Dolly B Stokes, our October Trainer of the Month, has been making a difference in the lives of others for over 15 years. Having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nine years ago, she is passionate about providing adaptive programming so that everyone, no matter their physical limitations, can participate in fitness activities. Her focus is on creating programming that is inclusive and not elusive.
Medical Research/Education: Member of clinical research team as exercise specialist at University of Alabama Birmingham/Lakeshore Collaborative TEAMS study funded through Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). Plenary presenter, 2019 PCORI Annual Meeting, John Hopkins. Conference presenter, 2020 Institute for Patient-Family Centered Care 9th Annual Conference, Vanderbilt University.
Fitness Education: FiTOUR®: author of nine certification courses and featured presenter in 16 on-line videos, Pro-Trainer since 2002 and presented over 250 live workshops. Conference presenter at IDEA World, Gulf Coast Fitness Expo and FiTOUR Mega Weekends.
Certifications and Specializations: UAB Adult Studies: Personal Training and Aerobics Instructor; Blue Cliff Career College 750-Hour Massage Therapy Certificate,; ACSM Inclusive Fitness Trainer; ACE Group Ex Instructor; AFAA Personal Trainer and Group Ex Instructor; IDEA Certified Nutrition (Balancing Hormones); Balanced Body Pilates Reformer I, II and III; TriggerPoint Specialization; FiTOUR Group Ex, Personal Trainer and 17 specialty certifications.
List any PR/recognition/awards received: Research panelist for UAB/Lakeshore Collaborative comparing direct-rehab to tele-rehab for individuals with multiple sclerosis (2015-present), Plenary presenter PCORI Annual Meeting through Johns Hopkins in Washington DC (2019), Presenter , 2020 Institute for Patient-Family Centered Care 9th Annual Conference, Vanderbilt University. IDEA World Presenter (2010); National MS Society: 2013: Tour of Champions Recipient (top-fundraisers in the Southeast), 2016: Member 2017-present: Leadership Class for Greater Mobile, Team Leader: Tour de Beach (2012-2015)
Studio/Business Name: Stokes Method and DollyBFitness Consulting LLC
What inspired you to start your business?
I initially started DollyBFitness Consulting as a fitness education service with FiTOUR as one of my major clients. My business also offers personal training and group exercise.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast in 2005, the YMCA branch where I did the majority of my personal training and taught group ex classes was destroyed.
Two weeks after the hurricane, I held my first boot camp with only three clients. Those clients had such great transformations, word traveled fast through our small town. I wasn’t originally planning on going into the bootcamp business but my second bootcamp had 35 people registered and my business continued to grow.
Over the past 15 years, my training business has evolved into more corrective exercise than fitness activities, I still have many of the same clients 15 years later. I continue to work with FiTOUR to provide quality and affordable education to fitness professionals.
What is one hard lesson you’ve learned in business you believe has been most valuable?
In 2008, I decided to open my own studio. My business was well-established and had a good income off of monthly client fees. I moved to a studio that was double the size which, consequentially, doubled my overhead. As the months passed after opening the studio, I noticed that my client base started to dwindle little by little.
When I asked clients why they weren’t training with me any longer, many of them answered that it was too far to drive to get to the new studio — while it was only two miles from the dance studio where I originally rented space. However, the dance studio is located on the main street in the middle of town. My new studio was located on a main highway on the outskirts of town.
One of the biggest mistakes I made was that I assumed that my clients would be as thrilled as I about the clean new space that was beautifully furnished. I didn’t anticipate that they would prefer an older building over a well-furnished brand new one. Also, I didn’t take into consideration that an economic downturn could negatively impact my business. The stock market crashed that same year and over half of my clients either weren’t able to afford or decided not to spend money on a fitness trainer.
With the drop in clientele and accumulating debt, I turned to my then fiancé (now husband), Jeff, for advice. With Jeff’s counsel, I humbled myself and closed the studio and moved back to the dance studio where I had rented in previous years. I also took advantage of Jeff’s business expertise and he now manages the financial end of my business which frees me up for writing and research as well as allowing time for me to concentrate my energy on my clients.
I actually learned two valuable lessons from this experience. The first lesson learned is that convenience and location can be more important to clients than having a plush studio with all the bells and whistles. The second lesson I learned was to seek the advice of someone who has a strong understanding of business finances. The best financial advice I ever got was from my husband when he told me, “It’s not how much money you make, it’s how much money you keep.”
If I asked one of your clients why they choose you over other places/gyms/trainers, what would they likely say?
'Unlike many group trainers, Dolly puts in the time to understand each of her clients and how their bodies respond and react to movement. She meets each of us where we are at this time and space. Many of us have been with her for 10 years or longer. As we’ve aged, many have developed medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or other conditions that result in pain. Dolly is a wizard when it comes to pain management. She has a great knowledge of anatomy, the central nervous system, hormonal changes and healthy nutrition to alleviate inflammation. Although Dolly has MS, she doesn’t let MS define her. I’ve never known Dolly to miss a scheduled training day due to MS symptoms or for any other reason. She teaches us all that when we are faced with an obstacle if we only adapt and believe we can achieve anything. Dolly is a great role model of living life to the fullest through healthy living. Her life embodies her motto of Believe. Adapt. Achieve.'
Name one or two ways you are trying to raise the bar in the industry?
Having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nine years ago, I am very passionate about providing adaptive programming so that everyone, no matter their physical limitations, can participate in fitness activities. I am trying to raise the bar by creating programming that is inclusive and not exclusive.
Knowledge is power. As a fitness educator, it is my responsibility to teach fitness pros how to provide clients such with an environment that is safe and inclusive. When I am writing fitness education courses information on modifications and adaptations is always included.
As the fitness industry moves closer to regulation, I am hopeful that one day industry standards will require fitness education programs to contain information on inclusive training with adaptations for active older adults and individuals with medical conditions.
Armed with the knowledge of how to adapt programming so that everyone has access to safe and effective exercise, the future of fitness professionals is limitless.