A healthy body and healthy mind are inextricably intertwined. These six, inspiring Louisvillians share their stories of making fitness a priority and seeing the payoffs—inside and out.

Photos by Jessica Ebelhar

Bekki Jo Tressler, 46, Pilates and Barre Yoga instructor at Milestone Fitness

“Give yourself the time that you so diligently give to others on a daily basis. That ‘selfishness’ turns into selflessness, because you will be your best for every person who comes your way.”

How did you first get serious about personal fitness? I was a sophomore in college, went to a step class and really enjoyed it. After class the instructor came up and asked if I had ever considered teaching. I was 18 years old and, from that moment on, I was on that path.

Through the years, I’ve tried to evolve with the trends. If you stop educating yourself in any field, you’re finished. If you stop reinventing the professional you are, you get left on the wayside. I’ve been doing this for 28 years and I never want to stop. So, I had an opportunity to learn pilates 16 years ago and I opened the pilates center at the Jewish Community Center. I moved to Vegas and learned barre and continued teaching and learning. Now I’m exclusively at Milestone, which I love, because they have everything here and you can keep evolving.

What do you gain from your workouts other than physical fitness? Yoga offers a lot of mental clarity. It forces you to practice and be present for one hour and only think about exactly what you are doing, not all the whats, wheres and to-do lists we have. Our minds are always racing. To have an hour three times a week to give my brain is glorious for the soul and my wellbeing.

What advice do you have for anyone who can’t seem to get started? You just have to have an open mind and be willing to try something. Ask yourself, ‘What is it that I enjoy doing that could be physical? Do I enjoy dancing and do I want to go to Zumba? Do I want to play racquetball? Do I want to hike or join a hiking club?’ You have to think about the things you enjoy doing. It’s about you and what’s going to serve you best. You have to look within.

Shaali Singogo, 29, Power Vinyassa yoga instructor at the Northeast YMCA, LC  Fitness, Kentucky Yoga Initiatives, and Refugee Youth Services Coordinator at Catholic Charities

“I moved here from Africa two years ago and had no experience with yoga. In my country, there is no yoga at all.”

When did you first become serious about fitness?
I went to my first yoga class at the YMCA. It wasn’t part of my lifestyle. The lifestyle in Africa forces you to be healthy, so I already had the physical strength and endurance but I had no experience with fitness classes. Being at the YMCA and interacting with fitness professionals was so interesting to me. My wife invited me to her yoga class and I thought, ‘Well, this is the most unmanly thing I could do.’ But I tried it and thought, ‘Wow, I don’t know why I like this, but I do.’ I got so many compliments; the teacher asked me if I’d consider teacher training. So, I went for training and started teaching. It’s not my full-time job. I’ve been a substance abuse counselor and I work with Catholic Charities as the youth coordinator. But I teach yoga as much as I can.

What’s your fitness routine? I wake up between 2 and 4 a.m. for my two hour yoga practice. I lift weights, run and bike and teach and attend weekly advanced yoga classes and workshops.

What do you gain from your workouts other than physical fitness? Through the practice of postures and breathing I have gained direct awareness of my inner self.

What’s your advice to others who would like to try yoga but are intimidated? You do not have to be strong or flexible to do yoga. Try different styles of yoga (all beginner or intro classes) and find the class that resonates with you and stick to it! Falling is perfectly normal and fun too. Enjoy the journey and process of self discovery. Yoga is for everyone!

Margarita Wiles, 33, Commander Support Staff and Physical Training Leader at Aircraft Maintenance Squadron in Kentucky Air National Guard, Heyman Talent model

“Basic Military Training was one of the most amazing adventures of my life. In 8 weeks of training, I learned a lot about myself, developed extraordinary psychological and combat skills and was in better physical shape than ever before.”

When did you get involved in physical fitness? I grew up in Lithuania playing outdoor games, climbing trees, swimming and running outside. Since I can remember, I was always moving.

How does modeling influence your attitude about fitness? I learned in the fashion industry that a beautiful body is a healthy body. Extreme dieting will take a toll on your health and appearance very quickly. To look good, you have to feel good. For me, feeling good was inseparable from a daily fitness routine.

When did you join the Kentucky Air National Guard? I was born to a military family but, where I am from, women don’t serve. After moving to the U.S. in 2013, I started seeing ladies in armed forces uniforms. They all were Wonder Women to me. Only one percent of the population serve in the military, and only 0.17 percent are women. I was dying to become one of them. I joined the Air National Guard in 2014 and shipped out to bootcamp in San Antonio months later.

What is your proudest fitness accomplishment? Since I started my military career, I maintained a rating of excellent on all my annual PT (Physical Training) tests…. The Physical Training Leader (PTL) program was developed to help maintain Air Force physical fitness standards. As a PTL, I strongly believe in motivating and leading by example. Every day at 3.30 p.m., I am changed into my PT gear and ready to exercise with my peers.

What’s your regular fitness routine? My routine is a mile and a half run, sit-ups, push-ups, squats and planks four times a week. I work in the office 10 hours a day, so getting outside and receiving my dose of oxygen, sunshine and endorphins is a great end of the work day.

What’s your advice for those who can’t seem to get started? Getting started is the hardest part. Very soon you will see the results and quitting will stop being an option. I miss being out of shape,’ said no one, ever.

Mykul Valentine, 32, personal trainer at Planet Fitness, aerialist at Suspend Louisville and former competitive gymnast and cheerleader

“I love the feeling after I exercise. It releases endorphins. I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It positively impacts the way I feel and everything else I do.”

How did you first get serious about personal fitness? I started as a gymnast when I was five because I used to do cartwheels through the mall whenever I went shopping as a kid. I got pretty far in gymnastics. When I was 14, I got recruited to cheerleading for Gym Time and between the ages of 14 to 23, I won Cheerleading Nationals twice and Cheerleading Worlds five times. I ended up tearing my ACL and had to retire.

I went on to coach in Malaysia and Australia and all over the U.S. After I got hurt, I tried aerial arts and silks at Suspend Louisville. I found my new love. It has the acrobatics and excitement… and it helped with upper body strength. I traveled with an aerial circus, Le Corpse Ballmonde for a while. It’s a great workout for your upper body and core.

What’s your routine? I work out every day or at least five days a week. I do a hypertrophic workout every week. It’s just a lot of reps with increasing weight. I do 10 minutes of cardio and change it up to keep it interesting. I’ll do stadium stairs, elliptical, running.

What advice do you have for anyone who can’t seem to get started? It’s all stepping stones. You have to get into the habit. The trick is really getting into the habit of working out. You can have the body and the energy you’ve dreamed of if you do.

Elizabeth Spears, 37, certified  RYT yoga instructor at Bend and Zen Yoga and Milestone Wellness Center

“Yoga has given me much more of a mind body connection than I ever had before.”

When did you first become serious about fitness? I’ve always been an athlete. I ran track and field and played field hockey at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. Right after college, a fitness studio opened in Memphis. It was heated yoga and I’d never done it before. I was super-excited to try it. I loved it from the first class. I just started and never stopped.

What’s your routine? I teach three times a week—three at Bend and Zen and three at Milestone. And I try to practice myself four or five times a week. It could be at my house or it could be a class. I will always remain a student.

What do you gain from your workouts other than physical fitness? The thing that immediately comes to my mind is I’m less quick to react to things. In my twenties, I was much more reactive and defensive. Now, I am able to be calmer in the face of stress. My son had seizures when he was one and three. It was horrifying. It turned out that it was just a childhood seizure disorder, but it was scary. I really leaned on yoga to keep my head on straight and be strong for my son. I have two children—George, who’s now 6 and an 8-year-old daughter, Cooper. We do yoga at home. We practice calming with breath. In just a couple of minutes, it can really help.

What advice do you have for anyone who is intimidated by yoga? I tell people just come and be in the room. Come and observe. You don’t have to have athletic ability; you don’t have to be flexible. Everybody is going to be on a different journey and have different bodies. We all do what we can during that given moment.

Colby Hazelip, 23, head fitness trainer for Elev8d Fitness, bioengineering student at University of Louisville

“Partial workouts yield partial results, so if you want to not only see, but also feel a good change throughout your whole body, then you need to make sure you spend quality time working out your whole body.”

How did you first get serious about personal fitness? Ever since I can remember I have been looking for excuses to go outside and play sports, climb trees, and just be active. For the first thirteen years of playing competitive sports, baseball was the sport. As I progressed throughout high school, my interests shifted towards ice hockey, which I played through my first year of college.

I was a bit of a late bloomer and didn’t reach physical maturity until I reached college, and that’s when I really began to understand the strong interdependence that existed between training, mental preparation, and in-game performance. I began to learn how to build hip strength and train my true core which then translates into increased flexibility and strength. I finally found the secret connection between all different types of training and… progressed towards whole-body strength and general wellness.

What is your regular fitness routine? I like to train using as many different types of exercise as possible so as to achieve a better overall physique and athletic ability. An ideal workout week for me consists of doing my eight-minute Elev8d Fitness workouts everyday, lifting four days a week, trail running two times a week, and yoga at least two times a week.

What is your proudest fitness accomplishment? Up to this point, my proudest fitness accomplishment has to be finishing seventh in a Spartan obstacle course race up at Perfect North slopes.

What do you gain from your workouts other than physical fitness? I gain a sense of accomplishment and a positive mindset. As someone who struggles with clinical depression, I rely on working out and being active and healthy to provide myself with my own natural anti-depressants.

What advice do you have for anyone who can’t seem to get started? Pick something you enjoy doing and to be patient with the work. Hating something like running but still doing it can actually have negative effects on your health.

Posted on 2018-07-09 by Christine Fellingham