St. Pete high school unveils new exercise lab for students interested in fitness, medical fields

Lakewood High School students are getting a head start on careers in the fitness and medical field thanks to the school's Athletic Lifestyle Management Academy (ALMA). Tuesday, the school unveiled the program's new exercise lab made possible by their partnerships with Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital and Valor Fitness.

There were cheers and applause Tuesday as school staff and students cut the ribbon for Lakewood High School's new exercise lab. It's a project that's been months in the making.

"This is a game changer. I mean, this was a dream, but we did not picture that it would become this reality," Lakewood High School ALMA Instructor Erica Miller said.

The lab is part of the school's ALMA. The 4-year program prepares students to take the National Association of Sports Medicine Certification exam which upon passing gives them the tools needed to get a job as a personal trainer.

"Without this program, I probably wouldn't have graduated just because they push me so much. Coach M and Ms. Miller push you to a certain extent because they want you to do better," 2022 ALMA Graduate Nia McCord said.

It's students like McCord and her experience that inspired Johns Hopkins' All Children's Hospital and Valor Fitness to help make their exercise lab a possibility. Valor Fitness donated exercise equipment. Meanwhile, the Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital Foundation helped support the lab through a $25,000 grant. The grant effort was spearheaded by Dr. Patrick Mularoni, who is the medical director for the hospital's Sports Medicine division.

"Knowing how excited they are about the program it makes it worthwhile for me," Dr. Mularoni said. "It's great to know that we're helping push those kids forward into careers and those that want to go into medicine have a step-up on other people around them."

The program is a major advantage for students to have whether they're heading straight into the workforce or continuing their education.

"They can take this to college and work at a rec center at a college campus. They can get a job at a YMCA or open their own gym," Miller said.

While the goal may be a career in fitness, it was the compassion shown from her teacher that stuck with McCord and ultimately inspired her to instead pursue a different path.

"It was really Ms. Miller that made me want to become a teacher. It wasn't really the health aspect. I just looked at her as a person and as an educator and just went past all of this. I was like, Wow, I'm really inspired to do what she does," McCord said.