Group exercise instructors inspire us when we need to push past our limits, overcome hurdles and take our workouts to the next level. Many Y instructors
also have their own stories of overcoming obstacles that have motivated them to help members succeed. These four—Angel, Val, Gerry and Wynedka—have
tackled challenges and channeled their passion for healthy living into encouraging members through group fitness.
Angel Faulk has been leading fitness classes, Bible studies, and prayer groups at the Y for over twenty years.
In 2012, she found out that she had a tumor on her brain stem. Fitness had always been a big part of her life—her mother was a bodybuilder—but after a 14-hour surgery, Angel had to relearn all of her essential skills, including walking, talking and swallowing.
With a dedication and love of teaching, Angel never gave up. When the tumor grew back, Angel underwent 27 radiation treatments, losing her hair and feeling totally depleted. She then began focusing on her nutrition. Now, she feels better than ever.
Through her own journey, Angel wants members to know that they matter. “I want members to know that they are beautiful and worthy of love, health, and abundant blessings. I want them to feel comfortable to share their struggles and ask for help.”
Eleven years ago, Valerie Fowler hit a very stressful time. At 282 pounds and 5-foot-3-inches, she realized that she needed to change her lifestyle. Valerie joined the YMCA and started working out.
It took her nearly 4 years to hit her goal, but she finally did—losing a total of 143 pounds. She found her passion in group exercise, which led to her first fitness certification in Zumba. She now teaches at 5 a.m. at the North Rutherford Family YMCA. “You know you’re really called to teach fitness when you will teach at 5 a.m., right?” she jokes.
When members come into her class, Valerie’s goal is to inspire, encourage, and motivate them. “I would like everyone to take a little, or big, piece of whatever they need when they leave one of my classes," she said. "I want to train the mind, the spirit, and the emotions. I want members to take away the thought that they can do anything they set their mind on doing.”
Gerry Martin’s fitness journey began with an unconventional household item: a crayon. A long-time smoker, Gerry saw his three-year-old daughter pretend to smoke a crayon and decided to kick the habit cold turkey. The next few months, he experienced significant weight gain.
"When I was about 40 pounds heavier, I started exercising to get the weight down," he said. "I hated it at first and wanted to quit several times, but it was a choice between smoking, being obese, or exercising. Thankfully, I chose exercising.”
Gerry now teaches group exercise at Bellevue, Maryland Farms, and the Downtown YMCA. He wants members in his classes to enjoy a full-body workout—including an exercise of their spirit and soul. His goal is for participants to recognize “they are spiritually, mentally, and physically stronger than they think.”
Wynedka Palmer has a loyal following. Her students at the Christ Church and Franklin YMCAs show up regularly to her high-intensity classes (often several times a week). Wynedka has a no-nonsense attitude and will “draw the grit out of you,” as one class member said—but she won’t push her students to do anything she won’t do herself. Twenty years ago, her story was quite different.
Wynedka was working through several major health struggles, including breast cancer. When her family relocated to Middle Tennessee, she felt isolated. She woke up one day to the scale reading 300 pounds. She joined a women’s-only gym and went every single day for an entire year. She lost 130 pounds and, at the gym manager’s request, she started teaching.
In 2010, she joined the Y as a group fitness instructor. “It's more than just teaching for me. It's helping people; it’s helping the community. Everybody [at the Y] wants the same thing which is to help people and give back. You don't get that everywhere.”