Home Fairfield Norwalk’s Damien Vega U-turns his life into fitness entrepreneurship

Norwalk’s Damien Vega U-turns his life into fitness entrepreneurship

Damien Vega
Damien Vega. Photo by Phil Hall

Two years ago, Damien Vega was 22 years old and in a rut. A high school athlete who planned on a sports career, he injured his shoulder playing football at Wesleyan University and, while recovering, opted not to pursue college athletics. Switching to Quinnipiac University to pursue a health sciences career, he realized that his heart wasn’t in the subject. Dropping out of school, he was at a loss in identifying his career goals.

“I was doing maintenance work outdoors at a golf course and slaving pretty hard, working long days,” he recalled. “I would get out of work and go to the gym for two or three hours.”

For Vega, the lemons-into-lemonade moment came when he least expected it: in the middle of a gym workout. “I was like, ‘I could make money doing this for a living by training people’ — I would be happy and be fulfilled,” he said.

Vega pursued and received certification by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and created Vega Athletics, a Norwalk-based personal training and wellness consulting business. He credited his parents with helping to attract his initial wave of clients.

“My parents know a lot of people in Norwalk, so they were speaking about me,” he said, adding that he began to aggressively tap into social media marketing to attract wider attention. “Posting daily on Facebook and Instagram helped spread the word. It’s all free marketing. It’s amazing what you can do with it.”

Vega initially based himself at a commercial gym in Norwalk, but quickly determined that a single location limited his customer base. Switching to in-home one-on-one consulting, he expanded his focus to other towns.

“I have such a range of clients,” he said. “I train a 7-year-old boy who wants to get into boxing and I train a 60-year-old woman who wants to tone up and lose weight. I also train a college athlete who is on the football team of the University of New Haven. I bring the exercise mat, bands, kettle bells, dumbbells and other equipment to the clients — I am a traveling gym.”

Vega’s training endeavors are also centered at Norwalk’s Brien McMahon High School, where he is responsible for the strength and conditioning programs for the football and lacrosse teams during their off-season months, and at Norwalk’s Autumn Lake Healthcare, where he leads a group exercise program. Vega noted that many clients often dive into training programs expecting too much too soon.

“The most common mistake would be to set the bar too high in the beginning,” he explained. “People could say, ‘Oh, I’m going to lose 50 pounds,’ but two or three weeks down the road they don’t even see a pound gone. I say to them, ‘Look, it’s going to take at least four weeks of consistent work to make sure every meal is right and you’re hitting the gym four or five days a week doing what you’re supposed to do, and that’s when you start to see the change. If you set that bar too high, you get discouraged.’ And a lot of times, though, people throw in the towel and call it quits. You want to start with a small goal — something very, very small that you can achieve — and use that to give you the energy you need in the beginning, which is the hardest part.”

Vega noted that there is a glut of theories on the nutrition aspect of physical training and wellness regimens, and he stressed a holistic approach to diet by noting how “everyone’s body is different and everyone is going to react differently to certain foods.” Vega places more emphasis on the scheduling of meal intakes.

“What I try to preach and what I instill in my lifestyle is eating instinctively and intuitively,” he said. “I basically listen to my body — if my body tells me I am hungry, I am going to eat. But if I am getting up and I don’t feel like putting any food in my system, I’m not going to do it. I am also a firm believer in intermittent fasting, which has amazing benefits on your digestive system. It slows down aging.”

If there were items he would limit on the menu, it would be dairy products. “They have a huge inflammatory response on our system,” he warned. As for red meat, he recommends it only once a week for athletes in training and once every other week for those enjoying a more casual lifestyle. One ingredient Vega incorporates into his training is meditation.

“Meditation gives your body the ability to detach yourself from your mind and find the other elements to you that exist,” he said. “And it is relaxing. If you have stress throughout your day, meditation allows you to let go and focus on what you’re grateful for.”

Vega is welcoming the return of warmer weather by hosting outdoor exercise boot camps at Flax Hill Park and Shady Beach in Norwalk. Looking to 2020, Vega is aiming to bring on an assistant and he hopes to expand his reputation to the point that he can create a franchise network.

“I would like to start a chain in New England and then branch out,” he said.

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