Fit for life: Boot camp instructor Ashley Dawson


Heardmont Park boot camp instructor Ashley Dawson prepares for the Ragner Race; her team placed first among the women’s teams. Photo courtesy of Ashley Dawson.

Only once has Ashley Dawson canceled her outdoor boot camp class at Heardmont Park. That was during the infamous April tornadoes.

“It doesn’t matter what people’s (fitness) levels are; I can push them to do more, and they do that every class,” she said.

Some students in her class come off the couch and others are avid marathon runners, but all come together for the same hour-long cardio, weight and core workout.

The goal of Extreme Fit Boot Camps, according to Dawson, is to strengthen the heart.

“What it did for me was to take me to a level of fitness that I didn’t know I had,” she said. And that drive and desire is what she now wants to impart to her students.

“A girl came three weeks ago and couldn’t make it once around the track, but today she ran a mile without stopping,” said Dawson. That’s just one example of how the Boot Camps work.

Dawson first started attending the boot camp as she was experiencing setbacks that led to closing Paper Dolls, a stationery and gift shop she owned.

“I fell in love with the drive and encouragement I experienced there,” she said. “And that’s what I feel I do with my classes.”

Dawson sees people come into the boot camps with a desire to change more than their physical bodies. The camaraderie and encouragement they receive from the group helps them through difficult times.

Boot camp isn’t the only thing that keeps Dawson running, literally. The intense workouts and drive she experienced at boot camp led her to participate in the Ragnar Race, a 200-mile route from Chattanooga to Nashville, Tenn., where her team placed first in the all-women’s division.

“My students inspired me to try it,” she said. “They inspire me every day because I see their progress and how they reach their goals every day.”

Dawson’s love of cooking helps her students understand healthy eating, and they trade recipes on a daily basis.

She never stops giving encouragement and life advice to the people all around her, not only as a boot camp instructor but also as a mother of three girls, member of Asbury United Methodist Church and a friend. And she is fastidious about cleaning just like fitness; for her, a fun day consists of cleaning out closets.

Dawson is also the new conditioning coach for the girls’ lacrosse team at Spain Park High on which her daughter, Anne, 16, plays. She is also working to re-open her Paper Dolls business online.

Still, boot camp will always be her passion.

“It opened my heart and mind and my soul at the right place, at the right time,” she said. “People have told me that God put me in their life. Well, I can do so much more; that’s what I do with everything in my life.”

For more information about Extreme Fit Boot Camps, visit Dawson’s classes meet at Heardmont Park on Monday and Wednesday at 7 a.m. and Tuesday and Thursday at 8:30 a.m. For more information about her Paper Dolls online store, visit


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