Meet the University Event Director Who Also Owns a Gym

When she's not organizing and overseeing events at Penn's Annenberg School for Communication, Debra Williams runs and teaches at her gym, Smart Fitness.

Debra Williams plans all the special events at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, while also owning and teaching personal training at Smart Fitness. / Photograph courtesy of Debra Williams

Welcome to Sweat Diaries, Be Well Philly’s look at the time, energy, and money people invest in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle in Philly. For each Sweat Diary, we ask one Philadelphian to spend a week tracking everything they eat, all the exercise they get, and the money they spend on both. Want to submit a Sweat Diary? Email

Who I am: Debra Williams (@smartfitness_studio), 64

Where I live: Overbrook Farms

What I do: I am the owner of Smart Fitness, a personal training and exercise studio, where I teach group exercise and spinning classes. I also work full-time as the director of special events at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. In my role, I oversee monthly talks where we invite scholars to give a lecture to our faculty and students as well as conferences, the Prospective Students’ Day, and both the graduate and undergraduate graduation receptions.

What role healthy living plays in my life: The role healthy living plays in my life includes physical activity, weight and stress management, and healthy eating. Also, it’s especially important for me to keep my blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol in check because of a past history of having borderline high blood pressure and high cholesterol!

Health memberships (and what they cost): Smart Fitness — free as the owner.


To minimize cost, Williams often preps her own meals and brings them into the office, like this eggplant parm, pasta, and green beans dish. / Photograph by Debra Williams

7:30 a.m. — On Monday morning, I meet with a personal training client, where we work various muscle groups.

8:30 a.m. — Done with Smart Fitness (for now!) and am headed to work at my other job at Penn’s Annenberg School.

9 a.m. — Time for breakfast. I usually bring my breakfast, so the cost is minimal. This morning, I’ve got toast, an egg, an orange, and a cup of coffee. I already had everything, except for the orange ($0.99), thanks to a past grocery haul.

9:30 a.m. — About to kick off a long Monday filled with meetings and scheduling calls. The start of the school year is usually jam-packed with events since all the students and faculty are back on campus.

1:30 p.m. — I finally take a minute to myself to eat some lunch, which I brought with me today as well. I’m eating some eggplant parm, pasta, and green beans, all from Aldi ($9.64). I’ll get two or three meals out of this.

2 p.m. — Back to a nonstop afternoon. Even though I’m super busy handling the logistics for a number of events happening here at Penn, I enjoy it. I’ve been the director of special events for 36 years!

5 p.m. — Headed out of this job to make my way back to Smart.

6:30 p.m. — I meet with another client at the studio for a personal training session.

7:30 p.m. — Done with one-on-one sessions for today. Now, it’s time to teach a group Strength class, which incorporates resistance-based training exercises.

8:45 p.m. — I’m home for the night and showered. It’s too late for dinner, but I have a little something left over from lunch, so pasta and green beans it is!

10 p.m. — Lights out.

Daily total: $10.63


Throughout the week, Williams will lead 8 personal training sessions for Smart Fitness clients. / Photograph by Debra Williams.

6 a.m. — Rise and shine! I’ve got a personal training client at 7 a.m., so I eat a quick breakfast at home: two eggs and two slices of toast with some cheese.

7 a.m. — One-on-one training session. Today, we focus on upper body strength.

8 a.m. — Off to Penn for work, which will take me about an hour before I settle in at my desk and begin another full day of scheduling and making sure details are coming together for upcoming events.

1:30 p.m. — Lunchtime, woo! Even though I’m eating this pasta and green beans leftover meal again, I added some flair by bringing my homemade yellow split pea soup, which I had in my fridge from over the weekend. It’s so tasty and so easy to make.

2 p.m. — Currently preparing for our upcoming monthly talk, making sure the visiting scholar’s travel, accommodations, and meetings with faculty and students are solidified.

5:30 p.m. — I take one hat off for the day, put my other one on, and head to Smart Fitness.

6:30 p.m. — Tonight, I have another personal training client, but I am not teaching. As the owner, though, I have to hang around until after the MixxedFit Dance Fitness class ends at 8:30 p.m., so I can welcome the patrons coming in to take it.

9:30 p.m. — Too late for dinner, and I’m exhausted, but there’s always room for dessert! I have some apple tart that I made over the weekend, all from McIntosh apples. The recipe is so easy, you should try it yourself:

  • Six apples
  • Half a cup of butter
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Some crumbled graham crackers
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Combine everything and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Daily total: $0


Williams also teaches group exercise classes, including indoor cycling. / Photograph by Debra Williams

6 a.m. — Time to wake up!

7:30 a.m. — I have the same appointment with the same client as Monday, working various muscle groups to build strength and get toned.

8:30 a.m. — Headed to Penn for work, where I’ll eat a quick breakfast of eggs and toast. There’s an event being held this morning, so I’ll spend most of the first half of the day making sure everything runs smoothly.

2 p.m. — Time for lunch. I’ve got shrimp, Brussels sprouts, wild rice, and leftover yellow split pea soup. I ate more substantially today since I didn’t eat dinner last night and because I’m leading a spin class tonight. All the ingredients I bought from Aldi ($10.28).

6:30 p.m. — I’m at the studio for that spin class. Cycling always energizes and exhausts me at the same time!

7:30 p.m. — Phew, I’m tired. There’s a Zumba class that I wish I could take if I weren’t so beat. I stick around until it’s over, though.

9 p.m. — Home for the night!

Daily total: $10.28


When she’s too caught up with planning and scheduling events, Williams eats quick meals, like a bowl of fruit-packed cereal and coffee. Anything to keep her going! / Photograph by Debra Williams.

6 a.m. — Wake up! Today will look pretty similar to Tuesday, as I have the same personal training client and have similar things to take care of at Penn.

7 a.m. — Time for the 60-minute session with my client.

8:15 a.m. — Headed to work, where I’ll eat breakfast. I packed a Cheerios-type cereal with a granola coconut mix and a coffee ($6.24). Yum.

1:30 p.m. — Time for lunch. Today is a lighter meal day, not sure if it’s because I’m too busy or not that hungry or both. I’m having a bowl of Special K Red Berries and a coffee.

5:30 p.m. — Time to head out and drive to Smart Fitness.

6:30 p.m. — Tonight, I have two clients back-to-back at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

9 p.m. — I’m home! I settle in for a cup of green tea and some more of the leftover apple tart. It’s just too darn good.

Daily total: $6.24


On Fridays, Williams spends her happy hour at the gym. / Photograph by Debra Williams

8 a.m. — Friday is my day! I don’t have any personal training clients or classes, and I usually work out on my own after work. I sleep in later than usual and then get ready to go to work.

9:30 a.m. — Just got to Penn and have some breakfast: a toasted bagel with cream cheese and jelly, a cup of O.J., and a cup of coffee. Breakfast this morning was complimentary. (My office rocks!)

10 a.m. — Another morning scheduling meetings and events. It’s a lot to stay on top of, but I’ve been doing this for years, so planning is my middle name at this point.

1 p.m. — Today, I’ve got a spinach salad with mushrooms, eggs, and tomatoes, plus a little French dressing. I put together the salad myself with ingredients bought at Fresh Grocer ($6.49). I’m sipping on a cup of green tea, too.

4 p.m. — Dare I say I’m having a snack? I slice and eat a grapefruit ($1.25).

5 p.m. — Done at Penn for the day, and now I get to enjoy my post-work fitness!

6 p.m. — I spend about an hour doing various machines for a total-body workout: TRX push-ups, pull-ups, chest press, power mill, running on the treadmill, and ab work.

7:30 p.m. — I’m home, eating some leftovers for dinner! I plan on relaxing on my couch for the evening, with either a good book or movie…and definitely some apple tart!

Daily total: $7.74

Weekly totals

Money spent: $35.07
Workouts completed: 3
Personal training sessions taught: 8
Meals made: 8