Jill Brown - Courage & Inspiration
“I’ve never had a mentor,” said Jill Brown recently in our interview, “I’ve always felt I had to pave my own way.” But visit jillbrownfitness.com and be bowled over by her accomplishments as a fitness trainer, producer, motivator, content creator, blogger, inspirational presenter, and TV news reporter. Particularly interesting is the path she took from overweight, out of shape teenager to a personal trainer for some of Hollywood’s elite, like Roger Birnbaum, former president of Fox, MGM Studios and United Artists. “Jill is the best trainer I ever had. She is professional, knowledgeable and reliable,” says Roger, who has been training three or four days a week with her for a couple of years. For a busy film producer to trust her into his personal space is an indication of how special she is.
One measure of her effectiveness and expertise is the number of clients who have gone on to be close friends, like Jenny Weisbarth, a friend for nine years since the company she worked for hired Jill to do a boot camp. Jenny described herself as “one hot mess” when Jill came along. Dealing with a destructive relationship and anorexia, Jenny endured through the five-week camp where Jill “was and is this bright, shining being. She is one of the strongest women I know,” says Jenny. The trainer helped her not only get in shape but get out of the toxic relationship, train for a marathon and deal with a torn labrum, make it through pregnancy and out the other side and back into shape. Who can match that resume! “My dream in life is to win the lottery, quit my job, and become her protégé.”
Jill, a native of Queens in New York, originally thought about becoming a physical therapist, until she heard the physical therapy school was in Buffalo; thoughts of dark winter days up there in the wilds of New York State did not appeal to a teenager prone to depression. She chose Emerson College in Boston and earned her B.A. degree in Mass Communication with a concentration in television/broadcasting.
During her high school and college years, Jill was in poor physical shape, having gained 25 pounds over those years. College life in Boston featured a typically unhealthy lifestyle, smoking and drinking, going to clubs and playing in a few punk rock bands.
On her own and disgusted with the shape she was in, she did a 180 and committed to making health and fitness a way of life. When she joined a gym part way through her last year at Emerson, a trainer put her on a Stair-master program three times a week and at first, she could not do even five minutes at level one. “It was pathetic,” she says, remembering those early days. But it was the kick in the pants she needed. Today Jill trains clients and teaches classes seven days a week does a few extra workouts on her own typically consisting of functional strength exercises and plays with her rescue pups, Rizzo and Louie. When time permits, she likes learning to sail the boat she bought with her friend and boyfriend. Of course, a radical change like this was going to take some grit, so after graduating college, Jill took a part-time job teaching fitness, after working her full-time day job with a production company. This way she had to exercise whether she felt like it or not. She quickly realized that teaching fitness classes made a positive impact on her clients’ lives, which was why she had got a degree in Mass Communications in the first place. She wanted to make a positive difference. The day came when one of the gym managers asked Jill if she would like to become an instructor. “I said yes, went through my first certification and it changed my life,” says Jill, who was 22 at the time.
When Jill made the decision to relocate to Los Angeles and try her hand in production, she moved back to her native Queens to prepare. Once she made the move, she planned to use her degree to work in the entertainment industry as a producer, but that fitness bug kept gnawing at her. “I felt happiest at the gym!” She had never planned to do fitness as a full-time vocation, but she managed to skate between the two careers. While blogging for the Huffington Post, consulting on marketing plans for health and fitness products, hosting, writing and producing videos for health and fitness projects, and working with several infomercial companies, Jill also taught fitness classes and loved the workouts, which had become a way of life.
One day in 2003 the unthinkable happened: Jill, age 35 now, was on her way to the gym when she was in a terrible car accident, front and rear collision, which almost paralyzed her from the neck down on her right side. Did she go to the hospital? No, she went to the gym and worked out went for a swim anyway! A few days later she got out of bed, took a shower and found the right side of her body went numb. That’s when she called a doctor who told her this was an emergency and. he scheduled her for an immediate MRI.
Long story short, the doctors said go home, don’t move and lie still. The MRI showed that Jill had a disc lodged in her spinal cord. Her spine looked like that of an eighty-year-old woman, with spinal stenosis and degenerative disk disease. This was only discovered because of the images taken. And the nerve damage in her right arm and leg from the accident would never get better. “I went to the best orthopedic spine surgeon in L.A., Dr. Bray and began preparing for massive spine surgery, wondering if I would ever be the same again.” Bray told Jill everything to expect in the years ahead, how to take care of herself and when she would need her second surgery. That accident in 2003 was a life-changer. Healing from that surgery would take a year, and there would need to be more surgeries in the years ahead as her spinal stenosis would progress. In the process of all this medical treatment, Jill found she is genetically predisposed not only to depression, but to hip dysplasia, which she was born with, and the spinal stenosis that she carries two or three genes for. She had to give up on the sports she loved, like rock-climbing, cycling and boxing and go to activities that kept her spine in a more upright position. She tried new sports like outrigging and crew rowing, which she kept up for several years until she became too busy with her work. There was the pain of course. One of the ways she dealt with that was by getting certified in Pilates. She also went to physical therapy and is still doing the exercises her therapist showed her to this day, as they have been effective in dealing with residual pain. When she was finally able to return to higher intensity workouts again, Jill vowed to get in the best shape she could and to inspire others to do the same. “I loved hearing my students and clients say how much I changed their lives, but now I felt I could do this on a whole new level.” Jill found she was better able to identify with the physical limitations and injuries of others, and to help those with doubts about their physical abilities. Her STOTT Pilates certification enabled her to work with clients who have similar spine issues, low back pain, and other congenital or overuse injuries.
“By age 40 I was in the best shape of my life.” She discovered other training practices to help her stay in top shape, like kettlebells, interval training, and Barre workouts. “What I learned was that sometimes the worst setbacks can be setups for success.” A friend and client Anita Jansens met Jill at a carwash 10 years ago, while admiring each other’s dogs. Anita had major back issues, herniated disks, and migraines, at least partially due to sitting at a desk job all day. Jill worked with Anita on specific exercises to strengthen her core and back muscles, as well as all-around circuit training. “She is what I call the complete package, an all-in-one deal,” says Anita. Jill provides the most up-to-date information on diet and nutrition, as well as knowing all the latest trends in fitness.
Meloney Hudson and Nina Tooley both came into Jill’s realm the same way Jenny did, seeking help to get in better shape despite injuries and chronic issues. “Her insights and support are golden,” comments Meloney, who met her while working for a marketing company. Jill was hired as a consultant to test and review products and perform in fitness videos. The result of that initial contract was that Jill was hired for several more projects, as the entire marketing team was impressed with her fitness knowledge. When Jill started a boot camp at the local park, Meloney finally gave it a shot. The upshot? “It’s 12 years later, and I am still attending Jill’s boot camp!” Nina had been through several trainers by the time she met Jill, over 10 years ago. Years as a skier and competitive athlete resulted in a herniated disk. Nothing really worked, and some workouts actually made things worse. Looking ahead to possible spinal surgery, Nina met Jill, who worked with her to strengthen her body. She never threw her back out again and with Jill’s guidance, she made it through two pregnancies. “I have Jill to thank for helping me feel younger and stronger at 42 (and with two little kids) than I ever felt in my 20s.”
These days Jill has been making use of her two backgrounds in media and fitness. As someone who has always used sports supplements to gain an extra edge in her workouts and nutrition, she is thrilled to be a spokesperson for the product BURN from ProMera Sports. She has used their CONCRET creatine for 9 years for strength training and tells women over 40 to do the same. Before an intense workout, she combines BURN with CON-CRET for maximum impact. Before teaching her morning classes, she also uses PRE for the mental focus it gives her. Most recently Jill became a Certified Functional Strength Coach, her latest passion. “I pave my own way,” she sums it up nicely.
This article is in no way able to summarize Jill’s experience, certifications, and specializations. She has worked for all the big L.A. fitness clubs, was one of the first Spinning instructors, teaches boot camps, Pilates, Barre classes, and works with private clients in person and online. She has too many certifications to list, but the ones she feels are most relevant to her work today are being a Functional Strength Coach and Nutrition Coach. Visit her at jillbrownfitness.com for a resume to knock you over.