bryers and the other personal trainers there focus on working one-on-one with clients.
Several of her clients have become so fit that they are participating in figure competitions now, too.
Shannon Hammond is one of them.
She started at Bryers' Bootcamp Cincinnati class in February 2013 to lose weight. She lost 60 pounds and became one of Bryers' personal training clients in early 2014. By October of that same year, she had taken part in her first figure competition.
"Before I even started going to Bootcamp, I was up to almost 200 pounds," Hammond said. "I was depressed, a domestic violence survivor, an attempted suicide survivor. I was partying and drinking as self-medication."
Bryers' classes changed all that, she said.
"It's the energy, her positive outlook, her support," Hammond said.
Hammond and Bryers became close friends, and Hammond became a personal trainer herself. Now she trains her clients at Bootcamp Cincinnati, too.
Jacque Edmerson did not seek out Bryers to lose weight. She already had been working out for at least 20 years and had worked with various personal trainers.
"I decided to participate in Bootcamp Cincinnati because of the energy," Edmerson said. "I thought she was that good."
For Sheila Donaldson Johnson, trying Bootcamp Cincinnati was about improving her health. Johnson was diagnosed with diabetes, and all the medication for the condition caused her to become about 60 pounds overweight.
Bryers helped Johnson lose the weight, and she has been able to cut down on her medication.
"I'm just on the pills right now," she said. "Not to administer insulin is a lot of freedom."
Challenge equals change
Bryers' clients say that the results they get from her personal training are about more than losing weight.
"She taught me how to eat, what to eat and when to eat," said Jennifer Gentry, who attended her first Bootcamp Cincinnati class in September 2014.
"My goal was to fit into a pair of pants. I have a very nice pair of slacks, and I couldn't fit in my Armani's. And I needed to get into my Armani's," Gentry said. "So that was my goal when I went to Bootcamp."
Gentry lost enough weight to fit into those slacks, and Bryers talked to her about taking part in figure competitions.
"We decided that would be a next goal for me, and we began personal training," Gentry said.
Gentry competed for the first time earlier this month -- at age 55.
Of course, figure competitions aren't for everyone, and that's fine with Bryers.
As a personal trainer, Bryers makes sure to give each client individual treatment and attention.
"She doesn't talk to you like a mom or something," Johnson said. "She's not one of those trainers that be yelling at you and tripping. She's more like an encourager, like a motivational speaker."
Gentry put it this way: "The way she deals with Sheila is because she understands Sheila. I watch her train five or six or seven people at the same time, and she's present for that person at that moment in time."
Bryers' motto: "If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you."
With as many challenges as Bryers has faced -- and as much personal transformation as she has experienced -- she ought to know.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been writing about women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for more than 18 years. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.