Written by Kathryn Lekas, Editor-in-Chief
Photography by Paul Buceta
Hair & Makeup by Monica Kalra

“I will never forget that day, March 17th, 2020. Just prior to it, I had to buy a car. And I hated that car. It was a Kia Rio. I made sure I tinted it really dark. And thank goodness for that. Because on that day, I sat outside my gym in that car and just cried,” recalls Noel Davis, thinking back to when she was forced to close her gym, Paris Fit,
in Philadelphia, due to the pandemic. After just opening it two months earlier. 

“I remember thinking, this makes no sense? I had been flying on clouds, everything was going so wonderfully with my new business I was pouring myself into. I managed to open my space, in the historic district of Philly with my savings—no loan. I was working with manufacturers I had built a great relationship with to customize my gym. I was doing media to promote it all… I was on the right path,” she says. “After closing, I was so depressed that I just slept for those first two weeks of the pandemic.”

But then, like many, she started scrolling. And on social media is where Noel inadvertently came across a piece of the puzzle she was trying desperately to figure out. 

“I started seeing online classes and it just clicked,” says Noel. “About a month earlier, on Valentine’s Day, I had appeared on FOX News discussing my role as a fitness professional in the community and my new gym, and the interviewer had told me to get a ring light and start a YouTube channel because online fitness was going to blow up soon,” she explains. “I had the ring light already… and so I started putting things together.” As she shifted online, Noel learned that even if her new Paris Fit community couldn’t be with her, they were behind her. And so were others.

“I went on social media and wrote to every celebrity I could, telling them I would be doing virtual training and I would love to train them. I also made a post letting everyone know I would be selling my resistance bands—a fitness product I had developed years earlier when I became a personal trainer—for just $15, and if they were interested, I would be sending them out soon.” Although the move didn’t result in an inbox full of famous client inquiries, it did bring in a flood of sales for her product. “People sold me out!” Noel shares. “They spent hundreds of dollars on my bands which provided the financial support I needed to survive. And I took that money and reinvested it back into my business to create Gym In A Box, my portable fitness studio, which launched at the end of 2020.” Not only did Noel successfully navigate the year and a half that her gym was closed, over time, the puzzle pieces kept fitting. “I got my trademark for Gym In A Box in May of 2021, and released my first TV show along with a new and improved product in August of that year,” says Noel, who had been selling directly online when another piece fell into place.

“In May of last year, I entered a contest by a local influencer to help market your business, help you to level up, but I had to travel at the time and couldn’t be part of the full process which was happening at the Shop Rite in my area. So I reached out to the owner of the Shop Rite and asked if I could leave my product, Gym In A Box, for the influencer. He asked me about my product and pricing and suggested I attend a press conference. So I did, and brought Gym In A Box. He introduced me there and gave me the opportunity to share all about my product. As a result, we created an offering with three of the items from the box (hip bands, resistance bands, and fitness sliders), and launched in Shop Rite and Fresh Grocer the following September.”

Never in her wildest dreams did Noel imagine she would one day walk into a store to find a product display with her name on it. In fact, from the time she was just a tween Noel was convinced she was going to be an Archaeologist. And she wasn’t wrong. Noel persistently followed the path to pursue her passion, learning how to do blueprints, architectural design, and graphing in high school before studying abroad at Manchester University, and embarking on an archaeological dig in Italy during her last year at school. She then went straight into archeology professionally, with her first federal project, working on the I95, for about five months. But fate intervened shortly after, redirecting her. 

“I was sitting at a stop light when someone rear-ended me. I was pretty frail at the time, only weighing about 100 pounds, so my body was very shaken up. My bones were injured and I had lower back pain that shot down to my legs,” says Noel. “That made it impossible for me to excavate—I just couldn’t do all the digging and lifting, so I had to go work in the lab, which I wasn’t prepared for.”

As Noel started to rehabilitate herself, her archaeology contract came to an end, and again, a piece of the puzzle fell into place. 

“A woman saw me in the gym, she was a personal trainer, and she felt compelled to help get me certified. She wanted to help me learn what I needed to learn to help other people,” says Noel. “I did the certification and still worked loosely in archaeology. But then when I moved to Philly (from New Jersey), I met a friend in the gym who said, ‘You have a gift! You should work as a trainer.’” Noel explains. “I said, ‘I’m from Jersey, I dont know anyone here, it will never work.’ But, I just tried it. I started putting business cards everywhere.” As it turned out, everyone wanted to work with Noel. She started to build a clientele and things took off. “That’s when I created my first product, the resistance bands, because that’s what I used to rehabilitate myself.” Noel also started to sell sweat belts, which helped with her posture. 

“If I would have let challenges, or what people say, weigh too heavy on me I wouldn’t have accomplished anything. I know one day all the pieces will fit, perfectly.”

She continued to create products that she used during rehab, such as AirPods, as music was her big motivation. Noel created products to help the people in her life, too. “My late step father had uncontrollable diabetes and sleep apnea. He was on medication and I wanted a product that could help monitor him, so I created a fitness watch,” she says. Noel had no idea how much that same device would one day help her, too.

Just six months prior to opening her gym in 2020, Noel found herself in another car accident— this one even more devastating than the first—she tore her neck in two places and cut her head open 10 centimeters. “My memory and interpretation were affected, but I didn’t want to let people know how much difficulty I was having,” she says. “I used music to try to help me remember things, associate a song with a memory…Thank God I had products to sell, like the AirPods and the Fitness Watch, because if I didn’t have the support from people buying my products then, I would have given up on fitness—I wouldn’t have been able to pay my bills, help myself, or help anyone around me,” says Noel. 

During that time, Noel says she spent a lot of time reflecting. “My mind just wasn’t there. I needed to stop. When things like that happen, they force you to ‘sit down,’ and that was my sit down moment. My time to focus.” 

Noel started to write down all of her exercises, whatever she remembered. “I didn’t want to forget anything. I knew if I have it in my book I can go back to it.” She learned to take it easy on herself. “I took time to rest, sleep, be around family, pause, learn time management and understand burnout,” shares Noel. “Taking the time out, my mind was clear—I had already been in the process of opening the gym prior to the accident.” She wasn’t going to go backwards. She would just tread carefully.

“They spent hundreds of dollars on my bands which provided the financial support I needed to survive.”

For Noel, life has always been a balancing act between patience and perseverance. She’s been battling adversity right from the start. “I was born late, and because of that, I was born with low sweat glands, which makes me prone to seizures,” she says. “Growing up, I had to work through it, learning how to regulate myself.” Even as an Archaeologist, there was a concern working within the heat. And now, working out, “I’m always aware of the potential for danger and making sure to stay hydrated,” says Noel. She knows not everything is going to be great—and that just makes her stronger. 

“Being strong is to keep going. I’ve continued to move. To believe things would look up and my life would turn around,” says Noel. “I have faith life is going to put me in the direction that I need to be. When things have been tough, I realize that I’m not failing, I’m just running into obstacles, which builds me up for the next challenge,” says Noel. “Sometimes I can’t help but wonder why I have to go through all these obstacles,” she admits, “but I know it’s because my end story will be wow-worthy. I had people tell me ‘You won’t be anything in fitness,’ but I created an entire life for myself through fitness. The most important thing though, is not to show anybody, it’s proving it to myself because I’ve heard so many doubts. I feel accomplished for myself.” 

Noel says she recognizes that in less than six years, as an entrepreneur, she’s been able to do things in her career that many people never get to over decades. And that’s why she celebrates everything, like making a big impact recently at the Saks 5th event. “I feel I’m leveling up, but still, nothing is too small—I am grateful for each and every thing along the road,” says Noel. 

And when things get tough, she has a strategy. “I allow myself 24 hours to dwell, and then it’s back to work! Because I want to figure things out,” she explains. “I wanted to be an Archaeologist so much, but people told me I couldn’t. I found a way. I know it’s the same now.” 

As she continues to work through business challenges post-pandemic, Noel knows the pay off of the process will be priceless. “Learning does not happen overnight. I just keep my faith and perseverance because if I would have let challenges or what people say weigh too heavy on me, I wouldn’t have accomplished anything. I know one day all the pieces will fit, perfectly.” 

The First-Ever STRONG Fitness Cover Search WINNER

Candid About the Cover

“I’m so excited about appearing on the cover of STRONG because I know that so many women need to hear this story. I know that it’s going to change a lot for many women—motivate them and spread positivity. Especially for women that look like me, and young girls that look like me. I’m a normal young woman in Philidelphia, but you don’t often see a lot of women like me, living regular lives, on a cover nation-wide, let alone all across North America. I am so happy and grateful for the opportunity to be a vessel for positivity.”

The Scoop on the Shoot

“Doing the cover shoot at the studio was an incredible experience. The STRONG team was so friendly and welcoming, I didn’t feel nervous at all. The vibe on set was so much fun, and trying different looks with the wardrobe was a dream come true. Monica took so much care with my makeup and hair, I felt confident in front of the camera. Paul made me feel very comfortable shooting, and gave me suggestions and feedback to help get the best photos, and having Kat on set making sure the details were addressed and I was having fun made for such a positive experience.” 

The Best Part of the Day

“When we all ate together! Sitting down to ‘break bread’ at lunch felt so special. Not everyone, or even every family, does that—it meant so much, to have this sense of togetherness at the shoot with folks who were strangers just a few hours earlier.” 

Paying It Forward 

“I didn’t have a mentor to show me how to do what I’m doing with my profession and purpose, so now with my knowledge and experience, if I have the opportunity to help someone on their journey, I want to. Sometimes people just need that push from someone who’s been there.”

Next for Noel?

“I’m looking to get my product into big box stores—Walmart, Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods. I want to continue to help improve the obesity rates in my community and beyond by increasing awareness about it and providing accessible tools to everyone.”

STRONG Fitness
STRONG Fitness Magazine is a trusted source of cutting-edge fitness and health information for the modern woman who lives to be fit. STRONG’s sophisticated editorial voice combined with raw, powerful imagery and a modern, athletic design reflect the direction fitness has taken in the last decade.