Meredith (Casteel) and Justin Rongey met in 2008 at a local fitness center, where she worked the front desk and he was a client.
A common attraction and interest in physical fitness developed into a marriage. Now they both spend their days helping others get physically fit.
“A big part of our relationship is built around this (fitness),” Meredith expressed recently. “We both enjoy working out, competing and eating clean. It makes it so much easier when you are with someone that shares your love for it and understands the hard work and what it takes.”
Meredith works as a personal trainer at the Cleveland YMCA, while Justin was hired last September as an Early System Intervention specialist for Progressive Health, which is contracted by the new Volkswagon plant to work with their employees.
“All production new hires have 30 hours of mandatory physical conditioning they must do before starting to work on the line,” explained Justin, who developed the current program the team is using.
“New hires work with us for two hours a day, five days a week for three weeks,” he related. “After they complete the program then they are released to work. It’s part of Volkswagon’s plan to prevent workplace injuries.”
Along with the conditioning program, the Chattanooga plant’s workout facilities are open to all employees to use at their discretion.
“After the initial program we can also set up a maintenance plan for them if they wish,” Justin explained.
Meredith’s schedule is booked as well with between 20-30 “regulars,” plus helping others who come to the state-of-the-art fitness center at the local “Y.”
“I look at it (physical training) as an art form for the body,” she expressed. “A way to change someone’s form from A to B.”
“I love what I do. I want to help people by showing them the right way to lose weight or to gain muscle,” Meredith continued. “I want to educate them and train them to be able to do it on their own without me.”
“It gives you some extra motivation to have someone to work out with. She really knows how to push you to new limits,” remarked Amy Beavers, who trains with Meredith as well as helps Meredith with her own workouts.
“It’s fun to have someone to work out with. It gives you some accountability,” Beavers added.
“Meredith knows how to push each person on their own level and finds a way to help them individually,” chimed in Jennifer White. “She comes up with some workouts I haven’t heard of before and they work great.”
Along with taking dance classes for 12 years, Meredith also played volleyball at Walker Valley High School for coach Dan Jones before graduating in 2007.
“I didn’t take it (physical training) as serious as a should have before I met Justin,” Meredith explained. “Once I began to see the background behind fitness, I began to understand it better and loved it.”
Her passion continued after she went to work for a local bank, but it wasn’t fully satisfied until the opportunity to work at the YCMA came along.
“Training was all I talked about while I was working at the bank. Justin and I were in here (the ‘Y’) six days a week working out. When the position came open they asked me if I was interest. I jumped at the chance,” she related.
Meredith took her training to the extreme last fall when she took sixth place in the Tricky Jackson Classic in Kentucky.
“It’s not the muscle body building type of contest, but rather an overall fitness competition,” she explained. “It was tough. I had to stay on a strict diet and workout regiment for 17 weeks while getting ready for it, but I loved it. I hope to do another one in the spring.”
Justin was able to help his bride prepare for the event, having won the Greater Tennessee Valley wheelchair body building competition in 2008.
Whether it was football, basketball or baseball, Justin played competitive sports since he was just three-years-old. Born and raised in Ocoee, he play basketball and football for Polk County High School.
After graduating in 2004, he had been accepted to play football for Maryville College, but a car accident just 10 days before training camp was to begin severed his spine at T-10 and T-11.
Having his spine fused back together with a pair of 14-inch rods and a dozen screws “the size of his pinky” inserted, Justin was supposed to spend at least four months in the hospital but his desire and determination saw him get out in a little over seven weeks.
“The accident happened on July 24, 2004, and I got out of the hospital on Sept. 11,” he related.
His recovery took a setback the following year when a second surgery had to be performed after he had been too aggressive with his efforts.
“I was supposed to take four months to recover again but I was back on the field in three weeks and able to start lifting weights two to three months later.”
Justin did earn a collegiate athletic scholarship as the University of Alabama invited him to play on the Crimson Tide wheelchair basketball team.
“I had only played wheelchair basketball for about a month and a half when I got the offer. At the time there were only about 20 schools in the country that had wheelchair teams but now several more have added the sport,” he explained.
Along with earning his degree in exercise and physiology, plus a minor in nutrition while at Alabama, Justin is currently working on his master’s degree in education at Lee University. He hopes to have it completed by December.
“My dream is to coach football. I love the game and want to get back to coaching,” said Justin, who has worked as an assistant coach in both Alabama and Tennessee. “My heart and passion is coaching. It’s what has driven me. I know how important strength and conditioning is and how it can benefit a team.”
“I’m one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet and being in this (wheel)chair isn’t going to slow me down,” he added.
Justin is able to walk with leg braces now, which is something the doctors didn’t expect was possible.
“Balance is the big thing. It took me eight months to a year to really get my balance,” he explained.
“Watching him work is my No. 1 inspiration,” Meredith proclaimed. “He always wants to be the best and that drives me to want to be the best as well.”
The Rongeys drive and determination to excel is clearly evident in their faces and lifestyle, so much so the ringback tone on Meredith’s cell phone is the theme from “Rocky.”