“It’d be easy to just stay in bed but you can’t stop. You have to keep moving.”
Cheryl, in yellow in the photo above, has four rules for her adaptive Zumba “parties.” Rule number one is to have fun – what happens in Zumba class stays in Zumba class. That along with rules two and three, move with a purpose and engage your mind, are probably similar for everyone involved with Zumba classes. And Zumba is huge. According to the co-founder, Alberto Perlman, there are 14 million Zumba students in 186 countries around the world.
It’s the fourth rule that sets Cheryl and her class apart from the rest:
Movement progressions and fitness variations are optional: My routines are designed to address various different fitness levels, so do what is best for your needs. It’s YOUR workout. Ramp it up or modify as you need. Listen to your body. Do what you need to do to get the best workout for YOU.
“A lot of people who teach Zumba are 20 something size 2’s,” said Cheryl as she approaches her 50th birthday. “But I know what it’s like to not be able to shower because I can’t lift my arms.”
Cheryl grew up with a mother who was a competitive Latin dancer. Ever since she was a little girl, it was Cheryl’s goal to dance in the Nutcracker, a goal she achieved. “That’s why I chose to get into Zumba. I danced for over 20 years so I still have the muscle memory.”
It was hardly a straight line from ballet to leading classes in southeastern PA. “I have a disease similar to multiple sclerosis as well as polyneuropathy, progressive myeloneuropathy, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory arthritis. I was in a chair for three years. My muscles were so spastic, I couldn’t walk. And I was in an abusive marriage so I also have some trauma to my brain. I’ve been in an MS support group for 10 years and they’ve seen me go from walking to using a walker to using a chair back to using a walker to walking again and now they see me teaching Zumba Gold.”
After being referred to the IM ABLE Foundation by a social worker at her MS Clinic, Cheryl applied for funding to purchase some Zumba specific equipment and one year’s worth of fees for her to be a licensed Zumba instructor. Through the grant, she grew her program at local community centers. There are at least 20 people at her hour-long classes.
“Being able to teach and help other is what helps me emotionally. Otherwise I’d be locked up at home. I always want to reach people like me, with limitations. I didn’t expect so many senior citizens. One woman lost her license and walks to class now. You can’t get any more dedicated than that. There’s people out there taking my class who have had joint replacements, AFib, cancer survivors and more.”
“What I focus on, and I’m intentional about what I focus on, is people using their brain, their muscles, and the movements to maintain activities of daily life. During the routine, we do motions similar to brushing your hair, improve balance, cross body movements, engage the fingers and your core. I go from quick to slow to quick to slow all to keep your brain engaged. I want to challenge people, not frustrate them. I had choreographed a series of movements to a Ray Charles song that focused entirely on balance. At first no one could do it but I kept it in rotation and after a few months everyone could do it. I think about these routines a lot because I’ve lived it.”
Linda Brady attends the class with her daughter, Brittany. “I have diverticulitis – the most painful thing you can ever go through. Having a child wasn’t this bad. Cheryl adapted the class for me. Cheryl’s just awesome. She’s very understanding and takes her time. For Brittany, it’s very important for her to exercise and she will not miss Cheryl’s class.”
“This grant from the IM ABLE Foundation, it changed my life and now I have the ability to do that for others. The difference between teaching and attending is that I’m accountable. On a day like today, with the snow outside, it’d be easy to just stay in bed but you can’t stop. You have to keep moving.”
It’s not easy for Cheryl to keep moving. To teach the class, she’s got to put on what her sons call “her warrior gear.” Braces on both knees, both thighs, and her back. She recently went through a tough period with all of her medical conditions that limited the amount she could teach. It was only a week but she started to have muscle spasticity. “When I came back, I was a little depressed but I came in and I’m smiling so no one knew. One of the class participants, Angela, came up to me and said ‘do you realize that every time you come in here, you change our lives?’ That made my year. It reminded me that it’s not about me. This gives me purpose. I’m a contributing member of society. I’m actually helping people and that’s what it’s all about.”
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