Leading The Way
After Surviving a Life of Turmoil, Tina Fraley is Helping Others to be Their Best Selves
By Lisa Gregory
As a little girl Tina Fraley feared the silence. Not her mother crying or the furniture crashing, as her mother fought with Tina’s stepfather. But the silence.
“Because if I could hear my mom crying at least I knew she was alive,” recalls Fraley, who at 6 years old remembers hiding under the bed in her room with her 5-year-old brother as her parents fought. “My step-father was verbally and physically abusive. There was lots of alcoholism and drug abuse surrounding me.” Adding, “My upbringing was very dysfunctional.”
From childhood into early adulthood Fraley lived in the shadow of substance abuse, mental illness, and domestic abuse. And yet despite the obstacles she has faced throughout her life she is a survivor. And the lessons she has learned along the way she now wants to share with others.
“You have a hand of cards you’re dealt,” she says, “and you get to choose how you’re going to play them. You get to choose who you connect with. You get to choose how you want to live or how you want to survive.”
Fraley, who grew up in Middletown and has lived in Hagerstown for the past 17 years, is the author of the book, Broken Road to Badass: Release the Pain and Stand in Your Power, a motivational speaker, a certified personal trainer, and a community counselor with more than 20 years of experience in the mental health field. Having lost over 150 pounds herself, she is the owner of Power House Studio and the founder of her own business FitMinded Living.
“I’m helping thousands of men and women build a practice of wellbeing that is sustainable,” she says.
But Fraley will be the first to tell you it has been a long and often painful journey getting there.
Her mother suffered from depression. “When we left home for school, she would be in bed and when we returned home, she would be getting up,” says Fraley, who was the oldest of three children including a sister who passed away three years ago from a drug overdose.
Fraley found her refuge outside her home and at school. “My bus driver was my savior,” she says. “She picked me up on the bus and took me away from it all. And at the same time, she was also my worst moment in the day because she was then the one that dropped me off back to it.”
Fraley dove into all that school had to offer her. She was an honor roll student who loved to write and sing. But “I was a very angry child and a very angry teenager,” she says.
Following a physical altercation with her mother Fraley, who was 16 at the time, left home. “I went to my guidance counselor and told her what had happened at home and begged her to help me find a place to go because I couldn’t go back in the house,” she recalls.
She went into foster care living with the family of a friend from school. And it was during this time that she reached out to her biological father who had left home when she was 4 years old. “I wanted to know more about my dad,” she says.
Her father was living in New Mexico and with the help of 411 Fraley began to search for him.
“I asked for all of the individuals with my last name in the state of New Mexico,” she says. “I called every single one. Every single day I’d call a new one waiting on the other end and hoping that I would recognize his voice.”
Until one day she did—17 calls later. “And he said, ‘Tina, it’s okay,’” says Fraley. “‘I knew you would find me.’”
As she finished up high school, she wanted to experience freedom without the worries of her life at home. “I wanted to do what the other kids were doing,” she says. “Instead of just my studies.”
At 17 she made the decision to skip school one day. The first and only time she ever did so. And with tragic consequences “I was going to go to a party with my boyfriend at the time,” she recalls.
They never made it.
“It was raining, torrential rains, and the roads were really hard to see,” she says. “There was a turn in the road. It turned right. But our car went left and went sailing off the embankment and clipped the top four feet of a telephone pole and hit and rolled and hit and rolled. We landed upside down in someone’s yard.”
The jaws of life were used to extract Fraley from the vehicle, and she was flown to Shock Trauma with a fractured vertebrae and fractured jaw, among other injuries.
Her recovery took months. Once better she returned to school to finish her senior year, all the while looking ahead to her future. She considered the Air Force but due to her injuries from the accident was not eligible.
However, “I had always wanted to go to college,” she says. With the help of a guidance counselor, she applied to Shepherd University and Hood College receiving full academic scholarships from both of them. Fraley chose Shepherd. “I was elated,” she says.
But freedom proved to be too tantalizing once again. “I joined a club at the school and the club was doing an off-campus field trip to Louisville, Kentucky,” says Fraley. “It was my big first adult field trip. And so, I went on the field trip and went to the bar and wound up with alcohol poisoning and went to the hospital. And the dean drove from Shepherdstown to Louisville, Kentucky. And I had a very long quiet ride back.”
At the suggestion of the school, she withdrew from Shepherd University and decided to head to New Mexico. “To be with my dad,” she says.
Once in New Mexico, she met her first husband. The couple would go on to have five children together in nine years. But her husband liked to party, she says, and continued doing so even after the children began arriving. And much like what happened to her mother her husband began beating her. One night when she was pregnant with one of their children, he took a hammer and threatened her with it.
“He lunged at me, and I tried to catch myself and back up and I tripped,” she says. “I fell down. I’m on my back and then he is over top of me, and the hammer is at my forehead. And I’m like, ‘What are you doing? I have your baby inside of me.’”
Over time Fraley began to realize that she needed to get herself and her children away. And as she considered her options, she began to work at a substance abuse recovery center as a psych tech. “My job at the rehab was life changing and actually reaffirmed my drive and desire to go back to school and to want to learn more about being a counselor,” she says.
“But every night I went home to a husband who was an alcoholic.”
Then she came home one day to find her hus-band gone and her 4 and 5-year-old sons and 11-month-old daughter alone at home. “He had left to go to the store to buy beer,” she says. “I just remembered thinking that this does not have to be like this. Life can change. Life can be different.”
There was, in fact, hope on the horizon. As she realized her marriage was coming to an end, she had reconnected with a high school classmate, Heath Fraley. “I had found him on classmates.com,” she says.
The two met up when Fraley returned home for her great-uncle’s funeral. “We were sitting on his couch and the sun was coming up – we had talked all night,” says Fraley. “He says, ‘I promised myself if I ever saw you again, that I would tell you this. I love you, and I have loved you.’ And my jaw is hitting the floor and my heart is following it.”
Fraley returned to New Mexico and continued to consider divorce. But there were still days she doubted herself. “I would think, It’s safer to just stay where I’m at. It’s safer to know who’s going to hit me and how and when.”
And when she did finally decide to divorce her first husband, she was not guaranteed the freedom she so craved for herself and her children. There was a contentious custody battle. But Heath was there for her and the children. He uprooted himself and moved to New Mexico to be with them taking a pay cut as he did so. “I couldn’t imagine my life without him,” says Fraley. “I’ve never trusted a person more in my life.”
She was finally granted full custody and allowed to leave the state when her ex-husband showed up with alcohol on his breath at a custody hearing. Fraley did not hesitate to hit the road. “There was fire on my car wheels because I don’t think anyone’s driven that fast across the country before,” she says.
Fraley drove straight to Heath’s home in Hagerstown. Once there he had a surprise for her. A minivan was sitting in the driveway, and it was all hers. ‘So, I would be able to drive the kids around,” she says. “Most girls get a ring. I got a van.”
And she couldn’t have been happier. “I knew that my life was finally going to be okay. I knew that I was going to get a chance to breathe and heal and grow and experience things that I had only dreamed of.”
They would go on to be married and have two children of their own. And Fraley began to revisit her earlier dream of a college education, receiving a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in community health.
But furthering her education was not the only journey she would take. “I had always been a chunky kid,” she says. After having seven children and the stresses of her life, Fraley found herself weighing 287 pounds and wearing a size 26.
With Heath by her side and encouraging her all the way, Fraley went about exercising and changing her eating habits. “Food was very much my comfort,” she says.
She lost 50 pounds. But then she gained 40 of it back. So, she tried again.
“One day during a workout, “I just started crying,” she says. “I’m like, why is this still hard? I am trying to be better. I am trying to be kinder to my body. I’m trying to understand all of this stuff all at the same time. And it’s not easy. Living a life where you cared about yourself was supposed to be easier. I thought to myself then. I’m going to figure this out. And it just kept going from there.” Adding, “I started researching and I started sharing and asking questions.”
This time she lost over 150 pounds and went down to a size six in a year and a half. She had come to a reckoning. And she wanted to share it with others. First, Fraley created an online private FB community. “We would check in with each other and share recipes,” she says.
She would go on to receive her certifi-cation as a personal trainer and combine her skills in counseling with what she had learned through personal training. In 2019 she developed Your Power House Online, a virtual boutique gym and well-being studio. She also has a brick-and-mortar Power House Studio, which provides both online and in-person options. According to Fraley, she has more than 243 members in her closed group and 42 full-time training clients. But she doesn’t stop there.
“We work with businesses in the community to help them have offerings of health and wellness,” she says. “For example, the Department of Social Services has come to our facility, and we do a group where it’s compassion fatigue training from a licensed counselor in that area.”
Fraley’s mission involves the whole human experience – mind, body, and soul – from healthy eating to yoga.
“We have a responsibility and an opportunity to show up in our lives and live more effectively,” she says. “And that’s going to be a different story for every single one of us. We all wake up at a different point in that story and we all put a different meaning to it, but we are all responsible for what we do with it when we do. And that’s what makes the changes. That’s what brings you back to life.”
That is the miracle of allowing the little girl who feared the silence to find her voice and inspire others.