Donor helps people succeed through scholarships and personal fitness

Published on May 14, 2021

Like many entrepreneurs, the pandemic has had an impact on Mark Kay (Personal Fitness Trainer ’06) and how he runs his small business. Since March 2020, the owner of Iron Fit Personal Training has adapted how he serves his clients because of COVID-19 health restrictions on fitness centres and gyms.

Instead of meeting clients in city-owned fitness facilities, Kay holds one-on-one personal fitness training sessions online and in the studio he built inside the garage of his St. Albert home. Serving clients is more important than ever, he says, as people are struggling. Some are dealing with job loss while others are coping with isolation that may have adversely impacted their physical fitness.

“I believe in helping as many people as we can now to get healthier, get better. Obesity, inactivity, muscle aches and pains are going to be a problem for our health-care system as we get older,” he says. “I can only imagine the illnesses we’re going to see in the years to come that were completely preventable.”

Just as he’s continuing to serve clients during the pandemic, he’s also committed to giving back to his profession by supporting NAIT’s Personal Fitness Trainer students with the financial aid to succeed in their studies.

“Even if I have to work a little bit harder to get that extra client, I will still provide the scholarship. I stuck with it because it's something I believe in – I'm proud of that,” Kay says.

Last year, not only did he continue funding a scholarship, he also gave NAIT students valuable work experience through practicum placements. His motivation is partly about supporting aspiring personal trainers but also about giving back to the program that gave him so much.

“If I hadn't gone to NAIT, I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have my business. I owe my life to NAIT.”

An unstoppable dream

Kay’s ambition to become a personal fitness trainer is rooted in his childhood. He was an active kid and participated in a full roster of sports including hockey, baseball, soccer, wrestling and bowling – which earned him a spot on the bowling team at the Alberta Winter Games.

Despite his involvement in sport, Kay says he still struggled with weight – an experience that led him to want to help and encourage other people as a personal trainer. “Whether you are training as pro-athletes or training for general weight loss, it can be a daily struggle.”

Becoming a personal trainer, however, was a dream that almost never happened, says Kay. After applying to NAIT, he was disappointed to learn his application was denied due to high school biology marks that weren’t strong enough.

When Kay met with the program chair to make his case for admission in person, he promised to be on the honour’s list within his first year. It was a bold statement that not only got him into the program, he made good on it, too. Kay made the dean’s list almost every semester before graduating with honours in 2006.

Mark Kay and wife Chantelle are pictured with their two children. “If I hadn't gone to NAIT, I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have my business. I owe my life to NAIT," says Kay, pictured with his wife Chantelle and their two children, Olivia and Joseph.

After working for a large fitness company in addition to a part-time job at Sport Check, Kay decided to establish his own company,  Iron Fit Personal Training, in 2009. Working the long hours wasn’t adding up, so he did the math and discovered that he could work almost half the hours if he became his own boss.

For Kay, a major benefit to owning his business has been the flexibility to be there for his family. He met his wife, Chantelle, whom he trained during a workplace practicum in his last year of study at NAIT. A few years later, their paths crossed again, and they started dating. The couple married in 2010 and have two kids, Joseph and Olivia.

“I'm here for the kids when they come home from school. I take them to school, and build my schedule around that,” Kay says.

A passion for supporting the community

Kay’s career has also allowed him to volunteer at his daughter’s school, as well as a volunteer director for the St. Albert Food Bank and Friends of the Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival.

In April 2020, Kay helped fundraise for the Stop Abuse in Families Society. As part of a campaign over Easter, he and fellow volunteers dressed as the Easter Bunny and walked 160 kilometres around St. Albert to take socially distanced photos with kids during the first wave of the pandemic. They raised nearly $4,000 for the society.

Volunteering and supporting community have been important since his youth, says Kay. He remembers when, as a student, he worked almost full-time hours to pay his own way, but still made time to volunteer as coach for the St. Albert Raiders Hockey Club.

Thinking about that experience and how stressful it was to balance work and school is what led him to establish the Iron Fit Personal Training Scholarship in 2011, which is awarded annually to  a first-year student based on academics and volunteerism. 

Kay says it’s his hope that the award allows others to pursue their passion for his personal training, much like he did.

“I love opening people's eyes to see the potential within themselves,” he says. “It’s my job to show you what you're capable of. I love what I do and don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.”

When Deanna Fisher (Personal Fitness Trainer ’21) received the scholarship in 2020, she says  says she felt “lucky and grateful” to have been selected at a time when she and other students are struggling financially. Throughout her studies, she has worked part-time while balancing school and practicum.

Scholarship recipient Deanna Fisher pictured with a skipping rope. The 2020 recipient of the Iron Fit Scholarship, Deanna Fisher has volunteered at the YMCA and is a co-founder of her rope skipping club Jump Rope Revolution. Photo credit: Anah Alfred.

Now nearing graduation, she is excited to continue her education by studying kinesiology at the University of Lethbridge. The scholarship has helped her get her personal fitness certification, which was something she didn't think she would be able to afford.

"I'm a certified personal fitness trainer," she says proudly. "Your support has allowed me to pursue my certification and now I'm excited to continue and pursue further certifications. I just want to say thank you for supporting this scholarship - I'm just so grateful. "