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By: Erin Oprea

Erin Oprea is a Vital Proteins ambassador, author ofThe 4x4 Diet and celebrity trainer whose star clients include Carrie Underwood and Maren Morris. Here, she writes about how she became one of the most sought-after fitness trainers.

How does a girl from Sacramento, California grow up to be country music’s go-to personal trainer? Well, it takes a lot of hard work, a little luck and G.I. Jane.

I was born in Sacramento and lived in San Diego for a little while before moving to Nashville with my family. Although my parents were always supportive, an undiagnosed hearing problem resulted in a lot of classroom frustration for me; however, I found that I was good in athletics, which suited my active spirit down to the ground! At home, I was active with my brothers and in school I was always involved in some sport – usually soccer. It was during that time that I discovered how much I loved helping others improve their performance and health.

For years, I wanted to become a police officer, but when I discovered my love for helping others become more fit, I decided to become a PE teacher. However, I started college and realized like many people finding their path, that mine wasn’t a straight road. That was when I decided to get into personal training, because it’s kind of like being a P.E. teacher … but working with adults! It ignited a passion, and at the age of 18, I became first certified as a personal trainer. Then I watched G.I. Jane and it changed my life.

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I was attracted to the challenge of the Marine Corps and there was nothing that was going to hold me back! So, at the age of 20, I enlisted. During basic training at Parris Island, the new recruits became Marines when they completed the grueling Crucible. While the endurance test was one of the most physically difficult experiences of my life, I loved it! Eventually, my unit was deployed to Iraq where I served in the first of my two tours. During that 11 months, I performed convoy security. As a turret gunner on the Humvee, I provided a first line lookout using both .50 caliber machine guns and Mk-19s grenade launchers. Sleeping in fighting holes and on top of our vehicles, I was right there in the initial Iraq War.

With only a couple months home before my second deployment, my family organized a massive party to give me a grand sendoff. However, at that get-together, the day before I was to depart for my second tour, my father suffered an unexpected, massive, fatal heart attack. This would eventually spark my desire to clean up my eating in order to supplement my activity levels. Devastated but determined as a Marine, I was given 10 days of emergency leave to get things settled and then I shipped out.

It was during my second tour that I earned the position of Sergeant and was put in charge of the first all-female platoon attached to the infantry in a war zone. In that position, I felt a huge sense of responsibility to prove that we women were every bit as capable as our male counterparts. During my deployment, I continued my own training as well as leading workouts with my colleagues.

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Erin Oprea: How I Became a Celebrity Fitness Trainer

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Upon my return to civilian life, I knew I wanted to continue spreading my love of fitness and helping others to live healthier lives. I also knew that I wanted to work for myself. Newly divorced with two small sons, this was no easy task, but as my mother will tell you, I have never been one to take the easy road!

While everyone told me I would never succeed, I worked to build my business, training clients one-on-one in their homes. I trained clients in the early morning and to make ends meet, I cleaned houses until my sons got out of school. Like many single moms, I leaned on other strong women in my life and, with some help from my grandmother in the earliest of hours, I got used to the juggling act of working to build my business and being a good mother. It’s a tough one, as many others know firsthand, but it’s totally worth figuring out. I tell my sons all the time that when I started, I didn’t realize how much failure comes along the journey of success. But the reality is you can’t have success without some measure of failure. In this career, there are so many highs and lows, and when the lows come, you just want to quit. But don’t give up — stay with your passion.

And that is just what I did – I stayed with my passion and it showed. Trainers who are just starting out often ask me for advice and I always tell them that clients recognize passion, and they can also tell when someone is just interested in making money. My clients saw my passion and not only stayed with me, but also graciously recommended me to their friends. Those recommendations eventually led me to the opportunity to train some of the biggest names in country music, like Carrie Underwood, Lee Ann Womack, Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and a whole bunch of other incredibly talented and hardworking women and men. Even as my career began to flourish, I continued to work an average of 15 hours a day, which is something I continue to do to this day. My military career gave me the drive and discipline to maintain that kind of pace, and I never slowed down educating myself and, just like when I was in the Marines, I never stopped working to prove myself in an industry that has almost always been male-dominated.

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Currently working on my second book (The first being The 4x4 Diet), I continue to train clients for 10 to 12 hours each day. On weekends, I often hold group workout parties and events in Nashville, Chicago and other cities around the country. Fitness has never been just a job or just a hobby for me, it has always been a passion I love sharing with others. There are few things more rewarding to me than hearing from someone that I have motivated them or encouraged them to live a healthier life. I am so grateful for my increased visibility and I see it as a way to reach even more people who are struggling with reaching their wellness and fitness goals. I am thrilled to use my platform to inspire them.

The world is my gym - and it’s yours, too! I just want everyone to get out and play with me!

Photos: @erinoprea/Instagram