It was a rainy humid Saturday morning in Omaha, Nebraska, just hours before the first Husker football game of the 2021 season. Sporting a scarlet Husker volleyball shirt and matching adidas shorts and shoes, Deb Gray unlocks the doors to the gym of her dreams and the job she loves the most.
Her business, Figure By Faith, helps people discover how to combine their spiritual and fitness life into a healthy balance, which all started from Gray’s personal experience.
“It’s all about your mind, body and spirit and making the whole person and that’s how this business came about,” she said.
After winning the Mrs. Nebraska pageant in 2001, Gray was invited to the Miss America pageant where she became the “first” Nebraska titleholder to receive the Physical Fitness Award. She then became the first person to become pregnant while holding the title.
“It’s fun to do, it’s fun to see how you can transform your body and how you can stay motivated to do it,” she said.
Gray also played volleyball growing up and attended the University of Nebraska Omaha on a volleyball scholarship. She earned her degree in exercise science, which her volleyball coach introduced to her in 1988 as a new degree. After college, Gray began training people and used the connections she gained from college to create and start a business that many people had not seen before.
Shinya Takahashi, Ph.D., an associate professor of exercise science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the need for personal trainers is becoming more important each year. Even major companies are starting to implement wellness programs for their employees.
Of the 133,000 personal trainers nationally, women make up 34.6%.
“They try to identify those individuals who need more physical attention and then try to improve their health so that they can increase the productivity at their company,” he said.
Personal trainers are certified in CPR and first aid among other things, Takahashi said.
Athleticism and the love of sports run in Gray’s family. Being a mother of two daughters and a wife is one of her most cherished titles. Both daughters have participated in sports such as basketball, soccer and volleyball. Her youngest daughter, Skylar, 15, stands 5-foot-11 and follows in her mother’s footsteps. Her husband is a 6-foot-10 and a retired professional basketball player.
To further exemplify the levels of athleticism in her family, her oldest daughter, Rylee, a middle blocker and what Gray jokingly described as a “6-foot-4 shorty” received her first scholarship offer at age 13.
“The Creighton assistant coach came to one of her volleyball games in 8th grade and said I have never done anything like this before,” Gray said.
Now, ranked No. 70 in the nation, Rylee is on the UNL volleyball team in her freshman year.
After the birth of her second child, Gray wanted something to challenge herself.
That challenge became figure competitions. After doing a few competitions, she knew she wanted to incorporate her faith into training and helping others. That was the start of Figure By Faith. She worked all over the state of Nebraska and met clients who would impact her life forever.
Larry Cochrane, one of Gray’s most successful clientele, said Gray is like family to him.
One thing Cochrane loves the most about Gray as a trainer is her personal interest in all of her clients. Throughout their time of getting to know each other, Cochrane said their relationship flourished on not only a fitness level but also his journey of faith.
“The emotional support she was providing in our growing friendship just led to me wanting to continue my improvement in my overall fitness. And now it’s not just weight, but it’s emotionally and spiritually,” she said.
Cochrane came to Gray in search of someone who could hold him accountable and keep him on the right track. With the help of Gray, in around eight months, Cochrane had gone from being 208 pounds to 162 pounds. He has been able to stay within five pounds of that weight class for nine years. Gray, as a certified spiritual director, brought the saying mind, body and spirit to life for Cochrane.
“I have been blessed to be able to be in the position because she cares. Deb has more than just a business, she has a ministry,” he said.
Gray helps guide people in their spiritual journey and become closer to God by sharing text, scripture readings and reflections. Physically, Gray impacts many lives but the more immense impact to Cochrane is emotional.
Gray wanted to make an impact on people’s lives before she became a personal trainer.
“A lot of people, even my clientele, battled with who they were,” she said. “That’s when I knew I had to incorporate faith with training.”