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Yeah, Baby!

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Fit Mom provides exercise and a respite for overworked mothers

It’s a welcoming 70 degrees in Audubon Park–the kind of day even a couch potato has to jump off the sofa for. At 8:30 in the morning the park’s Magazine Street parking lot is already filling up. Kerrie Frey, owner-personal trainer of Fit Mom, pulls up in her minivan.

Frey bounds out of her vehicle and prepares to lead an enthusiastic group of young mothers through a challenging hour-long exercise routine. Fit Mom meets three times a week in Audubon Park and has classes across the lake at Tammany Trace. The program is designed for mothers of all ages and fitness levels–it gives them a chance to be outside exercising and in the company of other moms. These aren’t the only people who join Frey; there are others, though they won’t be participating in today’s workout. That makes sense since most of them can’t walk yet, and a few aren’t even 2 months old. But the babies can coo and smile from their strollers or blankets as their mommies run, punch and kick their way through an invigorating set of exercises.

As Frey puts it, Fit Mom was an idea that began “twirling around in my head” during her first pregnancy. She realized there really wasn’t anything available in the area for moms who didn’t belong to a gym, or didn’t want to be stuck in an indoor class. Frey decided to fill the void. While studying for her personal trainer certification and pregnant with her second child, she designed an outdoor program exclusively for mothers. She did borrow elements from a few other exercise plans that involved moms and kids, but unlike those programs, Frey didn’t want the focus to be on the child.

“Singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ just isn’t us,” Frey says. “Singing is great, but exercise time is our time.”

They definitely aren’t ignoring the children. As the women form a circle around Frey and begin stretching, the babies are safely tucked in their strollers, or, if they’re toddlers, stumbling nearby. At one point during the routine, Michelle Murphey needs to break away to breast-feed her 3-month-old daughter, Lucy. When Murphey returns, she holds Lucy in her arms while she performs kicks with the rest of the group.

The camaraderie is palpable. Even during the tough gasping parts of the hour, the women talk and laugh with each other. As Frey pushes the group through a series of punching sets–jabs, roundhouses and uppercuts–she encourages them with a suggestion, “Someone is right in front of you and you don’t like them very much.” A quick response follows: “Like a contractor?”

The quip comes from Rebecca O’Reilly, Frey’s business partner. Since Frey moved to Mandeville after her house flooded, O’Reilly, a certified personal trainer, normally runs the Audubon classes. She is nursing an injury today, but that doesn’t stop her from joining in the conversation, or picking up a fussy baby or two. As a mother of four, she’s used to it. Her experience also helps her in creating classes that can appeal to regular attendees and beginners. O’Reilly says it’s simply a matter of choosing, without shame, how much you should do.

“As much, or as little as you can do,” O’Reilly explains. “Renee and Michelle have little bitties–7 and 8 weeks–so obviously they’re at a lower level. They’re bouncing back from the pregnancy. But Ann has been coming here for two years, so she’s at a higher level.”

Ann Welsh has been enjoying the classes almost since Fit Mom began in August 2004. As a stay-at-home mom with two kids under the age of 4, she had been looking for something to fit into her lifestyle. The classes worked perfectly, and Welsh trained hard, attending five classes a week before Katrina. Not having to arrange for babysitters made the class an easy sell for Welsh.

“I love being outside and knowing if I have to bring the kids, it’s okay,” Welsh says.

Renee Culotta might not be at Ann’s level, but she is giving it her all. Her little boy, Joseph, is only 7 weeks old, but Culotta, with her doctor’s permission, is already doing abdominal exercises. An attorney, Culotta wants to take full advantage of her three-month family leave, and this gives her both a chance to work out and commiserate. As Culotta explains that Joseph is wonderful, but she could do without the 3 a.m. feedings, another mom turns and offers, “When you’re sleep-deprived there’s nothing better than fresh air and other moms to talk to.”

Moms getting together is a time-honored tradition. Be it a simple gathering around the kitchen table with coffee cups in hand or strolling the neighborhood, mothers need each other’s company for support and empathy. For Frey, that and pumping up their collective heart rate is what makes Fit Mom a great respite from the often thankless job of motherhood.

“Let’s face it,” Frey admits, “you are chopped liver when you’re a mom. All of your attention is wrapped around the baby and it should be. Here at least the moms can get their own attention. That makes a difference.”

For more information on Fit Mom, please call 615.3469.