When Jelissa Gilmore first started exercising, she realized she belonged to a small group of women, and a small group of women of color who regularly hit the gym.
She said it was even rarer to see women in the weightlifting section because she knew a lot of people were too intimidated.
For Gilmore, that’s a problem.
So she started FLY Fitness, hoping to trade an intimidating atmosphere for an empowering one. She opened her studio in 2020 with the goal of helping other women like herself live healthier lifestyles.
“My vision is to create a facility where we can all come together and build community,” she said.
FLY Fitness is located on N. 6th Street outside of Harrisburg. From her studio, Gilmore offers personal training services and fitness classes to students. However, her plan goes beyond quick weight loss.
“If you want to change the way you live, you’re in the right place because that’s what I’m advocating for,” she said.
In the teal-painted studio, there is equipment such as weight racks, sandbags, medicine balls and kettlebells. They’re the same things you might find in any other gym, but the environment is designed to feel different. Here, you won’t find burley men mumbling repetitive motions or rows and rows of equipment not knowing where to start.
“Women tell me it’s the best thing because they’ve never seen it happen,” Gilmore said. “Women love that it’s their sanctuary here.”
Gilmore develops a fitness and healthy eating plan for each student that fits their body and goals. The key to a healthy lifestyle, she believes, is long-term commitment and generous grace when you fall behind schedule or backtrack.
Ultimately, she hopes to help women feel comfortable enough to leave her program and continue their fitness journey on their own.
“If you do what I tell you, it will work,” she said. “You need to change the way you think about exercise and healthy eating.”
new way of life
Gilmore got into fitness when he was 21 years old. She said she knew her weight was unhealthy and out of control. So, she turned to the gym in hopes of staying in shape.
Gilmore has had her fair share of ups and downs as she loses and regains weight, but keeps exercising until she actually starts to see results, and those around her notice.
“A lot of people started to see my dedication and the results I had achieved,” she said. “It became a way of life for me.”
Gilmore has now been a certified trainer for seven years. A few years after FLY was born in 2018, Gilmore found her own studio space. She said she was afraid to dabble in the uncertainty of owning a business, but she knew it was exactly what she wanted to do.
Then some life changes happened.
Just as the studio was about to open, the coronavirus hit, delaying the grand opening. On top of that, Gilmore found out she was pregnant with her first child.
“I’ve been through phases where my life has turned upside down, but I’ve gotten through it,” she said.
Gilmore’s own dedication during challenging times inspires her students because she is an example of what can happen if you commit to healthy living.
Tracy Kohl has been a student of Gilmore for many years. She was captivated by the transformation of herself that Gilmore shared on social media.
Cole admits that when she started exercising, she wasn’t fully engaged and had to take time off to refocus. But when she came back ready to put in the time, she saw amazing results. With Gilmore’s personalized workouts, Kohl has lost about 50 pounds and is more interested in staying fit than just losing weight.
“Most of the time, I feel better after working out,” she says.
Even beyond the physical results, Cole has seen her mental health improve as things that used to be problems, like seasonal depression, subside.
“It’s more important to my mental health than my physical health,” she said.
challenge of change
The FLY Fitness logo is painted on the wall of the studio, and a black woman with butterfly wings is lifting a barbell. She looks strong and powerful, which is Gilmore’s ultimate hope for her students.
She named her company to reflect this – FLY stands for “Love Yourself First”.
Gilmore had to learn her lesson early on in her fitness journey as her weight fluctuated wildly and she faced setbacks. She’s going to take that lesson with her as she’s now pregnant with her second child, and her fitness routine will undoubtedly change again.
Students like Kerr also had to learn when faced with challenges.
No matter what the number on the scale is, “you still have to love yourself,” says Gilmore.
As she did so and continued to develop her confidence, her business grew as well. Over the years, she’s noticed a small but steady stream of women, especially women of color, starting to exercise.
Gilmore hopes to expand to operate a larger fitness facility in the future – allowing women to continue to feel comfortable and energized. She knows that, whether it’s fitness or business, “you have to keep challenging yourself to make a difference.”
FLY Fitness is located at 3525 N. 6th St., Harrisburg.For more information, please visit www.flyfitnessllc.com.
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