By Scott Scanlon
Rachel Sunley turned her University at Buffalo master’s project into a business that has many Western New York brides smiling these days as they walk down the aisle.
“I wrote my master’s thesis on weight loss maintenance because I was fascinated by the idea that most Americans can lose weight successfully, but half of them gain it back in six months,” she said earlier this week. “I wanted to understand: What are people doing who are succeeding at long-term weight loss?”
Sunley, who turned 28 on Friday, is slender, with a warm smile and laid-back demeanor. Her personality belies the name of her business – Bridezilla Boot Camp – which she readily admits she wanted to be catchy.
“I thought, ‘Who are the most motivated clients that you could really find?’ They’re the bridezillas, right? I always had an interest in growing the business but I had to start with something,” she said.
Sunley graduated in 2007 from SUNY Buffalo State with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, got her master’s in public health at UB in 2010, and works as a private contractor based largely out of Made2Move Fitness in Amherst. She also uses several other gyms – and the outdoors – as part of her six- and 12-week personal training programs.
Q. You were a part-time personal trainer when you started this business in late 2011?
A. I worked part time at Southtowns Fitness Center in West Seneca, which is now Catalyst Express. I grew up with fitness. I worked out with my father (Kevin) since I was a little girl every day in the basement. I think he taught me proper form when I was 5.
Q. You have an interesting arrangement with some local gyms.
A. Let’s take Hive (a fitness center in East Amherst). I went there and ran a six-week camp. Basic boot camp is our comprehensive training and you’re training two times a week with me in a small group setting, along with getting nutritional guidance. Our specialty boot camp is where these other fitness studios come in. There’s a third workout every week. That will vary. We’ll go to Barre Centric on Main and Transit for a class. We’ll go to Power Yoga Buffalo in Snyder for a power yoga class. We’ll go to Pole Play dance studio on Hertel Avenue for a specialty workshop and then we’ll do adventure runs. We’ll go to local parks and trails. You’re walking, you’re running but we also incorporate many of the exercises and drills we do in class. I also offer custom Get Fit training. Those are 30-minute sessions for women who already are living a healthy lifestyle and they want to take it a step further ... they want to focus on specific body parts.
Q. You also incorporate grocery store tours and plan to incorporate cooking classes?
A. The clients get a nutrition education packet and we go over the basics, what you’re looking for in terms of fresh produce, how to read a food label, focusing not so much on the label but reading the ingredients, making sure you are eating as wholesome as possible. Our food industry is so deceiving. They can splash a lot of verbiage on the front of their packages to make things appear healthy and they’re really not.
Q. How many training sessions are there and what’s the cost?
A. For basic boot camp, there would be 12 training sessions, and that’s $248; specialty boot camp would be 18 sessions and that’s $332.
Q. What are the main reasons brides-to-be tell you they need the training program?
A. Obviously, they want to look their best in their wedding dress. They want to target their upper body because that’s what typically shows.
Q. Are they coming in with realistic goals or are some women coming in and saying, ‘I’ve got three months and I want to lose 100 pounds?’
A. We get both. When they come in and are setting up their initial goals, we set up a ‘smart goal.’ It’s something that’s specific. It’s something that’s measurable. It’s something that’s action-based. We talk about how it’s realistic and safe to lose one to two pounds a week.
Q. Do you train more than brides-to-be?
A. Mothers, bridesmaids, wedding guests, family friends, they’re all welcome to join. My last program I had, I had two sets of mother-daughter, one bride-to-be and one bridesmaid who wasn’t even in her wedding. If it’s a woman who wants to better her health and needs the guidance to get there, absolutely she can contact me.
Q. What are the typical results these women see?
A. Eight to 12 pounds weight loss. They certainly lose inches and body fat.
Q. Are you ever invited to the weddings? If so, do you go?
A. I can’t because eventually I hope to have hundreds of brides each month (she laughs) and that would get expensive! You don’t want to say no to one client and yes to another, plus we’re scheduling classes on Saturdays.
Q. Are you married?
A. I am happily dating. He probably gets so much grief because I run Bridezilla Boot Camp and he hasn’t popped the question yet. We’re both young and so happy, and we’re in no rush.
Bridezilla Boot Camp can be found online at bridezillabootcamp.com or call 906-8757.