Linda Atkins, owner of ReBoot Coaching VT, poses for a photo inside her Essex Jct. fitness studio. A former heating and air conditioning technician, Atkins now provides one-on-one personal training sessions for a loyal following of 20 clients. (Photo by Cindy Chittenden)

Linda Atkins, owner of ReBoot Coaching VT, defines the word resilience, proving if someone has the right attitude, he or she can overcome setback after setback and come out on top.

At 50 years old, Atkins left her job as a heating and air conditioning technician to open a business that provides one-on-one personal training sessions in her Essex Jct. studio.

“I can’t believe I get to do this every day,” Atkins said. “I feel blessed.”

Despite taking to fitness and winning statewide martial arts competitions from an early age, the native Vermonter didn’t have an easy road. She joined the U.S. Navy in 1982 with the dream of becoming a fighter pilot. Upon enrollment, it was discovered she was colorblind, which disqualified her from pilot training. She stayed in the Navy for the next eight years, learning how to be a welder and a diesel mechanic.

Choosing male-dominated jobs never struck Atkins as unusual. She credits her parents for building her self-confidence.

“My dad would tell me, ‘You can do anything you want to do, kid. Don’t let anybody tell you differently,’” she recalled. “My mom was the kind of woman that could do anything. She was a tough little bird.”

In 1991, however, one year out of the service, Atkins fell on hard times and surrendered to alcoholism. Her two full-time jobs didn’t provide her with enough money to support her drinking habit and living expenses, so she became homeless for a year, often crashing on her sister’s unfinished basement floor.

“I was a drunk,” she said. “I got sober 26 years ago. Once I saw myself for who I was sober, I asked for help to change. Once I got sober, that’s when I grew up. I had to ask myself, ‘What am I doing wrong?’”

With the aid of friends and family, Atkins picked herself up and continued to work as a welder. In 2000, she was forced to stop working to undergo major reconstructive surgery in both arms.

The years of physical labor had killed her ulnar nerves, which control motion and sensation in one’s arm muscles. Atkins’ old nerves had to be replaced with new ones.

This hardship inspired her to make a career change. During her two-year recovery period, she hired a personal trainer to help build up the strength in her arms, and she began to research what it would take to become a trainer herself.

“I was single at the time,” Atkins said. “I knew I couldn’t support myself on training alone, so I shelved the idea for the next 12 years and found a stable job.”

In 2007, something unexpected happened. Atkins reconnected with Sue, a friend from 20 years prior, and the two instantly formed a new bond. In 2011, the couple tied the knot. Three years later, with the support of her spouse, Atkins left her full-time job to start ReBoot.

“My partner is everything,” Atkins said with a huge grin. “I never would have been able to do this without her. She said to me, ‘Do what you want to do. Follow your dream.’”

Atkins got to work. She tore down the shed attached to their Essex Jct. home and hired a contractor to build a fitness studio. 

For the next year, during the construction, she took on two clients, using an upstairs bedroom as a temporary training facility. In 2015, after seeing positive results, she took the ACE certification course and received her personal training certificate. In 2016, the doors to Atkins’ studio officially opened.

In just a year, Atkins has gained a loyal following of 20 clients, averaging up to three sessions per week. The clients range from 14 to 75 years old, with goals varying from building strength to increasing balance to eliminating health issues. She has seen dramatic changes in her clients ranging from weight loss, improved muscle strength and elimination of vertigo symptoms and medications.

Atkins isn’t just a trainer. She excels in building personal connections and credits her grandmother with giving her this gift.

“My grandmother showed me the nurturing side,” Atkins said. “She would give me individual time. That’s why I can connect with people.”

She sat back in her Adirondack chair and got misty-eyed recalling the changes she’s seen in her youngest client.

“I train a 14-year-old boy who had low self-esteem,” Atkins said. “He didn’t want to go to school. He’s been coming for a year and has never missed a session. He is building muscle, and his confidence has changed. He breaks out and dances with me. He wasn’t that kind of kid when he first got here.”