During her first workout with the Train Like a Trooper Boot Camp, Chris Bower cried.
The 46-year-old Island Lake mom knew she'd "let herself go," ballooning to 300 pounds. Now, she was struggling to climb the stairs with the other boot campers, feeling disgusted and embarrassed.
Bower didn't want to come back after that. But boot camp creator/trainer Tami Haukedahl encouraged her to show up for just one more week.
Today, a boot camp regular and 102 pounds lighter, Bower gets teary-eyed talking about that pivotal time in her life, saying she couldn't have done it without Haukedahl.
"She pretty much gave me my life back," Bower said.
Life-turnaround stories like these are common from participants in the two-year-old Train Like a Trooper Boot Camp in Rolling Meadows, named as such because Haukedahl is a retired Illinois State Police captain.
A lifelong athlete, Haukedahl became a certified personal trainer at age 51 and started her own business, Hauk Fitness.
The boot camp's name implies that it's a yell-in-your-face, military style program, but it's quite the opposite.
Inspirational phrases line the gym. Haukedahl does the workouts with everyone, giving pats on the back and positive words of encouragement.
"When we have our first warm day this spring, think of how well your shorts are going to fit," she says, as the campers grunt through their ab crunches. "Come on! Just one more minute! You can do anything for one minute!"
Both men and women, with a wide range of ages and body types, participate. Despite their differences, a supportive camaraderie exists. In one group drill called "the team plank," everyone cracked jokes as they rolled a weighted ball around a circle while holding themselves in a plank position.
By the end of the hour, people were dripping with sweat, and many were smiling.
"Be proud of what you did here tonight!" Haukedahl shouted across the gym as everyone packed up to leave. A few people hugged her before walking out.
"She's just so motivating and positive. She helps you be better," said camper Cathy Edwards, 57, of Palatine, whose husband and son are also enrolled. Edwards' husband, Rich, lost so much weight that he no longer needs his blood pressure medication.
Don't be fooled into thinking this boot camp is easy. The muscular 54-year-old Haukedahl is serious about exercise and will make your muscles ache. Pain, she tells her boot campers, is just weakness leaving the body.
Some of that pain comes from exercises with a "Hauk Stick," a sand-filled plastic tube she invented. It's modeled after the heavy crowd control sticks she would carry during her police career.
There is a similarity between police training and her trooper boot camp, Haukedahl says. That's the emphasis on positive thinking: that you can survive -- and succeed -- in any situation.
"(The boot camp) is more mental training than physical in some ways," said Haukedahl, an Arlington Heights resident. "I will get every last ounce out of them, but I will not scream. People don't want to come somewhere to be belittled. They want results."
The key to getting those results, she says, is to mix exercise with positive reinforcement.
"She lays the foundation for you to have a lifestyle change," said boot camp member and Haukedahl fan Domenick Grana, 46, a father of three from Mount Prospect who has shed 42 pounds since joining the boot camp. "My wife and I can do this together."
Haukedahl says she's humbled to see her camp grow so quickly through nothing but word-of-mouth. What started as "a few people on a patch of grass at Sunset Meadows Park" -- and a simple website encouraging parents to "get their mojo back" -- has exploded into nearly 100 people and two gyms.
The boot camps are held three times a week during early-morning and post-work hours -- times intentionally chosen to accommodate busy parents. If the weather's nice, the camps are held outdoors. Otherwise, they gather in a small gym behind the West Meadows Ice Arena in Rolling Meadows.
That works for Tom Cilio, 29, a new dad from Mount Prospect, who said the boot camp helped him lose 36 pounds gave him the strength to run a 5K.
"Tami thought I was going to have a heart attack my first night. She kept saying, 'Are you OK?'" he said. "But having Tami motivate you rather than yell at you really helps."
Fitness contests with cash prizes, and charitable campaigns, also endear people to the "trooper" boot camp.
"I'm not some 22-year-old trainer who's telling you to do reps. I understand the physiology," Haukedahl said. "My passion is to help people."
For information on Train Like a Trooper Boot Camp, go to haukfitness.com.