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Trey Chaney’s Ministry of Love and Fitness, After Prison Stint

By Sym Posey
The Birmingham Times

What began as an idea while doing time in a federal prison has quickly turned into a growing number of fitness centers and a ministry for one Birmingham-area resident.

Manuel “Trey” Chaney III is the owner of and senior fitness instructor/trainer for the I Am Love Fitness Training Center in Irondale, Alabama—a facility that caters to all ages and offers a full suite of rehabilitation and recovery services. Among the staff, which includes an on-site massage therapist, are specialists in circuit training, cross training, boxing, cardio training, personal training, and more.

Going into a new year, Chaney encourages people to “make a plan that’s attainable, make a lifestyle goal change.”

“You didn’t gain all your weight in one day, and it’s not going to go away in one day. Goal setting is the key,” he added. “[At I Am Love, we help each client] set an attainable goal and then we see how far we go in this day, then this week, then this month. By the time we do that, [the client can see] the weight coming off. It doesn’t matter that someone is a beginner or advanced—make an attainable plan.”

Fitness Foundation

Chaney, 39, grew up in Birmingham, around the Ensley and Irondale areas. He is the youngest of three siblings and the only boy.

“[Even to this day, my] older sisters try to make me feel like I’m still a baby, but I try to let them know I am not a child anymore,” he said.

Throughout his childhood, Chaney played little league baseball, basketball, and football.

“I found out at an early age that I was really good at athletics, and my parents always pushed me into sports,” he said.

An alum of Shades Valley High School, Chaney played football for the Mounties. He then earned a scholarship to play football at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

During his four years in college, he was awarded the Most Valuable Offensive Back trophy in 2003 and broke the freshman record for most carries in a game. Prior to graduating from UAB, he suffered a torn meniscus (a common knee injury, particularly among athletes, that can cause intense pain and result in instability of the joint) and did not pursue a professional career in football—but he did earn a dual degree in kinesiology and exercise science.

Post-graduation, Chaney found himself working a few odd jobs until he was incarcerated at Federal Prison Camp (FPC) Montgomery from 2013 until 2018; he “pleaded guilty to one count of financial access-device fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft,” according to an article in AL.com. One year into his sentence, he began to contemplate his release and what he might do afterward in what he calls a “when he gets out” (WHGO) moment.

“I had a lot of time to digest what I wanted to do when I got out,” Chaney said, adding that most of his time behind bars was occupied by going back to his “roots”—athletics and training.

“I started training strong,” he added. “I would train 200 to 300 guys on the yard. I trained and worked on my plan. The word of God, [in Habakkuk 2:2 (King James Version)], says we are to ‘write [the vision], and make it plain,’ so that is what I did.”

Also during his incarceration, Chaney recertified as a personal trainer and fitness instructor through the National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT).

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“Hit the Ground Running”

When Chaney was released in 2018, he hit the ground running. He again renewed his license to train and trained at different facilities for one complete year.

“When I first got out, I was training at different gyms,” he said. “I would go to the owners and ask how I could get clients. … At the same time, I had saved up [some money] and leased a building.”

Chaney, who had amassed a significant number of clients, opened his first gym in Irondale.

“The people I rented from gave me three months to set the place up. My dad and I went in and painted and did a lot of things on our own,” he recalled. “When we first opened, [the facility] was old, the carpet was stained, and I didn’t have much equipment, so I started [reaching out to] people on Facebook Marketplace. I remember that one woman had some equipment and said I could have it all if I could just come get it.”

Asked how he came up with the name for his gym, Chaney said, “[In the Bible, in Exodus, chapter 3], God told Moses to go to pharaoh and tell him, ‘Let my people go.’ Moses then asked who he should say sent him, and God said, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ In other words, I can be your provider, your healer, your provider. … [At I Am Love], whatever you need us to be, we will be there for you.”

He continued, “I Am Love is literally God’s love of fitness, and I Am Love [is a] ministry. It doesn’t just come down to training. If anybody knows anything about working out or training, you can only go where your mind has already been, and we try to change your mindset. We want you to get to a place where your mind can follow.”

“Ministry Side of Fitness”

Chaney has served as a team ministry leader at Birmingham’s New Rising Star Church, also known as “THE STAR,” since November 2020, and he feels like he can use his gym to reach people.

“’I Am Love is [more than] a training and rehabilitation center,” he said. “My mindset has always been to not just look at people from a physical standpoint but to figure out how I can help them be a better person and lead them to Christ. … Most people that come and train aren’t just dealing with a physical issue. Something led to their physical body getting out of shape. We see fitness as a stress reliver, and we figured that out, so we started the ministry side of fitness.”

Chaney feels like he has always been someone people could look toward for hope.

“[I want to] let people know, ‘You are not an outcast,’” he said. “Here on Earth, we tend to [count people out]. … I’ve seen both sides. I understand what some [people] may be going or have gone through. … I believe that, regardless of what someone does, there is a way that we can bring God into their life. He is a way maker and can make it happen for whoever.

“That’s why I started I Am Love—that’s why I ‘m passionate about it and why I want it on every corner. I want people to come not just to a place where they can train but to a place where people are going to love on them, put their arms around them, and let them know it is going to be OK.”

I Am Love Fitness is continuing its growth, serving as a catalyst to push people into a better place and help them thrive. At the beginning of October, I Am Love Fitness opened its second Birmingham location, which is complete with a basketball court gym.

Chaney has found multiple ways to give back to his community.

“I had a lady come in at 370 pounds, and over the last year she has gotten down to 240. We’ve changed her mindset,” he said. “She [also] had a son who was going through a situation, so we went to court and spoke on his behalf. … I literally saw the judge cancel almost eight felonies and give this young man a second chance. I know God is working through this gym and this ministry.”

He also often participates in speaking engagements and community events.

“It’s not just good luck. I am working the plan that God and I put together while I was locked up. It’s coming up faster than I thought, but I am not mad at it,” said Chaney.

To learn more about the I Am Love Fitness Training Center, visit them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/IAmLoveRehabandRecovery) or Instagram (www.instagram.com/iamlovefitnessirondale), or check out their website: iamlovefitness.com.