Where do I begin? So many thoughts have poured in over these past few days- months really - about if/when this day would come. I guess I’ll begin at the end, and say something I have been avoiding stating – partially because it is hard to put out there and make official. I am closing a chapter in my life that has been a huge influence in my personal and professional growth, and really been a foundation of my identity for the past 28 years… as I have made the decision to retire from group fitness instruction.
This happens as another set of doors also close: those at Lifetime Fitness – Six Forks. While those walls may not have always held up the sturdiest of ceilings (cue the water buckets), it provided the space for being creative and joyful in a “job”, and connected me both to myself and others around me. One thing I always loved about working in a facility like this is that you are “working” in a place where everyone is there because they want to be, and you provide the means to escape the daily grind, even if it is just for an hour a week. I am so grateful that so many people chose to spend that time with me, and am continuously honored that they shared their energy with me over the eleven years I taught there.
The road to ending a career in group fitness in this type of headspace did not come easily, nor overnight. I can take it back to Freshman Year in college: I started taking “aerobics classes” through UNC Campus Rec – in the unventilated hollows of Woolen Gym that resembled my elementary school PE classes. I wanted to do what those instructors did, and make my own routines to bounce around to. So near the end of second semester, I took the certification to become an instructor. I think it was some in-house verification, but nevertheless I took it as my ticket to be a teacher and prepped all summer for the Fall… where I ended up teaching 5 classes per week on cement floors in dormitory basements (cue shin splints). But I was hooked. I auditioned at other gyms, and on some weeks was teaching up to 11 times per week. Being paid to work out? This is the best gig ever. On top of this all, I made all of my own mixes – which in 1991 was not an easy feat. The amount of time I spent pausing and rewinding to get the perfect transition from my double tape deck is on the verge of embarrassing. But I am also pretty proud of what I could make with what I had.
As time rolled on, I gained more confidence and experience, (and cut back on the number of classes I was teaching), and by my senior year I was among the first group of instructors to christen the long-awaited Student Rec Center, or SRC. My world had recently become exposed to the glory of step aerobics, and this became my bread and butter format for many years to come.
When I moved to Georgia for grad school in 1994, the very first thing I did after unpacking was find a place to teach. I landed at the at-the-time place-to-be for both your fitness and drinking experiences: O’Malley’s. It was really an awesome facility and a pretty cool bar as well, having that modern warehouse feel to it. Yet it brought the solemn reminder that staring over and making that good first impression, especially in this field, is hard. In my very first step class, I not only tripped off my step (which was a huge wooden box to my credit), but I also fell off the stage and onto the person in the hard-core, front row spot. Luckily I survived for another day, however the gym did not stay around that long, and after an emergency meeting on a Sunday night two years later, they closed the doors. I would experience that one other time in another club in Athens years later, which makes me especially grateful to have had this time to transition and say goodbye with the closing at Six Forks.
Upon finishing grad school and becoming a registered dietitian, my experience as a fitness professional provided me the opportunity to land my dream job right out of school as an Exercise and Nutrition Specialist at a local Hospital Wellness Center. This position was created specifically for me with my skill sets in mind. I taught classes at the wellness center and in other local gyms as well, where my $15 per class out-paid my full-time job wage.
Over the next ten years, my careers blossomed so that by 2003 I started my own private practice offering both nutrition counselling and fitness programming/ personal training services. I was professionally fulfilled and excited to be doing all that I was doing.
But life got in the way, and I decided to move back to the Triangle area in 2008. My sister had been living in the area, and within a few days of moving here we took an RPM class at her gym, Lifestyle Family Fitness off of Six Forks Road. I went in with the intention on attempting to start anew and just be a member, but halfway through the class I knew that wouldn’t be the case. Weeks later I am in the RPM training and on the schedule a few weeks after that. Cycling became my primary format. An occasional strength or step sub opportunity popped up here and there, but I had become a lover of creating journeys through music on the bike and developed my squad of regulars over time.
Then in 2011 (that date may be wrong – as it seems like it wasn’t that long ago!), Lifestyle became Lifetime, and I got back to my own choreography and music choices. I was so excited for this evolution.
At the same time, my career in the field of eating disorders was also evolving, which was a stark contrast from hospital based wellness. Despite loving those previous jobs, I knew that I had found my calling. Yet I started to notice that where my nutrition and fitness paths had merged in the past, they began to diverge and completely divide. In working with so many individuals struggling with dysfunctional exercise issues in eating disorder treatment, it was harder to overlap these spaces. I did instruct some basic mindful movement classes where I worked for the clients, and tried to help them re-connect with their bodies in a playful and effective way. I taught the chair exercise classes just like I did that retirement home years before (but with some cooler music), and it was just as rewarding.
I began to speak more to exercise issues within the eating disorder population at regional and national conferences, and really began to mourn how these pillars were being pulled apart. So over the past year and a half, I have presented nationally on the challenges of disordered eating and dysfunctional exercise issues within the fitness industry, as my lens for these issues has developed. I can also say that this lens has me reflect on my own fitness career early on very differently. I must honestly say though, that my passion for this topic didn’t arise from what I was seeing at Six Forks. If anything it was quite the opposite.
When I enter Six Forks I am always in awe. Not because of the facility and the offerings and equipment that was there, but the people I would see walking the floor. The diversity of body sizes, the range of ages, and span of physical capacities, and how everyone was welcomed and encouraged equally. I want to step away from group fitness with the fullness of heart, recalling how I played a role in gathering these amazing diverse people who may never have met otherwise, and providing them the space to authentically connect through a common goal of having fun and moving their bodies.
If you told me six months ago I would be typing this, I’d have called you crazy. However with recent job changes and new hobbies evolving into new passions (spoiler alert – more blog posts to come), it seemed the right time. And as much as I do NOT want to admit it, I’m getting older, and what started as a long overdue summer hiatus has morphed into finalizing a change my body needs right now. I am not saying that my toe is completely out of fitness world, but for now I am saying goodbye to sitting on that lead bike and looking at my class with excitement and gratitude before pressing play.
Thank you to all that have ever danced, lifted, stepped, or rode with me along this journey. I hope I have allowed you to feel as strong, important, and connected as much you have for me. Your beautiful sweaty grimaces are forever etched in my heart.