Despite injury and sickness, Lesli Ward and Cheryl Stewart are still going strong.
“It’s about staying positive,” said Ward. “You’re taking control of it. There are all kinds of benefits to movement. No matter how little or how much you can do, just do it.”
Ward and Stewart are the driving force behind an ongoing aerobics program in Hay River. Offered for free at the Harry Camsell School gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 p.m. between September and May, it’s a place to stay active over the long, cold winter months.
Recently, however, Ward and Stewart have faced some challenges.
While Stewart is in recovery from a breast cancer diagnosis last year, Ward was recently involved in a car accident that left her with an injured foot and knee.
Both normally active women have seen their ability to move restricted. But instead of packing in the aerobics program, they have recruited members of the community to carry on while they cannot.
“It’s just nice to see people stepping up and giving us a hand while we’re going through what we’re going through,” said Stewart. “Some women have really stepped up.”
Ward said one of the advantages of having so many volunteer teachers is that the burden doesn’t fall entirely on only a few people’s shoulders. The ideal situation would be for a teacher to only lead about three classes a month.
The rotation of aerobics teachers also brings with it the advantage of a slightly different feel for every class – from high to low impact, as well as different energy levels.
“We have a lot of people coming who are over 40 and 50,” said Ward. “But also young moms and 20-year-olds. You have to be able to show both ends of the spectrum and lead everyone.”
But no matter the level of proficiency or activity, Ward and Stewart encourage people to come out and give aerobics a try.
“The first time, it’s hard to come through that door,” said Ward. “But there’s a bunch of friends on the other side, a bunch of people who are happy to see you.”
She said one of her favourite things about teaching aerobics is watching how the participants change over the course of a few months. She explained that, when women first come in, they often wear baggy T-shirts and sweatpants to hide their bodies, but after a few months they start buying clothes that better suit their new figures.
“You’re never too fat or too incapable to start,” she said. “Don’t think you can’t do it. You would be amazed at what the body can do when you push it.”
Both Ward and Stewart are certainly pushing themselves right now. Ward plans on accompanying new instructors to help coach them through routines despite her injuries, as does Stewart.
“I was diagnosed last fall and, at this point, I’m cancer-free, but it was a total glitch in my plan. I never thought it would happen to me,” she said. “Aerobics gets me back to keeping and being healthy. I don’t feel as strong as I did a year ago, but I want to build it back up. I’m going back to aerobics for the participants in the classes for sure, but also for myself, just to stay positive and active.”
Ward said she hoped she and Stewart could serve as inspiration for others to come out of their winter cocoons and get fit, no matter what their current activity level.
“We all do what we can,” she said, laughing. “It almost eliminated excuses to see us coming back.”
— Sarah Ladik