“Just six more. Come on – we are strong! We can do it, right? Let’s go!”
“Vandie – you are killing us!” we, the fitness ladies in Vandie’s fitness studio, whined and complained. But we did it – we pushed ourselves to be better and stronger because Vandie asked us to do so. Over time, we set new limits and achieved new heights in fitness. We did more push-ups, step-ups, and bicep curls than we had ever thought possible. And we did this because Vandie cared. Vandie knew we had more to give and demanded that we give more… in more ways than just fitness.
Who, in life, inspires you to be a better person? Who inspires you to bake for charity? Who inspires you to raise money to help a young woman to fix her beloved dog’s broken leg? Who takes in her mother into her own house and nurses her through sickness and dementia – and buys her clothes, manicures and pedicures so that she feels pretty? Who asks people to help contribute funds to buy five house-cleaning sessions for someone who is fighting cancer? (yeah – me) Who, in your life, does this kind of stuff?
In my life, this person is Vandie. I have known Vandie for nearly 11 years now. We met when I was struggling with my weight after having had David at the age of 40 (gasp). It was so challenging to be working full time, taking care of a house-hold, and raising three children at the same time. There was NO time for fitness. You know how it goes. I reached a desperate point at the same time “Expressfit” opened up in the Bayfield Mall – where I happened to be working. Vandie was not there originally – and the fitness package was much like Curves in that you did your own thing in between the resistance machines. “Bob” – a taped voice – prompted you to “carry – on” and “get going” and “move to the next station”. Okay – it was rather impersonal and boring – but remember I was desperate. One day, I walked in and there was a new woman working. She was warm, welcoming and most eager to know about me. No sooner had I told her how boring it was in between stations than she created a fitness burst between stations. Others from my work began attending and soon “we” were a community of fitness queens, sort of.
I arranged that the school would sponsor students to attend these classes. Many young ladies came and went. They were enthusiastic at first, but, as typical fizzled out. There were some, however, that were locked on – and Vandie was their coach. She encouraged them and supported them and pushed their limits. They loved her. “We are strong!” she would proclaim. “We are invincible!” she would affirm. She changed their lives – to this day these young ladies have included fitness as a part of their everyday lives.
Over the years, Vandie became the woman who was responsible for so many of our fitness successes. And more than that, Vandie became our life coach. She would listen to us and empathize. She would connect us to each other. The ladies of Expressfit fitness classes grew – rumor had it you could NEVER have a bad class. People lined up to attend her classes…until the day when Expressfit closed its doors. We were devastated. We were lost without our fearless leader.
There was only one thing to do – Vandie started to teach fitness in her own house. Now, nearly eight years later, Vandie continues to develop our bodies and minds. I used to joke – when I was in good shape – that I had a “body by Vandie”. The community of ladies who love fitness continues because of Vandie. Yes, we could go anywhere to any one of a million fitness classes, but we don’t. That’s because Vandie’s fitness is more than fitness – it is a support group, a vent when we are frustrated, a safe-haven from “judging” eyes, a retreat of sorts. Vandie now offers facials, manicures, and pedicures. She offers coffee, fresh baked goods, and friendship. And all of this, while she balances a husband, children, he mother, and a job. How does she do it?
And so, Vandie’s mantra, “We can do it, can’t we?” has become a mantra for all of us. We can raise money for charity, can’t we? Yes, Vandie we can! We can collect clothing for the Busby Centre, can’t we? Yes, Vandie we can! We can get a team together to race the Big Bike for Heart and Stroke, can’t we? Yes, Vandie, we can! We can… you get the picture.
In quieter moments, when Vandie drops off meals she has prepared for my family and I, or checks in with me to see how I am doing, or to let me know how I am missed at fitness – I am buoyed by her spirit. “Is there anything I can do for you, Stacey? What do you need me to do?” she asks.
What can I answer? She has done so much for so many. How can I ask anything else of her? And then it dawns on me – I just a little coaches corner with her – I need to hear the words, “You can do this, Stacey.” Instead, she said, “We can do this, Stacey.” Of course – with Vandie, you are always a member of her team. I AM one of Vandie’s Vikings, afterall!