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A Weight Off His Shoulders

UA fitness director uses personal motivation to help students become stronger, inside and outside the gym

For Brian Coleman, director of strength and conditioning and fitness center director at Upper Arlington High School, physical education is more than just a class – it’s a lifestyle.

In any given week, Coleman sees about 1,000 people come through the weight room during or after school hours. But these aren’t just athletes involved with one of the 32 varsity and club sports UA offers; they are everyday students, staff members and alumni as well.

“Anyone involved at the school can come here and train,” Coleman says. “We get kids who aren’t on teams, but want to work out. Marching band students want to get in shape for their activities, so we come up with their plans, and they become some of the hardest working ones in here.”

Coleman wants to inspire motivation in each person he works with. His competitive nature is a key to his success.

“My goal is to make the best, most positive impact on these kids’ lives that I can,” he says. “Some people view physical education teachers as a sort of joke, and I want to change that. I want to be the hardest-working teacher in the school. I want to help them learn and accomplish what they can’t in regular classes.”

Coleman’s tough demeanor and strict workout regimens are accompanied by his friendly smile, an open door and the ability to mesh with many personalities. He seeks out students who may not fit in and helps them find their way through lifting weights.

“We’ve seen kids in here undergo massive change, mentally and physically,” he says. “Maybe we get a kid who doesn’t fit in with everyone else; I facilitate the environment with them. I’ll ask the senior captain to work with him and they will bond. They’ll work out together and awesome things happen. It’s a spark they take with them for the rest of their lives.”

He, personally, bonds with these students because they remind him of who he was when he was in school.

At age 12, Coleman, a Cuyahoga Falls native, had his darkest hour – the moment in time when he knew he was going to change for the better.

“One day, I was being bullied and made fun of by kids at my school,” he says. “I was so frustrated and mad that I rode my bike home and dusted the cobwebs from my grandpa’s old weight bench. I went down and lifted all night long, until I couldn’t move the bar off my chest anymore. It lit a fire inside of me.”

His quest for physical change started with the basic desire to have a normal high school experience.

“Initially, I just wanted to be liked, and I didn’t want to be picked on,” Coleman says. “I wanted to fit in and have a girlfriend. I kept going and my body began to change. Within a year, I turned myself into a guy who had a chance on the football team.”

Coleman doesn’t see any bullying in his weight room; he would be the first to notice it, he says. When students are working out, they don’t have the opportunity to make fun of the person next to them.

“Much of what we do here is team-based and structured,” he says. “I take them through their workouts, from the first step to the last. I’m on them constantly with feedback, coaching them throughout. There’s no freedom for non-productive talk during their time in here. They don’t have a chance to pick on each other because they need all their strength to do that one more set.”

This positive teaching environment not only deters bullying, it inspires lifelong friendships and bonds between teammates, trainers and strangers.

“I will keep in contact with him after I graduate because of the impact he has made on my life,” says senior Elliot Timmons. “He taught me how to overcome adversity and how to fight through the hard times, even when you’re tired.”

Coleman is engaged and does not have children, but looks at each of his students as a sort of supplemental family until he is ready.

“I can’t wait to have a family and I can’t wait to have kids,” he says. “Nothing, at this point in my life, is more important to me than starting a family. I look at the kids and the people I work with as part of my family.”

Coleman came to Upper Arlington High School Dec. 2, 2007 and has been defensive line coach for the football team for the past two years. He saw the job opening and welcomed a new challenge in his life.

Previously, he headed the weightlifting classes at Nordonia Hills City Schools. It started with one class a semester his first year and became his full-time position after 10 years. He has also worked with youth sports programs and an in-school suspension program for Akron City Schools.

Coleman graduated from Syracuse University, where he lettered three years on the football team and was a starting defensive tackle for two years. Instead of furthering his career in football, he decided to take a step back and began working with younger athletes.

“I was tired of sports at a professional level and I wanted to go to the level where the pure love of the game is still there,” Coleman says.

When he isn’t in the weight room, he spends time trying out the many restaurants in central Ohio and taking in movies. He’s an avid concertgoer and his 1980s rock anthem Pandora station fuels the fire and motivation for himself and his students.

Each day, Coleman continues to push athletes through workouts and assists the marginalized students with having a great high school experience.

“Ultimately, I’m building a team together,” he says. “The sacrifices in here make them a stronger person out there. These kids will become the leaders I know they can be.”

Stephan Reed is an editorial associate. Feedback welcome at laurand@cityscenemediagroup.com.

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