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updated: 2/25/2013 11:49 AM

Trainer's approach is just what she needs

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Whenever I'd hear "personal trainer," I'd immediately think of Louis Gossett Jr. in "An Officer and a Gentleman" and picture being screamed at while I do push-ups or other equally awful calisthenics in the rain.

Working with a personal trainer was definitely both the coolest and most terrifying prospect of the whole Fittest Loser journey.

On one hand, I've always known I needed to be more active and eat better, but where to start? The fitness and nutrition guidance would be welcome, as would the accountability. (You're way less likely to sneak in something unhealthy when there's a chance you might get lectured about it.)

But this also would be someone I don't know (I'm shy. Like really, painfully shy). And someone who would know how much I weigh (until now, no one but my doctor and I knew that number). Plus, you know, the Louis Gossett Jr. thing.

Enter Josh Steckler, owner of Push Fitness and my personal trainer. With more than 15 years of experience, Josh has a degree in kinesiology from Indiana University and is certified as a health fitness specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine and a performance enhancement specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

He's also soft-spoken, not scream-y. And -- at least so far -- there have been no workouts in the rain. Although there have been times I was pretty sure he has carefully studied the Geneva Conventions, thinking "I wonder what's just this side of torture …" No, not really! I'm kidding! HA-HA! (Oh, boy. I'm totally getting the Bosu for that one.)

Seriously, though, besides not yelling at me, he works around my painful knee without actually going easy on me, making it less of an obstacle than I'd anticipated. He knows when I'm stalling between sets. And, best of all, he's truly passionate about fitness and nutrition, helping others get healthy and encouraging clients like me to work really, really hard at what I can do -- rather than dwelling on what I can't do.

Like the first time I met with him for a fitness assessment. I couldn't do a single sit-up or push-up. Not even one. And this came at the tail end of a week of various kinds of testing, including seeing my kind of horrifying weight and body fat percentage on paper at least three times.

While I'm not someone who cries in public, I felt the tears welling up. I was expecting a lecture from him about how out of shape I am. Instead, I got some really great advice.

"You're going to walk out of here feeling defeated and torn down," Josh said. "Don't let yourself get discouraged. You have to use that as fuel and work harder."

Those words have reverberated through my head every time I think "I'm too old and fat to do this," "I can't possibly do one more rep," or "BUT I NEED THIS CHOCOLATE THING."

Of course, I still sometimes dread finding out what he's cooked up for me when I meet him during the week. But you know what? I can do sit-ups now.

• Melynda Findlay is a member of the night copy desk at the Daily Herald, where she's worked for 14 years. She lives in Arlington Heights and really loves grilled cheese sandwiches.

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