When Jim Steffen arrived on University of Findlay’s campus as an 18-year old freshman, he had no idea how much he would grow and change as a result. Normally, when one speaks of how they grew through their college years, they refer to their intellect and career knowledge. Steffen certainly expanded his brain power as a result of his stint as an Oiler. It was, however, his change in attitude toward physical fitness and his resulting physique that has remained the most immediately recognizable change that sprung from his post-secondary education.
Steffen said his time and education at UF definitely assisted in helping him figure out who and what he wanted to be. His initial plan was to be a physical education teacher, but, he explained, after he spent some time observing classes and the other forms of experiential learning that go along with a UF path toward graduation, he decided that that wasn’t the path he should be on. “I was taking exercise physiology, anatomy, biomechanics, and the nutrition courses,” he said, “and that was really cool. I realized, ‘Hey, I’m studying what I really want to do. I want to work in a gym, not be a teacher.’”
Another interesting occurrence happened shortly after his arrival that helped him to clearly see the value of working on and for a team – something he regularly praises as a benefit of the environment of the XT Fitness gym he currently operates in Findlay. Steffen, who started on the varsity basketball team at Findlay High School, was approached by then-men’s head basketball coach at UF, Ron Niekamp, during his second semester. Niekamp knew that Steffen had had a largely successful basketball career at FHS, and could see him being an asset to the Oiler squad at the time. “So, I practiced with the team for the rest of that year, and the next year, I was playing college basketball for Findlay,” Steffen explained. “That really did teach me a lot about how to physically work with other people.”
Upon graduating with a physical education degree, Steffen began to realize the challenges facing physically unfit individuals. He worked for a local gym for a few months, but soon caught the restless, “I-need-to-go-somewhere-and-find-myself” bug. He moved to Chicago for a bit, then to San Diego, learning more and more about personal training along the way, and, after a few years, returned to Findlay to start a personal fitness business of his own. “I opened a private training studio in the two-car garage behind this little house I bought in Findlay,” he said. “One of the things I learned in my travels was that these little private training studios were big business.” He had made a bit of a name for himself by training a couple of high school kids and working at the Findlay Health and Racquet Club during college. “I had right around six members in that two-car garage!” he said.
Now, the man who has become “America’s Fun Fitness Coach” has delivered numerous motivational presentations to many primary, middle, and high schools, colleges, corporations, military facilities, sports teams, organizations, and churches; he has appeared on Live! With Regis and Kelly, The Jay Leno Show, and ESPN SportsNation, is a two-time competitor on the popular fitness challenge American Ninja Warrior, and was recently named a 2019 UF Distinguished Alumni. He also has over 200 members at XT Fitness, a far cry from the two-car garage of years ago. He said that he has UF to thank, in part, for his success.
“I didn’t just learn from the classwork at UF,” he said. “I learned how to take care of people. I learned accountability. I learned structure and balance – how to work hard, but have a good time doing it. I’m very grateful for my time there, and will always be an Oiler.”