Dallas' Danielle Girdano Is Up for the 'Oscar' of Personal Training — and We Let Her Torture Us

Girdano with Kenneth H. Cooper, founder of the Cooper Institute.
Girdano with Kenneth H. Cooper, founder of the Cooper Institute.
courtesy Danielle Girdano

It’s the morning of my workout with Danielle Girdano, who has been named one of the top three personal trainers in the country by IDEA Health & Fitness Association. She will find out if she’s No. 1 this July at a ceremony in Los Angeles. It's referred to as the Oscars of personal training

When we are trying to figure out a time for the workout, she keeps suggesting a weekday morning. I tell her that’s impossible because I have work. Then it dawns on me that some people do actually work out in the mornings before work. We decide on 6:45 a.m. at Planet Fitness in Dallas. She tells me to eat carbs beforehand and bring plenty of water, as well as some liquid protein for afterward. Confused, I immediately Google “liquid protein” because I’m diet-challenged.

I arrive at Planet Fitness and meet Girdano and her client who worked out before me. When Girdano tells me and her other client that I’ll be doing something Girdano calls “mermaids,” the client looks at me defeated and sweaty. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

After that inspirational exchange, Girdano led me to a mat in the corner of the gym. She explained we would work on my abs and between each exercise, she would give me a 35-second break, which is longer than she typically allows.

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From there, I blacked out.

Not exactly, but it was all such a blur that I’m not positive what happened. We did start with something called mermaids, where I laid on my back and moved my legs to a 90-degree position to parallel to the floor. Then we did other ab workouts, including knee-ups, vertical crunches, a set of sidewinders and planks. They are as grueling as they sound and soon, I’m saying very soon, maybe three minutes in, it began to hurt. It all began to hurt.

And Girdano isn’t messing around when she says you get a 35-second break. She warns you when you have two seconds left, which basically means, "Stop talking and get in position because we’re doing this." 
About 15 minutes in, it’s clear to everyone in the gym/Dallas County/America that I am not in shape. I have somehow managed to turn the tables and now Girdano fears pissing off the journalist writing about her. We take a break and begin to chat.

About seven years ago Girdano lost 200-plus pounds. In the beginning, all she knew was to eat less and move more. Then she joined a gym, but soon became irritated with the personal trainers trying to sell her a workout package she couldn’t afford.

“He kept telling me that I would gain the weight back if I didn’t buy this certain package,” she says. “But I literally couldn’t afford it. I had just quit my job at a cigarette promotions company. Oh, yeah. Did I mention I was smoking two packs a day?”

Annoyed with the big gyms, Girdano decided to study for herself. She went to The Cooper Institute, founded by Kenneth Cooper, the “Father of Aerobics.” She learned everything there is to know about nutrition, health and exercise. And then she began personal training on her own and founded D'fine Your Health.

What Girdano isn’t is apathetic. She cares about a lot of things. She cares about childhood obesity because she experienced that. She cares about bullying. “We hear all the time about these kids committing suicide. And we think, ‘Oh, that’s so sad.’ And then Monday comes and we completely forget about it. I want to change it.” She cares about a plus-sized model being on the cover of Sports Illustrated (she was happy to see it). She cares about breaking records. When someone tells her that something might be too difficult, she is only more motivated to take it on.

When Girdano began taking a cycling class, she decided she wanted to complete the Ride the Arc challenge, where you bike from the Minnesota border to Texas. Not only did she complete the challenge, she finished it three days faster than the fastest man and is the only woman to complete the route.
Now, she wants to bike the Route 66, which people have died on while trying.

The entire morning Girdano didn’t stop. Whether she was explaining the workouts to me, telling me about her journey to health, or just explaining what she’s learned throughout the years, she kept talking with the same momentum she had when she began. It wasn’t until I asked her about her wife that her voice changed.

“She’s scared for me,” she says. “But she’s been with me through so much. She was with me when I was obese. So doing all of this is to make her proud. And that’s one of the reasons I want to win the Personal Trainer of the Year award so badly — as a sort of way to give back to her.”

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