Burke Cleland is a respected personal trainer and a successful entrepreneur from Ottawa – Canada.  What some of his clients don’t know is that having a healthy lifestyle wasn’t always Burke’s reality. Read his success story of overcoming challenges and insecurities.

As a child, Burke always had an excitable energy. During his school years, he did not like to sit behind a desk. He prefered gym classes and recess, mainly because he had the chance to release some of his energy freely. Burke also preferred individual sports over team sports, as he could play at his own pace.

“To be honest, I was not good at sports but I just really liked to play.”

What teachers didn’t know was that he had a hearing problem. So, growing up Burke did not have the vocabulary to express what he wanted to say. The teachers simply assumed that he had attention deficit disorder.

“I wasn’t interested in what the teachers had to say because I couldn’t hear anything, so you can only imagine how bored a kid could be.”

Burke was placed in special education, which had an effect on his self-image and how others saw him. In the 1980s,  special education was not particularly inclusive and the whole school system did not nurture individual abilities through different ways of learning.

“Because I was not good at sports and I didn’t feel as “smart” as everyone else in the classroom, I had a big problem with my self-confidence.”

As he grew older he became overweight, which made him even more self-conscious about his identity. At that point, he didn’t know how he would be able to change anything.

 “We didn’t really understand what good nutrition was back then.”

Turning point

When Burke was 13 he went on a camping trip. When he returned, he was amazed about how much weight he had lost, just by walking and being active. That made him feel good and motivated.

 “Then I thought: well, if I exercise, things might change… I started getting more friends at that time too.”

In high school, he became even more conscious of his weight and started being aware of what he was eating.

“I would read the labels on various food products and tried to avoid eating fat as much as I could. This was my first memory of trying to eat better to lose weight”

There were big changes happening with Burke, and it came the time that he had to decide what career he should pursue. He was not sure about what he wanted to study, and for some reason, he decided to go to college for a business degree. In the meantime, he got a job in a warehouse and started lifting weights. At work, Burke met people with a similar mindset. He had a little crew of friends that used to go to the gym together.

 “It was just really fun to go to the gym because there was a sense of community and friendship. We understood each other.”

Burke’s main interests at the time were to exercise and focus on eating the right food in order to make his body more muscular. He could talk about fitness and nutrition all the time.

One day at work, one of his colleagues told him: “You talk about food and working out so much, it is sickening. If you like it this much, why don’t you quit your job and go work for a gym or something?”

That comment gave him a moment of clarity, and Burke had an insight on what he should do in the future. Two weeks after this incident, he switched his college degree in business for a degree in ‘Fitness and lifestyle management’ at Algonquin College.

Through this journey, he met very interesting people, including a qualified surgeon from Jordan who had moved to Canada with his family. They met in the program at Algonquin, and the surgeon became a  big support to Burke, helping him to understand the different nuances of human anatomy. The life story of the Jordanian surgeon also became an inspiration to Burke. (Read Burke’s testimonial on Dr. SK Zabaneh).

Eventually after graduating,  Burke quit his job at the warehouse and started working in a gym.

Personal trainer and business

While working as a instructor for a gym, there were aspects of the business that were conflicting with Burke´s personal values. There was a big emphasis on sales over the wellbeing of clients. After some reflection Burke decided it was time to take control of how he should work.

“I decided to start my own business, and it felt liberating and exciting at the same time… It also felt that I had a career. In that moment, I realised that I got something that I thought I wouldn’t be able to achieve before.”


Ever since the business started, Burke has been constantly updating his education and evolving towards a holistic approach to fitness. His speciality is Healthy Lifestyle Management. This includes Exercise, Nutrition, Coaching, Fat Loss and Injury Recovery/Prevention.

Not alone


Stella, Burke´s wife, has been a support system since the beginning, when the idea of the business came up. Burke believes that Stella´s personality has complimented him on different levels.

“Stella is logical, but most importantly, she is authentic. It was simple; she believed in me, and she was willing to share our life with my business. That was encouraging, and it reassured me that the decision was right.”

Ever since the business started the family got bigger and today Burke´s career reflects his lifestyle. His business is an extension of their home.

Social responsibility


As a father of two Burke feels the weight of responsibility, not only with his children but also towards the community. He is an active member in the parent council in his children’s school where he focuses on matters of health and fitness.

“I believe that the sense of community is not limited to one particular school. It is a good start.”


Recently, Burke has started thinking about other ways to contribute to his community.

“I have just started volunteering as a boxing and conditioning instructor for people with Parkinson’s. It has been very satisfying to be able to share my love of exercise with people who struggle with movement.”

Relationship with clients – building trust


Burke is a kind person. He genuinely gets satisfaction from enabling people to achieve their goals. He understands the experience of pushing through insecurities, and that is how he can empathize with the challenges of his clients.

Today, Burke feels that he is becoming the role model he would like to be.

“More than a personal trainer, I aspire to be a role model.”

“Today,  I like to teach but I also like to be taught. I have learned how to be flexible and adapt to the needs and limitations of my clients. I cherish their effort, and I tend to focus on their potential.”


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Paulo de Tarso F. Silva

Story mediator and founder of Metaphora

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