Denise Morman

Denise Morman (center) completed Sports Backers’ Fitness Warriors program in January. Now she teaches four free classes at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond. “My heart and my passion is to get people moving,” she said.

Richmond needs more fitness warriors.

That’s what Sports Backers decided a few years ago when it launched a once-a-year program with the Richmond City Health District to train motivated individuals to offer free fitness classes in underserved communities.

The Fitness Warriors program has gone so well that Sports Backers recently decided to offer the training twice a year, with the hope of getting even more fitness professionals into areas of Richmond that have the highest rates of chronic disease.

Applications for this next class are due by Nov. 5, with training starting in January. No experience is needed.

“We are looking more for people with a passion for helping in our community,” said Jacki Quinlan, director of community outreach for Sport Backers.

Since Fitness Warriors began in 2014, 74 people have completed the program, and many of those continue to lead free classes in schools, churches, senior residences and community centers.

Sports Backers tracks the impact on the community by surveying class participants on health issues. In the eight months that ended in April this year, participants in Fitness Warriors-led classes reported gains in health and wellness. Specifically, more than half said their stress levels had dropped, more than half said they could more easily complete daily tasks, 60 percent said their cardiovascular endurance had improved and three-quarters said their energy level had gone up.

Those are the kinds of numbers that have prompted Sports Backers to expand the training program to twice a year.

“The idea is that having two classes go through each year, we will be growing the number of people we can help in the community,” Quinlan said.

Currently, Fitness Warriors lead about 45 free classes per week in the Richmond and Tri-Cities areas. The goal, Quinlan said, is to increase that to 120 classes per week over the next five years.

Sports Backers also partners with the American Council on Exercise, offering Warriors graduates a chance to get scholarships for free ACE certification if they choose to pursue that higher level of training.

Fitness Warriors is part of Sports Backers’ Keep It Moving initiative.

Usually, people who sign up are motivated for personal reasons, Quinlan said.

“They might have overcome health challenges, or had a weight-loss issue,” she said.

“Most of them do not have a fitness teaching background.”

Denise Morman completed the Fitness Warriors program in January this year, and she’s currently teaching four free classes, two at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond, one in Petersburg and one in Disputanta. Morman works at McGuire; she lives in Petersburg.

Morman said she felt compelled to become a Fitness Warrior because other people have helped her combat excessive weight and health issues throughout her life.

“What I did was, I paid it back,” Morman said.

Morman had blood pressure issues that led to congestive heart failure when she was in her 20s.

“I’ve been heavy all my life,” she said. “The doctors starting putting me on diets when I was 5 years old.”

At one point, she weighed 380 pounds. Now, she’s down around 230.

As a Fitness Warrior, she’s helping adults and children who have those same concerns.

“I know their struggles,” she said.

Morman, who is a Warrior Captain for incoming trainees, qualified for the ACE scholarship and plans to get that certification.

“Right now, my heart and my passion is to get people moving,” she said.

In announcing the expanded Fitness Warriors program, Danny Avula, director of the Richmond City Health District, said, “Fitness Warriors strengthen our neighborhoods, empower residents of all ages and abilities to get active, and make exercise safe, fun and accessible.”

Fancy gyms and pricey workout programs don’t serve all segments of the population.

Avula said, “It takes passionate residents who are willing to lead by example and help others take charge of their own health to build active communities and continue growing a culture of health and physical fitness in Richmond.”

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Maria Howard is a group exercise instructor for the YMCA of Greater Richmond and the University of Richmond Weinstein Center. Her column runs every other week in Sunday Flair.

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