How an ISSA Education Changed Cat Smiley’s Life
Sixteen years since her first personal training certification, Cat Smiley still has ISSA’s 800 phone number committed to memory. As she started her new career in personal training, the friendly, knowledgeable staff would answer questions about certain client concerns and serve as invaluable support for launching her international career.
Cat, who immigrated from New Zealand to Whistler, Canada in 2001, is now an incredible success story in the fitness industry running 30 or more weight loss retreats per year through her company Whistler Fitness Vacations. She hires up to 10 support staff throughout the busy season as clients flying in from all over the world to experience the program.
Success didn’t come overnight, it was a long and bumpy road.
Smiley immigrated to British Columbia to further her burgeoning skiing career. She went on to spend 12 years as a professional skier, during which time she began to plan her transition into a career in fitness training. Her athletic background provided a natural fit for operating a fitness boot camp.
While completing her personal training certifications camping in her car three days a week and working for free (with the option to sell $5 nutrition consults) at a trendy upscale gym in Vancouver, two hours away from home. Evenings were spent in nearby cafes studying hard to become qualified.
Her determination was matched by her commitment to her clients' accomplishments, and she knew that she was moving towards something that felt right. Being able to start planning her transition into life after her athletic career provided her with hope and promise.
Reaching her goal of becoming ISSA certified served as the springboard that catapulted Smiley to her current success in the fitness industry.
“It’s the best decision I could have possibly made,” Smiley said. “I got so much support when I was just starting out. I had so many questions, and they were always there with answers for me. It truly is the best training. They take people who like me, are ready to work hard, and they give you an opportunity.”
Prior to starting Whistler Fitness Vacations, Smiley ran The Original Boot CampTM in British Columbia from 2001-2012, which was the first boot camp to operate in Canada.
Smiley also is a nutritionist, and has written a book on healthy eating, “The Planet Friendly Diet.” She has been named ISSA ’s trainer of the year in Canada three times.
That success led her to be one of the 12 finalists for the role of personal trainer on the hit TV show “The Biggest Loser.” The experience sparked an interest within her to focus on working with women who have a large amount of weight to lose, and the idea for Whistler Fitness Vacations was born.
Where she had formerly used hard-core training techniques to whip her clients into shape, Smiley now finds herself working with women with little or no experience working out or participating in athletics. The goal, she said, is to “cultivate a culture on a social level as well as a motivational and physical level.”
Most of her clients spend four weeks with her, Smiley said, with the idea that each of them will return home with the tools needed to continue the weight loss and commit to a lifestyle change. The average time needed to lose 100 pounds is seven and a half months, Smiley said. Clients usually lose the first fifty pounds while working with Cat in Whistler and the remaining weight loss happens in the months that follow the excursion.
“It’s quite accelerated weight loss, but it’s always about them gaining confidence and inspiring them to become leaders,” she said. “That’s what interrupts the pattern of obesity because it usually runs through generations in a family.”
Not minimized are the psychological and emotional components that are associated with being extremely overweight. To that end, Smiley and her staff work to teach their clients to overcome the obstacles that prevent them from living healthy lives.
“We bring them to a stage through motivation where they feel excited and empowered to keep going,” Smiley said. “We make it quite easy to stay on track. We use the first three weeks to break the pattern and detox all of their old habits. Then we show them that is very comfortable to continue to be healthy.”
Aware that she is often working with women with fragile psyches, Smiley said it is important to recognize the right time to get tough and to know when to take a step back.
“Being in the industry for 16 years, it’s a skill that I have developed,” she said. “You have to have excellent social skills to work with people with emotional issues. My time spent running a boot camp taught me a lot, but this is a different experience, and these women don’t always respond well to that hard approach.”
“So you have to find that balance, and that has been the secret to my success, I think. To know when to take a softer approach and when to hold your ground and say, ‘Yes, you will be walking up that hill for the eighth time.’ Also, to be able to say, ‘You’ve done enough for today. It’s time to take a rest.’”
“Knowing when to push them and when not to is just something that took years and years of experience to understand. We don’t coddle the self-esteem issues, we embrace them. Everybody leaves with a feeling of success, and the clients are taught to own that success. That helps them to become more confident and less fearful of the change that is ahead for them.”
Smiley worked with her first client who went on to lose 100 pounds eight years ago. It was life-changing for both of them.
“Her name is Sasha and she went on to lose 123 pounds in time for her 23rd birthday,” Smiley said. “I got shivers down my spine when I realized what an accomplishment that was.”
It always helps to have someone to lean on.
Shelli Epstein is a professional acrobat and performer with a background in gymnastics. She currently performs in the Cirque du Soleil show ‘Luzia’. Previously she performed in the Franco Dragone show ‘The House of Dancing Water’. In addition to her performance career, Shelli is a dedicated, ISSA-certified fitness trainer and nutrition specialist.
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