'I decided to do something that was bigger than myself'
When Alan Ashley’s 6-year-old daughter died from cancer last year, he decided to start helping his community prioritize health. The information technology specialist and Alhambra resident began teaching fitness classes at Granada Park to give community members an affordable exercise option. Ashley is also hoping to raise money to open a fitness studio in the city — and to donate 20% of its profits to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Fitness is not new to Ashley. The 30-year-old husband and father of three served four years active duty in the U.S. Air Force and two years with the Air National Guard. He practiced mixed-martial arts and played sports all throughout high school and the military. Now a personal trainer at a large gym, Ashley sat down with Alhambra Source to talk about his transition into community classes, teaching Alhambrans about health, and how his daughter’s death inspired it all.
What pushed you to become a fitness trainer?
My daughter was diagnosed with angiosarcoma — cancer — when she was 3. During that time, we had a lot of struggles. She was in and out of the hospital pretty much every week. She had a liver transplant and a lot of experimental procedures to try to cure it, but nothing worked. Last year, it got the best of her and she passed away. During that time, my older brother also had a stroke and went into a diabetic coma. He actually died for 15 minutes, but they were able to bring him back.
All that opened my eyes about living a healthy lifestyle. A lot of people don't know what to eat, how to eat, how to exercise. So after my daughter passed away, I decided to do something that was bigger than myself. This is the way I can actually make a difference so that people don't have to go through what my brother went through or even potentially what my daughter went through. Even though hers was a rare issue and had nothing to do with health and eating habits, a lot of times those things can make a difference.
You teach community fitness classes at Granada Park and are working on opening your own fitness center in the Alhambra area. How will your studio be different than a large gym?
I see a lot of people come [to a large gym]. We sit down for orientation, they tell me their story, they tell me how bad they really want this. Then I check on them later and see they haven't worked out since we met. I call them and they say, “I really need the training. I want to get in shape. I just can't afford to pay.”
I want to provide people with an affordable way to work out. I think corporate gyms tend to be more about numbers. Who do you have coming in? How many sessions are you doing? In my opinion, it could be more focused on the people.
I also want to use the money generated from the studio to help fight against childhood diseases. I became a Partner in Hope with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. So 20% of the profits generated from the studio will go toward cancer research.
Why do you think taking a class or seeing a trainer is important?
A lot of the people I talk to just do not know what to do. They have a membership, but when they go to the gym, they feel lost. They don't know how to use the equipment, how long to be working out, or what's appropriate for their goal. Or sometimes they just lack the motivation or accountability to just get out of bed and out of the house. Having somebody holding you accountable and telling you exactly what to do helps a lot of people.
What’s the difference between a one-and-one training session and community fitness class?
Typically one-on-one is a whole lot pricier. It's good if you have issues with a movement or are trying to rehabilitate an injury. You have somebody looking at every single aspect of what you're doing. And also, if we have an appointment, you know that I'm coming in simply for you. So it holds you more accountable.
A community class is effective because you have a lot of people there in the trenches with you. There’s a connection, a bond. You have people clapping and cheering you on. You may have somebody finish early, but they come back and help the other person finish. It's a whole lot more support and camaraderie. It's a different type of energy.
Do you have any advice for people trying to get healthier?
If you're looking to get healthier and finding a hard time getting to a workout on your own, find a group. There's plenty out there. Some of them are paid, and some of them are free. Check Meetup.com.
Also, do your research and figure out how to eat and be healthy. There is so much changing in the food industry; people get confused as to what's healthy and what's not. I would recommend a Paleo diet for anyone looking to get healthy and not wanting to count calories. But do your research.
Eating habits and exercise are critical. They dictate the way we feel, our mood, our energy levels. Being healthy will help you in every aspect. It will help you look the way you want to look and feel great.
Ashley’s community fitness classes take place at Granada Park, 2000 W. Hellman Ave., Alhambra, Calif., 91803, between 7:30-8:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. September's monthly fee is donation based. Visit the Push Pull Cardio website for more information and to donate to Ashley’s studio fund.
Interview was edited and condensed.