By Christina Whiting
What do Homer athletes have in common with recording artist Cher and tennis player Sloane Stephens — currently ranked 13th in the world?
Certified athletic trainer Mary Jo Cambridge, that’s what.
A certified athletic trainer for nearly 30 years, Cambridge has worked with people from all walks of life. Members of the Homer community gather at Cambridge’s Alaska Training Room on Ocean Drive to take advantage of her expertise and experience. Under her direction, athletes become stronger, faster and more agile, while non-athletes work to meet their personal fitness goals.
“Ninety percent of the people who walk into ATR just want to feel good about themselves,” Cambridge said. “They want their clothes to fit, to be able to do their job or sport injury-free, and they want to be healthy.”
Cambridge offers circuit training group classes throughout the day, five days a week, to serious athletes as well as non-athletes ages 12 to 82. She teaches safe ways to train using a large variety of functional exercises. Her workouts target balance, core strength, and lumbar and scapular stabilization. Her overall focus is on total body functionality.
Cambridge didn’t sit still much in high school or college, going out for tennis, softball and basketball. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, minoring in athletic training. Later, she received her master’s degree in athletic training from the University of Virginia.
At a time when not many women landed leadership training jobs, Cambridge worked as the head softball coach, the assistant athletic trainer and eventually as the Division I head athletic trainer at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
“I worked directly with the men’s basketball team,” she said. “I earned the respect of the men in these traditionally male-dominated positions by my work ethic and the care and interest I showed for their athletes.”
But she didn’t stop there.
In Boca Raton, Fla., Cambridge worked for a physical therapy center, training professional and high school athletes, as well as children and seniors. After playing some recreational baseball, Cambridge’s teammates encouraged her to try out for a professional team. She did, and was chosen to play with the Florida Legends, where she spent one summer playing professional ball.
“That experience taught me to dream big,” she said. “It reminded me that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to.”
Cambridge moved from Boca Raton to Los Angeles, raising her son Ian while she trained high-level junior tennis players, extreme climbers, endurance athletes — and Cher. Cambridge helped the internationally celebrated singer get in shape for her 2004 Farewell Tour.
When Cambridge was hired as the head athletic trainer and strength coach for the U.S. Tennis Association Player Development Training Center in Los Angeles, she traveled around the country, teaching on-court tennis movement. She also taught injury prevention and testing to players, coaches and parents.
Cambridge specialized in training young players, paying specific attention to their growth and development. Her job was to provide players with the tools they needed to go to the next level in their sport. The athletes were trained to become champions through self-reliance, and to manage their time, diet and bodies.
“The ultimate goal of player development is to get an American into the final week of the U.S. Open,” she said. “One of those players was Sloane Stephens, currently ranked 13th in the world. Stephens had incredible speed, agility and power, but — at 13 years old — lacked the emotional and mental skills to compete. It was my job to teach her how to be quicker with her first step, how to use her effortless power and how to maintain her body.”
Cambridge traveled 20 weeks a year, teaching, and accompanying players to tournaments. And, while she loved her job, the long hours on the road were challenging because of the time they took her away from her son.
In 2011, seeking a slower pace of life and more time to spend with her son and her partner, Cambridge and her family moved to Homer. She met Bridget Kuhns at a women’s workout at the high school pool, and a friendship ensued. Kuhns invited Cambridge to take over the workout training, and Cambridge went from training six ladies on the pool deck, to training 25 in the mat room. Her class quickly outgrew the space available, and Kuhns encouraged her to open her own training facility.
Less than two months later, in June 2012, Cambridge leased a space, installed equipment, enlisted friends to create a website and opened the doors to the Alaska Training Room.
Today, with 110 members regularly attending her group circuit classes, Cambridge dreams of opening a larger facility for multi-sport training to cover the spectrum of sports performance. She would like to offer yoga, a pool therapy area and sport training for younger kids. She’d also like a trained staff to assist her.
In addition to running and managing ATR, Cambridge helps with the Homer High School softball program and provides an online concussion testing service to athletes at Homer High School.
Committed to helping community members reach their fitness goals, Mary Jo Cambridge seeks to inspire and motivate all who walk through her doors.
“I love being in Homer,” she said. “I’m challenged and satisfied and I feel like I matter — like people need me.”
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