Lisa Brudvik (’11) spent 10 years at a corporate job before following her passion for fitness training to Bastyr University. She completed the Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science and Wellness program, culminating with an internship at Duke University.
Now Brudvik leads fitness programs at Skyline at First Hill, a distinctive retirement community overlooking downtown Seattle and Puget Sound. She spoke to us about the unexpected camaraderie she finds among residents and the satisfaction of helping them stay fit and independent.
Tell us about your path to becoming a fitness manager.
For 10 years I was a middle-manager for a refrigeration contracting company in Kent, Washington. Then my dad passed away. His death made me sit down and think about my future and how short life is. When I did that, I knew I wanted to do more with my life.
I had been volunteering for an all-women’s triathlon training program that provides a very supportive environment for beginners. I really enjoyed helping women do things they never thought they could do. So I pursued personal training certification and worked at a gym for about three months. But I didn’t like the heavy sell that personal trainers had to do there.
I moved on to a personal training studio and then started my own business offering specialized in-home personal training. I’d load up my car with stability balls, weights and Bosu balls, and I would train people in their homes. In the summer, I also led boot camps at local parks. I was getting more certificate training and soon realized I was putting all this money into different certifications without getting an actual degree.
There are a lot of exercise programs. How did you choose Bastyr's?
I had been going to Bastyr for weekend conferences and workshops on things like tai chi, and I’d gone to their open houses a couple of times. I loved the campus culture and knew it was a really special place. It was kind of amazing when I finally got to go to school there and realized it was not just a place I visit once a year, but a part of my life.
The thing I really liked about going to school at Bastyr is that everyone is there for health. I could sit down and have a conversation with anybody and learn something from what they were studying. I was able to learn about Chinese medicine and nutrition and all these other approaches to health. Anyone can find information online, but it’s different to be immersed in it.
What stands out from your time in the exercise science program?
My internship at the Duke Health and Fitness Center. I didn’t think Duke was going to take me as an older student from a smaller university in Washington. But they did, and I spent three amazing months at the health and fitness center connected to their hospital facilities.
I learned how exercise can help those with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart issues and obesity. After people went to Duke for heart surgery, they would come to our fitness center for cardiac rehabilitation. It was a safe environment for them. Exercising can be pretty scary after heart surgery, because you don’t want to overdo it. I even worked with a man who had a heart transplant. I checked blood sugar and blood pressure, and monitored treadmill stress tests and trained with advanced exercise physiologists. I got to stand in the surgical room for hip and knee replacements, open-heart surgery and stint replacements. Before the joint replacements, the surgeon would hand me parts so I could feel them. Because it was a teaching hospital, they’re used to training physicians. But it was pretty cool being there as an exercise student.
What did you do after graduation?
I started looking for work as soon as I got back from North Carolina. It took six months, which was shocking to me. I had never had a job search take that long. But I was being selective — I didn’t want to settle for something that wasn’t right. When I interviewed to be the fitness manager at Skyline at First Hill, I grew very nervous, because I could tell the job would be a great fit. There were residents at the interview and seven directors, including the executive director. The directors made it very clear that Skyline staff works in the residents’ homes and we needed to act with warmth and respect because of that.
It worked out and it’s been amazing. It can be hectic at times, but the residents are appreciative, and they let me know it.
What’s it like working with seniors?
The residents here are retired executives and professors. I’ve consulted with retired neurologists for some of the fall-prevention seminars I’ve done. There are mountaineers and a lot of leaders who have done things for the first time in business or other fields.
I really enjoy working with people to help them improve their everyday lives. When you work with athletes, you might be trying to cut 0.2 seconds from their sprint time. Here, I’m helping people develop endurance so they can go on a trip to Europe and not worry about being left behind. Or simply teaching someone how to get out of a chair safely by using their legs instead of their arms. I’m trying to help residents stay active and keep them in independent living as long as possible.
What does your work look like day-to-day?
My job is to keep residents active one way or another. Skyline is a continuing care facility, which means residents can start in independent living, and over time move into assisted living or catered living if needed. This is the last place they will ever have to move. We basically take up this whole city block overlooking downtown Seattle and Puget Sound.
My days are filled with teaching exercise classes and coordinating personal training sessions and seminars. We also have fitness outings. We went snowshoeing at Snoqualmie Pass in March and to Mt. Rainier for a 3-mile hike last year. We also have outings to the flatter paved pathways at Green Lake and Seward Park. We have aqua aerobics in the pool and tai chi and yoga, which my fitness assistant teaches.
What have you learned about yourself through this work?
I’ve learned I really like it here. I’ve never had a work environment where everyone takes the time to stop and say hello. It doesn’t matter if you’re a resident or a supervisor or dining staff.
My mom passed away after I had been here about three months. She actually ended up moving in to the assisted living Terraces here for a short period. When she passed, residents who I didn’t know came by to offer their condolences. Cards filled and overflowed the top of my filing cabinet. I think it made the whole grieving process easier.
I had a bunch of moms and dads here taking care of me, and to this day I still do. It goes back to working in someone’s home. They tell me: “Don’t burn out. If you feel like you need a day off, take a day off. We like you. We want you to stay.”
Learn more about studying exercise science at Bastyr.