PJ O’Clair is firmly ensconced in the fitness world. She’s the owner of ClubXcel and Northeast Pilates, a Senior Master Trainer for Toronto - based Merrithew, a Senior Master Course Instructor for TRX, a past recipient of the prestigious IDEA “Program Director of the Year” award, and she’s written and starred in more than 70 fitness videos. That may seem like a lot of accomplishments to most trainers, but it’s just a small sampling of O’Clair’s resume. Her path to fitness, however, wasn’t always a foregone conclusion.
“I was a theater and communications major in college,” she explains. “I had a major spinal injury when I was young, which led to partial paralysis at 23 followed by spinal surgery. After the surgery, I had to learn to walk again. I was successful in that endeavor, thankfully, and wanted to help others.That experience shaped my entire career.”
O’Clair’s first job in fitness was teaching Jazzercise and aerobics back in the 80s—the height of the Jane Fonda workout video days. In 1988, she opened her first aerobics studio. She even had a cable TV show that she used for community engagement. “My whole beginnings were truly developed in the old-fashioned grass roots way, community outreach,” O’Clair recalls.
While she may be reigning over her own fitness empire today, O’Clair’s success was driven by her passion for movement and helping people get fit, not by a love of ledgers. “Business has been the struggle,” she admits. As a pioneer in the boutique fitness industry, O’Clair didn’t have mentors to turn to for advice regarding the industry. In hindsight, she wishes she could have hired a business consultant. “Early on I just did what I thought would be right and didn’t have the money to pay a consultant, nor did I know anyone qualified to do that.”
Even without a formal business background, O’Clair’s hard work yielded success. She started Northeast Pilates, a licensed training center for Merrithew’s branded fitness programs, in 1996. Today, Northeast Pilates trains and certifies all Merrithew program instructors in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maryland. Additionally, O’Clair’s team develops their own workshops in anatomy and speciality programming for instructors.
Beyond training trainers, O’Clair continues to run ClubXcel, her boutique training facility which offers classes in all of the Merrithew branded programs, as well as Technogym Group Cycle, TRX Suspension Training™ and Rip Training, IndoRow, Shockwave, and Fascial Movement. “We specialize in post-rehabilitation, as well as performance training. This is the place where I get to offer all of the programming I teach others to teach.” On top of that, O’Clair travels the world teaching and lecturing at specialty fitness conferences.
Despite decades of success in the industry, O’Clair continues to be inspired by her fellow fitness professionals, and cites TRX founder Randy Hetrick as one of the people who’s helped her arrive where she is today. “Randy is a huge inspiration in branding, and encourages the TRX cadre to build their own individual brands,” O’Clair says. “He inspires and fosters personal development—all of which I have followed and appreciated over my time with TRX. It’s different than other fitness brands; it’s a strength all on its own.”
Whether you catch up with PJ O’Clair at her studio, at a conference, or on the road riding her bike, don’t expect her to ever slow down. “I will never stop teaching regardless of my age and ‘retirement’”, she promises. “I see myself continuing on, walking the walk of fitness, and—hopefully—still inspiring others to do the same.“