BROOKSVILLE — Jen Raffaelli, 47, lost 150 pounds — twice. And she’s well on her way to meeting that goal a third time.

Jason McElroy, 46, cheated death twice. A near-fatal car accident in 1993, when he flipped his Corvette six times, landed him in the hospital in a coma for a month. Then, 20 years later, he was run over by a vehicle while walking along Spring Hill Drive. Placed in a medically induced coma for 30 days, McElroy walked away from that experience as well.

Alisa Bazaldua, 23, underwent a complicated Whipple procedure at just 17 to remove a tumor on her pancreas. Thankfully it was benign. But her body underwent tremendous trauma after a surgery that kept her in the hospital for 10 days.

What do these three have in common? All have battled physical and emotional challenges and have come back stronger than ever. Their experiences have set them on a path of optimal health through fitness and nutrition goals. And they want to share their wisdom and success, particularly during a time like no other when healthy routines are disrupted and society is at risk of unhealthy results.

Raffaelli set a goal at 35 to run a marathon. She succeeded after dropping 150 pounds and completed half-marathon in Sarasota in 2015.

She opened a gym and earned a bachelor of arts degree in nutrition, and watched her clients’ transformations happen in real time. But she struggled with her own weight, falling out of her routine only to get back onboard and transform her body yet again.

McElroy credits both near-death turnarounds with a physical strength he built as a young adult, when he competed as a world champion powerlifter. To maintain optimal strength and form, McElroy followed a regimented fitness program that solidified his core. Now, at age 46, he is a walking billboard for strength, perseverance and survival.

He took his passion for fitness to a new level, opening Fitness Trainer Studio in Spring Hill in 2009. The gym has since closed, but McElroy still works with clients one-on-one to perfect their functional ability.

Both he and Raffaelli have shared clients in the past.

McElroy is a professional competitive trainer who has a passion for helping clients live more functional lives. 

He gets results because he understands form, muscle isolation and how to obtain fast, sustainable results. In addition to competitive lifting, McElroy has also worked as a fitness trainer in local big-box gyms. 

Bazaldua was a typical teen when a CAT scan uncovered the tumor at the top of her pancreas. Although it wasn’t cancerous, her surgeon suggested it be removed to prevent problems in the future. Because of its location, the surgery was complicated. Recovery was a long process.

Bazaldua was forced to change her eating habits. Once she accepted her fate, she immediately embraced a healthier lifestyle. 

At 21, she began transforming her body with isolating workouts. She was empowered by the control she had over her own health and studied to become a certified fitness coach. She regularly posts workout sessions on social media with two of her colleagues to help engage their peers in active healthy lifestyles.

She is now working with clients to adapt strong fitness regimens and healthier eating to maintain healthy bodies and minds. 

COVID-19 has disrupted routines and shifted many schedules to include working from home. Stress is immeasurable as financial worries exacerbate. Coping has led to less-than-healthy nutrition and fitness habits. 

How do you begin to break the cycle?

“Start moving,” Raffaelli said. “Take a walk. Go for a run. Gradually add more each day.” She adapted eating plans to specific clients to help them reach their goals.

Visualize yourself in that form, she said. She used a technique that helped clients imagine themselves at an upcoming social event, wearing a particular outfit that they felt was flattering. “If they could visualize it, they could achieve it,” she said.

That was how she succeeded with her own goals. She also recommends drinking plenty of water each day and recognizing that nutrition is a very big piece of the puzzle. “You can’t exercise yourself skinny,” she said. Learning what to eat for your specific body type and lifestyle is key.

McElroy has always pushed functional training, which he defines as daily living. “Everything you do is really working out,” he said.

His suggestions include utilizing things in the home if you cannot make it to the gym. Pushups using the kitchen counter, for example, are good ways to maintain in-home fitness. 

Bazaldua has teamed with two others to host a fitness camp beginning on Sept. 6 at Anderson Snow Park from 7 to 8 p.m. All three are certified fitness coaches with a passion for optimal health. Sessions will be held each Monday thereafter with new dates being added over time.

Uplift Fit Camp is geared toward all fitness levels. Participants are asked to show up 15 minutes early to register. The cost is $10 and includes a pre-workout and post-workout shake. 

“Not many people understand how beneficial it is to focus on your health, not only for your body but your mind as well,” Bazaldua said. “Balancing a healthy diet and physical activity can really lead you in the right direction and increase your discipline, focus, confidence, etc.”

The three were passionate about helping instill motivation and healthier habits during a difficult time in history.

“There is just something about watching yourself grow physically and mentally that helps you to remember that you can do anything you set your mind to!”