Doug Ernst

Napa Valley Register columnist Doug Ernst.

When Sean McCawley graduated from Vintage High School in 2002 he enrolled at Napa Valley College. Within two years he had completed his transfer requirements but wasn’t sure what to do next.

Working at Home Depot seemed good enough. In his spare time he earned an online certificate as a personal trainer and worked out a lot.

Three years out of high school he was a pool boy making $10 per pool.

McCawley lived comfortably — until he became a single father at age 21.

After visiting an NVC job fair he decided to become a massage therapist. To help support his son he worked as a massage therapist and restaurant worker.

“After feeling like I wanted to give up and just run away, I decided to do something. I wanted to support that baby boy and make a life for him.”

He looked into Sonoma State University’s kinesiology program and decided to become a strength and conditioning coach. He came back to Napa Valley College, took the prerequisites and was accepted to SSU.

In the meantime, McCawley worked as a bartender.

“I was the most fit guy in the bar, six months away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree, but serving booze and burgers to people who only talked about how to get more tanked,” he recalled.

After graduating, McCawley’s favorite SSU professor, Bulent Sokmen, advised him to earn his master’s degree.

“Some students just try to get a grade, but I never saw that in Sean,” said Sokmen. “He wanted to learn. The way he approached knowledge was different than anyone else in the classroom. He had curiosity.”

However, McCawley returned to bartending.

“I was stupid, wasting time, frustrated with school, and didn’t think it was worth pulling out another $20,000 for student loans.”

Before long, however, he reduced his bartending hours to become a Justin-Siena High School football coach.

Almost immediately he became a personal trainer at Healthquest and was accepted into the SSU graduate program.

He became a physical therapy intern at UC Berkeley, and in private physical therapy offices. He was mentored by Justin-Siena’s strength and conditioning coach.

He climbed out of the bar, became the busiest trainer at Healthquest, earned a USA Weightlifting Certificate, graduated from SSU with a master’s degree in kinesiology and opened up Napa Tenacious Fitness, “Napa’s Premier Personal Training Studio.”

Now McCawley wants to encourage young people to start their career paths at NVC.

“When people who aren’t sure where to go with their careers are put in a college classroom full of others in the same boat, they are influenced to get outside their comfort zones,” he said.

“I was once one of those students. If NVC hadn’t been there, offering units and a welcoming environment for single parents, I would not be where I am today.

“I made the life I wanted.”

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Doug Ernst is the Napa Valley College public information officer. Reach him at doug.ernst@napavalley.edu or (707) 256-7112.