It's not uncommon for Stephanie Fraze and her clients to brush aside early morning cobwebs, swat deerflies or check out alligators and nesting birds as the women make their way across the sweeping acres of Sawgrass Lake Park. This is Fraze's primary place of business.
She recently launched Get Up Girl, a personal fitness program for women, and can be spotted Monday through Saturday taking clients through their paces. They run up and down little hills for interval training, squat against poles to strengthen quads and buttocks and build stomach muscles, hop on benches and perform walking lunges along winding paths.
"I could work out the whole body in this park,'' Fraze said last week.
It was her second session that morning. The first, at 5:15 a.m., was a cardio workout with a client on Coffee Pot Boulevard on St. Petersburg's waterfront.
Fraze, 39, a proud stay-at-home mom whose Christian faith plays an important role in her life, began her personal training business by chance. She had been helping friends with their exercise programs when she decided it was something she could do to earn a little money while her children are in school. Friend and workout partner Lori Canfield provided encouragement.
"We just started out as friends to get in shape, and that's how it started and snowballed from there,'' said Canfield, a 45-year-old mother of four who works out with Fraze five mornings a week.
"This was a risk for me to step out and say, this is what I'm doing and take on clients,'' said Fraze, who will soon complete an online personal training certification course through the International Sports Sciences Association.
"I want to get it done, because I want to have that certification behind my name. Not that my rates are going to increase,'' she said.
"It's not about the money for me. It's definitely a passion I have.''
Group sessions cost $10 a person for an hour. Private sessions are $20.
Fraze said she wants women to make lasting changes in their lives.
"I found I was encouraged by her,'' Canfield said. "She's good at what she does.''
A "P.K.'', or preacher's kid, Fraze moved to St. Petersburg in 1988 and met her husband, Jon, shortly after. They have three children, Jenna, 7, Joey, 9, and Jake, 12. Fraze said she has always been interested in fitness, but didn't become truly committed until about a year ago. She lost 30 pounds exercising with Canfield, first on the Friendship Bridge and later at Sawgrass Lake Park.
"I know that I have made some changes in my life. It's an accomplishment. I want women to realize that they're accomplishing something that's going to help them emotionally also — dealing with the everyday things that we deal with, our children, our family, our multitasking,'' she said.
Carolyn Rothman, 39, is a mother of four who does four weekday sessions with Fraze and one on Saturday.
"She's very knowledgeable about healthy eating, exercising, the mind and body, the whole package,'' Rothman said.
"Since I've been doing this, I've been taking time for myself.''
Fraze said the women bond during their exercise sessions.
"Things do come up as we exercise. Sometimes we just try to give advice or we're just quiet. Or sometimes we just run out the frustration,'' she said.
"It's all about doing life together and not doing it alone.''
So far, Fraze has seven clients, mostly in their 30s and 40s. Regular weekday sessions start at 8:15 a.m. after moms have dropped their kids at school. Some mothers bring little ones in strollers.
Fraze coaches a 10 and under soccer team, so Saturday workouts begin at 7 a.m.
In coming weeks, she'll add another dimension to her program. Ann Marie Davis, who owns and operates a GNC franchise with her husband at Gateway Crossings on Roosevelt Boulevard, will offer sessions about nutritional supplements and demonstrate healthy recipes in Fraze's kitchen.
Sawgrass Lake Park, at 7400 25th St. N, provides an idyllic setting for the program.
"I use the natural elements of the park. I also encourage my clients to bring 2- to 5-pound weights, water bottles, and a towel and a mat, if they have one, but it's not needed,'' she said.
"At the end, we do a lot of quiet time and a little bit of yoga. I talk to them about their day, clear their heads. If women ask me can I pray for them, I do. I don't push them. If they ask, I will. I'm not shy.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.