From football player Tim Tebow to fitness model and writer Jamie Eason, the connection between faith and the world of sports is strong and influential. As more people embrace healthy living and a healthy lifestyle, faith comes into play in strengthening not only the spirit but also the mind.
Personal trainer Danielle Whiting considers her job a part of her mission work. Since joining her church in December 2007, she has traveled to Peru and Nepal with John Smithwick Ministries International’s Global Ventures. “It was amazing and it pulled at my heart,” she says. “I knew on my first trip that this was my calling.”
Athletics have played a part in Whiting’s life since age 4, when she discovered basketball. She played on school and church teams, but credits her newfound faith with helping her redirect her life. “I had always gone to church and played the so-called role of a Christian,” she says. “Inside the church I was an awesome girl, but outside, I acted the fool. I came to this church and felt the need to help out their Middle School Ministries 3:16. The pastor told me, ‘You understand that these young people look up to you. You need to make a lifestyle change or we can’t have you in leadership.’ I was in a horrible place. I was an alcoholic. I put all of my faith in God and believed that He could fix everything that was going wrong if I just gave everything to Him, and He did. I’ve been serving in ministry ever since. I chose God over the world and it totally changed my attitude. I stepped out and said, ‘I’m here on this earth to serve God and I want to do what He has planned for me.’”
Part of her faith walk included a membership to Gold’s Gym, where she focused on physical as well as emotional changes. “When I worked out with my friends, they would ask me for help with their workouts,” she says. “The training manager and gym manager came up to me one day. They had watched me work out, they thought I knew my stuff and they wanted to hire me.” She became a certified personal trainer and began working for Gold’s in August 2011, quickly building a clientele — many of whom appreciate her deep faith and share moments of prayer with her as part of their training sessions. “I believe with my whole heart that this was from God,” she says. “I had been praying and asking God what He wanted me to do and where He wanted me to go, and this door opened. It has been great.”
She says that the miracles of faith and fitness are witnessed not only in her clients’ transformations, but also in her own. She credits her church’s associate pastors with helping her on her journey and notes, “I never really spoke about it other than with them, but it is totally because of God that I got hired at Gold’s, and I thank Him every day. Before this, I felt like a loser. I had no control in my life. It was so quick of a decision for me to say, ‘God, tell me what you want me to do.’ I realized that I was done. If I had not straightened up, I would not be where I am. I’m so happy that I chose a different life. I would not have the amazing man I [recently married], and I wouldn’t be a personal trainer. I had an ‘I don’t care’ attitude. I needed something to cope with my pain, and I drank. I totally turned it around. I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t made those changes, but I couldn’t do it by myself. It was with God.”
Whiting becomes emotional when asked about the impact she has on the people she trains. “You run across a lot of different people in gyms, including a lot of people who are down on themselves,” she says. “One of my clients came in very overweight. From day one, she said that she was going to turn her life around. Within two months she lost 25 pounds and 17 inches. She has done an amazing job. Her husband trains with us once a week. Financially, they’re not able to do that, but without her knowing, I heard God tell me, ‘You need to train him and you need to train him for free.’ I asked [our training manager] and told him that I did not mind devoting my time to this man once a week, because I felt like God told me to do that. He said ‘OK.'”
“I’m a happy person because God has made me happy and put that in my heart,” she says. “Personal training is a mission for me and God uses me every single day. I may not see it and I may not know about it until I get to heaven, but I do know that I feel like I’m supposed to be here. Another client came in, and within five minutes she told me her whole life story. She was crying. We prayed together for about ten minutes, and she told me that she believed that God gave me to her. It was awesome. So yes, I think that personal training and being at this gym is a mission for me. You come across so many people and you never know what will help or motivate someone. Sometimes it’s just a smile, so I try to keep that uplifting spirit so that they can see that there is some good in the world. I want to be that light for them.”