Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Personal trainer Julie Monaco helps Ginger Leslie with an exercise Thursday at the Heinz Fitness Center.
Chautauquans have been acquainted with Turner Community Center and its amenities for over a decade, from the community pool to the basketball court to the state-of-the-art exercise machines.
Julie Monaco, though, has been familiar with the halls of Turner for much longer than most.
After growing up near the Finger Lakes, Monaco moved to Chautauqua for her first teaching job at Turner Elementary in 1972. For 33 years, she taught remedial reading to local students, educating freshmen, first graders and all grades in between. When the Institution bought Turner in 2000, and Chautauqua Lake Central School opened, Monaco traveled up the hill to the new Mayville school.
Yet, it wasn’t long before she was walking those same Turner halls again.
“When I retired from the school system in 2005, I took a desk attendant position at the community center,” Monaco said. “At the same time, I worked on getting my personal training certificate, because I thought it would help me become better at exercising, which is something I love to do.”
Andy Freay, director of recreation at Chautauqua and manager of Turner at the time, recognized Monaco’s knowledge of the weight room and connection with the regular patrons, and asked her to take on some clients as a personal trainer.
Eight years later, Monaco has established a core of returning Chautauquans who value her expertise and ability to establish friendships with her clients. Monaco said that her education background made personal training a sensible next step after her retirement.
“I have an understanding of people’s goals and their level of expectations,” Monaco said. “Like in my teaching career, I understand that people need to learn the basics, and there is never a time that is too late to start.”
Monaco’s passion for education is only rivaled by her inexhaustible appetite for exercise. She remembers her first fitness experience in the 1980s, when a friend offered her a guest pass to a gym in Lakewood.
“I was hooked immediately,” Monaco said. “I would spend hours at a time there. And when that gym closed, I continued to work out at home on my own.”
Although Monaco’s fixation on fitness began more than 30 years ago, she is adamant that an aspiration for physical health can begin at any time, at any stage in a person’s life. Most of Monaco’s clients are over the age of 50 years old, and some are even older than 90.
“I can relate to these people because they’re closer to my age,” Monaco said. “They see me doing it and realize they can do it as well. I never ask my clients to do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Although Monaco works with men and couples occasionally, she said that most of her sessions are with women. She works tirelessly to dispel common misconceptions, such as notions that exercise leads to bulkiness, that the gym is exclusively for muscular young men, and that fitness is a process of pain and monotony.
“I try to convince people that exercise is not only good for them; it’s also fun,” Monaco said. “The most challenging part of the job, though, is planning different activities that are going to meet people’s specific needs, and making sure they aren’t bored doing them.”
These needs range from improving balance and maintaining flexibility to simply losing weight and toning. Monaco said that the staff at Turner recognizes these personal fitness desires and credits Chautauqua for making fitness an indispensable aspect of the recreation pillar.
“Fitness is seamlessly built into the Chautauqua experience,” Monaco said. “Turner and Heinz [fitness centers] are wonderful facilities that are ideal for someone who wants to incorporate fitness into their Chautauqua life.”
While Monaco said that physical exercise is essential to a Chautauquan vacation, another aspect is even more important: personal relationships.
“I’ve developed great clientele that have become just like family,” Monaco said. “We go out to dinner or go shopping. They open up and share thing they necessarily wouldn’t share with other people. It’s great to see my friends come back year after year.”
For Monaco, however, these relationships aren’t even the most gratifying part of being a personal trainer.
“When my clients notice their strength or balance getting better and give me a simple ‘thank you,’ that’s the most rewarding part of my job,” she said.
Since retiring from teaching, Monaco said she has found her calling. She said she puts all of her time and energy into learning more about physical fitness and providing a better experience for Chautauquans. Like leading a horse to water, though, Monaco said most of the responsibility falls on the clients.
“Personal training is a great field to be in because most people want to be here and want to get healthy,” Monaco said. “Having a personal trainer just makes them accountable. This is the best second job I ever could have asked for. I get up every morning so excited to come to work.”