A Conversation with Kerri Jahelka of Dedicated Fitness

By Christopher Holland • The Current Contributing Writer

Kerri Jahelka is the owner of Dedicated Fitness in Palmerton, which she founded in 2003. She graduated in 2001 from Bloomsburg University with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science with a minor in business. She also holds a national certification from the American College of Sports Medicine as a health fitness instructor.

In May, she will be graduating from California University with a master’s degree in exercise science with a concentration in performance enhancement and injury prevention.

Outside of running her business, Jahelka enjoys hiking, enduro mountain biking, singing and visiting craft breweries.

The Current: Could you please provide me some information about yourself and your background? How long have you owned Dedicated Fitness, and what positions have you held prior to working there? What is your age, and where do you reside? At what college/university or schools did you study, what are your degrees and licensures and what years were they obtained?

Kerri Jahelka: I am an adventurer, lover of the outdoors, deep thinker, and passionate about creating positive impact. Our minds are so powerful, they can lift us up or tear us down; I believe there is an opportunity to learn from everything we endure if we are willing to persevere.

My name is Kerri Jahelka, owner of Dedicated Fitness Inc., established in 2003. I graduated in 2001 from Bloomsburg University with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, a minor in business, holding a national certification from the American College of Sports Medicine as a health fitness instructor. Immediately I went on to fulfill a master’s degree, but life had other plans for me; I was forced to put that goal on hold, my brain had decided to challenge me.

Prior to graduating, I had the opportunity to intern at the National Institute of Fitness and Sport in Indianapolis, Indiana. After graduation I worked briefly at the Hatfield Athletic Club but was turned-off by the industry and moved on to working at Rodale Aquatic Center as an instructor, and at Country Junction, the world’s largest general store, working in sales, events marketing and merchandising in all of their locations.

For extra income, I’d work odd jobs whenever possible; hair and makeup artist, as well as jewelry crafting for special events, lawn maintenance, and babysitting. I renovated a room in my father’s manufacturing plant; brightly painted, decorated with positive quotes and outfitted with functional training equipment to be used as a place for recreation therapy for myself but, being a small town, people thought I was opening a personal training studio.

And so, the people started stopping in to make appointments, and then they asked me to train their children; hence the humble beginnings of Dedicated Fitness. No matter what I do, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, and so we continued on, together as a team!    

After years of growing, evolving, becoming, I have been successfully building a 10,000-square-foot community fitness facility in Palmerton since 2003. Dedicated Fitness Inc. is the name I call it, with the tag line, dedicated to helping you become the best version of you!

Finally able to enter the master’s level of education, I do not take for granted being able to read, comprehend, or focus; thankful to have fought my way back. As of this May, I will be a graduate of California University with a master’s degree in exercise science with a concentration in performance enhancement and injury prevention.

I now hold a few certifications: the National Strength and Conditioning certification as a strength and conditioning specialist, the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a performance enhancement specialist, and NACE speed and explosion specialist, in addition to pursuing the ISSA specialist in fitness nutrition.

The Current: How does Dedicated Fitness get involved with the local business community? Does it reach out and work directly with businesses to offer employee wellness programs? If so, what kind of programs does it offer and what are some its greatest accomplishments in offering such programs?

Jahelka: We don’t offer employee wellness programs, although that is something we have been thinking of putting together. We offer a discounted rates to employees of local businesses in exchange for email blasts. We have been working on a proposal to work with the local fire company and their firefighters. 

The Current: There are several franchised fitness centers and gyms throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley/Reading areas. How does Dedicated Fitness position itself to stay ahead of the competition? What incentives does it offer its current and prospective members?

Jahelka: By thinking outside the box, by doing what is often unimaginable to others, I have been able to create positive changes in my mind and body and assist others in doing so as well. Constantly striving, reflecting, evolving, becoming through perseverance and tenacity, anything is possible if you are willing to work for results.

Dedicated Fitness positions itself as a team; encouraging, inspiring, and motivating each other to become the best version of who they were born to be. Our goal is to create impact on the people we surround ourselves with in a positive way, so they feel hopeful, important, valued and worthwhile.

As an employer, coach and teammate, I lead by example, through effort, hard work and a positive perspective, forging through challenges and obstacles with tenacity and perseverance, maintaining focus, honesty, integrity, professionalism, and emotional intelligence. Genuinely listening, offering words of encouragement, acknowledging efforts and accomplishments with words and positive actions, as well as taking time to enjoy the interactions throughout the day with each person I am with improves relationships, outcomes and offers an environment for new ideas and improvements.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been assessing my performance, evaluating how it has been received, critiquing the effects and reflecting on how it can be improved. I appreciate the effort and value the performance at the moment, but look forward to making it better in the future. Knowing there are competitors out there, my goal is to be aware of what they are doing, but stick to my vision and provide an authentic experience. I’m not seeking to compete with the others, I am seeking to provide something different.

Using fitness, sports and wellness as a mode of inspiration, I have challenged my clients to believe in themselves, to follow their hearts to accomplishing whatever their minds can dream. Leading by example, I encourage my clients to be courageous, to take action and step into the uncomfortable in order to grow. I empathize with the difficulties we encounter when trying to become better, but inspire, encourage and motivate my teams to persevere.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. When we respect each other, we can help one another realize more of our unique potentials, therefore as a team, we can accomplish the extraordinary. Obstacles have been put in my way to show others they can be moved, inspiring hope!

The Current: Does Dedicated Fitness participate in, or with, any trade show events, youth organizations or other marketing outlets? How does it actively get involved with and deliver its brand to the community?

Jahelka: Changing lives, one action, one opportunity, one moment at time, including my own. I have taken the words “positive is powerful” and turned them into a mantra, that is recognized locally and vastly expanding. I have done some public speaking and often volunteer my services to help in the schools and within the community.

We have hosted many free programs over the years, encouraging our community to be physically active in the outdoors. We hosted a running club, a learn-to-run program, hiking and trail running/walking, and family fitness nights. Dedicated Fitness sponsors many local clubs, events and students. We admit, marketing is our weakness and are actively working to improve.

We have a student center catering to building strong confident leaders, starting as early as age 5. Though we divide into programs specifically for sports conditioning and specifically for making fitness fun for all kids, our goal is to provide a solid foundation from which to build. The youth and teen programs are held throughout the year, with specialized programs offered in the summer and winter.

The Current: If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be?

Jahelka: Possibly there can be a licensure to distinguish an exercise scientist with a personalized coaching credential, a statutory certification, limiting what title someone can put behind their name based on their competency, certifications and licensures.

As many as 250 separate certifications exist in the exercise science field, possibly due to the fact that any organization can decide to offer a certification with no accrediting body approval. This is what makes it so difficult for the public to understand, respect and trust the personal trainer.

Until there is a licensure, I’m not sure the public will ever understand the difference between a national accredited certification and a “fly-by-night” certification. It is a matter earning the trust of the client by educating them with what you know and providing a higher level of care than those other trainers.

When I reflect on the words “highly educated and experienced professional” I see a gray area, not black and white. There are cases where you can have an experienced professional who has researched and learned a great deal of knowledge along the way, without having earned a degree, and then there are those that earn the degree but have no idea how to use the knowledge they have gained with that degree. This is why I believe certification with accreditation is a means to distinguishing an educated, quality trainer.

Although not government regulated, accreditation helps assure the public of quality (and a commitment to continuous quality improvement) of an organization or program. I believe any valuable certification should be accredited by a national accrediting agency.

The term personal trainer indicates the trainer is capable of prescribing an individualized plan for their client. Without a competent knowledge of how the body works, how can he/she properly address any limitations and modifications necessary if he/she doesn’t have an appropriate understanding of the body?

The term personal trainer carries with it the assumption that this person may lack college level education, and simply has a passion for working out. It isn’t respected like that of an athletic trainer, physical therapist, etc. While an exercise scientist isn’t necessarily a personal trainer, I believe someone who possesses the in-depth knowledge of more than the superficial weight room talk should have an opportunity to distinguish themselves as such.

The Current: What does the future look like for Dedicated Fitness? Does it have plans for growth?

Jahelka: We have been working hard to establish ourselves as a distinctly different experience. We seek to find a way to persuade the public into adapting a healthier lifestyle. We aren’t looking to provide an experience for those already versed and successful at incorporating healthy eating and exercise into their lives. Our goal is to create change in those people needing to make the change but not knowing how to do so.

We are not a “gym.” We are a specialized training facility, with highly educated instructors; at least five years of college level academic education. We seek to help individuals get started in transforming their lives, providing them a realistic, safe plan of action, support and instruction necessary to get there.

If you give us a year, we can change your life. If you want short-term results, we aren’t the right fit for you.

The Current: Outside of work, what are some of your personal interests/hobbies?

Jahelka: I enjoy hiking, enduro mountain biking, singing, playing with every dog I see, creating videos, designing healthy menus of meals and snacks, craft breweries, traveling and spending time with my family. I know I need more balance in my life, but running a business as an independent woman, coaching and attending school is time consuming! I’m looking forward to getting back to more of the activities I enjoy and finding balance again.

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