Well Being: A personal trainer's personal makeover

Personal trainer Daniele Hargenrader works out with client Alexis Kurtz (left), 28, of Philadelphia. Hargenrader, who overcame her own struggle to become fit, is also a nutrition counselor.

One can argue that Paul was a better saint because first he was a good sinner.

The same might be said of Daniele Hargenrader, an in-home personal trainer and nutrition coach whose passion for transforming others grew out of her own struggle to transform herself.

At age 8, she learned she was a Type 1 diabetic. That meant shots of insulin three to five times a day. For several years, she followed this life-preserving regimen conscientiously, but shortly after she turned 12, her discipline unraveled.

Part of it was self-pity, an act of adolescent rebellion against a disease that seemed to limit and define her. But another factor, she now realizes, was the early death of her father, a man she adored. A two pack-a-day smoker, he died after quadruple-bypass surgery following a heart attack. He was only 55, and Hargenrader remembers the date precisely: Aug. 25, 1994, the day after her 12th birthday.

Whatever was impelling her - anger, hormones, self-assertion - Daniele, then Daniele Shapiro and then living in the Morrell Park section of the Northeast, began gaining weight. She ate whatever she pleased, including pizza and burgers and fries from Mickey D's. It didn't help that she worked after school as a waitress at IHOP, whose fare she sampled freely.

Occasionally, she would take walks, but she was afraid to play sports and got no regular exercise. "I did what I wanted to do," she says, "not what I needed to do." At her peak, she carried 180 pounds on a 5-foot-5 frame.

One day when she was 17, she gazed at herself in the mirror. The reflected image was "not congruent with who I was or what I wanted to be," she recalls. She vowed to change.

She began exercising with workout videos and at local gyms. She began heeding what and how much she put in her mouth. Her mother, Gayle, of Italian and German descent, was a fabulous cook, and Hargenrader inherited her interest in preparing food. But now she began exploring how food affects the body on a cellular level.

When she was 19, she began dating an avid hockey player who enticed her into playing roller hockey regularly. For the first time, she experienced the joy of athletic competition. Her confidence rose, her weight fell.

Over the next several years she held a variety of jobs - waitress, bartender, real estate agent. Combining her love of cooking with her interest in nutrition, she launched a catering and meal-preparation business with an emphasis on nutritious food.

In 2006, while vacationing in Cancun, she had a fling with a man from Mullica Hill, Gloucester County. She was surprised when he not only asked for her number but actually called. A year later, they wed.

Her husband, Bill Hargenrader, served in the Army National Guard, including a tour in Iraq. She describes him as "230 pounds of solid muscle," which he maintains by lifting weights.

He introduced Hargenrader to the Brotherhood of the Barbell. He taught her various lifts and how to perform them correctly.

"I loved it," she recalls. "It made me feel so confident and strong. I was able to deadlift more than some of the guys. I felt my body change and my clothes fit better. I became addicted to the feeling of knowing what I could do."

Last year, she earned her certification from the National Personal Training Institute. The intensive six-month course was transformational, she says. She knew she had found her calling.

Doing business as Healthy Homemade, Hargenrader is especially interested in helping those with special needs - diabetics, people with high blood pressure and cholesterol, pre- and postnatal women.

"She's done a phenomenal job of teaching me how to train without hurting my back," says Alexis Kurtz, 28, a client who recently underwent lumbar-fusion surgery. "She's a natural motivator."

Patrick Mulhern, father of a diabetic daughter and owner of Personal Training Transformations in Bristol, where Hargenrader leads cross-training classes, calls her "the perfect example of what a Type 1 diabetic can achieve."

"She has a very sincere kindness about her," Mulhern says, "and she's also tough as nails."

Now 28 and 131 pounds, Hargenrader pumps iron in her basement gym and takes walks interspersed with bursts of running at Pennypack Park.

Some of her core principles: Eat every three hours. Diets never work. Drink half your body weight each day in ounces of water. If you don't recognize the ingredients, neither does your body. Eat the whole egg; the yolk is good.

Most important: "Get grateful," she says. "We take so much for granted - water pouring out of the faucet, heat coming out of the vents. Half the world doesn't have this."

Her favorite quote, posted on her Facebook page, comes from Charles Dickens: "No one is useless in the world who lightens the burden of another."

For information about Hargenrader's business, visit www.healthyhm.com.


Contact columnist Art Carey at 215-854-5606 or acarey@phillynews.com.