By John Addyman
We’re talking across a small metal table outside the FairPour Coffee Roasters in Fairport on a November morning.
It’s gray and overcast here. Temperatures are barely clinging to what was left of the late summer.
Inside, FairPour is packed — no place to sit. Out here on the porch it’s quiet and we have a lot of room.
Nicole Coniker, 52, of Fairport, is unwinding her story.
“I was in my late 30s, two children and I just started thinking how life gets in the way,” she explained, a very small cup of coffee in front of her. “I’d started gaining weight, feeling awful. I woke up one day and said, ‘That’s it. I’ve got to do something about this.’ I started running and doing little races, 5Ks and all that stuff, couple of half-marathons. That kept me going. Then life gets in the way again; aging parents and teenagers and all the good stuff that comes with that. And you kind of lose yourself again, fall by the wayside and put everybody’s priorities ahead of yours.”
“Then you wake up one day and say, ‘I’m just not taking care of myself. I can’t do a good job of taking care of my patients and my family when I’m not feeling well,” she continued. “So, I said, ‘One of these days I’m going to become a personal trainer. I don’t know how, I don’t know when. I don’t know when’s a good time with my nursing career, but one of these days…”
Coniker has 25 years of experience in nursing and is a full-time home care registered nurse. But before hours, after hours and on weekends, she is a certified personal trainer where her clientele is 100% female and shares a group of characteristics. She takes the mini-gym packed in the back of her SUV to a client’s home, office or park to do the training.
“I get women. I understand them. I am one,” she said. “I know their needs. I have just been focusing on women in my practice. I’ve had a couple of men reach out and I refer them to this guy I know who’s wonderful. I feel like my training and expertise are geared toward women. I do my best with women. I can relate to women. This is a tough age to be at — you’re sandwiched between aging parents — I have two in hospice — then you have your kids.”
She said the women “who seem to come to me are the ones who are scared to go to the gym; they’re very intimidated. They like the convenience of someone coming to them with equipment. That’s another thing I teach these women — you don’t need equipment. You can just sit in your living room and do certain things. The women who are pressed for time and who don’t have a lot of time in their day, are my clients — the women who are struggling to find time for themselves and don’t want to go to the gyms.”
Everything starts with a free consultation.
“We have to decide if we’re a fit,” she explained. “You have to be motivated. You have to want to do this. There has to be some level of motivation or we’re wasting a lot of time and all the planning that goes into it behind the scenes. We discuss goals, I describe how I work and we decide if we’re a fit. The first visit, we do an assessment, some tests I use to see where they fall, physically, with their strength and endurance. Based on what I gather from these tests, I start developing a program for them.”
Once she and her client are a team, the next step is the kitchen.
“We go through their cabinets,” she said. “I teach my clients how to read labels. I teach them what they need for their bodies for where they’re at. Everybody’s nutrition plan is different and whether they’re diabetic or high cholesterol or if they have celiac disease — there are so many things you have to gear for. Exercise is a big portion of what we do. But nutrition is huge, huge-huge.”
Coniker gained personal trainer certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine in 2019.
“It was a lot harder than I anticipated, I’ve got to be honest. It was kind of grueling,” she said. “So, I got certified and then I thought, ‘Now, what do I do? How can this fit in with my nursing career?’”
She tried working at the Penfield Y as a wellness coach. But that wasn’t enough for her.
“I thought, ‘What do I want? What am I looking for? I can’t be the only woman who’s looking for something like this at my age.’ There are so many women out there who would like someone to come to their house or maybe their office over lunch or maybe meet in a park someplace. Maybe there are other women who hate the gym like I hate the gym and they’re intimidated by it. They don’t know where to start.
“I thought, ‘How about these women who have kids?’ Well, let the kids join. If your kids want to join us, we can do that, too, and make it a family event.”
With an open mind about whom she could help and what that would look like, she packed her SUV with resistance bands, a large gym ball, kettlebells, mats, weights and other stuff and put a sign on the door: RNFit4life.com.
She was ready.
More than a trainer
The depth of her nursing experience means she can go well beyond working with someone who just doesn’t have time or hates gyms.
“I had a client, a woman who had had a stroke,” she said, her voice shifting in tone. “She lives alone and had fallen. She couldn’t get off the floor. My goal with her was to strengthen her; condition her to be able to get off the floor without help. That’s was our goal, not losing weight. She got stronger through all that. Our goal was to keep her safe at home. I’ll never forget the day I told her, ‘OK, today is the day we’re going to get you on the floor in a spot where there’s nothing around.’
She was so scared. She ended up scooching her way to the couch through the techniques and strengths we had worked on together. She was so happy she got to the couch, she cried.”
That’s why she wants to do what she wants to do, Coniker said.
“I love nursing,” she said firmly. “But I never planned to be a nurse. I planned to be a cop. I have a degree in criminal justice (from Monroe Community College) and I went on to get a degree in public justice at SUNY Oswego. I worked for a private detective to get my feet wet a little. But one day I thought to myself, ‘I want children some day. What if I don’t come home one night? What if something happens?’ And anything can happen. I had a change of heart, but then said to myself, ‘Well, what now? What the heck am I going to do?’”
A friend stepped in, changing her life with the suggestion that she care for a man with Alzheimer’s.
“It was OK. I went on to get certified as a nursing assistant. I persevered and decided to go to nursing school (at MCC again and Roberts Wesleyan for her BS).
What followed was a nursing career at Rochester General that included med-surg, interventional radiology, neuroscience and most recently, homecare nursing.
“As a personal trainer, I’ve worked with people who have had strokes, people who have multiple sclerosis, back problems, knee problems, shoulder issues, diabetes. I have an ability to connect with so many types of people. I have a lot of good people skills to work with different types of people who might be a little rough around the edges, who are fearful. In nursing you see it all — so many different types of people you have to get through issues to help.”
She said just the fact that she’s a woman in her 50s helps her understand the weaknesses and distractions and obstacles of those years. Her niche group of clients is in their 40s and 50s.
Add her nursing skills to her personal training skills and “It’s another way of nursing,” she said.
“I enjoy it so much that it doesn’t feel like work. I feel like it’s my way of giving back to women — how do you take care of yourself, how do you stay healthy in spite of life that is going on all around you?” she said.
“What we do doesn’t have to be this monumental task and it’s not a quick fix. You have to make small, sustainable changes in your life. That’s the key,” she added. “When I first meet somebody, I say, ‘If you’re expecting to drop 10 pounds in one week, I’m not your person. Or even a couple of weeks. Maybe a pound a week. You might even gain a pound because of life.’”
“It’s knowing how to manage your health, your mental well-being and then all the rest will kind of follow. There’s no fad, no quick way to it. It’s taking maybe that 10 minutes you have to yourself in the morning and fitting something in there. It doesn’t have to be an hour going to the gym; it doesn’t have to be this huge event,” she explained. “I think more women have realized it’s not as difficult as people make it. Some people put this big block in their head that it’s a huge undertaking.”
If you just make small changes, even with your nutrition – don’t starve yourself, don’t cut everything out of life, don’t stop everything at once — because you will fail, she cautioned.
“That’s not a system that’s set up to be sustainable. Find those little ways to incorporate into your life. It doesn’t have to be an hour. It can be 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Take sugar out of your diet. Know where the hidden sugars are. Know how much fiber you need, how much protein you really need. And going through menopause, is huge,” Coniker said.
She smiled. We’d been talking for the better part of an hour. The November breezes on this gray day were picking up. We were getting cold.
As we parted, I promised myself to go home and look at all the labels in our pantry and ditch the leftover Halloween candy.