A simple glance at Michaela Young displays a lot of her personality. From her slightly cropped hair to her crossfit trainers, she personifies athleticism.
As a part-time student at Stony Brook University, Young drives over an hour from Manhasset twice a week. Outside of being a student, the 22-year-old Business major is also a partner at Manhasset Fitness Center, in Nassau County.
The gym has been featured on the “Business Buzz,” a television program promoting local businesses and their communities by the North Hempstead Business & Tourism Development Corporation. Young became a partner at the Nassau county gym when she was just 19.
While in high school, Young attended another gym that she felt didn’t offer a quality experience. Though the gym’s trainers were highly skilled and educated, they weren’t being given the opportunity to truly showcase their talent. Young, along with other customers, felt she was missing out on the opportunity to become truly fit.
“I wanted to be at a gym where you could have your own space. Where it would feel like having your own gym at home,” she said. She developed the concept of opening a facility focused on small classes and personal training. The then teenager expressed the idea to her mother. Her mother hadn’t had any prior experience of running a business, however, she decided that it was something she wanted to try and they became co-partners.
Young and her mother found a location, rented out spaces and crafted a brand for their shared venture. In May of 2013, the fitness center officially opened.
“Eighty percent of what really runs the gym is the media,” Becky, Young’s mother, said. “Social media, returning emails, and dealing with scheduling is a big part of the business. Michaela takes care of all of that.”
However, a short while later, Michaela was accepted into Stony Brook University. That fall, when she moved to campus, her responsibilities were given to someone else.
Young recalls being frustrated, and maybe slightly guilty, that she couldn’t be as involved as she’d like. She spoke frequently with her mother about the state of their business.
“I was living on campus and going to school full-time,” she said. “It was rough, there were conflicts going on and it was pretty much getting run to the ground.”
The person given her responsibilities did help the gym to an extent, but major conflicts led to irreparable relationships. He left and took everything the businesses needed to operate with him.
“Our domain name, our client list, we were pretty much left with nothing. We had to start from scratch. It was a really hard time and we thought we weren’t going to make it,” Young said.
Young found herself in a difficult situation. She would either continue attending Stony Brook or not return the next semester.
“The biggest mistake was not being there. No one’s going to care if it’s not their business, so if it’s yours, you’ve got to be there. I couldn’t have anyone else doing that for me. It was a great opportunity and blessing to get into Stony Brook, but I had to push that aside,” she said.
Becky, though sad because she had wanted her daughter to continue her education, felt great about the decision. “This is my honest opinion— she learned more about how to run the business because I basically threw her into it. She had to figure a lot of things out for herself, so she figured it out on her own and then some. She learned a lot more than she would’ve— things that school could not teach her.”
Today, the Manhasset Fitness Center is thriving. With loyal clientele made up of students from Manhasset high school, middle school and their families, Young and her mother achieved what she set to create. A family owned business with a family-like atmosphere.
“We call it the family facility,” Young said with a smile. “Our trainers are so incredible, so passionate about what they do and really want to change people’s lives. I have a one-on-one interpersonal relationship with each and every person that walks through that door, and I genuinely want to see them grow.”
The young entrepreneur boasts about what she sees as an unconventional way of operating but one she’s proud to stand by. While other gyms promise clients that they’ll be able to accomplish what she calls “unreasonable goals” in a short amount of time, she isn’t afraid to turn people away.
“I won’t just take their money,” she says. “I’ve had people come in and say they want to lose 25 pounds, but no. I’m not going to guarantee a client something like that. You have to take things gradually. Real training, real results,” she said, stating the gym motto.
Though fitness is something Young is very passionate about, it wasn’t always that way. As a high school senior, just a year before the fitness center opened, Michaela went through an experience that would have an incredible impact on the course of her life.
“I was active in high school but I wouldn’t say I lived the most healthiest lifestyle. I felt sick for a long time but I didn’t know what was going on. Mid-senior year, I was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. From there, my whole life changed.”
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (or Hodgkin’s disease) is a cancer that originates from specific type of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. As it progresses, it compromises the body’s ability to fight infection.
“Bad habits, going out with friends, it all stopped right away,” she said.
For the next six months Young received ABVD chemotherapy treatment twice every other week. She wanted to conquer the disease and fought relentlessly. She was determined to let everyone around her know she was going to be okay.
“I’m going to fight this,” she said. “It’s going to be a long road but I’m going to see the pot of gold.” In the summer of 2012, after an aggressive six months, she was in remission. However she found herself being less than a shell of her former self.
“It was hard to even go up the stairs,” she said. “I was really frail; I had no hair; my body was so weak. Going through chemotherapy takes everything out of you, so I wanted to get my strength back.”
That’s when Young started taking classes at her previous gym. She started a fitness regimen that began with low strength exercises and gradually built herself up to boot camp classes. But she didn’t stop there. In early 2013, around the time she thought of opening a gym that would soon become the fitness center, she entered her first Spartan Race.
“I wanted to challenge myself,” she said. If I could beat cancer, I can do anything.”
Young’s been in 16 Spartan Races and three world championships. She’s been in races ranging for 3 to 16 miles, where she’s crawled under barbed wire, swam through 40 degree lakes, climbed up ropes attached to bridges, climbed mountains carrying buckets holding 60 pounds of gravel and completed other obstacles that she’s witnessed grown men being unable to finish.
“I always make it a goal to beat my best times,” she said. “I’m always trying to figure out what I need to improve technique-wise. You don’t have to be extremely fit to be a spartan, but I inspire myself. I want other people to know that whatever place you are in your life, you can do whatever you put your mind to.”
Young isn’t the same person she was five years ago. She had no confidence and she surrounded herself with people who weren’t the best influences. It may have been a traumatic experience that brought her to where she is today, but she is thankful for everything she has.
“When I was sick I wanted to feel beautiful. I eventually did feel beautiful because I accepted what was happening. Yeah, I didn’t have hair on my head but I felt beautiful regardless.”
Young would constantly switch up her wigs and apply makeup in different styles. She’s a fashion junkie with a passion for designer sneakers that almost rivals her love of fitness. As she speaks about her favorite colors, fabrics, styles and designers, she casts a glow that generates pure warmth. However it’s a small, purple ribbon tattoo on her left wrist that means the most to her.
“I got it a few months after my treatment,” she said. “It’s my survival badge. A symbol of my strength.”
Young has returned to Stony Brook to complete her degree. She agrees that she’s learning much more by actually running a business than she would if she only attends class, but she wants to finish her education.
“My parents accomplished success without finishing school, and they worked really hard to get to that plateau. They were blessed and they’re very successful, but I want to finish. I’m almost done.”
Once Young receives her degree, she plans on pursuing other business ventures, which includes helping people that’ve shared her experience.
“Cancer treatment can be very expensive,” she says. “When people finish their treatments, they’re stuck with all these medical bills. It’s like, I’m starting my whole life over but I have all these bills to take care of, and it causes a lot of stress.”
She wants to finds ways to ease the financial burden. This is something her mother describes as being her most admirable quality.
“Michaela is the most caring and loving person that I know,” Becky said. “She puts everyone else before herself. That’s what sums up Michaela.”
Young is a student at Stony Brook University, a partner in a prosperous business, a spartan, a fashionista and a survivor. At 22, she’s experienced and accomplished much, and has only optimistic predictions for the future.
“Embrace the suck,” she said. “You are able to change your life despite of what may have happened to you.”