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Omaha Magazine

An Army of Nunn: Bobbi Nunn Leads Clients to Their Best Selves

Oct 01, 2021 01:34PM ● By Dwain Hebda
woman with grey pixie cut holds purple yoga mat

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

When Bobbi Nunn started working out regularly during college in the late 1970s, it wasn’t unusual for her to be the only woman in the gym. 

“I started off working out at UNO’s gym,” she said, also stating that she sometimes worked out with a female friend. “There were very few women in there, so I just kind of minded my own business and did my own thing.”

Today, there are far more women at a typical neighborhood health club, including Anytime Fitness in Bennington where Nunn is a trainer. At 62, she still stands out. 

“So, here’s the funny thing at our gym: I’m the oldest, and then we have someone who’s 40, and then, our youngest trainer is 24,” she said. “And I learn something from everybody.”

It’s easy to assume Nunn’s role at Anytime Fitness focuses on those over age 60. In fact, her expertise and training style has attracted her a diverse clientele. 

have everybody,” she said. “I have men, I have women; I have young 20-somethings. I have teenagers. I have people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. Everybody has a different story, and I think just being there and being able to listen is the biggest thing. Somebody’s always telling me about their life. I’ve found it’s important to know when to just kind of shut up and listen and have compassion for people.”

Pat Zimmerman, 39, said age has no bearing on the trainer’s ability to get the best out of him.

“Bobbi has a way of coming up with new ways to challenge me, but without feeling like there’s pressure to try to lift beyond what I’m capable of and risk getting injured,” said Zimmerman, noting that he was initially hesitant to get a trainer as he wasn’t one to work out before. “From that perspective, it’s been well worth it. And I enjoy seeing her twice a week.”

Born in North Dakota, Nunn grew up in Omaha. She insists she wasn’t athletic growing up, (“A skinny little kid, kind of wiry,” is how she puts it) but she loved being outdoors and active. Graduating from Omaha Northwest High School in 1977, she studied computer science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. 

“When I got out of college, I was the only woman in my department of five [other than the secretary],” Nunn said. “My focus of work throughout my career was business information and data analysis. I was often one of just a few women, or the only woman, doing this type of work.”

Over 33 years, she worked with OPPD and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska. Throughout all those years, she kept working out and intermittently led fitness classes.

“After UNO, I went to what was actually a ballet studio,” she said. “It was kind of the first barre class, before it was called barre. And I loved it; I felt like I was really getting strong and in shape.

“After that, I found a little aerobics studio. And that’s when aerobic studios were starting to really get pretty popular,” Nunn said, noting this was around 1988. “I guess I was one of the owner’s better or more consistent customers, because she asked me to get certified and start teaching aerobic classes there.”

Nunn’s success as a teacher outgrew the studio and moved to the YMCA where she’d also start training people on weights. For as much she enjoyed what she was doing, she never seriously thought about changing careers. For one, it was a very different time in the fitness industry, an era where few personal trainers were women. Second, she loved IT and, not to put too fine a point on it, that’s what paid the bills. But all that changed in 2014 when, after three decades in the workforce, she retired.

“After about a year and a half, I decided I was going to drive myself crazy if I didn’t do something,” Nunn said. “I got a job as the activities director at one of the retirement communities close to where I live. One of my duties was to teach fitness classes.”

She continued, “I’d gotten out of teaching fitness because I got busy at work. As soon as I started doing it again, I remembered how much I absolutely loved it. I decided to retire from there and get recertified as a trainer. So that’s what I did, and here I am now.”

Renee Pokorny, owner/manager of Anytime Fitness, knew immediately that Nunn would be a successful addition to the team.

“She has lots of experience and she has a thirst for knowledge. She just loves coming up with different ways to help her clients,” Pokorny said. “She has a way of imparting information that’s very palatable, very positive. She’s also a good listener; anybody talking or working with her knows she really cares about you and what she can do to help you.”

Carole Sandeen, 54, who’s trained under Nunn for the past three years, said Nunn has helped her step out of her comfort zone.

“I was an athlete in high school and I exercised on and off, but I had never lifted weights before. I really had no idea how to do that and I wanted to learn,” Sandeen said. “One of my motivations was I wanted to get stronger because as women get older, it’s really important to maintain muscle.”

Sandeen continued, “[Nunn] was just really easy to work with. She pushes me when she knows I’m ready to be pushed or do more weights or do something more difficult. She starts where you’re at and then helps you get better.”

“I never stand over anybody. If they’re down on the ground, I’m down on the ground,” Nunn said. “I think that helps a lot because they’re like, ‘Well, she’s not looking down at me. She’s looking in my eyes and seeing what I can actually do.’”

Asked for her most memorable client, Nunn first feigns exasperation, then when pressed, goes quiet.

“There was a gentleman, 72 years old, a retired cop. And he had gotten out of shape,” she said. “He stands out because he was pretty ill with COPD, one of those illnesses that doesn’t go away.

“He was very tall, 6’6”, and when he came in, he needed a cane for balance. Well, by the time we got done, he wasn’t using the cane anymore and he was increasing the amount of time on the cardio machines. He’s passed away, unfortunately, but he was just a wonderful human being, inside and out. Yeah—great guy.”

Dunn finds similar inspiration in all of her clients, fueling her dynamo engine into overdrive. She’s regularly at the gym at 4:30 a.m., preparing for her first class or training early-bird clients, and from there she attacks the day with an energy that puts much younger people to shame. Everyone feels the jolt of her personality, the unbending will in a smiling wrapper. It’s not where you are today, she preaches, it’s where we’re going together.

“It’s all about how fit you are, not what that scale says. That’s the thing I like to impart on people. The scale doesn’t tell you everything,” she said. “And, that you’re never too old to start. Start now. You’ll feel so much better in the long run, you’ll have a better quality of life and do the things you want to do. It’s never too late to start exercising.” 

This article originally appeared in the 60+ Section of the October 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann