By Matt Maggiacomo
As kids and young adults, our minds are like Play-Doh able to be shaped and re-shaped in an infinite number of ways. The same goes for our childhood dreams and aspirations. I had a huge list of “things” I wanted to be as a kid — zookeeper, president, chef, weatherman — and as I got older and finished college, I came up with a standard response for friends and family members who asked:
(Inhale) "I'm really interested in the media right now and love journalism and I've had rewarding experiences as an intern at NBC and ABC so I think I want to find out what it's like to be a news reporter because I just love television so much." (Exhale)
With my NYU degree in journalism in-hand, I set my sights on becoming a broadcast journalist. My outlook entering the “real world” was optimistic for a while. I was young but also incredibly headstrong. After two entry-level TV production jobs, I still felt so far flung from my dream of being on-camera reporting the news. So at 24, I took a job bartending at a popular hangout in Chelsea, where I was making buckets of cash and spending it frivolously. I had become a creature of the night rarely getting home before sunrise even if it was Tuesday! I tried not to feel too guilty — what else was I supposed to do as a twenty-something living in the best city in the world? But, I wasn't totally happy.
I was beginning to look for alternatives, when an alternative turned up on a bar stool one night. Two pretty blonde women and a very good-looking guy sat at my bar, and while pouring their drinks I started to chat them up. They explained that they were here from California and were about to open a boutique fitness studio on 20th Street called Barry's Bootcamp. I may have feigned having heard about it, but I definitely wasn't just pretending to be interested. Fitness had become a passion, but I was probably just too distracted to realize that I might actually be any good at it.
To make more sense of this story, we should probably discuss the kind of kid I was.
[Cue time warp]
I was a smart kid, much more bookish than active, and I was certainly not an athlete. My father made sure that my sisters and I were always enrolled in a seasonal recreational sport, but for me it always felt like I was enlisted. Dad was a star athlete — baseball, basketball, you name it and he played it. (To be fair, he never pushed us into anything.) In high school I didn't make the freshman basketball team (big surprise!), and ran cross country for exactly half a season. Alas, “Fatty Matty” was born, resembling much more closely that Play-Doh I talked about earlier than a Greek statue. It wasn't until college that I started to get serious about the gym and got excited about seeing changes to my physique. Turned out I loved being in shape; it just took me forever to realize that I didn't have to be on a sports team to do it.
[Back to that night at the bar...]
These three strangers are talking up their new gym business and my interest is peaked. I finally get their names: Joey Gonzalez and Rachel Mumford, the owners, and Alycia Stevenin, a star trainer and business manager. Joey makes a casual reference asking if I'd be interested to start training, and without hesitation I told him that I would certainly consider it. The rest is really history. Joey and his team had faith enough in me to make me part of the Barry's Bootcamp family, and the results were life changing. I taught my first class three months after that night, and was soon able to retire as barkeep and get to bed at a more civilized hour. The lifestyle change was so drastic that I was now waking up to teach at the time I was normally accustomed to going to bed!
I began to live a healthier lifestyle. I put a stop to the partying, and got more serious about training. The changes in my body were incredible and I was stronger and faster than I ever had been before. (Now remember, I was the kid who couldn't even finish a 5K before they rolled up the finish line and the crowd left.) I had grown into someone who was more athletic, a touch more competitive, but also into a person I never thought I could be. Furthermore, I was doing a job for the first time in my entire life that actually helped people. I felt good about being a person who people came to with questions about their physical fitness. I felt good when I saw clients losing weight or hitting 12.5 miles per hour on the treadmill for their very first time. I never felt so rewarded.
The catch is I still had an itch that I hadn't yet scratched. That childhood dream of becoming a TV news reporter was still very present in my mind’s eye, and all signs had started to point me in a very different direction. I kept telling myself that even though I loved being in the fitness studio, I still owed it to myself to take a crack at the TV studio. I cut back on a few classes at Barry's and was able to take a freelance gig working the camera for a local New York news station, which turned out to be a great experience. Within a year, I reached my "Holy Grail" and landed a job as a freelance news reporter at a different local station.
I found myself straddling two very different industries, almost as if being in an affair between two lovers. On one side there was the “glamour” of being on TV everyday, and on the other there was that thrill of being able to motivate people and make them feel good about themselves. I came to the realization that if I was going to master either one of these careers, I had to go all in and leave one of them behind. I broke it off with Barry's like a sad lover, and chose to commit myself fully to local news.
Starting out in TV news is tough, the pay is crap, the hours are worse, and NEWSFLASH: not everybody is NICE. From the get-go the job was a challenge. I was a “one-man-band” as they call you in the industry, so I was responsible to write, shoot, edit, appear on-camera, and drive myself to all locations and stories. It was a daily challenge but not impossible. I became accustomed to early wakeup calls, and was often in bed by 6PM in order to be awake by 1AM, be in the car by 2AM, to go live on the air at 5AM. Even though there were obstacles, I was still very good at it.
Within months I had covered a whole range of stories including robberies, murders, and elections, and filed more weather packages than I could count on my frostbitten fingers. Just like anything, it had its high points and low points. But something was missing, I would put in a day's work and not feel fulfilled. I filed news package after news package, telling stories, but I just didn't feel like I had helped anybody. Sometimes I felt like I was doing exactly the opposite. There is one challenging assignment that sticks out in my memory; a teenage girl had died in a terrible car crash on the Long Island Expressway and first thing in the morning I was sent to her house with my camera in tow trying to get a “sound bite” from the grieving mother. The best journalists in the country have the talent to march up to that doorstep and get the bite, but for me, I just wanted to leave this poor woman alone and let her grieve in peace. Another assignment that sticks out in my mind, was when the media swarmed the home of a certain A-list celebrity who is infamous for throwing temper-tantrums and verbally assaulting reporters. Naturally, I was sent to stake out this actor's Greenwich Village home, but having no ethical reason to be there, I refused to go. I nearly lost my job that day. It's a harsh realization when you discover that your “dream job” is anything but. This job wasn't for me. This job wasn't me. Just because I was good at it didn't mean I liked the way it made me feel.
[Cue dramatic instrumentals...]
I went running back into Barry's arms. It was time to renew my relationship with the family that I loved so much and the job that made me feel right. I was lucky to have a wonderful boss who welcomed me back without even a moment of hesitation, and to my Barry's Bootcamp family, I am always grateful.
Since I changed course from my job in TV news, my life at Barry's couldn't be any better. I'm part of a company that cares about my personal growth and challenges me in the way that I want to be challenged, and I have stayed committed to helping people be better versions of themselves. Being a fitness professional has done the same for me; fostered, not forced, me to grow in new ways even if they weren't the ways I had envisioned when I was younger. Even my TV aspirations have come full-circle with a handful of TV projects on the horizon. The clichés, “Be true to yourself” and “You never know where life will lead you” couldn't be more true in my story. I confess that as a little kid my dreams were different than they are today, but that's what growing up is all about — even if that “dream” Play-Doh is drying, there are ways to make it fresh again!
So, what is it that I want to be when I grow up? Happy.
Matt Maggiacomo, affectionately known as just “Matty” to those who know him, is a fitness instructor at Barry's Bootcamp and personal trainer in New York City. He describes his experience with the professional fitness world as “life changing” and considers the best part of working in the industry to be the people. A constant motivator, Matt applies his years of experience in the media to share knowledge about health and fitness with every client he teaches, and has a passion for telling stories about the people who changed their lives through fitness.