Beyond Our Edges: Leigh Chmilar – Impacting Healthy Lifestyles with Passion
Leigh Chmilar is a Water and Wastewater Engineer and part of our talented Water Practice in Calgary. Helping provide solutions that have a direct impact to the communities she works with drives a lot of her energy for the work she does. Her journey to Urban Systems, however, took her on a different path from engineering for a brief time, but it now allows her to connect her passions for positively impacting peoples lives and improving their health as a personal trainer. Here’s her journey…
Q: Walk us through your journey to personal training?
A: When I graduated from university, I started working right away at the City of Calgary. I had studied environmental engineering and knew I wanted to work in that field in some way, and although I had worked at the City for 6 years, I was never really sure exactly what I wanted to do. I transferred into their water engineering group at the Water Treatment plants, as an EIT, and I loved it. I loved being at the plant and being able to see everything that was being designed and also, I felt like I was making an impact – I felt that public water was important.
But eventually I started to feel like something was missing and wanted to be in a faster paced environment. At this time, I was exercising a lot – I had always been active and played sports – and an opportunity came for me to teach fitness classes as something fun to do. And then it sort of consumed my life! I began doing it all the time and I loved it and it was sort of a really nice distraction to the point where I started asking myself if I really wanted to be an engineer. I thought, “Maybe this was my passion and I needed to keep following this thing that was drawing me in.” I ended up leaving the city with the hopes of building up a business as a personal trainer with dreams of starting my own gym eventually.
Q: How did you go from teaching fitness classes to becoming a trainer?
I was going to these fitness classes and they were so much fun and challenging and then one day the instructor announced they needed instructors, touting, “Why not get paid while you’re exercising?” I was intrigued so I took the training course, and eventually that snowballed into everything else.
Teaching classes was rigorous, but it gave me a lot of skills when it comes to speaking in front of people, motivating a large group, as well as so many other skills that I didn’t expect. It also gave me so much energy – even if it felt like I didn’t want to do it that day, I would still drag myself to the gym to teach and I always left feeling good. However, it got to the point where I was teaching so much that I was really wearing myself down – and I wondered if I should try personal training because I didn’t need to work out every time.
So that’s how I got into personal training, and I wasn’t sure if I would like it because it’s very different, but you have the ability to really help so many more people and not wear yourself down so much. When I get into something I go all in, which is what has kept me in it for so long.
Q: What brought you back to engineering?
A: I did start my own personal training business, and ran it full time for about 2.5 years, but it didn’t feel right as a stand-alone career for me. I was missing the camaraderie of working in a team and I was really missing the intellectual challenge of my other work. I wasn’t working around other professionals who would elevate me, and it felt a little lonely.
I think what actually drew me to becoming a personal trainer was just the ability to help others and have an impact on their lives, because that’s still what drives me to do it now. I loved running my own business because I’m very dedicated and like to jump in and figure things out, but I learned that I didn’t want to run a gym or worry about staffing. I DID really want to still have an impact on people’s health.
Urban Systems was a perfect fit for me and what I needed at the time because it was the right amount of challenge and I fit right in due to the skills I learned running my business and coaching people. But I didn’t want to let go of the other stuff I was doing because it made me feel so good – I’m just so passionate about people’s health.
Q: Why do you keep training despite having a busy, full-time job?
A: Urban Systems allowed me to still have the best parts of that job when I do it part time because I can completely control my schedule. I don’t HAVE to do it, so it’s fun again, and I got the joy back. I had a huge client base but at the end of the day I couldn’t keep training all of them, so I was able to keep working with the most dedicated ones, which makes it even better because I get way more out of it when the people are really committed to their journey.
The other side of it is that I started using that passion at Urban Systems as well! We started a Monday fitness class it’s grown consistently since the first class – even when I’m not here to run the class they still do it! It has helped create a really fun culture and allows people to network with others and get to know people they probably don’t work with in a normal day. I do it because it’s fun, it gives me energy, and I know it’s helping people and it’s not a drag – if people don’t want to do it they don’t have to so there’s no downside.
Q: Have you always had a passion for exercise?
A: I played a lot of sports when I was growing up, but never really “exercised”. I hated going to the gym and had a lot of feelings that many people have about not knowing what to do at the gym. When I started going to fitness classes regularly and started teaching, I realized that it actually gave me so much confidence to go to the gym and just do what I need to do, and I actually love it now!
One of my big passions is to help people not feel intimidated about exercising because I know that’s a huge barrier, especially for women. As a personal trainer that is something that I’m really passionate about – getting people the skills they need so they can build confidence and eventually go to a gym without me and not feel afraid. That they can do something that’s healthy for them without feeling that intimidation is what a lot of people have come back and said to me was important for them. When you’re with a personal trainer in a gym, you’re not self-conscious because you’re with that person and they’re telling you what to do but eventually you get used to being there and you start to worry less about people looking at you and it’s a natural progression.
Q: What keeps you doing it despite having other commitments?
I don’t know if it’s because I’m really stubborn and I just don’t want to let it go, but honestly, I think it’s because the level that I’m doing it right now doesn’t take away from my life. I don’t see it as something that I have to sacrifice other things for. It does just give me so much energy and I feel so fulfilled.
The relationships that I have with my existing clients, they’re such good people and I’ve known them for so long now that that’s really just a part of my life and my day to day, and I would be sad if I had to let it go. And that’s what it’s really about, the relationships and the fact that I want to have this impact on people’s healthy living. For me it’s a passion and I find it interesting and fun and I think that’s why I keep doing it.