BERGENFIELD, N.J. — Kevin Saenz of Bergenfield stands on the floor of the weight room, equal parts stoic and determined.
His black hoodie falls over his eyes and sweat drips onto the floor in front of him. As he lifts the weights up to his shoulders, Saenz envisions his future.
It's an approach he first took in 2009 when he started working out to control the negative energy created at home, where he and his family lived paycheck to paycheck.
Much has changed since then for the Colombian native, who has since turned his life around through fitness.
But the gym remains his sanctuary.
“Exercise helps me break down barriers and overcome my fears," said Saenz, 23, a personal trainer. "It transfers to other areas in my life."
Saenz moved into his grandparents' Bergenfield apartment from Colombia with his mother and three siblings in 2000. The then-7-year-old lost his father when he was an infant.
“Seeing my mother go through all of life’s hardships and remain strong in character has inspired me to push myself every day," he said.
Despite all she’s been through, her mentality never wavered.
By the time he was 10, Saenz stopped asking for things. He knew his mom couldn't afford to give him more than a few bucks and it pained her more to tell him "no."
Regardless, there were always presents under the Christmas tree, Saenz said, "no matter what."
The day Saenz was old enough to work was the day he got his first job at the contact lens factory with his mom.
He landed several other jobs at local restaurants, clothing stores, gyms and doctors' offices, saving up thousands that eventually went toward his own car.
Saenz was pounding the pavement and living a completely different lifestyle than most of his peers.
“I was surrounded by people worried about partying, alcohol and drugs,” he said.
I was more concerned with who I wanted to be as a man.
In 2009, Saenz joined Fitness II in Bergenfield, ironically with the last paycheck he earned before he was laid off from the factory.
He wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing in terms of his workouts, so he tried his best to replicate those of the bigger guys at the gym. It wasn’t long before he started seeing results — mentally and physically.
“The gym was a healthy hobby where I could do something with my time, and develop a true character,” he said, picturing what his future held with every repetition.
“That’s when I learned nobody was going to give you what you want."
You have to work for it, search for it and follow your heart.
Saenz became his own toughest critic. He barely gave himself a break and pushed himself to the limit every day.
He learned a lesson in moderation when he had a disc bulge in his spine, followed by a disc herniation.
“It literally threw me to the ground,” he said. “I was out of work for a month and had to pay all of my bills with money in my savings account.”
Saenz took matters into his own hands and purchased physical therapy books. He said he began working with a physical therapist in Queens, who was able to treat him without an X-ray or medication in less than three days.
With a new set of skills, knowledge and fully recovered body, Saenz set out to make a name for himself. He educates his clients on alignment, mobility and how a history of injuries impacts their bodies now.
“You have to forget about the gym, the abs, the biceps and build your mentality first,” said Saenz, now a member of Retro Fitness Hackensack.
The postures we develop from everyday tasks have to be corrected or aligned so that our bodies don't break down.
Saenz isn’t looking for pity. Nor does he seek admiration. He simply wants people to know there’s a way to feel better through exercise.
“My job is working with people who are looking to lose weight, build muscle and increase flexibility. It’s something I love to do," said Saenz, who has clients in Fort Lee, Edgewater, Jersey City and Hoboken, among other towns.
“I’m constantly trying to be innovative and help people," he said. "The way I helped myself."
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