In honor of April being Parkinson’s Awareness month, recognizing the 5-year anniversary of our Rock Steady Boxing program, and celebrating my 5th year as a Rock Steady Boxing coach, I’d like to share my personal story about Parkinson’s Disease and the impact it has had on my life.
I met my stepdad, Ross, 27 years ago in 1996. It was a struggle at first, being a 14-year-old kid dealing with my parent’s divorce and feeling like I didn’t “need another dad” in my life. But with time, we got to know each other, and he became part of my family. Pretty early on, I learned that we were similar in many ways. We both loved adventure, thought in pictures, liked to know the “why behind the what”, and both had process-oriented, analytical ways of thinking. The latter of which actually came in handy when he taught me how to drive stick when I was learning to drive in high school. He explained the mechanics of what was happening to the car when I used my left foot to push the clutch in and my left foot to release the gas pedal. He painted a picture in my brain that helped me visualize what was happening, and boom! All of a sudden I was driving a stick shift transmission. He was always good at explaining things like that to me, and we connected in that way, among others.
Ross was definitely an adventure guy—I often described him as “a mountain man” to my friends because he lived in Alaska, always had a big beard, loved hunting, fishing, hiking, and even had his own float plane. He was an orthopedic surgeon in Anchorage when my mom met him, and continued to work as a doctor until he retired at the age of 72. That profession provided him with the opportunities to do things like become a private pilot with his own plane, but it was his sense of adventure and passion for taking on a challenge are what fueled him.
After my mom moved to Alaska with him when I was in high school, I visited as much as I could on school breaks. I even spent my entire summer up there with them after my freshman and sophomore years in college. Although we had many great adventures, flying with Ross was one of my favorite things to do. He and I would wake up in the morning and make a plan for the day. Maybe it was flying to a remote place to go for a hike or fish, hunting down some glacier views from the air, or trying to get a glimpse of Mt. Denali on a sunny afternoon.
Flying with him was such a process, and I loved every second. He’d file his flight plan with Anchorage ground control a few hours before we took off, then we’d spend an hour going through what he called the “pre-flight” process—and he taught me everything. We’d check every single screw, nut, and bolt to make sure they were tight and secure. Check the oil in the plane and change it if necessary. Climb up onto the plane's wings and fill each fuel tank with gas. Pump any excess water out of the floats to make sure we didn’t weigh too much. After several trips, he and I had this process down to a science, and after we each finished our pre-flight tasks, we’d be ready to take off.
With our life vests and headphones on, Ross would start the engine and we’d begin our taxi across Campbell Lake, one of two aviation lakes in Anchorage that he and my mom lived on. Just walk out the back door, hop in the plane, and we could go anywhere. This became one of my favorite life experiences and memories.
Hearing Ross talk to the airport tower was something I couldn’t get enough of. I’d try to translate what he was saying to them and figure out where we were headed just based on the terminology he used. I remember even memorizing the aviation alphabet so I could figure it out! We’d take off high in the sky, travel to our destination, and land softly somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Many, many days up in Alaska were spent this way, and each trip was logged. I remember it was the last thing he’d do after we had landed and returned home. Every. Single. Time. He kept a small spiral notebook in the seatback pocket with a pen. He’d record the date, time, weather, where we went, and who he was with. In fact, we still have that journal, and every flight he ever took is written down, beginning in 1982 until his last flight in 2016. A few years ago at Thanksgiving, I pulled it out and we went through it, reminiscing about many of the trips we had taken together and with other family members, telling the story of each day, and painting a picture in our minds of each one.
He still loves doing that to this day, telling stories and reminiscing about the memories he made and those we’ve all made together as a family. I think it helps his memory, and it always makes him smile—even talk sometimes! In 2018, a lot changed for Ross and our family. In May of that year, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
My Mom had suspected it, and we had all noticed changes in his movement and cognitive abilities, but they were very slight and could've been explained away with “it’s just old age”. But I think he knew something had changed too, because two years prior to that in 2016, he decided to sell his float plane and give up his pilot’s license. He told us it was because he didn’t feel as mentally clear or sound to be flying any longer.
2018 was the year it really began. A man I had grown to love, who taught me so many things, who had helped so many people, was changing. As an orthopedic doctor, Ross completely understood how the body worked and operated. He understood movement, rehabilitation, injury, and the importance of exercise. So for me, watching his brain and body start to change in ways he couldn’t control seemed like a cruel joke. The man lived for adventure, being outside, exercising, and working. But his Parkinson’s diagnosis had other plans.
That’s the thing with Parkinson’s Disease—it's non-discriminating. It affects all people regardless of age, gender, background, family health history, and life experiences. No one knows exactly why it occurs and or who it chooses to affect, despite countless studies and research. But what we do know is that it affects everyone differently both in its progression and in its symptoms. It’s a selfish, progressive disease that has no rhyme or reason and as of today, no cure. However, in my stepdad’s case, he didn’t let that diagnosis bother him. In fact, I don’t really know if he ever accepted or admitted he had Parkinson’s. He continued to move and exercise and stayed active.
In addition to Ross’ diagnosis, 2018 was a year of change for me, and the timing of some things was very coincidental—or maybe it was some kind of divine intervention? 2018 was my first full year working and teaching fitness classes at Western Racquet & Fitness Club.
We had just launched a new program called Rock Steady Boxing in April of that year, a class specifically for people living with Parkinson’s Disease. I had been volunteering for the class on a weekly basis for only a month when Ross received his diagnosis in May. Although the news was very hard to hear and accept, I felt hopeful because I could help him in some way!
At the time our class was small but growing. We more than doubled the number of participants we had fighting back against PD by the end of that first year, which allowed me to gain loads of experience and education just by working with and alongside them. I was hungry for anything I could learn from our boxers because I thought they could help me relate to and help my stepdad with what he was going through in his own journey.
Shortly after receiving his PD diagnosis, I told my mom and Ross about Rock Steady Boxing and invited them to join our classes while they were visiting me in June 2018. Although it wasn’t the same heavy-lifting “gym rat” routine Ross had adopted over the years, he enjoyed it, and so did my mom. I think it gave her some hope actually, that “maybe this wasn’t the end of the world”.
At the time, they were living in Rhode Island, a place my mom had wanted to move to after retirement. I was able to help them find a local Rock Steady class there. Later that year, I became a certified Rock Steady Boxing coach and even got to attend some classes with my stepdad while visiting them in Rhode Island. They continued to go a few times a week for the next year or so, and I truly believe it helped him slow the progression of the disease and keep moving. But 2019 had other plans, and things started to change again.
In 2019, my family learned about Lewy Body Dementia—the second most common type of progressive dementia behind Alzheimer's Disease. Ross’s neurologist said his most recent brain scan proved he had it. Google searches displayed many of the symptoms he was experiencing and also told us the average life expectancy from the date of diagnosis was just 4-7 years. This news was different than learning he had Parkinson’s. He was only 76 at the time, had lived a long, active life already with much longer to go, and was otherwise healthy and strong. We didn’t know what to expect or what the coming months or years would look like. As his caregiver, my mom knew she needed help and could see his symptoms progressing, so they moved here to Green Bay as soon as they could to be closer to family.
It’s been almost 4 years since we learned Ross has Lewy Body Dementia and 5 years since we learned he has Parkinson’s Disease. A little more than a year ago we moved him into an assisted living facility that specializes in memory care and, after some trial and error, he’s settled into his new life and this new version of himself. He doesn’t use the same float plane pilot voice as he used to, and can’t remember the jargon he used to use either. But when we tell him all about it and imitate it, he smiles and even laughs sometimes!
What I’ve learned from Ross and so many of the boxers in our Rock Steady Boxing class is that people with Parkison’s are still themselves, just a different version. Parkinson’s Disease is something a person lives with, and each day is different, and every person that has it is different. The symptoms look different for each person, and the progression of the disease is also different for each person.
What we do know, is that continuing to exercise and socialize helps. Studies have shown that rigorous exercise focused on large muscle movement, balance, core strength, and rhythm positively impacts movement associated with the activities of daily living. There is also more recent evidence that certain kinds of exercise are “neuro-protective” which means they actually slow down disease progression. It’s not hard to see how much of a positive impact Rock Steady Boxing has had on our boxers and on my stepdad Ross, and I am so very grateful for that! While we may not have a cure for Parkinson’s yet, we know that we can help to slow down the disease's progress with a program like Rock Steady.
I hope telling my story helps you understand Parkinson’s Disease a little bit better, and if you know someone with PD, or are a caregiver for someone living with PD, reach out for resources. Learn all you can about it, come to Western Racquet and observe one of our Rock Steady Boxing classes, and continue to help these individuals live the best life that they can.
If you’d like to learn more about Rock Steady Boxing or find out how you can participate in our program at Western Racquet & Fitness Club, visit our website at westernracquet.com/rock-steady-boxing or call or email the program director, Kari Merrill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 920-497-1161.
12 years ago, I started teaching yoga at Western Racquet. Over the years, I've truly enjoyed teaching and getting to know all of our members. From teaching gentle yoga, yin yoga, TRX yoga, Rage yoga, Britney-themed and of course my favorite, vinyasa yoga. I love hearing how yoga has transformed lives and how China gel really completes the practice.
Yoga is a popular exercise routine for good reason - it incorporates strengthening and stretching exercises into one, helping you to improve your overall fitness. If you're new to yoga, though, it can be tough to know where to start. That's why I've put together this list of 9 beginner-friendly yoga poses that will help you to strengthen and stretch your muscles. Give them a try next time you're at the gym or at home. Continue reading to get a step by step for each pose and take a look at the beginner friendly picture below.
1. Triangle: Triangle is a great pose for stretches the sides of your waist and legs while also strengthens your hips, thighs, and core. To get into position, start by standing with your feet about 3-4 feet apart. Then, reach your right hand down to touch the floor near your right ankle as you extend your left arm up toward the ceiling. Gaze up at your left hand as you hold the pose for 30-60 seconds before repeating on the other side.
2. Seated Half Forward Fold: Seated Half Forward Fold is a restorative pose that helps to stretch the hamstrings and lower back. To get into position, start by sitting on the floor with one leg extended straight in front of you and the other folded in. Then, slowly fold forward from the hips, reaching your hands toward your feet. Hold the pose for 30-60 seconds before releasing.
3. Wide Legged Fold: Wide legged fold is similar to seated half forward fold, but with a wider stance. This pose helps to stretch the inner thighs and groin while also lengthening the spine. To get into position, start by standing with your feet about 4 feet apart. Then, fold forward from the hips, reaching your hands toward the floor. Hold for 30-60 seconds before slowly release back up to standing.
4. Seated Side Bend: Seated side bend is a gentle way to open up the sides of your body while also stretching the shoulders and lengthening the spine. To get into position, start by sitting on the floor with both legs out wide. Raise your right arm up toward the ceiling as you lean over to the left side, placing your left hand on the floor behind you for support if needed. Hold for 30-60 seconds before repeating on the other side.
5. Pigeon: Pigeon is an excellent hip opener that also stretches out the glutes and thighs. To get into position, start in a low lunge with your right foot forward and left foot back. Slowly lower your left knee down to the ground as you extend your right leg straight behind you so that both legs are in line with each other parallel to the mat (if this hurts your knees or hips, place a blanket under your hip). Hold for 30-60 seconds before repeating on the other side.
6. Lying Hamstring Stretch: The lying hamstring stretch is a great way to release tension in the back of the legs after a long run or workout session. To get into position, lie flat on your back with both legs extended straight in front of you (if this hurts your back, place a blanket underneath). Place a strap or towel around your right foot and slowly begin to straighten your leg up toward they ceiling as much as possible without pain (if this is too much pressure on your back, keep a slight bend in your knee). Hold for tension before release and repeat 3-5 times on each leg..
7. Supine Spinal Stretch: The supine spinal stretch helps to lengthen and decompress the spine after sitting or standing for long periods of time throughout the day.. To get into position,. Lie flat on your back with both legs extended straight in front of you and place both arms at your sides. Slowly begin to turn your head to look over your right shoulder as you reach to the touch the elbow to the floor behind you. You may need to place a pillow under your head if you are unable to reach the floor without straining or pain. Hold for several breaths before returning to the center and repeating on the other side..
8. Figure 4 stretch: The figure 4 stretch is a great way to stretch the hips and glutes, which can be helpful for runners who often experience tightness in these areas. The figure 4 stretch can also help improve your range of motion, making it easier to run with proper form.
Start by lying on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
Cross your right ankle over your left knee so that your right shin is perpendicular to your left thigh.
Reach through with your left hand and grab hold of your right thigh, then pull your right leg toward you until you feel a stretch in the hip and glute area.
Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.
9. Corpse: Corpse pose is a great way to release tension from the whole body and relax mind fully at end of a yoga practice or moderate session to gentle Introduction to relaxation methods ..To get into position,. Lie flat on your back with both arms at your sides and both legs outstretched on your mat(or you can have one or both knees bent if you prefer) ..Allow yourself a sink into the ground wherever possible and your belly to puff out just a little bit so that you can breathe easily.. close your eyes and rest here for 5 to 10 minutes, allowing all of the tension in your body to melt away with each exhalation of breath .....
I'd love to see you in my class Tuesdays at 11am and on an occasional Saturday!
There are many aspects, habits, and beliefs that can make for a good relationship. No two relationships are the same and as long as both parties are happy, that’s the main goal right? In my own experience, I truly believe that laying a good foundation based upon communication is so important when it comes to a healthy successful partnership. This is my story of how the decision to improve communication saved my relationship and marriage.
I met my husband, Lucas, when I was just 14 years old. That was 18 years ago right in our hometown.
We started off as really good friends. He was a nice, sweet guy that took the time to talk to me and picked on me in a playful way. Over the next few years, we would chat often on MSN messenger (back when that was cool). We’d go on bike rides around town as well as shoot hoops at the west side courts. We’d wave at each other through our connecting art classrooms. He would come and visit me at my job at Express Video and help me return the movies on the shelf (when that was still a thing!) and he’d let me wear his Abercrombie & Fitch hoodie when I was cold (although it fit me like a dress). I think it’s safe to say looking back at all of that now, that there had been some attraction that could be taken more than just friends.
We finally started dating February 2008 right before I graduated high school. It felt so good after all those years of friendship to finally be together - it felt right. And then I went off to college.
End of the honeymoon phase
Since Lucas was a year behind me in school, my first year of college was rough. With a brand new “long distance relationship” and my own personal co-dependency issues, I became really depressed, to the extent that I failed my first semester.
Once Lucas graduated high school, we had a tough decision. Were we going to go to college together or separate? Lucas had coaches recruit him for their teams from all over the state but in the end, he chose UW-Marinette (which is now a branch of UWGB) to be close to family, continue our sports legacy/education, and our relationship.
UW-Marinette did not have dorms, however, so in order to live there affordably, we made the decision (with blessings from both of our parents after a few very long talks) to rent an apartment together at ages 19 and 18. We were so young. So. Very. Young.
Once you live with someone you learn so much about them. You learn their good, bad, and even their ugly. You find out you can’t just “leave and go back home” when stuff starts getting hard. Missing them becomes less and less because you see them every day. You fight about the dishes, the cleaning, the laundry, and of course, money. All of these things while trying to find your way in your own life with school, career, and personal development.
It was hard on us. Very hard. From 2009-2012 were the hardest years we’ve ever been through together (growing pains I’d like to call it). We were two very stubborn people. We lost a lot of respect for each other and started treating each other more as roommates instead of boyfriend and girlfriend. Life was not easy back then, and we made it harder on ourselves by being disconnected and unwilling to work and communicate as a partnership.
We took a break…
March 2012 we decided to take a break from the relationship. Lucas moved back home with his parents and I moved in with a work friend and we spent the next 4 months trying to navigate life in a new normal. It was anything but normal for either of us and speaking for myself, I did some things I was not proud of. But during that time we were both able to live and feel what it was like to not have the other. We were able to see what we had taken for granted and the saying does ring true sometimes “you don’t know what you've got til it’s gone”.
There were a few summer events that forced us to be around each other, and I am now thankful for those times. We were able to talk, and we slowly started to see that there was still a spark there. But if we were to start this relationship over on the right foot, we both needed to commit to making some changes, and one of those big changes was deciding to focus on improving our communication.
We got back together after that summer, and 10 years later (with 7 of those years being married, and currently 9 months of waiting for our baby...), I am convinced that effective communication is the secret ingredient to any good relationship.
Why do I think it’s communication? There are a few reasons, but the biggest one I believe is because you can’t be certain you know what the other person in the relationship is thinking. You may THINK you know, but you are not them. When one person in a relationship is not happy, they need to express what they feel and what they need. On the flip side, it's also important to communicate what DOES make you happy in the relationship. We had not been doing either of these things successfully.
As our communication skills got better, so did our relationship. It was hard at first because of old habits (blaming, shutting down, being defensive, not listening) but we made a consistent effort to try and work through the hard conversations and feelings. In the 14 years we have been together I have not been more in love with Lucas than I am with him today.
These are the communication game changers that I felt really moved the needle for us.
Listening with the intent to understand
One of the biggest human needs in the world is the need to be understood, and yet I believe a lot of us listen only to RESPOND. By actively listening to someone, asking clarifying questions and validating what they are expressing, you can demonstrate you care about what they are saying and get the full picture into their thoughts. This helps make that other person feels heard and respected and will greatly improve your communication. Listening is a hard skill to master and it’s something we practice every day in our household to continue to make us better partners, and it has saved us a lot of arguments.
Don’t take things personal
In the past, if Lucas was having a bad day, it was easy for me to believe it was because of something I did, which was almost never the case. Sometimes the other person has things they need to work on and get through that has absolutely nothing to do with you. I’ve learned to trust that if there is something I can do to help Lucas, he’ll tell me. I ask, “Hey are you OK?” and if he says he is then I trust he is, and I don’t take it personally. Being a good partner is not just about growth together but supporting each other's growth as individuals as well.
Expectations (in my opinion) are relationship killers and will not improve communication. I’ve set expectations in my life and I’ve almost always been disappointed because things didn’t go as I thought they should. To me this is similar in communication and interactions. You can’t expect to know what the other thinks because you are not them. If you expect them to do something, say something, or feel a certain way and they don’t, how do you think that will make you feel? Angry, sad, frustrated? That’s how I would feel. So, I do myself a favor now and I try my best to never set expectations.
Understand that you are not always right
This one was a big one. Lucas and I were both very stubborn people once upon a time. We didn’t understand that there could be more than one solution to a problem, more than one view to a situation, or more than one way to do something. We both thought our way was the one right way. Once we improved our communication, we started to see that that clearly was not the case. We are both two different people with our own experiences and biases. Sometimes one of us is right, sometimes neither of us are right, but we’ve found with time that if we can recognize that sometimes both right, just in different ways, that’s when we both win.
I feel one of the best skills to improve communication in a relationship is to learn to compromise. Both parties have to be willing in order to make this work. After following the first four skills I mentioned compromising is much much more attainable and realistic. Boundaries may need to be set for the compromise to happen but hearing both parties out, accompanied by actively listening and understanding, can help produce an organic compromise that can make both partners feel seen, heard, and validated.
All of these tips to improve our communication have helped us grow into the partnership that we have today. None of these would be able to work if we weren’t willing to talk to each other. We set time aside to go on long walks on the weekend (sometimes when only lightning bugs light the road) and we talk about anything. We talk about dumb things, fun things, and (my favorite) deep meaningful things. But it took a long time and a lot of work to get to this point. Sometimes misunderstandings still happen, but these habits we’ve been practicing have become automatic now. They have been worth all of the work we have done and continue to do.
Today, I challenge you to think about one way you can improve your communication with a partner or a loved one and begin practicing that everyday! If you find you need some guidance working on changing the way you communicate and build these habits in your life, consider Wellness Coaching at Western! We have a team of certified Wellness Coaches with expertise in helping you live your best life and building habits that strengthen the wellness of you and your relationships. If you're not familiar with Wellness Coaching or want to dip your toes in to see what it's all about, consider a Discovery Session! The Discovery Session is a great way to give yourself a chance to find out if wellness coaching is right for you and can expect to leave this 60-minute session with direction on taking tangible steps towards whatever your individual goals are.
Visit our website to learn more about the Western Wellbeing team and Wellness Coaching services.
How I picked myself up off the canvas and continued a journey I started almost 15 years ago.
Before I get started, if this is our first encounter: Hello! My name is Tony Riske, and I have both the pleasure and privilege of being one of the newest personal trainers here at Western. I currently reside in Appleton, where I was raised, although I consider the U.P. to be my true home.
My path to personal training here at Western has been anything but orthodox, but to properly encompass how I ended up here, we have to travel back to the summer of 2008. Back then, I was entering 8th grade, and the only thing on my mind was the upcoming middle school football season. As one of the captains-to-be, in order to help reach the goals we had set as a team and the goals I had set for myself, I knew it was time to get in a weight room. And so on the first Monday in June at 8am that summer, I made it to the Appleton North weight room, accompanied by my best friend’s now brother-in-law, who was going into his senior year. To say I was nervous would be a massive understatement; here I was, a middle-schooler, going into my future high school’s weight room for the first time, surrounded by my future coaches and older future teammates. But this anxiety was dwarfed by my self-confidence and desire to reach incredibly lofty goals I had dreamed about for many years prior, and I began training three times a week during the summer. The impact seemed almost immediate; I was challenged in ways I physically and mentally never had been challenged before, and with each obstacle came the desire to overcome whatever was being put in front of me. By the end of that 12-week summer, my confidence had never been higher; the time I had spent in the gym that summer coupled with my body’s transition to adolescence had given me athleticism I always dreamed of. I was dunking a tennis ball on a 10-foot basketball hoop, my endurance had skyrocketed, and I was even beginning to lift more weight than a good portion of my older peers.
For the next two years, this trajectory continued; when I arrived to high school in fall of 2009, I made what I still consider the best decision of my life and joined the wrestling team. The dedication, attention to detail, and extreme mental resiliency required by the sport of wrestling are all attributes of successful individuals in any environment, whether it’s a gym-goer, an entrepreneur, or a new parent trying to get their fussy baby to stop crying. By the time I reached my sophomore year, I felt like a superstar in-waiting; I had made both the varsity football and wrestling rosters and was receiving athletic letters of interest from a few local colleges here in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, my early triumphs mixed with the politics and drama of high school began to cloud the visions of success I had for myself just a year or two earlier; I was becoming distracted by unhealthy platonic and romantic relationships, but the worst relationship I developed during this time was my relationship with alcohol. I began to only care about when the next party was and what kind of bottle I could get my hands on, and it had a direct impact on my performance during my training sessions and competitions. The extra work I used to put in and attention to detail was gone, my peers were catching up to me, and my mental well-being was rapidly declining. By my senior year, I lost my starting spots in both football and wrestling, and ultimately put an end to any aspirations I had of competing at the collegiate level.
After high school, I went off to UW-Whitewater to study finance and economics. I had hoped that a new environment and a new experience of living on my own would help me rediscover my old passions and maybe even create some new ones. But by my first month in Whitewater, I found myself turning to alcohol more than ever to cope with the stress of school and using it to run away from my responsibilities. Rather than acknowledging I was struggling, I would lie to my family and friends about how I was doing in school. After four years in college, I returned home in spring of 2017 emotionally broken with barely enough energy and motivation to get out of bed some days.
After bouncing around from job to job, I landed a position with a home improvement company in 2018 doing marketing for them up until March 2020, when I was furloughed from the position due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The time I spent during those initial months of quarantine gave me a lot of time to think about who I was as a person then, and the person I wanted to become going forward. By this point, I was in the worst physical condition of my life; 55 pounds heavier than when I graduated high school, and not even half as strong. I had always loved fitness, and I enjoy meeting new people and learning their story, so when an opportunity for a kickboxing fitness instructor came to my attention in March 2021, I decided to give it a shot despite my present physical condition. My first day there included me going through the kickboxing circuit workout created by the organization. Not even 10 minutes into the workout, I became physically ill because of how out-of-shape I was. Even though I still got the job, I had felt completely humiliated; how was I going to be a trainer when I can’t even complete the workout myself? For me, as a former high-level athlete, this incident was the final straw. Over the next year, I rediscovered the discipline and fire inside of me that I needed to change my physical and emotional well-being for the better, which has resulted in me losing 45 pounds over the last year and gaining back the love for my own life I remember having as a teenager. But I didn’t do it alone; along the way I had unwavering encouragement and help from former coworkers, family, and friends.
Present day, April 2022. I could not be more honored and humbled to be writing this piece as a member of the personal training team here at Western. A special thanks goes out to Alex Awve and Mary Thomas for giving me this opportunity; their openness to me and what I believe I will bring to the table as a personal trainer is a debt I will owe them for eternity.
My story doesn’t end here though, in fact, I know this is just the start. I cannot wait to learn more about every one of you and hear your stories. And if you’ll allow me just a couple hours of your time each week, I know together we can create an impactful and sustainable routine for whatever kind of lifestyle you live and want to live going forward.
Staff Feature: Bianca Jaimes
When thinking about wellbeing and how Western staff make an impact on your wellness, I bet I don’t pop up immediately in your mind. Honestly, if I made top 10, I would feel quite flattered. After all, I don’t teach group fitness, I’m not a personal trainer, I can’t hit a tennis ball without drawing blood, or make healthy, delicious smoothies for you. I do hope that I still have something to offer to you, my beloved members.
Let’s back up though, just for a moment. I’d like to share how I ended up here at Western in the first place. Many moons ago, I ran with a whole different crowd, a food crowd. I have loved food my entire life and that may sound silly to the general population, but my parents owned a restaurant when I was young. Restaurant life is difficult to say the least, but food becomes very central when you grow up around it. With parents that work from dusk-til-dawn paired with low-means income, family meals were special and rare. My sisters and I made it through with ramen noodles, canned food, pasta, bread, casseroles, essentials. Special food could be made on holidays or important occasions though, and we could usually pick our birthday meal. We even made tamales for Christmas Eve. Mom would make the most delicious chicken dumpling soup with massive, heavy dumplings when I was sick, which was often due to my uncontrolled asthma. Long story made longer, food meant togetherness and that has stayed in my heart to this day.
Making my way back on track, before my Western life I was at the local Chipotle, hired as crew for the brand-new store that came to Green Bay 9 years ago. Yes, I know all the Chipotle secrets and I’ve made your favorite guacamole that you undoubtedly paid extra for. I marinated the chicken, diced onions, fried the chips, double rolled your burrito, and washed an obscene number of dishes. It was all too easy to fall in love with Chipotle and its culture considering my deep-rooted love for food and the people who make it. Over the course of almost 3 years, I went from crew member to Apprentice (assistant GM) to acting General Manager when the GM relocated. Sadly, my love for Chipotle regressed into exhaustion when 50-hour work weeks turned to 80-hour work weeks with me attempting to do the work of two salaried managers. Eventually, I could tread water no longer and I submitted my resignation notice. A few days before my last shift, I snagged the attention of a kind, savvy businesswoman that was a regular, hoping that she might know a local place in need of help. I tried to explain that I could do a few different things, but I caught on fast and worked hard for what I lacked in knowledge. We exchanged numbers and promised to reach out. A few days passed and that same savvy woman reached out to me and offered me an interview at Western that I happily accepted (without a single clue about the business in which I was walking into). A short meeting and tour later, I was hired for the front desk at Western Racquet & Fitness Club. I am beyond grateful that Western's owner, our gracious Mary Thomas, took a chance on a 23-year-old kid that was completely spent and heartbroken.
That was 6 and a half years ago. Time flies, doesn't it? Since then, I have been lucky enough to be with all of you. You've allowed me into your lives, and it has been such a pleasure to welcome you each day with (what I hope comes across as) a smile. I look forward to our interactions whether it's just saying hello, connecting during our day, or your after-class sweat confession. Those moments mean so much to me and I have countless memories of how you've made my day. I appreciate all the kindness and support you have afforded me all these years, especially now that my role has grown further as I've continued onto our billing and membership departments. I anticipate serving you for many years to come, if you'll have me!
When I was a kid I recall going on many adventures. I would pretend that my swing set was sitting over boiling lava. You had to get across without touching the ground or you’d burn to death!! I would go over to a friend’s house at least once a month and play games like Ghost in the Graveyard (although I was afraid of the dark). But the best adventures of all were when my sister and I would go over to my grandma’s house for the night or weekend. We’d stay up until the wee hours of the night watching I Love Lucy reruns while eating hot air-popped popcorn with real butter, salt, and a side of a Butterfingers candy bar. We’d play Crazy Eights and Solitaire for hours before we’d have a 30-minute bath. And once we were ready, the three of us would crawl into my grandma’s king-size bed, turn and face one way and scratch each other’s backs for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes were up, we’d reverse to the other side and scratch the other’s back until eventually, grandma said “bedtime!” or I’d fall asleep. It was always a blessing to get out of our normal routine to go to grandma’s. Sometimes, doing silly or out-of-the-ordinary things is just what we need to break out of the rut of a routine! When we're kids, this comes naturally to us, but as adults, we often need a little reminder!
One time we made a “For Rent” sign for the empty manger scene that was on the frozen pond right next to Main Street by the nursing home. Two of us would keep a lookout while the other would set up the scene. We created a big yellow smiley face that had its tongue sticking out and put the word “YUM” right on his forehead. We put that guy on the giant wooden ice cream cone that was outside of the BP on Main Street also. We even crafted a “Reserved Parking” sign for the light pole that our pastor would always park in front of at church so no one would steal his parking spot. “Thou shall not park here.”
We were not vandalizing or hurting anyone, but it felt so bad...in a good way! The laughs we had, the adrenaline, the feeling of not knowing what would happen next were some of the best memories I had with my grandma. That kind of fun and the adventure I had when I was younger isn’t always present now that I am older. I have more responsibilities (bills, job, house, goals) now more than I ever had before. My routine is scheduled most of the time and life can become very predictable and controlled. It’s during those times that I like to pull a page out of my grandma’s handbook: Be B.A.D.
*BREAK FROM YOUR ROUTINE
*DO SOME CRAZY FUN SH*T
Here are some of my favorite simple ways to nourish my adventurous inner child to shake up my routine. Maybe you can try a few of these or make up your own this week and break out of your routine for a little fun!
These are just a few actions that I like to keep in my back pocket when I’m feeling drained and in need of a pick me up. Like when the feelings of “when is it going to be the weekend”, wishing my days away, or just waiting on the next big thing are weighing on me. Doing things like these really help get me out of the same monotonous routine of every day and they remind me of the fun rebellious times I had with my grandma when I was younger.
What do you like to do to shake up your daily routine? Try to capture each moment and enjoy each day!
In this week's Wellness Corner, I want to explain what I feel the differences are between competitiveness and comparing, and how I’ve been able to live a happier life because of recognizing those differences!
I am competitive (I get it from my mom). The thrill of beating my husband (occasionally) at a round of horse makes me giggle. It feels like I won Jeopardy when I can name a song title and band name before anyone else as it starts to play. Monopoly? You bet I’m out for blood.
Competitiveness can be a very healthy attribute to have, minus the gloating (I’m guilty!). Being competitive can give you the motivation to be better and push yourself. It can help you admire people that are, in your eyes, succeeding. Competitiveness may even create drive and inspire you to set new goals for yourself which is great (and has done wonders for me). But there is a fine line between competitiveness and comparing.
I, like many of us, was a victim of constant comparison, and not the healthy kind. I found myself on Facebook endlessly looking at other people's profiles and comparing my pictures to theirs, comparing my job to their job, comparing their perceived happiness to my happiness. While I was processing the information I was seeing, it quickly turned into self-pitying or victimizing thoughts against myself. I would ask myself what was wrong with me that I couldn’t be as happy, or have that dream job, or have that flawless skin. The questions turned into negative self-talk: “You’re not that good, smart, or worthy of a happy life”. To be honest I wasn’t aware that I was doing it at the time. Comparison can be subtle in the way it needles itself into our lives. But looking back on it now, it was part of my routine every single day. Comparing myself over and over again every day was making me miserable. I was unhappy, negative, and self-sabotaging. It was hard for people to have a conversation with me because of the negative, self-deprecating comments I would make, making other people feel uncomfortable.
Teddy Roosevelt said, "Comparison is the thief of joy" and he couldn't have been more right. It was during the beginning of my wellness journey when I saw that quote. It resonated and struck a chord with me so much that I knew I needed to change in order to live a happier, more fulfilling life.
These were the major changes I started practicing to stop me from comparing myself to others:
1. Focus your energy on what YOU are doing
Instead of focusing on what everyone else was doing, turn your attention back to what you are doing! Doing this gave me clarity on what I could control (like my effort), for instance, my gym routine at Western. Could I get lost in looking at other people’s routines, what machines they’re using, how they’re doing it, and comparing how my body looks to theirs? Of course! But I made the decision to spend that time and energy focusing on what exercises feel right to me and make me happy and...voila! I began to see a shift in my feelings of self-worth!
2. Realize that the majority of people did not wake up one day with everything they have now
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a professional singer but didn’t think I was talented enough as all the famous singers out there. I mean, Lady Gaga is amazing but I doubt she woke up one morning and was a superstar. People have to WORK to build their skills. And skills are learnable. I just had to find out which skills were most valuable to me. It was also important to me to realize that everyone is in a different part of their journey. Experience, practice, and opportunities play into each person’s journey. I choose to support people and cheer for them on their journey but overall I keep my eyes focused on my own path.
3. Everyone has an opportunity
I used to feel that if someone had something or did something I wanted to do, that meant there was lesser of a chance for me. Now I know that's simply not the case. Opportunities exist for all of us! Something someone else has that I also want just might not happen the same way for me and that's okay! Part of the fun is figuring it out!
4. Only compare yourself to who you were yesterday
Going forward, if I’m going to compare myself to anyone, it will be to the person I was yesterday. Each day is a new day to be better. A better wife, friend, listener, money manager, sever, human. To me, that is progress.
I still have my competitive nature, but my biggest competition is myself and who I’m striving to be. This has changed my level of joy in my body and life tenfold.
What might you need to let go of in order to stop comparing yourself to others? If you need some extra help on the journey to self-acceptance and a life filled with happiness, consider Wellness Coaching! Western's new Wellness Coaching services offer one-on-one coaching to help you find and implement strategies personalized to your goals. We all need a little help getting on track sometimes! As a certified Health Coach and Life Coach, my greatest passion lies in holding the vision of who you want to be and helping you take each actionable step towards that version of your best self, and not only give you tangible tools, but also listen, understand, and believe in you. Check out westernracquet.com/wellness-coaching to learn about all our options and see what might be the right fit for you, wherever you are in your wellness journey.
With the recent Labor Day weekend wrapping up we now officially enter one of the busier times of the year for gyms and health clubs everywhere. Many people find themselves overwhelmed during the summer months with an abundance of traveling, sporting events, family activities, etc. and simply fall out of their regular fitness routines. If this sounds familiar to you then there is simply no time like the present to reassert your commitment to your health and fitness. That being said, what is the best way to go about doing this?
There are a plethora of different ways to get back into shape and you ultimately need to do what is best for you. For some people this will mean group fitness classes, others will hire a personal trainer, or people who love running may dust off their shoes and start hitting the pavement once again. No matter which avenue you choose to go down there is one thing all these methods will need in order to be successful - a combination of both short and long term goals.
Long term goals are extremely important because they offer you something you can strive to achieve over an extended period of time. Some examples of long term goals would be: lose 20 pounds, decrease your body fat percentage by 5 points, run a marathon, or increase your squat max by 50 pounds. Long term goals are more successful when they are something you truly care about, so make sure you pick out something that is important to YOU. It’s also important to pick out a goal that is measurable. While “living a healthy lifestyle” is important there is no true way to dictate whether or not you are legitimately achieving this goal. My last point on long term goals is that, while they are extremely important for achieving long term success, they need to be coupled with short term goals. This is necessary because long term goals can be intimidating and overwhelming. There is no way to quickly achieve long term goals and this can create a mental roadblock for many. However, if you also create a series of short term goals you can succeed at in a shorter period of time the feeling of accomplishment will push you and become a motivating factor.
What are good short term goals? Just like long term goals, short term goals will be met with success more often when they are personal and something you care about. Also, just like we mentioned with long term goals, make sure you pick out something that is measurable so you can quantify if you are actually reaching or surpassing these milestones you set for yourself. A good example of long term goals vs short term goals could be, I have a long term goal to run a half marathon (this training could take a year depending on where you are starting) but my goal this week is to run 10 miles over 3 sessions. Never hesitate to give yourself a reward for achieving your milestones, it often time will help to give yourself an incentive to push it harder!
For anyone reading this, I challenge you to take 15 minutes this week and write down some short term goals and long term goals for your health and fitness. You may find this is something that is really helpful for you when it comes to achieving being the best version of yourself!
Today I want to walk through the basics of eccentric, isometric, and concentric training. Each of these components plays a role in many different exercises, but can often be overlooked or misunderstood.
An isometric exercise is when your muscle length and the angle of your joint don't change. A great example of this would be a plank, you are holding yourself in that position with virtually no movement. A great benefit of using isometrics is that it forces you to engage your core and work on balance and body control. It also helps break through plateaus, if you are struggling at the bottom of your squat, you can do isometric squats and hold yourself at the bottom portion of the move where you are the weakest and you can improve in that area. Iso's can also be helpful when trying to recover from an injury, you don't need special equipment and it can help with increased activation.
The next type of moves to cover are the eccentric exercises. An eccentric contraction is when your muscle lengthens, or the "lowering" portion of most moves. Bicep curls are a simple example in this scenario, the eccentric part is when you are lowering the weight down in a slow and controlled manner. To make this more of a challenge you can increase the time it takes you to get to the bottom of the move. If you usually go up and down in one second, focus on lowering the weight for three seconds on the way down. This is a great way to strengthen and grow your muscle fibers. This does place a large stress on the body and will also help strengthen your tendons and ligaments, you will need longer to recover when these methods are used to train.
The final category to discuss is the concentric portions of the moves. Basically, we are thinking of the opposite of eccentric, the muscle is shortening, so this time if we are looking at a bicep curl, we are focused on the way up when you squeeze your bicep the bring the weight up. Focusing on this part of your lift can help stimulate strength and power. The next time you squat, put an emphasis on the concentric phase of your squat by exploding out of the bottom of your squat. By exploding up and not raising slowly, you will develop power that will help move the weight faster.
If you're looking for different ways to get a variety of these types of exercise into your workouts, talk to a Western personal trainer today!
It’s been over a year. A full year since I last wrote a blog expressing how lost I felt without Group Fitness classes running, expressing how it felt when we were not seeing our members on a regular basis, not hearing the bass drop in the studios, not watching my Instructors doing what they love every day, numerous hours a day. Over 80 classes a week of Group Fitness ground to a halt. A wide variety of modalities all created by my staff of 50 went suddenly -poof!- A staff and a schedule that we built, studio by studio, class by class, year by year. We were so proud of that schedule. We brought in the education for each format, purchased the best equipment, and practiced a lot so we could give our members that absolute best Group Fitness experience.
Throughout the year, we (over)used the word "pivot" and I admit I probably added some words before "pivot" that I won't type out in case my Mom is reading this. Our members took our pivots in stride, stood by our side, cheered with us, cried with us, and were game for anything as we figured out how to do Group Fitness in a COVID-19 world.
If you followed our journey in the Group Fitness Department since March 2020, you might think "wow, they did this with such ease, such grace." Well, I am here to give you a "behind the scenes" look at the many pivots (and somersaults and ‘I don’t wanna’ tantrums) that happened to me more times than I can count this past year.
Heres' the blog I wrote for Western when we had to shut down last spring: https://old.westernracquet.com/its-just-a-fitness-class/
I signed off with a short story about it being "just a fitness class" because I felt foolish crying so many tears and stressing out SO much over "just a fitness class" when so much was happening in the world. I remember always saying "the world is so dark, people are dealing with so much, it’s just a fitness class." But if you know me, my heart, my passion, I was freaking the heck out. I didn’t want to lose all that we had built. I didn’t want the relationships and the community to end. I wanted people to find any way they could to stay healthy, sane, and fit but also didn't want anyone to forget about us! I could see Pelotons being bought, memberships put on hold, some cancelling and I had to roll with those punches. If I am truly in this for the right reason I shouldn’t care HOW people are staying healthy, sane, and fit - just that are! But in my mind I was thinking, "Don't leave Western! Pick me. Choose me. Love me. Come back to me and my staff!"
I remember when we truly thought it would be just be two weeks to flatten the curve and then we'd be back. We closed Western and posted that we would be back soon and that we would take this on a case by case basis and we did! Every week. Then every 2 weeks. Maybe next month. With each passing day, we knew things would be so different. We could feel a shift in our world and it was hard to imagine starting over and rebuilding, much less trying to figure out how we work in this new world - this world when so many found fitness through technology and away from their community gyms.
Throughout the first few weeks, we posted "homework" for you to do on your own. I remember seeing other clubs jumping on Facebook Live, Youtube, and Zoom providing their members with live classes and I thought "I’m not doing that. I am not opening that can of worms - what if they never come back!" I remember my wonderful instructor and Western's Corporate Director, Katie Dubois, telling me each day, as nicely as she could, that members wanted some live classes. After stomping my foot, I said FINE but I am NOT teaching in my house. I have no space, my husband works nights, my stepdaughter is home from college trying to do her senior year online. There is no way I could make this work!
Guess what? I figured it out along with a dozen other staff. We upped our wi-fi game, bought different cables we never heard of, mixers, microphones, lights, and someone even bought a cat hammock so her 4 hairless cats could hang out while she taught (I know, weird, right?).
We found our niche. We magically found ways to connect over the computer. We added different, creative, classes and we even team-taught with coordinated outfits and all. It actually…..wasn’t that bad!
Fast forward to when we could open. Once again I thought, "No way am I going to teach in a mask and I will not make my instructors do that!" I believe I also said "Making people stand on an ‘x’ and spread people apart? NO!" <insert Kario stomping her foot> Well, the need to be with you all led me to create an in house schedule, measuring spaces 6 feet apart, throwing classes outside, renting a tent, a storage pod, buying speakers, more microphones, AND teaching in a mask. It actually….wasn’t that bad!
Now that things are moving forward quite nicely, it was recently suggested that we could teach our Zoom classes from the club if we wanted. Here’s me “I am not going to pack up all my gear, drive ALL the way to Western, to set it all up, and teach when I have an entire studio in my living room.” Oh, how things continue to PIVOT even a year out. Besides, how would that girl with the hairless cats show them off to her Zoom peeps?
So I'll leave you with the take away from this little look into the raw and vulnerable emotions I've felt through this past year - if you want something bad enough, if you love something enough, if you want success, you will make it work. Recruit help, ask for shoulders to lean and, well, shoulders to cry on and you'll often find out…the things you thought could never work turn out to be "not that bad". Virtual, masks, spacing is all worth being able to do the job that we love for the people we love….YOU!
I am in constant awe of my staff. I admit, most were ready and willing before me. They helped me move forward and take the steps I knew I needed to take because we just wanted to be a part of your lives no matter HOW that looked.
Thank you for sticking by us and pivoting….no….EVOLVING to bring the magic inside (and outside) our walls once again. We are moving forward and we have big, big plans.
Nearly 1 million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s Disease. An American is diagnosed every 9 minutes. I think when some people hear ‘Parkinson’s Disease’ they think it affects the older population, with tremors and slower movement. That might be true for some, but being diagnosed with Parkinson's is different for everyone. When I got Certified as a Rock Steady Boxing Coach, a neurologist spoke with us and said, "If you met one person with Parkinson’s, you have met one person with Parkinson's." I think this is the most frustrating thing for diagnosed patients and their loved ones. Parkinson’s is an ongoing, progressive disease of the nervous system which affects your movement. There is no cure. There are medications to help control the symptoms but one thing that is scientifically proven to delay the progression of Parkinson's Disease is EXERCISE. That’s right. MOVEMENT. One particular organization has really put their foot down on the gas pedal and made some significant strides in helping people with Parkinson's live better lives. That organization is Rock Steady Boxing.
Rock Steady Boxing was founded in 2006 and has grown to over 900 affiliates across the globe. We added to that ever-increasing number in 2018 with our very own Rock Steady Boxing program at Western Racquet.
Western held Rock Steady Boxing classes 3 times per week in our gym that was filled with heavy bags, speed bags, and many other pieces of equipment to help with balance, dexterity, motor control, handwriting, and more. Besides the equipment, we filled the room with Certified Coaches, Volunteers, Caregivers (we call them Cornermen), and of course, our boxers (people with Parkinson's). We had an average of 26 boxers who dedicated 75 minutes 3 times a week with us, working on Voice Activation, Mobility, Core Work, Strength Exercises, Balance, Movement, and of course, heavy bags and speed bags. And, we had SO MUCH FUN.
I have never seen a group of people work so hard not only during class but all day long. One of our boxers once told me that Parkinson's was his "full-time job" now. And for many Parkinson's sufferers, that's the case - making sure you are continuously moving to eating the right foods to taking medications on time and making sure your mental health is in a good place.
Our Rock Steady Boxing classes were magic. I know that sounds a bit corny but they truly were! I could see the difference in their movement from the time they walked in to the time they left. They walked taller, smiled bigger, and confidence was at an all-time high. Of course, it was not always easy. Having Parkinson’s means every day is different. Every stride, every turn, every step up to a curb feels different minute by minute. But the one thing we all had was each other. We are a big happy family and had each others' back in and outside the gym.
Fast forward to COVID-19. We were all absolutely heartbroken to learn we could not have class for a while. We truly thought we would be back in "about 2 weeks". Remember when we were focused on "flattening the curve" so we could get right back to normal? As the first few weeks went by and numbers continued to rise, Coach Katie, Sara, and I knew we had to come up with a plan to keep our Boxers moving. We were recording homework for them, did a weekly check-in email, phone calls here and there...but being together is what we really needed.
With the help of Dance For PD instructor, Lisa Pritzl, we figured out how we could virtually get our group back together again. We started with a Happy Hour to teach them the ins and outs of using Zoom, then we slowly added our classes back virtually.
We successfully brought our indoor crazy high energy fun class virtually to their living rooms. We still get loud and we still play jokes on each other. We still laugh and dance and sing. Oh, and we workout too!
I am SO proud of our boxers for taking the fear of the unknown (technology) and continuing to fight back against Parkinson’s Disease. I am so proud of us, the Coaches, and all of the Rock Steady Boxing Affiliates who transferred their classes to a virtual platform. This year proved that there really is NOTHING that will stop us from fighting and living our best life.
One thing I love is being able to look back on my journey on how I got to be where I am today. I had my daughter at the very young age of 18 so I had to grow up very fast but gosh, she was the best thing that ever happened to me! A few years later I decided to go to college and I later graduated with a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice in March of 2011. I was ready to dive into a job in the criminal justice field, make a difference, and change the whole dang world. But the funny thing about life is that you might make all the plans to go down a certain path, and life brings you down a path you never even dreamed you would go down!
Believe it or not, I started out at Western Racquet not knowing a single soul except for my good friend, co-worker, and boss, Kari Merrill. Her and I connected through a mutual friend and we were supposed to chat about me working at the jail where she had worked for 13 years, and we did chat about the jail, but she gave me every reason NOT to work there! So instead, we started talking about fitness and she asked if I wanted a tour and to try out a 7-day trial as a member at Western, which I immediately jumped on!
Before I found Western, I had never really enjoyed working out. I would start a workout routine, do it for a few weeks or if I was lucky, a few months, and I would give up because I didn't get the immediate results I wanted and honestly, I would just get bored. Working out was never fun for me, it was more of a chore.
My first class I took at Western was kickboxing and I literally had no idea what I was doing, but I didn’t care! I was jabbing left while everyone else was jabbing right. I was hooking while everyone else was kicking. And you know what? I did all of that with a big smile on my face, I just didn't care what I looked like because I was having the time of my life! I remember telling Kari one time that her kickboxing class was more fun than dancing out in the bars! The atmosphere, the smiles, and the ENERGY was contagious, and I knew in my heart I had found something very special.
I truly lived and breathed Western as a member. I loved trying out each class, I loved making new friends, and I loved the confidence I was slowly building for myself. I loved Western so much that when the opportunity was given to me, I decided to start working part-time at the front desk! Well, part-time quickly turned into full-time, which turned into me getting certified to teach classes, managing the front desk for a bit, and landed me in my current role as membership director for the past 5 years!
Now, what some people don’t know, is I’ve been through a lot in my life. I have suffered from depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I have had some awful things done to me, and looking back, I can finally admire and be proud of my strength for getting through them. My journey ties in perfectly with the title of this blog. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wouldn’t have climbed a mountain to enjoy the view at the top. I'm not quite sure where I would be if I hadn't found Western. I didn't realize how much I needed this place until I felt a weight slowly lift off my shoulders. Looking back, sometimes the smile I had on my face was forced and fake, and once that weight was lifted, my smile was real and genuine and sincere.
One of the reasons I love my job is that I know exactly what it feels like walking into a new gym not knowing a single person. Not knowing how to use the machines, not knowing how to do a ton of exercises, or remembering even how to get to the locker rooms! It's intimidating and a little scary. But the love that surrounded me instantly by all the amazing members and staff is one of the reasons Western became so special to me and I vowed when I started working here that I would take away that uncertainty and intimidation away for anyone that felt uncomfortable or uncertain being here.
In life, sometimes we just need to take that leap of faith. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t gotten the courage to take my first group fitness class or gotten the courage to ask if I could teach cycling or gotten away from the comfort of the front desk and taken my membership role. Comfortable is EASY. It's safe. Not a lot can touch us in our safe bubble we create. It's when we spread our wings and take the jump when we really find out who we are and who we were meant to be.
For those of you who are thinking about taking a leap, whether it be switching jobs, moving somewhere new, ending a relationship, or where my journey started, joining a new gym, I encourage you to take that leap. You may fail, and that’s okay because that is life, my friends. But man, I’m telling you, I know the journey up whatever mountain you're climbing is sometimes very hard, and sometimes you want to give up, but once you're up there, and once you look at how far you've come, it's so worth it. I honestly wouldn’t go back and change a single thing in my life, good or bad. Our experiences shape us into who we are. We may make mistakes and make some wrong turns, but we are always right where we are supposed to be, and right now, you are EXACTLY where you are supposed to be.
COVID-19. No groups larger than 250. No groups larger than 50. Keep 6ft of distance between each other. No groups larger than 10. No groups...at all? But...but what about our Group Fitness Classes? I know, I know. It seems so minor in comparison to what is going on all over the world. In fact, I was a little embarrassed at how much and how hard I cried, how I loudly I sobbed, how horrific my face looked, I couldn’t breathe, I made sounds I have never heard before - it was so obnoxious that Popcorn, my hairless cat, didn’t know what else to do than to show me love by rolling his whole body over mine over and over again and giving me so many head butts that it left a mark. I remember that Monday. The night I walked out of Western's doors and knew that we would be closing. Yes, I cried for the world and yes, I cried for "just a fitness class".
It wasn’t a few hours later that I saw our instructors and members connecting on social media more than ever. Our members with a fear of missing their classes and their routines and especially their buddies that stand by them in every class. Missing the sweat and energy. The family and community they know and love. I knew we had to take action. Yes, the world was turning upside down but I know, first hand, how fitness can save you, it can help, even just for that 45 minutes. I wanted to make sure we could still take care of our group fitness community. I NEEDED to give them workouts, and fun memories to smile at, and a chance to just check in.
I remember seeing an Instagram post by Alissa Cotter, who has taught for Western for over a dozen years, with a hashtag that read #groupfitnessinstructorwithoutagroup
Alissa says: “Group Fitness Instructors love what they do because of the group aspect of working out together. The camaraderie and energy of the participants are what they feed off of so when there are no groups for the instructors to lead, they feel a little like fish out of water. A Group Fitness Instructor without a group is just a person wearing a microphone working out."
It might seem like a minor thing if you're not the one on the mic. But when you are the one wearing the mic, spending hours planning classes and even more hours planning just the right music, moves, and special surprise finales. The one who brings back a move that you know Kris in the back row center LOVES. The one who arrives early and stays late, buys their own decor, dice, and songs. The one who makes sure every single person in their class leaves feeling successful, happier, and healthier. Unless you are that person, or the person that comes to classes and makes it a lifestyle - it might just seem like a minor thing. After all, it is just a fitness class…..
But, like our instructor Sara Smith, a newer instructor on the team who recently became a Rock Steady for Parkinson's Coach, says: “There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you’ve made a positive impact on someone’s life just by doing what you love. How lucky are we to be the ones to help ignite a 'spark' in others to want to set goals for themselves? Even better yet...we get to help them achieve those goals and celebrate with them! This is what I miss and yes, we can still do this virtually, but I’d much rather do it face to face and to celebrate with high fives and hugs in the gym instead of our homes”
That is what we miss as group fitness instructors. CELEBRATING with each and every one of you. Virtually is good and better than nothing, but, man do we miss our group and the energy in the room and our high fives. Will we ever get to do mandatory high gives at the end of my Monday night Zumba class again? Will Amy Xiong, instructor and Membership Director, ever be able to rub China Gel on our necks again during Savasana? The pitter-patter of her feet making her way around her Yogis? Amy says “I miss the calmness of the studio and the energy of my yogis."
Nothing feels normal right now - for anyone - but this is our new normal for a bit. And we are going to roll with it like Instructor Kimberly Uelman, creator of the clever Showtunes Bootcamp class says: "It’s just not the same getting my fitness on in my living room. I miss the energy and laughs..oh yes and the sweat that Western brings. Keep on keeping on - I can’t wait to see you soon!"
This pandemic has affected every single person you have ever met. Every person you have seen on your TV or heard on your radio. Your children. Their teachers. Business owners. First Responders, Nurses, Doctors, Corrections Officers, Police - the list goes on and on from your mail carrier to your local pet food supplier, to your Group Fitness Instructor. We all succeed with the help of others, by being with others, and now we must find a way to succeed alone, together.
I think Katie Dubois, instructor and Corporate Director, really hits home when she says “I love creating an environment where our members feel like they’re a part of something, feel safe, have fun, and feel like ‘we’re all in this together’ Not being able to teach my classes in person and be with our members in person has created a huge void in my life, and the feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ has a whole new meaning. But it has also pushed me to find the motivation to seek out alternative ways to connect with my classes.”
Exactly. This we can guarantee. Your Group Fitness Instructors got you. It will just look a little different for a while. Katie adds “I have been amazed at the effort we have all put into maintaining the Western family we are all a part of.” Yup. I couldn’t agree more and makes me a very proud Group Fitness Director.
Amanda Boeder, Instructor, Membership Director, laugh-a-holic, sums up the energy we feel so perfectly. She says “I miss so much about teaching. The energy. The endorphins. The cycling studio. The butterflies in my stomach. The hugs and the high gives before and after class. The goals we hit. But I miss my people, my cyclists, the most."
The people. You people. We miss you. And I am not going to apologize for the ugly cries that happen over ‘just a fitness class’ because it represents so much more than just the class and it has the same feeling behind it that so many others are feeling now.
I want to leave you with something I read online a few days after businesses started to close and everything felt so heavy. It was a few nights after I walked out of Western and not sure when I would be walking back in. It made me feel like it was okay not to be okay over "just a fitness class."
It's just a fitness class!
4 walls, a floor and a roof.
A stereo and a beat.
Trainers and lycra.
Movement to music.
It's just a fitness class!
Things get built here -
Things get broken here -
.....but it's just a fitness class!
Friendships are forged.
Community is created.
We rally together in the sad times.
We celebrate the good times.
.....but it's just a fitness class!
We conquer our demons.
We relieve our stress.
We quiet the voices in our heads.
We feel at home here.
.....but it's just a fitness class!
It's the date in our diary we never miss.
It's the time for us to be carefree.
It's the place where we can let go.
It's part of our lives.
It's not just a fitness class.
We will be back. Stronger than ever. Together.
Why wouldn’t I choose a career working in the County Jail? Look at ALL the people I can help. The job is different every day. I don’t have to dress up. I get great benefits. But what I came to realize year after year and almost 13 years later, is that I didn't like what this type of job did to ME and who it was turning me into.
I remember thinking, “I am not this person. I want to LIKE people.” A job in Corrections makes it very tough to keep a happy disposition. You see, you hear, and you smell a lot of things you cannot even imagine. You start to lose faith in mankind. For me, it turned me very cynical, negative, and unhappy but I could do the job well. But deep down, I was not fulfilled. I was not meeting the need to really help people like I feel I was born to do. I needed an outlet. I needed to get out of my house and DO something besides work. I wanted to really bond with people again to trust in people again.
I found Group Fitness. I remember taking my first Group Fitness classes and crushing on my Cardio Kickboxing Instructor - thinking she was magic. How does she make the punches and kicks go along with the beat of the music? How is she making my day every day? And finally - I WANT TO DO THAT FOR SOMEBODY TOO!
That Group Fitness Instructor was Janet Babe and she also ran Group Fitness at the gym where I found this fitness magic. I will never forget Janet coming up to me in class and asking if I was interested in teaching. Man...what a compliment! My answer? “Oh gosh, no, I couldn’t do a class like this.” But on the inside? This is ALL I wanted to do. I needed something positive because almost everything in my life at that moment was sad.
Of course, that night I went home and ordered music, starting busting out different ideas with multiple colored markers and thought "maybe I could do this?" Luckily for me, Janet didn’t take no for an answer and started working with me - teaching me the 32ct beat of the music,how and when to cue ‘4, 3, 2 CUE’, and how to mirror my participants so my left is your right and I remember thinking "Whoa, this is harder than it looks!"
One thing she did not have to teach me is to have fun and smile while I was up there because for the first time in a long time, I was having fun and smiling so much my cheeks hurt! Realizing how I can help people just by putting on a mic and giving them an outlet away from their lives just like I had needed was the best feeling in the world.
So now what? Group Fitness was all I could think about. I taught every chance I could, adding different modalities to my resume. During my free time, I was creating and programming, researching different movements and classes and fusions of classes. I started a Personal Training business where I came to the client's home. "Ding Dong Knock Knock, It’s Kario!" I loved everything about fitness and I was a sponge. I went to conferences, connected with fitness people around the world, read book after book, obtained certification after certification. But all of that didn’t matter as I started thinking about a change of career. My degree wasn’t in fitness so how could I get someone, anyone, to give me a chance? I mean, can my passion count for anything? I knew I could do this full-time!
Enter Western Racquet and Fitness Club. I went for a 7-day trial, just to work out and see a different style of facility. Enter Kat Vanfossen, who was quite persistent with a side order of stalkerish to get me to teach a class - which I finally did! Monday night Zumba every other week at 5:30pm. I remember teaching my first class at Western to 4 people and Kat saying "You have something - you made this 4 person class into a party." She told me a member said "I don’t know who that is, but can we keep her?" I remember thinking...and I still think...hmm...am I really ok up there? I am simply loving what I do...that’s it! It must show, eh?
Little did I know that behind the scenes Kat was working herself OUT of a job (she was the Group Fitness Director) to get me in the doors as a Part-Time Group Fitness Director. She told the GM that if she wanted to grow Group Fitness at Western that I was going to be her gal. I mean, I di have 5,672,893 ideas brewing in my head!
I remember sitting in front of the owners of Western and talking their ears off about everything fitness. That conversation was followed up by a job offer. My dream job….except….part time? In fitness? HOW? How can I leave a County Job that I have been at for 13 years with retirement, protective status, benefits, good pay?
I didn’t know how I would do it, but I knew my happiness counted on me trying. My boyfriend (turned husband that same year) simply said, “Baby, you are not happy. Go take that job and we will figure it out. I got you and we have each other” It was a BIG change and it was HARD but we did it! AND I LOVE MY JOB. I love every hour of every day that I am here. I still get goosebumps when I get to put the mic on. I still love that now I am Janet and Kat - and I am telling members "You have what it takes to teach Group Fitness" and then I can teach them the 32ct and how to find their passion in this industry. To pay it forward, over and over again, is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
The last 9 years have flown by and Western has grown so much. We went from 21 classes per week to over 80 classes per week on the schedule. From 2 studios to 5 studios. We have brought in Water Rowers, TRX, Schwinn Bikes, Barre, Strong By Zumba and kept our original classes such as Step, Cardio Kickboxing, Strength, Core, and Yoga strong as ever. We more than doubled our instructors and with their love and passion for Group Fitness it has made Western a home and community for our members. We are providing the magic that I felt all those years ago and I am thrilled and excited by that every single day.
Nothing beats happiness. So when I say "Follow Your Dreams" it isn’t just because it’s a cool phrase on the cover of a journal. You can be happy in your career but you must take that leap of faith and work your butt off! But, most importantly, FIND SOMETHING YOU LOVE.