James Madison University

Alumni Highlight - Michelle Tillery-DuVal

BS Kinesiology '10, Exercise Science and Leadership
ACSM certified HFS, TRX certified Suspension Trainer, Wellcoach

For me, pursuing a kinesiology degree and fitness career just made sense.

PHOTO: Michelle Tillery-DuVal

In high school I was in love with cross country, and I pushed myself to be one of the top runners on the team. Unfortunately, the combination of a highly competitive spirit and a lack of education on proper training led to a series of injuries, including a hernia, knee injuries, stress fractures, and a shattered foot. Knowing my passion for fitness and my desire to train properly, my parents got me a personal trainer to help me maintain my strength while recovering, and I was sold!


I came to JMU declared in kinesiology with the goal of becoming the sort of trainer who could help others overcome personal or physical limitations. To that end, my practicum under Chiropractic Solutions' Dr. Dennis DaPonte was a complementary study as I learned about the importance of skeletal alignments and muscle balance to injury prevention and increasing performance. I learned how, by using the muscles of the body as a pulley system, positive change could be made in just about any orthopedic situation.

After my practicum, I took what I had learned to a very hands-on internship as the resident personal trainer of the Dayton, VA Police Department. Immersion was my teacher as I was thrown into my first real training job. I wrote the standards of procedure for my clients to work through, and it was up to me to help them be successful. This was my first ever unsupervised chance to apply what I studied in college, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to turn my education into tangible experience. Real-life goal setting, motivation and identifying non-motivational life factors, and managing clients' needs and multiple schedules are just a few of the areas I learned a great deal about. I also performed an ACSM guidelines fitness test on each participating individual and wrote a complete profile and progressive program based on what I'd learned, making it excellent practice for the 'real world' and helping me grow confident with my abilities. As a side note, I recently went back to the Police Department training room for a visit and found that the programs I wrote are still being used and progressed by my former clients!


PHOTO: Tillery-DuVal

I've been working at the RMH Wellness Center since graduating in 2010 as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and full time fitness specialist. The tasks of the fitness specialist include administering fitness assessments, writing personalized exercise programs, and working with our Progressive Exercise program (which acts as an excellent transition program from rehab or a sedentary lifestyle to active, independent exercising). Some of my unique jobs include being the creative mind behind the Wellness Center's Right Weigh weight loss challenge, sitting as the exercise expert on a panel of experts for the hospital's Bariatric Program, and working with a team of fitness professionals on community-focused initiatives. I'm extremely passionate about helping my clients and all the Wellness Center members see the progress they crave and reach the goals they strive for.

The best part of my job is seeing the excitement on my client's faces as they overcome an obstacle and surpass their expectations. Many of the individuals I work with have limitations that may feel or appear overwhelming. Most believe or have been told that they will never be able to change, and I absolutely love proving that wrong. While we can't change certain tangible aspects of ourselves, like orthopedic limitations, that doesn't mean we will be unsuccessful at effecting a positive change by combining determination with education and proper body mechanic training.

Personal Goals

As for myself, I am not exempt from my training approach. After my injuries in high school, I was told that I would never be a runner again for fear that my body wouldn't be able to handle it. After seven years of diligent stability and core training, I was released to start running again. I have since completed two Spartan races and plan on competing in many more obstacle races. For me, it just goes to show that if you want something bad enough, you have to chase after it. It might take a while, and it requires proper training, but the sky's the limit!