Local gym owner Vander Hughes is more than a fitness trainer — he's a wellness coach.
"We're more than clients; we're like a family," said Veronica Williams, co-instructor at Bodies by Vander. "Whatever goals you have for yourself, he's going to make sure you get there."
For three years, Hughes has owned Bodies by Vander fitness center, welcoming all who want to work toward health and wellness goals.
"I'm one of those trainers that believe you've got to live it," Hughes said. "You won't see me telling someone to do something I won't do myself."
To prove his point, he gained 35 pounds — going from 225 to 260 pounds — and rehabbed himself using his own program.
"This is more than a gym, and I'm more than a trainer," Hughes said. "My facility provides a support system that makes sure that you're going to get there regardless of what's going on in life."
He offers clients the options of personal training and/or enrolling in a 90-day program, which incorporates some group classes like boot camp, offering high-intensity cardio and weightlifting regimens.
Williams worked with Hughes as a client for two years before becoming a co-instructor.
"His passion for helping is phenomenal," Williams said. "Clients really gain a lot from choosing to train at our facility because money is never an issue."
Stefanie Rome, an educator and former client of Hughes, told the News Tribune working out with Hughes was well worth the investment of time and money.
Upon enrolling in his program, her main goal was to be fit and feel good about herself. Six months after leaving the program, Rome said, she had exceeded her fitness goals.
"I really enjoyed being able to receive individual attention as well as participate in the group fitness classes he offered," Rome said. "Every month you receive an assessment, so you know that you're getting results from the work you put in."
By the end of her time with Hughes, she had made gains in critical areas such as losing inches around her waist, as well as losing 10 pounds, she said.
Hughes' journey to becoming a reputable trainer started long before he opened Bodies by Vander.
Lincoln University was a valuable influence in Hughes' journey to becoming a self-made businessman. On June 1, 2004, Hughes was released from Algoa Correctional Center. He was enrolled in classes at LU by June 2.
He explained that despite his optimism about getting out of prison, preparing for society's advancement in technology was challenge he couldn't prepare for.
Hughes didn't let this deter him from becoming an educated, productive member of society. As a non-traditional student, Hughes graduated with a bachelor's degree in wellness.
Even after graduating, employers wouldn't hire Hughes due to his criminal record. When he attempted to use his degree, he explained, he became known as a "renegade trainer," which resulted in him being rejected from several local gym facilities.
"I took that as a feather in my hat," Hughes said. "I don't have a gym or equipment, but yet they're blackballing me. It must be something inside of me that's worth it that they see that I don't — and that's when I really got motivated."
At that time, Williams had started working out with Hughes, and in some cases was escorted out of the gym alongside him. She stuck with him because he knew her goals and reminded her every day that she could attain them.
"You can't get this at the Y," Williams said.
"There's nothing he wouldn't do to really help you."
Hughes added: "We give them more than sweat and pain. People understand when you're genuine, and they know when you're selling them snake oil."
Hughes said people should never have to make a decision about whether their money should go toward their health or daily living expenses, so he tries to take money out of the equation for people unable to afford traditional membership prices.
"For the people who really need to make health and wellness improvements, I have become a household name," Hughes said.
In the future, Hughes would like to expand Bodies by Vander to other locations.