Former GV athlete embracing challenges as new business owner

Jacob DeWeerd

Fitness is not something Valarie James takes lightly. As a former Grand Valley State University track and

Courtesy / VSJ Fitness

field sprinter, James is no stranger to putting in the work to rise above her competition. Now, instead of competing in track and field events, she has been following her fitness passion by teaching and coaching personal fitness through her business, VSJ Fitness, for the past three years. 

James graduated from GVSU with a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and received master’s degrees in Social Work and Public Health from Michigan State University. After finishing her college education, she decided to put the skills she learned to use as a personal fitness instructor.

VSJ Fitness was born out of James’ love for fitness and her desire to improve the lives of women through mental and physical exercise. After she attended the IGNITE Women’s Empowerment Summit, James knew that she wanted to start a business that focused on the betterment of women’s lives.

“My mission is to inspire the everyday woman to reach their wellness goals through support, motivation and empowerment,” said James.

VSJ Fitness offers one-on-one personal training, group fitness programs, and dance fitness classes. Training used to be in-person only, but James has expanded her services because of COVID-19 restrictions and now provides virtual training to clients. She is certified to teach Zumba, kickboxing, TRX suspension, and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). 

James specializes in HIIT workouts because of the unique array of benefits they offer. HIIT can result in a high amount of burnt calories in a short amount of time, a heightened metabolic rate long after exercising and lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

“I have found HIIT to produce the best results, especially for my clients who are focused on weight loss and want to get more muscular endurance,” said James.

As a one-woman show, James has built her business from the ground up. Aside from hiring contractors for graphic design work and other small jobs, she runs day-to-day operations completely by herself.

“For the most part, it is just me,” James said. “There are times where it’s a challenge because I wish I could be in multiple places at once.”

James has also utilized a few local small business assistance programs, LendGR and SpringGR, for help along the way. LendGR is offered through GVSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and provides one-on-one technical consulting to entrepreneurs.

SpringGr, on the other hand, is a 12-week program that offers business coaching and opportunities to develop business plans and other entrepreneurial skills. Participants have to pitch their fully developed business idea at the end of the program, and James’ business pitch won the competition against 59 other entrepreneurs.

“In that program, that’s where I really learned the ins and outs of being a business owner,” said James.

As a woman fitness trainer, James is also taking on an industry that she feels can be viewed as male-dominated. She explained that people often think they will get better results if they work with a male trainer and are surprised when they see what her classes can do.

“As a woman, I love being able to prove them wrong,” James said. “After working out with everyone, the facial expressions and feedback tell me that I am helping everyone and as a woman, I’m giving people the challenge they’re looking for.”

More information about VSJ Fitness and the other services James offers can be found at her website