Zumba class offers fun way to stay fit

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — When it comes to staying fit, active and healthy in the New Year, the Carroll Wellness Center’s Zumba instructor prefers talking about a “lifestyle change” than a well-meaning, one-time “resolution.”
When Gretchen Lawson attended her first Zumba class, as a mother-daughter activity through her church, she weighed 220 pounds.


As someone who had been dancing at the Patrick County Arts Center for 16 years, she found herself intrigued immediately.
“My daughter was not interested at all, but I stayed and did the whole hour,” Lawson said of her first experience with Zumba, which combines the rhythms of Latin dance music with aerobic exercise.
After getting information about where and when she could take classes, Lawson admitted to feeling a little self-conscious at the next session she attended.
“I lasted 20 minutes my first class — she really kicked my butt,” Lawson remembered.
But she liked the high energy feel, the uplift and the welcome she got from the place, so Lawson kept going. From 20 minutes, she worked up to exercising 30, then 40 and “then was able to hang the whole hour.”
Over the next six months, Lawson moved out of the back row, choose a place in the front to dance and got some non-baggy Zumba gear. She, as Zumba’s motto goes, had “joined the party.”
After about four months of working out at Zumba, Lawson talked to her instructor about becoming a certified teacher herself, which she did in January 2010 in Washington, D.C.
“There was nothing like this in Stuart for the ladies to come and unwind and learn that exercise could be fun,” Lawson said.
When Lawson offered a Zumba class in Stuart for the first time, about 75 participants showed up, a rousing success. It didn’t take her long to decide to open her own Fun Fit Studio in downtown Stuart.
She built on her successes as an instructor by getting certified over the years to teach more classes, including one aimed at children, one for toning and one in the pool.
Lawson worked at ServPro in Mount Airy, N.C., during the day and taught Zumba at night, but when she got married and moved to Hillsville in October 2011, she had to give the studio up.
After her move, Lawson introduced herself to Carroll Wellness Center Director Laura Bunyan, to see if there was interest in hosting a Zumba class. As a result, classes started up in Hillsville almost right away.
“I got an enormous amount of feedback: this is the first time they came to the gym and had fun,” Lawson recalled. “I had about 40 people in my first class.
“It was very reassuring that I was doing what I needed to do and that I was where I needed to be.
“Ever since my daughter and I took that first class, it is a passion that has grown inside of me,” Lawson said. “There’s nothing I’d rather do than teach Zumba.”
The Zumba class developed a core following and attendance remained high.
Because Lawson continued to attend Zumba conventions and get certifications, she enlisted one of the core group, Kerry Crowley, to teach when she was away.
Many of the core group members have kept coming regularly for years and have lost more than 60 pounds each.
“Every person is different,” Lawson said. “Nobody’s going to lose weight the same way. You have to push through your plateaus to meet your goal.”
People do not put on extra weight overnight, so it also takes time to reach a fitness goal. Lawson said success takes a constant battle with your cravings and sustained willpower.
“Don’t expect to be down 10 pounds in two days,” she said. “It’s hard work, it’s absolutely hard work.”
People can choose from several Zumba classes a week. Lawson sees people age 15 to their 70s dancing away.
CWC hosts three aqua classes on Monday and Wednesday mornings and Tuesday evening, Zumba on Monday, Thursday and Friday evenings, and a basic class Saturday morning with Crowley or a toning class by Lawson.
Zumba participants have also been keeping busy lately by doing outreach efforts, including a four-hour session last March to raise money for Relay for Life, a group exercise day through CWC, a breast cancer awareness and fund raiser during October where everybody wore pink, performing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at Safe Halloween in Hillsville and a benefit for a Zumba participant.
Lawson foresees continuing to do more benefits in the near future.
“Any way I can reach out to the community to share my passion of what I do and support the community — I’m all about that,” she said.


Catina Clark
I started my weight loss journey in March 2012. I had become obese from child birth, stress and an unhealthy lifestyle.  I found out there was a Zumba class offered at the CWC and since stepping into those class room doors I’ve been addicted ever since.
Gretchen has kept me motivated and I have lost 70 pounds with her help. The energy level in class is through the roof and we always have fun and let loose.
Last year I had surgery on my Achilles tendon and a huge spur removed from my heel. Gretchen offered me a chair in class to just sit and enjoy the energy and to get out of the house. Not only did I take her up on that, but I did Zumba from my waist up in that chair and then, while on a knee roller, I advanced to doing Zumba on one foot with my knee propped up.
I truly feel I would have backslid without the support of her and so many others in class, whom I consider extended family.
If you’re thinking about fitness and love music, then Gretchen’s class is the place to be!

Whitney Jackson
Before starting Zumba, I was at 265 pounds. I lacked the confidence that I knew I had inside of me.
I convinced a friend to go with me one day to Gretchen’s class, and I have been hooked ever since.
It really takes just walking in the door. I have now lost a total of 65 pounds, and continue my journey in losing more. I now feel better than I ever have.  I have that confidence now that I had once lost.
Gretchen Lawson has changed my life. Not only is she the best Zumba instructor I have ever seen, she is also someone that I call friend.
The class is one big party that I want to go to all the time. These ladies and gentlemen have become my second family who I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Gretchen has a light inside her that no one has, she draws people in with her confidence and energy.  Walking in the door I didn’t know what to expect, but I am so glad that I did and changed my life for the better.  

Jennifer Frazier
When I moved down to Hillsville in 2012, I was struggling to become healthier. Nothing was working. A friend suggested I join Carroll Wellness Center because there was an awesome Zumba class there.
This class is like no other because the instructor is like no other.  She has a gift of making you feel comfortable and kicking your butt at the same time. Her passion is infectious.
I have never left a class without feeling on top of the world. This Zumba class has started me on a fitness journey I never thought I would have the courage to take.
I have never been an athletic person, but I now love going to the gym, and need my Zumba.
I have lost 40 pounds and several inches so far, and would like to lose another 30 in 2014.  I have gained so much more. Zumba brings you a family to help you reach your goals. It is way more than just a class.

Kerry Crowley
On Dec. 31, 2011, I stepped on the scale and decided I had enough of lying to myself.
I weighed 272 pounds. I “worked out” by walking a few miles and taking a class every now and then, but nothing was working because I hadn’t changed everything.
So I did. I changed my eating habits, my workout routine, my way of thinking and by the second week of January 2012, I had lost 12 pounds and from then on I just kept going.
In October 2012, I was hired by the CWC as a part-time group exercise instructor. I found that once I got over the nerves, I really liked it.
With Gretchen and a few other close friends giving me that extra shove to take the plunge in March 2013, I became a certified Zumba instructor. Then, within a few weeks, I was given my own class at the CWC.
Now I am in the process of becoming a certified personal trainer. To date I have lost 62 pounds and still have another 55 pounds to go.
I don’t make resolutions because those are normally forgotten three weeks after you make them. I have made a commitment to myself and my children to be a healthier person.

Lesley Catron
Gretchen is a wonderful leader and deserves recognition.
Within a month or so of her coming to the wellness center, I have found an interest in heath and wellness I never desired to have.
She is an incredible motivator and is always positive and encouraging. She is constantly coming up with new ways to keep things interesting and keep us going.
She has brought something into this area that women can be a part of and have fun with while changing their lives.
I have lost 51 pounds and my life will never be the same.

For more information about a Zumba class, contact the Carroll Wellness Center at (276) 728-2500.