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‘Always looking forward’: CEHS alumna finds her path in online fitness

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down gyms and cancelled in-person fitness classes, many individuals were left to wonder how they could maintain their fitness routines from the comfort of home.

Cummings and Houdyshell celebrate reaching the 100,000 subscriber milestone on YouTube

Cummings and Houdyshell celebrate reaching the 100,000 subscriber milestone on YouTube

CEHS alumna Sydney Cummings’ YouTube channel, which consists of library of daily home workouts for individuals of all skill levels, filled the personal fitness void left by the pandemic. And as the demand for home workouts grew, so did Cummings’ YouTube audience. In March 2021, Cummings’ subscriber count reached 1 million.

“The pandemic was something no one expected. We never thought that we wouldn’t be able to go to the gym,” Cummings said. “It’s been a huge blessing to be there for people during this time.” 

Cummings, a 2013 WVU graduate and former track and field athlete, never considered a personal training career. She entered WVU as a nursing student but changed her major to child development and family studies with the intention of pursuing a career as a child life specialist. After graduation, Cummings started a job at a non-profit and chose to return to nursing school while working full-time.

When Cummings was laid off from her job, she decided to move to Charlotte, North Carolina for the summer to spend time with her boyfriend, Dustin Houdyshell, also a WVU graduate. Houdyshell had moved to Charlotte to pursue a banking career and had mentioned Cummings’ track and field successes to the owner of the gym where he worked out.

The gym owner told Houdyshell that he would hire Cummings on the spot as a trainer. What started as Cummings’ summer job turned into a lifelong passion, and she decided to stay in Charlotte rather than return to nursing school.

“I fell in love with the industry, and it definitely wasn’t for the money. I hardly made any money at first, but I felt like I was coming into my full potential,” Cummings said. "As an athlete, I had always been coached, taught, encouraged, and believed in. And now, I was able to do that for someone else. It was everything I’d ever wanted to do, but I just didn’t know that it was possible.”

Though her enthusiasm for personal training was strong, Cummings’ success did not happen overnight. She worked tirelessly to build a client base to sustain her personal training career by offering her services at five different gyms, training people in their homes, and hosting free bootcamps at a local park.

Ultimately, Cummings started her fitness brand, Royal Change, with Houdyshell’s support. The brand’s name comes from the concept that when individuals implement fitness and self-care into their routines, they begin to feel like royalty.

“I established my brand after two years of investing all my energy in fitness,” Cummings said. “It sounds easy because it seems fun, but it’s tough. It’s a career and a business that I really had to work to build.”

As Royal Change grew, Cummings persevered through multiple personal tragedies. Cummings’ only brother, Zac, passed away unexpectedly after an ATV accident in 2017. Less than a year later, Cummings was shot in an armed robbery as she and Houdyshell were leaving their Charlotte studio. She sustained a bullet wound to her foot that prevented her from filming new workouts for months.

After losing her brother, Cummings began to consider the legacy she wanted to leave in the world. Though she now had a full book of personal training clients, she wanted to reach more people through digital platforms and began her journey as a content creator on YouTube.

“The mission for me after my brother passed away was so much more powerful,” Cummings said. “Looking forward, I want to honor him through the impact I make.”

Today, Cummings manages Royal Change and her thriving YouTube channel alongside her now-fiancé, Houdyshell. Though Cummings does not work in a field directly related to child development and family studies, she has drawn upon her education throughout her journey as a content creator and business owner.

“I’ve taken a little bit from all of my courses. Knowing that my core demographic is women 18 to 35 years old, my courses in family dynamics have helped me understand what it takes for those women to get to my workouts,” Cummings said. “Most of them have full-time jobs. They are also balancing families and are caring for kids all day.”

In addition to understanding her audience, Cummings has relied upon her courses in psychology and communication for guidance on managing her business.

“As a business owner, it’s important to understand how people think and how they operate together,” Cummings said. “I can see now how I’ve been able to apply those concepts to so many areas of my life.”

Most of all, Cummings credits her training as an athlete for her ability to persevere in the face of hardship.

“There have been a lot of tough times in my life over the past six years, and people often ask me how I kept going,” Cummings said. “As an athlete and as a Mountaineer, I was always looking forward. In my mind, giving up wasn’t even an option.”