As an expert in physical fitness and exercise, personal trainer "Red" Ryan Ennis focuses on his clients' mindset to help them reach their goals.
To encourage his clients, Ennis taps into what drives them or what happened to them, whether it was a car accident, stroke or heart attack they're recovering from, or if they want to lose weight and get in shape.
"We can all shut down and let our minds get the best of us," he said. "The fear of failure can sometimes outweigh the success of doing something right."
Ennis knows from experience how injuries can affect the psyche.
"Every year since I was 14, I'd have some kind of injury. It was like I couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time, I was so accident-prone," he said.
From shin splints to a broken ankle, hip alignment issues to groin pulls, injuries consistently sidelined the St. Mark's High School football and track athlete. An exercise science major, he entered West Chester University as a runner, but pain ultimately kept him off the track.
"I decided to put track on the back burner so I could focus on my health and figure out what was going wrong. I wanted to learn how to fix myself and others," he said.
Using his own body as a senior project experiment, he traced back every sports injury he experienced to learn each injury's root cause so he could treat that instead of treating the symptoms. Ennis knew he wanted to be a personal trainer, but after graduation he initially thought he'd focus on training athletes.
"I was an athlete, so I think I was really looking for a version of myself to help, like I was chasing a unicorn," he laughed.
After landing a position at Rise Fitness + Adventure in Rehoboth, he realized his client base would be quite different. His first client had already had two heart attacks and had other pre-existing conditions.
"I was fresh out of college and it felt like I was biting off more than I could chew," he said. "But we met each goal bit by bit, and constantly adjusted our goals.
"The big thing," he said, "is getting into people's minds."
When Ennis realized he wouldn't be treating as many elite athletes in the Cape Region as he'd originally hoped, he re-evaluated his professional goals and changed focus.
"It was like a light bulb went off, and I started refining my passion," he said. "I realized God put me in a place where I have the ability and experience I can draw from to really help people, and better myself. So I thought, let's give this everything I have."
He pursued personal trainer certification through the American College of Sports Medicine, enhancing his ability to provide science-based fitness therapies. He sought out mentors and another certification, this time as a certified physical preparation specialist. In addition to helping athletes with speed, agility and strength, he now specializes in rehabilitation, working with clients to set goals and holding them accountable for reaching them.
"A lot of people come to me on their last leg, and I have a soft spot for people who have been misdiagnosed or whose hope is dim," he said. "I watched my grandfather die of stroke. He was so active, and watching him drift away without help was just awful. But it gave me a passion to get up in the morning to help people."
If he has a client who is out of options, "I take it as a challenge that excites me and keeps me on my toes," he said.
Ennis says clients often show him printed medical webpages detailing their illness or injury, along with a long list of medications, worried they'll live in pain for life.
Some have disabilities to adapt to. Others, like Maryann Metrinko of Lewes, see him before and after surgery to prepare and recover. With a double-knee replacement scheduled, Metrinko wanted to get back to the gym as soon as possible after surgery.
"I pre-habbed and then rehabbed her, performing activities of daily living, such as getting into and out of the car and standing up from a chair," Ennis said.
Metrinko recovered much quicker than her surgeon expected.
"I was able to sit up the first day because we had worked on building my upper-body strength," she said. "My doctor told me I'd be in recovery for 10 to 15 weeks. I was discharged in 8, and started right back up with Red as soon as I was cleared. Every step of the way he was there, encouraging me."
With her 74th birthday approaching, Metrinko asked Ennis if he thought she could scale Rise's 34-foot-high rock-climbing wall.
"His answer to me was, 'Why do you think you can't?' And damed if I didn't do it," she said. "I can't emphasize enough how passionate he is about what he does. I've been around a long time and I've seen a lot. His compassion for people is amazing to me."
An avid golfer, Metrinko also had to learn to swing her club again by turning her new knees and squatting. Just six months after surgery, she played her first 18 holes.
Ennis says mental preparation is key.
"Many times we focus on breathing to help clients with stress and fear. By establishing the mind-body connection, you gain control over your fear. If you can relax your mind, you can view it as a challenge and get ready to overcome it in a positive manner for a positive outcome," he said.
Another client who had suffered a stroke five years earlier was unable to get up off the ground by herself. After just two months with Ennis, she was able to rise unassisted, regaining her independence.
Ennis credits his fiancee, family and faith as his motivation. He advises his clients to figure out what challenges and motivates them to succeed. To further help others, he's now pursuing a nutrition certification so he can help clients incorporate proper foods into their health and wellness goals.
"Everyone faces challenges in life. I believe positivity breeds positivity," he said. "I'm grateful to be in the position I'm in. If I'm someone's last hope, I am going to treat them any way I possibly can. I research and get opinions from doctors, chiropractors, masseuses and physical therapists because each client is different. When I can put my head on my pillow at night knowing I've empowered someone else, that's a good day."