Culpeper trainer dedicates 50 years to helping others get fit


She giggles with delight as her little fist presses the ADA button on the wall which automatically opens the door to the aquatic arena at the Powell Wellness Center in Culpeper.

Each step, taken with care and precaution, is meticulously measured and deliberate. It is an approach that reveals the challenges of extreme physical and mental disabilities.

She struggles mightily down the gently sloping double-barred ramp that leads to the calming waters of the river walk.

Once fully immersed, this young woman with special needs is guided by a warm and tender voice, defining encouragement and compassion.

It is the voice of an angel.

An angel wearing a jumpsuit, instead of wings.

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Sharon Steele is a Powell personal trainer and has dedicated half a century of her life to being there for others. Like their angel.

When it started, Richard Nixon was president, gasoline was 35 cents a gallon, eggs 62 cents a dozen, a pound of sugar 12 cents, a first class stamp 6 cents, a new house $40,000 – and for two thousand dollars, you could drive a new car from the lot.

The Philadelphia native’s call came in North Carolina.

“I belonged to the Lady Spa in Winston-Salem, and the manager asked me if I wanted to teach a floor calisthenics class for a free membership,” Steele told the Culpeper Star-Exponent. “Small clubs were just getting into group fitness classes.”

Steele’s free membership gave the quintessential gym rat time to observe first-hand the lasting impact a personal trainer can have on those clamoring for physical lifelines.

People like Donna DeAngelis, 74, of Culpeper.

“I’m Sharon Steele’s first pre-surgical client for her ‘prehab’ program, and that made me a very lucky woman,” DeAngelis said. “I have osteoarthritis and I had to undergo knee surgery. I had eight personal preparation sessions with Sharon in the pool prior to my surgery on August 2, 2021.”

“I was ready!” DeAngelis exclaimed. “I was up and walking with a walker the day of the operation. I only spent one night in the hospital. When I got home I only used the walker for two days before my home physical therapist released me to use a cane. Less than a week after the operation, I’m hanging laundry on my lines! All of my health care providers are amazed at how well I am doing.

Steele’s trip to Culpeper was peppered with a wealth of glowing anecdotal revelations from those who receive a loving, caring and passionate healthcare advocate.

“For all of my students and clients, I love seeing them get healthy again,” Steele said.

It’s deja vu again wherever she stows her wetsuit – or stopwatch, exercise mat, kitbag, whistle, pool noodles, step platform, resistance bands, stability ball, client notebook or any other tool of his long and rich career.

Steele changed countless lives at clubs, YMCAs, hospitals and community centers in Winston-Salem, NC; Rockville, Maryland; Fairfax and Reston, Virginia; Houston, TX; and, here in Culpeper for the past 25 years – 15 at the Powell Wellness Center as a senior trainer, having served since the facility’s doors opened.

Houston had a problem: there was only one Sharon Steele to go around.

While in Texas, the University of Houston graduate even used her degree in kinesiology (the mechanics of movement and its impact on health and well-being) to motivate the NFL Houston Oilers to step up aerobic training on platform. (Apparently Steele got them into such good shape that in 1996 they marched to Nashville where they later became the Tennessee Titans!)

Steele was also a personal trainer for actors portraying knights at Medieval Times, a national family dinner theater experience featuring medieval-style games, sword fights and jousting.

It was his Knight in Shining Armor, aka his father, who instilled in Steele a love of sport.

“My father was always my inspiration and encouraged me,” she said. “He played minor league baseball for the Johnson City Cardinals, a St. Louis Cardinals farm team. Sport and fitness have always been part of my life.

Here in Culpeper, she is the GOAT: the greatest of all time.

Take it from Whitney Propps, Powell’s medical and fitness program manager, who said, “Experience and reliability! Sharon can talk to anyone about anything and make them feel comfortable and welcome.

“The job we are in can be challenging but also very rewarding,” added Propps. “Sharon has seen all the specters of this industry and has really found a niche at Powell with medical fitness. When you believe in the work you do the way Sharon does, bad days are rare.”

Propps said many people dabble in the fitness world, but few get into it and stay in it long term. But Steele, Propps said, has found something that “excites her,” and that makes her very successful.

“That positive attitude radiates into a classroom,” Propps said. “Not many people want to come to train – they do it because they know they should. When you have someone like Sharon waiting to introduce you and you know she’ll bring her an “A” game, it’s easier to walk through the doors.

“It’s hard to find professional instructors who give their all every time they come,” Propps said. “Without a doubt, Sharon walks through the door with the same person every day, making her a staple at our establishment.”

At Powell, Steele specializes in classes that support strength, cardio and joint health, balance and mobility for healthy living, according to Karen Boushie, communications and social media specialist at the Culpeper Wellness Foundation.

“She is certified for AquaStretch, an individual assisted stretching and myofascial release technique that uses weighted resistance in shallow water,” Boushie explained.

“AquaStretch frees the body from restrictions that limit flexibility; these restrictions can be the cause of pain or discomfort in movement,” she continued. “She is also certified for pre-habilitation training (PreHab), which helps a person prepare for the stress of surgery and can promote faster recovery. AquaStretch and PreHab are open to the public.

The Powell Wellness Center is one of only two certified facilities in Virginia, Boushie said.

“As a certified facility, PWC offers the professional expertise and programming needed to safely and effectively help people, regardless of their current medical condition, develop and maintain an active lifestyle that minimizes disease risk and promotes health and well-being,” she said. adding: “Sharon embodies this mission through her classes and training.”

“Sharon also works as an instructor in the pool for our Fitscripts program – and like a wonderful broken record – every time I have the chance to speak to someone who completes the program there are nothing but rave reviews on his knowledge and skills,” says Props. “This particular program is for people who have health issues or concerns or who have really never exercised in their life, but now their doctor says it would be beneficial.”

Steele, a hugely popular and oft-requested trainer, is dedicated to keeping up to date with health trends to provide her clients with the safe, reliable results they seek.

“Sharon has a way of making people feel like they were born to exercise even if it’s something they don’t start until they’re 80,” Propps concluded.

Both angel… and miracle worker!

Davy Meister, Culpeper resident, retired teacher, is a former military and civilian journalist. Email him at

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