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What It Means To Be A Warrior Today

If you look up the definition of a Warrior, you will find its meaning was “especially true in former times” and indicates a brave or experienced soldier or fighter.  Read further and you learn that the word has taken on new meaning today. In fact, the word is now used to describe everyday people who are very strong and don’t give up easily. When the Fitness Warriors program was formed with the support of the Anthem Foundation in 2014, we knew we were going to be fighting. Not in a war, not in the streets, but fighting none the less. The program was designed to combat the health inequities that exist in our region. We knew we needed to train community members to prepare them to lead classes in parts of our city where there are no gyms, it isn’t safe to go outside for a walk, and fitness isn’t a priority. We knew it would take someone brave to start a class where none had ever existed. We knew we needed Warriors to do this work. Now, six years later, in the midst of a pandemic and a different public health crisis – racism – this couldn’t be more true. The Warriors remain steadfast in their fight against health inequities but we are witnessing them take on that new meaning of a Warrior – they are stronger than ever and it is clear that they won’t give up easily.

In March, when we had to cancel the 60 in-person classes we offered free each week throughout the region, we knew we had to find another way to help keep people moving. We called the Warriors to action and started filming; creating a series of fitness videos led by the Warriors our community know and love. It wasn’t long before we realized we needed more. Some Warriors, of their own volition, started leading classes via Facebook live. The videos and Facebook live sessions were great but we were still missing something. We weren’t able to interact with our participants, motivate them during the workout, laugh together, or enjoy the fellowship that our fitness families are accustomed to when they come to one of our classes. We decided to start offering Zoom classes, which meant learning how to lead classes virtually. The Warriors stepped up to the plate, and in mid-April we trained eight Warriors and prepared to launch our first series of weekly virtual fitness classes. We were going to be able to offer classes every day of the week, with the exception of Sundays, and were excited to have a variety of class formats to meet the needs of the community.

The very first Warrior to lead a Zoom class was Arlene Cary. In fact, she was ahead of the curve and had started Zoom classes on her own with her class participants before we launched our series of classes on April 27. In the first few weeks of leading classes, Arlene lost her best friend to COVID-19. If anyone had an excuse to not workout, let alone lead others through a workout, it was Arlene. In true Warrior fashion, she persevered. There were 36 participants in that first class and, what we now refer to as our “Zoom Room,” was filled with women moving and grooving in the safety of their homes, smiling as they followed Arlene’s lead, and thanking Arlene at the end for giving them a great workout. When asked how she managed to push through, she explained that, “some of my participants have told me that I have saved them with my class. Little do they know that they have saved me. My best friend, who was one of my biggest cheerleaders, would want me to keep going and be the best version of myself. And knowing that my participants need some kind of sense of ‘normalcy’ has kept me going too. My participants are a family and we have gone through a lot together. Fitness through Zumba has gotten us through some rough times and they were there for me as much as I have been there for them.”

Those reasons to keep her class going have motivated her in other ways, too. In the weeks that followed her first Zoom class, Arlene finished her studies through the American Council on Exercise and went on to take the exam to become a nationally certified Group Fitness Instructor. She passed on the first attempt and has since gone on to become certified as a TRX instructor. You see, the Warriors bring their innate strength and we make sure they have the training they need to be the best they can be for the community.

Fast forward to June and, with two months of virtual class experience under our belts and a loosening of restrictions in Virginia, we decided to offer a series of outdoor classes, in addition to continuing our Zoom class offerings. A group of 10 Warriors were ready to take their classes to the great outdoors and attended one of two trainings we offered to get them prepared for how to safely lead classes in accordance with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.  At the second training, which was held at Byrd Park, a true collision of the current state of affairs occurred. While we gathered to learn how to safely lead classes outdoors during a pandemic, another group was gathering to protest near the Christopher Columbus statue. Later that evening we learned that, moments after wrapping up our training, the protestors dismantled the statue and threw it into the nearby lake. We realized that leading classes outdoors would present more than one challenge, yet our Warriors didn’t waver.

Our summer series, which consists of eight Zoom classes and 12 outdoor classes, is going strong. The safety of our Warriors and participants is of utmost importance. If you feel most safe in your home, then all you have to do is contact us for the link to the Zoom class of your choice and tune in at the scheduled class time. If you are ready to take your workout outdoors, you will find cones being used to ensure participants maintain 10 feet of distance between themselves and the other participants. Hand sanitizer is available at each class. No equipment is being shared among participants. You will also find a group of people that are happy to be back together, even if from a distance. You will find Warriors who are cheering you through your workout, fellow participants who are holding you accountable, and a sense of normalcy that many of us miss these days.

Regardless of your choice to join us via Zoom or at one of our outdoor locations, if you choose to work out with the Fitness Warriors you are choosing to be a part of our Warrior family. Our family is built on strength, a willingness to help others, an unwavering commitment to the community, and an ability to keep going no matter what challenges are thrown our way. We are all living through a pandemic. We are all witnessing, if not personally experiencing, the public health crisis that is racism. We can all benefit from the strength that comes from surrounding ourselves with Warriors – the strongest and bravest among us. You can find a full schedule of Fitness Warrior class offerings by clicking here.