Degree: Bachelor of Physical Education
Employed as: Director, CORE Training and Therapy
It’s no surprise that Barbara Cajas – who’s spent the last 20 years teaching others how to look and feel their best – can trace the start of her career to some encouragement she received in high school.
Or more specifically, she can trace it to some encouragement and some discouragement, the latter almost as motivating as the former.
“I had two very strong experiences in high school Phys. Ed.,” says Cajas, the founder and owner of CORE Training and Therapy, a local workout facility and athletic therapy clinic.
“One was a coach who never tolerated anything but the very best from us … and the other was a gymnastics coach who told me that I was too fat, and that I was never going to be any good. I really had both extremes.”
Thankfully, Cajas tends to favour the first approach in her role as a personal trainer, crafting highly specific fitness regimes based on her clients’ individual circumstances, then encouraging them to push themselves until they’re performing at the peak of their abilities.
Though she claims to have been a middling athlete in high school, she’s since racked up an impressive list of credentials, as a Certified Exercise Physiologist (endorsed by the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists), a Manitoba Fitness Council Trainer of Fitness Leaders, a CSEP Health & Fitness Program Course Conductor and an NCCP Level III Certified Judo Coach (more on that one later).
Even as a teen, Cajas says she always loved to exercise, which is what prompted her to enroll in (what was then) the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation Studies.
“All I knew was that I felt better when I exercised,” says Cajas, whose muscular frame would make Madonna green with envy. “I felt more confident – like I could do more.”
After graduation, she began imparting her fitness wisdom to others, first in the employ of the U of M’s Target Fitness division, then for the City of Winnipeg’s Parks and Recreation department.
But it wasn’t until a few years later that she started up CORE Training & Therapy (or as it was then called, The Training Firm), fusing her love of fitness with her enthusiasm for one-on-one training.
“Along the way, I always had people saying, ‘You know what you’re doing – can you put me on a program?’” she recalls. “So at first I was doing it for free. Then I had people saying, ‘What are you doing? You have a degree in this. You should be charging people.’”
Though she started out by making house calls to clients’ residences and gyms, demand for her services soon increased to the point that she had to hire and train employees. By 2005, the operation’s growth spurred her to open CORE’s flagship shop on Portage Avenue, where clients can access gym facilities, a therapy clinic and personal training services.
With a staff of 14 or so (all of them CSEP-certified and all of them either holding, or pursuing, degrees in kinesiology), Cajas eschews what she calls “cookie-cutter” training programs in favour of highly individualized regimes that take into account clients’ goals, background and proficiency levels.
“The biggest mistake people make is trying to do what somebody else is doing just because that happened to work for them,” she explains.
“We have to be willing to try what other people are doing, but we also have to be able to say, ‘I like some of this, but the other part isn’t working,’ – to keep the part that’s working, and move on to something else.”
Cajas is no stranger to trying new things. In 1998 – at the age of 36 – she decided to take up judo, ending her teenage self’s “mediocre” streak with a bronze medal at the 2005 Rendezvous Canada competition.
“I’ve always gone hard on weight training, on cardio and balance and stability training … so when I started getting into (judo), because I was already in shape, I could practice the techniques until I was dropping dead,” says Cajas, who retired from the sport after her big win. “They say that in judo, to get good at a technique, you have to do it 10,000 times. And there’s, like, 50-odd techniques in stand-up judo alone – never mind the ground work – so you have to be in shape.”
A passionate proponent of physical activity in all walks of life (in addition to her day job, she’s often quoted in the media on health-related issues, and returns to the U of M each fall and winter to teach the Friday night kids classes), Cajas can’t help but get emotional while discussing the link between active lifestyles and academic success.
“It’s never been this bad as far as kids being obese,” she says. “We have to live in our bodies for the rest of our lives. It is insane to graduate someone from Grade 12 when they don’t even know how to take care of their bodies.”
A sobering statement, to be sure. But as long as there are those looking for guidance on the path to good health, Cajas is only too happy to help them help themselves.
“Success is when somebody feels better about themselves – they feel like they got what they came for,” she says.
“To me, the ideal client is someone who’s receptive, but who gives feedback. They say, ‘I like this, but I don’t like this,’ which makes it so much easier to help them make changes, and discover things on their own.”