Women-only St. Helens kickboxing program offers workouts, sense of connection with others in the gym

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Instructor Susannah Garza, center, shows two women in her kickboxing fitness class the proper punching form. Garza is one of two instructors who leads kickboxing fitness classes designed for women in St. Helens.The resounding and repetitive thud of padded gloves hitting freestanding boxing bags echoes from a martial arts gym in St. Helens.

During a Monday morning workout, a group of women, of all ages and levels of experience, gathers around the bags and knocks out reps of punches.

The group is part of a women-only kickboxing fitness program in St. Helens. The current iteration of the program has been around for about three years and classes are taught Monday through Friday by instructors Susannah Garza and Heather Rask.

Classes vary in length, depending on the day and the instructor, but range from 45 minutes on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with a kickboxing focus, to an hour-and-20 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, days that focus on general fitness and the strength-building component to the kickboxing routine.

Garza took a kickboxing class with Rask eight years ago and said the experience changed her life. Through her own weight loss journey, she found a passion teaching classes and said she enjoyed the way kickboxing works over programs like step aerobics and Zumba, which require coordinated movements with music.

"With this, you get to kick things, you get to hit things, you get to yell. It's like marriage counseling in a class," Garza joked.

With the start of a new year, its common to set goals and resolutions, including to get healthy and in shape. For many women who take part in the kickboxing classes, it was personal fitness goals that led them to the program.

Carrying around extra body weight and taking part in an intensive workout can pose risk of injury, so Garza said she likes to work with women by being honest and supportive. The key is for participants to listen to directions and follow the workout to the best of their ability in order to see results.

"I can stand here and tell these guys what to do all day long, but unless they do it, nothing is going to change," Garza said.

Betty Lou James, one of the class members, said she has lost 60 pounds over past five months by going through the program. While the first classes were physically difficult and she was sore, her persistence has proven beneficial.

"I enjoy the challenge of it now that I'm coming regularly. I wasn't able to do barely anything when I first started, but I kept coming and I can pretty much keep up, and sometimes go faster than other people, and that makes me feel good," James said.

But seeing positive physical results is only one of the program's benefits. Many longtime members feel a sense of camaraderie and connection with their classmates, which encourages them to keep coming back.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Susannah Garza, center, leads the group through a series of stretches after a workout. Garazas class includes teaching kickboxing techniques, working on cardio, muscle strengthening, and stretching to achieve fitness goals."You know what I enjoy is the camaraderie, the support. Everybody supports each other, you know, we lift each other up and encourage each other," said Fran Clason, who has participated in the classes for about three years. "Susannah is awesome at encouraging us to keep going and to work at the level where you can. To me, that's what keeps me coming. We're a family of sorts."

Clason started going as a way to lose weight, but after a cancer diagnosis she kept coming back as a means to maintain her fitness.

For Marilyn Kellogg, Lindsay Jensen, Kathie Wise and Kathy Syrstad, a group of 68-year-old women in the class, kickboxing offers a way for them to stay fit and active and take charge of their own health.

"It gets me out of bed and keeps me moving my booty," Kellogg said

The key to taking charge of your personal health, wellness and fitness is to take the initiative, several class members noted.

"My advice is, come in the door. Don't worry about being embarrassed. Come and just enjoy," Clason said. "It's about taking that first step."

Others said a core component of their success has been consistent attendance. While the first class may be a challenge, over time the workouts pay off.

"I mean, it hurts the first time," James said. "Come back, because this class is empowering weight-wise, but also for yourself as a woman. I have so much more confidence than when I first walked in the door."

Members can join for $40 a month for unlimited classes or $25 for four classes a month, with no sign-up fee or cost to cancel. The first class is free.

"Really, just come in and try it. What have you got to lose besides an hour and a half of your time?" Garza said.

For more information about the program, visit the St. Helens kickboxing Facebook page or contact Garza at 503-519-7208.

St. Helens Kickboxing

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