Q&A With VHS Strength & Conditioning Coach Nicole Shanley


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Nicole Shanley
 has a story unlike any physical education teacher when it comes to what lead them to where they are today. Shanley always kept fitness close on her journey to now being the strength and conditioning coach at Verona High School. She began teaching physical education in 2014 at Kiel Elementary School in Kinnelon, N.J. In 2016, she spent time teaching K-8 in the Montclair School District. She began teaching in Verona in 2018.

Sprinkled throughout this timeline, Shanley has been heavily involved in the health and fitness industry. From 2004-2014, she was a personal trainer as well as the general manager of health clubs in the tri-state area. She began CrossFit in 2012, and received her CrossFit Level 1 training certificate in 2015.

Ever since coming to Verona in 2018, Shanley has made a great impact on the school’s fitness program. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with her on a number of topics. Read on to hear Nicole talk about her journey, her passion, her job, and more.

What makes fitness such a passion of yours?

My whole life growing up, my whole family was always physical. We always did something. I am a twin and we grew up with two older brothers. I have a brother that is 13 years older and 14 years older than us. Our early life I grew up just trying to be like them. Trying to keep up with them, trying to be like them. I remember being 10 or 11 and we were trying to ride our bikes to a big reservoir nearby with my brother. There’s this giant hill we had to get up and my brother just kept telling us, “You’re a machine! You can do this! You can do anything!” Me and my sister are tired and questioning ourselves and wanting to get off the bike. He just kept reinforcing in our heads that we can do anything we put our minds to. It was always my two brothers that got us into sports. We played softball in college for our first year and then a couple other things. Growing up we did a ton of stuff. I grew up in Readington so we rode horses, we did gymnastics, we’re always outside riding our bikes. As we got older and into college we tried a little bit of rugby, jiu jitsu, we tried just about anything you can think of. After college, my cousin had introduced me to CrossFit. After high school and college there’s not much competition anymore. You kind of lost the competitive drive that you had in high school and college. With CrossFit, we found that again. Not only was it something that you can compete in, but it was something that you can challenge yourself in. It made working out fun, and it was a challenge I hadn’t found in a couple of years. There’s this thing called urgent optimism which means that if you can go through things in your life that are hard, but you enjoy the challenge of them, that’s something that you can use anywhere and it can change your life. I found that true in CrossFit. It is so hard and so difficult, but it was so rewarding afterwards. You looked at it as if it was something that was so positive, even though it was so challenging. The reward that you got from it was not just yourself and being healthy, but you met a community of people that want the best for themselves too. The community really appealed to me. I found as an adult, something that was much different than what I had done previously to that.

To hear Nicole tell her story, press play below:

In what ways have you impacted Verona High School’s fitness program?

If you go onto the Verona High School website and go to teacher’s pages, I created a whole web page for the program which will give you more details, but yes a lot has changed. I started out doing one class after school and football was the only team I’ve been working with. It was a little bit of a challenge to get other coaches and teachers on board because they either didn’t really know much about the Verona CrossFit program or had heard negative things about it like injuries. Coming on, football was 100% in and they had the most successful season in probably Verona history. Not only were they strong and fast, the biggest thing that impacted such a successful season was that there were no injuries. Not one student had missed any playing time at all. To have all of our starters and all of our seniors be able to play so long and so successfully was a huge difference. Obviously, we won the State Championship and we went so far and dominated. Our final game of states being 41-0 was a testament to itself and to get so far was a huge testament to the program. That was the kickstart and a lot of other coaches had come up to me after that and wanted to be apart of the program. Softball jumped on, wrestling jumped on, soccer jumped on, baseball wanted to (season cancelled due to COVID-19). We had a lot of other teams and students want to be apart of the program. The first year I had done a football class and a female class. I was struggling to get female participation. I had maybe five girls in the weight room at a time after school. Over the past year and a half, not only did we have a full women’s class, but all these other teams wanted to join and be apart of it. It went from me starting and begging everybody to be apart of it, to basically a waiting list of teams trying to get onto the schedule. It’s really evolved and it’s continuing to evolve. The entire success of it really started with administration. Everyone being on board with the program made a huge difference.

To hear Nicole talk about the VHS fitness program, press play below:

By far, hands down, my favorite part of Verona is the students. Every single one of you guys that I’ve met have made my day, every day. I tell the kids in the weight room and in my physical education classes that I love doing this stuff. Coming to VHS, the kids motivate me and I’m here to motivate them, but I’ve learned more from these kids than they’ve learned from me. The best part by far is the relationships I’ve built and the people I’ve come to know. Being able to have this opportunity with you guys have been by far the best part of my job and my day at Verona.

To hear Nicole talk about her favorite part of her job, press play below:

What is your favorite thing to do in terms of fitness?

Right now, my favorite is the olympic lifts. In traditional gyms, it’s changing now because of CrossFit, making it a little more mainstream, but you’re not going to find as many bumper plates and barbells, things that you need to do olympic lifting. Once I found CrossFit and started doing more in-depth with the olympic lifts, they are so technical, explosive and total body. It is so different but it’s so challenging. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s the most fun. Once you master little piece after little piece, you feel so great afterwards.

What advice would you give to someone who is discovering their own passion for fitness?

Have an open mind. There are people who are closed off because of things they’ve heard that may or may not be true. Having an open mind is the number one thing. You have to try different things and you have to give them a try for longer than just one, “I’m just going to try this.” The other one is to make a commitment. If you go to a gym and say, “Let me try this and see if it works,” it’s not going to work because you are already starting without the commitment. If you go in saying, “I’m going to give this 100% and I’m going to do this because it is something that is good for me, not a punishment, but something I’m doing for myself,” Have that commitment and even if it’s once a week, start anywhere. It’s not about going 100% and jumping into everything six or seven days a week. It’s about making a commitment and doing something. Always be curious and always try something else. Talk to people and have an open mind to different things because you never know what is behind the next door if you don’t let it open.

To hear Nicole’s advice, press play below:

Be sure to follow my Twitter @NickBernardino_ to keep up with the latest posts for Verona Fitness.

Cover Image by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

Nick Bernardino graduated Verona High School with the Class of 2019. He is now a sophomore at Rowan University, majoring in a sports communication major with a minor in journalism. He hopes to one day become a baseball sportswriter, particularly for the New York Yankees. This story is from his Verona Fitness blog.

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