Story by CYNTHIA MCFARLAND • Photo by LISA ANDERSON
Fitness became a lifestyle for Willy Richeson in his late teens. Although he played football and competed in wrestling and track and field events in high school, he didn’t really start working out until he went into the Wisconsin National Guard at age 18.
Beyond improved physical appearance, Willy saw other powerful benefits. “I started working out and fell in love with it. Seeing results boosts your confidence and it also got me to evolve and be more engaged,” he says. “I had a hard time focusing on one task growing up. Working out helped me with planning and building a routine. It gave me a passion.”
Moving Across the Country
In 2019, the Wisconsin native moved to Ocala, Florida, where some of his family had relocated. One of his first steps to meeting people and making friends was getting connected with a local gym.
He soon took the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) course and became a personal trainer. Currently working as a personal trainer at a local gym in Ocala, he’s able to share his passion and help others on their journey to better health. He’s excited that he and his family are opening a fitness center in Dunnellon this December.
“I’m a ‘people person,’” says Willy, 23. “I have always liked helping people, so helping them live a healthier lifestyle was something that appealed to me.”
Stepping Up to Help
The quarantines and isolation imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic have had far-reaching consequences—physical, mental, and emotional. Willy has seen this firsthand, noting that many of the people seeking a personal trainer in the last year were motivated to do so because of gaining weight during shutdown. “A lot of my clients are first-timers to the gym and come in looking for knowledge,” he notes. “People are entering a gym for the first time, because they’re trying to live healthier now. Some came to me saying they had depression.”
In addition to newcomers, Willy has also seen people who were in the habit of working out before COVID hit and are returning to take their health more seriously.
Whether a client is hoping to lose weight or strengthen their immune system or is struggling with depression, Willy encourages them with the fact that studies show that physical activity can help. “It’s important that people who are coming to the gym for the first time are doing correct movements when working out, so they can live that healthy lifestyle for a long time,” says Willy. “I like to focus on that.”
He’s found that many new athletes tend to be slightly intimidated. “They have no idea how to hit their personal goals or if they’re even possible. They want a personal trainer to guide them, make sure they don’t hurt themselves, and help them succeed,” he says.
One of his first questions with any new client is asking what made them decide to come in. Clients have specific reasons for seeking a personal trainer. Often, these include losing weight and improving their immune systems. Another very common reason? “They have an event coming up where photos will be taken,” says Willy, “and they want to look good for those pictures.”
Willy never wants to burst anyone’s bubble. If a client comes to him with unrealistic goals, he gives them stepping stones to reach their main goal. As they achieve each stepping stone, he helps them set a new target with their ultimate objective in mind. “If someone comes to me and wants to lose 50 pounds, we’ll break it down over a period of months,” he explains. “Not focusing on the number on the scale is hard to do, but when you see results, it’s very uplifting. For example, someone may weigh the same but be a lot more fit and in better proportion, once they put on muscle and lose fat.”
When a client comes to him and has doubts about what they can accomplish, Willy enjoys watching their transformation as they set and reach goals. He shares the success of one client who came to him hoping to lose a significant amount of weight. After three months, she was only down seven pounds, but she had lost over seven inches, a transformation that left her clothes loose. “She’s had to buy new clothes,” says Willy, “so this was very exciting for her.”
Willy has an equal number of male and female clients, and they range in age from 13 to 85 years old. Older clients often just want to stay active, so they can continue to be able to do everyday tasks. Willy helps them work on mobility and strengthening.
Success stories are as varied as his clients and, for Willy, that’s one of the most satisfying things about his job. “I helped one client be able to do their first push up, even though they didn’t believe it was possible,” he says. “Another person was afraid to jump on anything, so we started with just inches. It’s very rewarding to see them overcome their fear.”
Life in the gym takes up most of Willy’s days, but when he’s not training or helping others work out, he loves paddleboarding and kayaking. Also tops on his list is spending time with his German Shepherd/pit mix Magni, who was named for the Norse god of strength.