From all fours, Alison Egerton grimaces and says, “Whoa, doggie.” That’s what she always says when the going gets tough during the fitness classes she teaches at the Margaret Maddox Family YMCA on Gallatin Pike.
Kicking a leg behind her in a move meant to maximize the gluteus maximus, she says, “Y’all came here for results, right? If not, you don’t have to be here.” But then she smiles with a tenderness that belies any of her tough-girl talk, a tenderness that attracts dozens upon dozens of women and men of all ages to her sweat sessions each week. She’s been Margaret Maddox’s group fitness coordinator for nearly two years now, but her ties to Nashville YMCAs date back a couple of decades to her years as a struggling single mom.
Today the 37-year-old is a mother of three, long married to developer March Egerton — son of the late Southern journalist and author John Egerton and a 2013 East Nashvillian of the Year, a distinction he earned for his work revitalizing the buildings that house Bongo Java, Marché, Edley’s, Fat Bottom Brewery, and many more. Behind the scenes of many of these impressive restorations? Alison.
A muscular little powerhouse with a sandy-blonde ponytail and hazel eyes, Egerton is almost felt before she is seen — breezing in to teach a class at the YMCA or through Ugly Mugs, the East Nashville coffee shop belonging to her sister and brother-and-law and located in Walden, her husband’s first builtfrom- scratch project. March and Alison’s stories have been entwined for the past 17 years; she met him when scanning his card at the front desk of the Green Hills Y, and he later asked her for design advice on a house in Little Hollywood he was renovating. But this isn’t his story — it’s hers.
Born Alison Ellis, she moved to Nashville from Pensacola, Fla., with her mom and three siblings when she was in the eighth grade. Pregnant at 17, she gave birth to her first child, a son, when she was 18. “I was going to O’More College of Design to be an interior designer when the Y hired me,” Egerton says. “They let me work only nursery hours so I could bring [my son] on site with me. At first I cleaned machines, and then they trained me to be a wellness trainer.”
When the local YMCA leadership got wind that Egerton was behind on her utilities and other bills, barely making ends meet by floating checks, they did something simple and kind that has made her fiercely loyal all these years. “I came in to work one day and was told, ‘You have something in your mailbox that requires urgent attention; you need to clock in and put [your son] in the nursery,’” she recalls. “Inside my mailbox were copies of all of my bills and a stack of ones and fives and tens and twenties — the exact amount I owed. They said, ‘Go pay your bills and come back.’
“It was just what I needed to breathe,” she continues “I was drowning, and I came up for air and I made it. I knew from that point on that that place was special. Since then, in some form or another, I don’t think I’ve ever had a lapse of being involved with the YMCA.”
After working at the Green Hills Y and the now-shuttered Madison Y, Egerton came to the Maddox Y in 1996. At the time, there were roughly five group fitness classes a week. Now there are 100 — a testament both to a thriving East Nashville and to Egerton’s hard work. Though she’s always been interested in fitness, her own fitness evolution has unfolded most dramatically during her time at the Maddox Y, where she discovered Zumba and more recently, the benefits of Tabata-style, high-intensity interval training. Her biggest buzz, though, comes from seeing changes in those who come to her class.
“Even more than the physical part of it, exercise is good for our sleep and our longevity, and we’re better moms when we’ve built up a serotonin level that day,” Egerton explains. “Even if you don’t see a physical change, really what I want is for you to feel like you gave yourself an hour where you’re not doing for your boss or your husband or your mom or your children. I want you to feel accomplished in something that’s yours.”