Lots of fitness instructors do good every day: they encourage you to get up and work out (usually at some ungodly hour), gift you with better abs and arms (with some effort on your part), and usually offer inspirational advice while they’re at it.
But some of New York’s fitness experts are taking their good deeds a step further, offering their services free of charge to students in some of the city’s most under-served neighborhoods and public schools.
Fitness guru Rupa Mehta, the founder of the Nalini Method on the Upper West Side, was one of the first to take her workout and ethos out of the studio and into New York City public schools. NaliniKIDS, which is about to enter its fourth year, is currently offered in three schools. “I’m beyond excited with how well NaliniKIDS has done—we’re expanding into another school this year and are even going to be the subject of a study. And I love that others are offering similar programs.”
Mehta’s referring to other do-gooders in her midst, who are also taking their fitness prowess into city schools where health education is seriously lacking and the need for workouts (and recess!) is great. Meet two of them now:
Natalia Petrzela is a professor at the New School and chair of the Education Studies Department. She also happens to teach IntenSati, the energetic, positive-affirmation-filled cardio workout.
Petrzela witnessed the positive transformations made by her Equinox clients when they ate well and took care of themselves, and realized there was no reason why under-served populations and children couldn’t also benefit.
She seized the opportunity to bring her academic and fitness work together: “For poorer communities, education reform typically means cutting programs and moving away from holistic education, while healthy eating and mind-body programs are becoming more and more popular in affluent areas. I wanted to correct the imbalance,” she says.
Petrzela partnered with college chum Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of FEED and the founder of 30Project, and created HealthClass 2.0. It includes an IntenSati workout and a healthy snack, and the class discusses the nutritional aspects of food while they eat. Its impact is already being felt.
“One seventh grader mentioned that she and her dad started going to the park to play together on weekends. He got inspired to work out more on his own, took up running, and has lost 30 pounds in about eight months,” Petrzela says.
What started as a 10-week curriculum in one public high school quickly expanded to serve nine. Sati Life, IntenSati’s parent company, supports the cause, as do a host of other corporate partners like BluePrint.
The Accidental Activist
Goldin Martinez grew up in Washington Heights, and admits that life could have been a lot different for him. “I was a trouble-maker in high school. Luckily, I never landed in jail.”
Instead, Martinez got into fitness and became a personal trainer and fitness model. He was working out at a local recreation center when the manager asked him if he’d like to start a free fitness program to entice kids to try the center’s under-utilized gym. “I realized it might be a positive way to make a difference in the community,” Martinez says.
He created Get Focused, a curriculum loosely modeled on the Body for Life and p90x programs. On his first day, he had just one student. But to Martinez’ surprise, he came back. “That night when I went home, I felt good about myself,” the student told Martinez.
News of the class quickly spread through word of mouth, and soon Martinez had packed classes of young men and women.
Martinez’s latest venture, GF Activewear, also has a socially responsible bend; the apparel company will fund grants for fitness programs in local schools.
Success as a fitness instructor, Martinez says, “should be measured by community impact and not just monetary gains.” —Carla Vass