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Working in Clark County: Traci Cole, coach at Burntown Fitness

Traci Cole was leading a class at Burntown Fitness when everything crashed to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The call came and it was like, ‘Well, that was your last class,’ ” said Cole, 40.

Since March, navigating her job at Burntown has changed dramatically.

The gym’s five employees are no longer working out of the studio in the Fisher’s Landing East neighborhood. Instead, they’re working from their own homes or out of business owner Kisar Dhillon’s garage in the Orchards area. Lighting equipment and a tripod with an iPad surround the area where the coaches work out in the home’s garage — much of it is new equipment that Dhillon purchased for this new way of conducting business.

“You know, I’ve been more busy now — not saying I wasn’t busy then — but I’m more busy now than I was even before (the pandemic),” Dhillon said. “I’m doing like 10- to 15-hour days. It’s a lot.”

Unlike big-box gyms, such as L.A. Fitness, Burntown operates differently; it’s a group workout program consisting of a series of 45-minute classes.

While Clark County was approved to apply to enter Phase 2, which would allow some businesses to operate, it still isn’t clear when that will happen. Gov. Jay Inslee’s office issued requirements for how fitness and training businesses can operate in Phase 2. That may include employees wearing protective equipment such as gloves, goggles or face shields.

On a recent Tuesday, Cole aided fellow coach Barbara Laudadio in the garage for a noon workout over Zoom, the video teleconferencing app that exploded in popularity once states issued stay-at-home orders. Cole teaches a 5 p.m. class solo. Cole, who said she holds a master’s degree in counseling and psychology from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, previously worked in social services. The Columbian caught up with Cole to learn more about her job.

Tell me about yourself and your start in fitness.

My husband dragged me to Burntown in August 2018. I had never taken group classes. I was kind of unfamiliar with that setting. I was like, “No I just want to go to a gym; I don’t want to do group.” But we just started working out there. I started helping Kisar with some administrative stuff and front desk work. He said “Why don’t you start thinking about training?” And so I found my way into that world. Since working with him, I’ve lost like 35 pounds. I laugh when I think I’m in the fitness industry — I’m like “What am I doing?”

Can you talk about how things have changed with COVID-19 and how you’ve adjusted?

It was hard when it changed. In the beginning, we tried to do personal training, like one-on-one. We wanted to keep offering our clients access and make sure we were cleaning in between. When the stay-at-home order was issued, we met up with the other coaches and created a whole bunch of workouts. We started going live in Instagram everyday. At that point, you didn’t know if it was going to be two weeks; now it’s obviously longer and who knows, maybe there are going to be people who don’t want to come back. We found a platform that interacts with our scheduling. It’s so much better than Instagram Live. Part of group fitness is the energy. So when you teach a live Instagram class it’s like staring at yourself; it’s not the same. On Zoom, you can see them and they’re watching what we’re doing. I think this might be more long term for some people. We’ll probably use some of this, so it’s been a good learning experience.

What are some other obstacles you’ve had to face on the job?

It’s been a big learning curve. Obviously coming into it later in life is very different from being in the fitness industry, or a lot of the trainers started right out of high school or college. But I have my other skill sets so I look at that. When it comes to obstacles, sometimes it’s to keep going. You look at fitness you’re like, this is a lifetime, this is a lifestyle. You get tired sometimes and don’t want to work out. It’s still very natural. That’s who I was before so I have to have those conversations with myself, like “Come on, you have to work out.”

When you have one of those days, what do you do?

Some days what I go to is: A bad workout is better than no workout. Some days I have a little grace with myself and say “It’s OK to take the day off.” Signing up for class, knowing that you need to show up. Find those ways to keep pushing yourself. And each time you do, you never regret it.


Working in Clark County, a brief profile of interesting Clark County business owners or a worker in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. Send ideas to Lyndsey Hewitt:; fax 360-735-4598; phone 360-735-4550.


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