Before they even met, fell in love, got married, started a family and opened their own health and fitness enterprise, Tricia and Jeff Cammaart were dedicated to the idea of helping people become healthier, more active, and focused on their own well-being.

Tricia, a native of Napanee, began teaching fitness classes as a teen, while Jeff embarked on a career as a personal trainer in his hometown of Wallaceburg, Ontario (near Chatham). Fate brought the two together, and a few years later the Cammaarts returned to Napanee and began imparting their knowledge, experience and passion for fitness, wellness, nutrition and overall healthiness to local residents. In May of 2012, they upped the ante by opening Zeal Health and Fitness Studio at 23 Dundas St. E, in the heart of downtown.

“Jeff was a personal trainer at a gym in Wallaceburg and I was working there at the time and joined that gym and that’s how we first met. So he’s always been doing that. When I was in high school, I got certified to be a group fitness instructor and I taught classes around Napanee, including at the recreation centre. I stopped for a while when I went to university, but my interest in fitness never left me,” said Tricia, who has been re-certified as a group fitness instructor, as well as a being a certified personal trainer for Level 2 conditioning. She has also become a licensed Zumba and Zumba Gold instructor since Zeal opened its doors.

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“When we moved back to Napanee I was working as an activity co-ordinator for Seniors Outreach Services and at one point I needed to fill in teaching some seniors fitness classes. So I recertified and once I started teaching again, I wondered why I ever stopped. Jeff and I then started renting some space and teaching a few classes out of the SOS facility and from there we had a lot of people asking for personal training.”

Downtown location plays a big part of Zeal's success

At this point, the Cammaarts realized there was demand for their unique fitness and wellness services, so they took the plunge and decided to open their own facility. Interestingly, the choice of downtown Napanee was made for financial reasons (the couple has three young kids), with a long-term plan to move somewhere bigger outside of the core. But Tricia said the visibility and convenience of being right on Dundas Street has helped with marketing and both getting and retaining clients.

“After just a few months of being open, we realized how things were really picking up downtown with all the new stores coming in and a real vibrant attitude. It’s turned out to be a fantastic place to be because there’s so much traffic with people walking up and down the street, so it’s been great marketing to have Zeal here. It’s quite central for most of our clients. And if you think of it, if you work in town or out of town, you usually pass through downtown on your way to work or your way home,” she said.

The couple originally wanted to call their business Soul fitness, but soured on that idea until they reached into Jeff’s Dutch heritage to discover that ‘soul’ in Dutch translates to Zeal.

“In English it means passion for life, or passion for something so it kind of works on two levels,” Tricia said, adding that the attitude pervades she and Jeff’s guiding philosophy for Zeal.

Zeal's focus is on being active and healthy

“Our uniqueness is that we don’t push the six-pack abs, we don’t push the super skinny model look. We push being active and being healthy, and that can look like any body type. As long as you are exercising and getting strength training and getting sleep, doing some stretching and some nice walks outside – then you are healthy. And you need to take pride in that and know that you are taking care of yourself,” she said.

“For us, it’s not about the look but it’s about feeling healthy on the inside. And I think that’s why we draw the types of clients that we do. We have a lot of seniors during the day, and a lot of working people in the mornings and evenings.”

Tricia said the classes and individual sessions are tailored for the needs and lifestyle of the clients.

“We find that most people today are so stressed in their lives and when you add exercise on top of that, exercise is also a stress. So we try to make sure that the exercise we’re giving our clients is the right form of exercise for them – activities that aren’t going to stress their bodies. If they’re in a good place, then we can ramp up the intensity a little bit,” she said, adding that they also offer basic nutritional support and advice.

“It’s more about making sure you’re getting your vegetables, are you getting protein, are you getting the right fats, are you getting carbs and lots of water? It’s not so much about counting calories as setting good habits.”

The biggest challenge for Zeal over the first five years has been the fluctuation levels of commitment for their clients, with the months of January (New Year’s resolutions) and September (summer’s over) being their busiest of the year.

“So we’ve learned to just ride those fluctuations the best we can, but sometime the down months are hard. What we try to do is offer more informational sessions during the slower times. I just recently did one on carbohydrates and then we did some gentle yoga afterwards. We plan to do other events to supplement our income during the times when the clients drop off a bit. We try to give them something new and something fresh to get them back through the door and back thinking about their fitness and wellness routines again,” she said.

L&A has supportive and friendly business environment

As for living and working in Napanee (the Cammaarts live in rural Roblin) Tricia can’t speak highly enough of the supportive and friendly environment.

“All the other businesses are so receptive and quite supportive, which is great. And as for living here, I just like how personable everybody is. We all know one another, so there’s always a connection there. Whenever you need help, people are just so willing to offer their help. People want you to succeed; they don’t want to see you fail because if you succeed, it’s better for the town. So they want to help lift you up, not bring you down. That’s the best benefit of living here,” she said.

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