Ray Day: The man behind the celebration

Ray Gardner
Ray Gardner leads a group of fit crew regulars. - Monica Simpson | Sun

It is not every day that someone is born that will impact just about every person they meet. Sept. 17, 1988, was one of those days.

For years now, since a very young age, Raymond Gardner has been this person to so many. So, in honor of his 30th birthday, Ray Day was born and celebrated in epic way on Sept. 22.

Known as Ray to most, he grew up in Detroit, Mich., with big dreams and goals. He did not always know the grand impact he had on his friends, family, teammates, and now his clients as a trainer.

If you look at the “About” section on his Facebook page, you will see that Ray studied at Central Michigan University, University of Minnesota and Bethany College. Before even reaching college, Ray made hard life decisions that would eventually help him achieve his goals, including leaving his neighborhood each day to attend school in an “all white” community.

Believing that he was destined to achieve big things, Ray’s decision to become uncomfortable to grow and better himself led to his path to Anna Maria Island.

Forget Ray’s athletic ability that so many have seen on The Center’s basketball court, football field, volleyball court and now the soccer field. Peel away the layers of the man, and one will find a person with a talent to bring the best out of people.

With the opportunity to go to college because of sports, Ray met people from all walks of life, different parts of the country, and different backgrounds at the various colleges and universities he attended. Each campus, each relationship opened doors, built bridges and changed lives.

Fast forward to 2014, Ray started sprinkling his contagious smile and hugs on the people of Anna Maria Island. As the Assistant Athletic Director and director of youth sports at what was known then as the Anna Maria Island Community Center, Ray made his impacts on not only kids he coached and worked with on the Island, but their siblings, parents, other family members and friends.

Ray’s sudden departure from The Center, along with co-worker and friend Matt Ray, rocked the community, and the magnitude of his influence on The Center was truly realized when he was gone.

As one door closed another eventually opened for Ray. On his last day at The Center, Ray was asked what he would be doing if he could do anything. Without hesitation he answered, “I would be a personal trainer.”

After months of personal struggle, the fight in Ray never left. Each day he worked to better himself, find himself and figure out the next step. Becoming a personal trainer would soon become a reality, but in truth, as with most successful personal trainers, Ray is a life changer.

In the last three years, Ray has helped people shed pounds and build muscles, starting his day at 4 a.m., with his first training session at 5 a.m. The bigger picture reveals how this man has also helped people overcome mental obstacles and inspired them to be the best versions of themselves, while many time sacrificing his own personal time for the betterment of his client.

To watch Ray’s clients get drawn into his aura is like watching fans fawn over a rock star or famous actor. Ladies wait in line to get their post-workout hugs and words of praise. His clients tell friends about their amazing trainer and upload videos to Facebook singing his praises. These clients look forward to getting their daily dose of Ray.

Ray will be the first to say that his accomplishments are only possible because of the support and assistance of his friends and family. His pay-it-forward vision is emphasized at the end of his Saturday group workout sessions at Fit Crew when he asks his clients to name one selfless thing they did for someone that week.

He also makes his own opportunities. If there is something Ray wants to do, he finds a way. If there is a place he wants to speak his words of gratefulness and inspiration, Ray will email, call and text everyone and anyone until he gets his invitation.

Through his social media outlet “Ray’s Ramblings,” radio segments, speaking engagements, and personal training, Ray’s message has touched the lives of countless number of children and adults.

It is this love of people and desire to lift up others that makes him one of the most familiar faces in Manatee County. Ray cannot go anywhere without being recognized, and usually stopped for a famous “Ray Hug.”

Ray Day 2018 was the natural next step. It started with a goal of having a boot camp style workout at Fit Crew with more than 100 participants, which would break the gym’s record, along with a birthday party open to the public.

The goal was easily met with more than 160 adults and 16 children sweating with Ray and the other Fit Crew trainers Saturday morning. The group of Fit Crew regulars, former clients of Ray’s at other training facilities, and friends who have never worked out with him all gathered for an hour of fitness and fun, ending in 30 push-ups.

Ray’s day ended with a birthday bash like no other at the Island’s Freckled Fin. Most of the guests in attendance, many who came from out of town to be a part of the celebration, came together to show Ray their appreciation of his giving heart and talent for making people better for having met him.

From the students and teachers he went to school with over the years to the children at the camps where he worked, from his college sports teams to the adult recreational sports team, from coaching to acting in the murder mystery fundraisers, from speaking at elementary schools to one-on-one personal training, Raymond Gardner has left his mark and continues to change the lives of people daily.