JFiT director makes it to Final 8 in national “Top Trainer” contest

by | Jun 23, 2022 | Other News

On a particularly sunny morning in late April, between Life Fit and Stretch classes he teaches at the Simon Family JCC’s JFiT Wellness Center, an email caught Tom Purcell’s eye. The message was an inquiry about submitting for the opportunity to be named “Mr. Muscle & Fitness, USA” from a magazine that bears the same name. The top prize — $20,000 — would be given to the winning trainer mid-summer, after a series of hurdles, something completely familiar to Purcell.

“I was a very competitive collegiate basketball player,” Purcell, the Simon Family JCC’s Wellness director says. “I played for East Carolina University [in Greenville, North Carolina]. I was in great shape.”

After Purcell hung up his high-tops, his weight immediately ballooned. “I got really heavy. I remember shopping with my mom and she held up a pair of huge pants, asking if I wanted to try them on. I said to myself, ‘How did I get here?’ And I swore two things: I would get the weight off, and afterward, spend all my time helping people get and remain healthy, so they’d never have to feel the shame or pains of being unhealthy.”

Purcell joined the contest in a field with thousands of entrants. He seemed to glide through the first two rounds until the field was whittled down to fewer than 100 trainers from across America. Scrolling through the profiles listed on Muscle & Fitness magazine’s site, the glistening muscles and intense stories were plenty. Former armed service specialists and professional bodybuilders were the norm. Then, there was Purcell, looking svelte, posing in his living room doing a plank with his son in the same position on his back.

The contest allowed anyone, anywhere, to vote for his or her favorite trainer once each day. Friends and family could also purchase votes for their candidates, with the proceeds intended for the Wounded Warriors Project.

The first week of the contest took place during the JCC’s largest community event of the year, Yom Ha’Atzmaut or Israel Fest, presented by Avraham and Karen Ashkenazi, Israel Today, and community partners. More than 2,000 people turned out at the Sandler Family Campus on May 1 for the event, and Purcell shared the news of his competition with many.

“Over the coming weeks, so many people took the time to go online and vote for me,” Purcell says. “Considering the whole reason I’ve dedicated my life to training is to help others, it was amazing to have so many of my clients and the JCC community turn around and vote for me.” He added it was many of the seniors in his various group exercise classes that came together like a family to help vote him up. He also spotlights members John Strelitz, Miles and Sandra Porter Leon, and Ron and Arlene Kauffman who supported in various ways, too.

Purcell made it through multiple rounds—and finished in third place in a final field of eight national trainers. Although he didn’t jump to the final showdown, he’s no less enthusiastic about fitness, his role in serving people wanting to get healthy, and the tremendous support he received from the JCC community.

Tom Purcell has been the wellness director at JFiT at the Simon Family JCC since 2016. He manages some of the best personal trainers in Tidewater and is always available to discuss personal fitness goals. Contact him at TPurcell@UJFT.org or 757-321-2338.

Brian Berusch