On the eve of the new year, when so many of us are considering self-improvement resolutions for 2011, I thought I would tell the story of a remarkable woman. For nearly four decades she has been inspiring people to make the best of themselves, starting at the core.
Bangor native Mary Fitzpatrick got a twinkle in her eye when asked about her age: “I’ve been teaching exercise classes for 38 years. We’ll leave it at that!” Not only has Mary been teaching for an almost unheard of length of time in the world of exercise instructors, she also has a devoted following — some new, and some who have been attending Mary’s classes for more than 30 years.
“Exercise class” hardly does justice to the unique, one-of-a-kind body work that Mary offers. Her class defies labels because she brings so many years of training and such a broad experience to her craft.
“It has taken every ounce of creativity in my body to keep it interesting. To keep people interested in their health and their bodies, I have to keep changing and tweaking things,” Mary said.
Every week there are new musical and exercise routines to learn.
Mary began dance training as a child in Bangor, and continued as an adult in Boston.
“I needed an outlet for exercise; I had been active all my life. They didn’t even have exercise classes back then, so I enrolled in some classes at the Boston School of Dance,” she said.
There she studied ballet and many other dance forms. She also enrolled in the Arthur Murray Dance School.
Back in Bangor with a daughter and newborn son, Mary took a class at the YMCA to keep in shape. There was no music, and it wasn’t much fun. When asked if she would teach a class as a volunteer, she was game to give it a try. Her popularity quickly grew. Before long, she was teaching eight classes between Old Town and Bangor parks and recreation departments, followed by a 15-year stint at the current Husson University.
Then there was one season that she missed. Mary’s family went through a series of crises, including the death of her husband. Never one to be knocked down for long, Mary found a way to keep herself active and feel close to her husband. She turned the space that was his workshop into her own private studio.
“I walk in his footsteps every day when I come out here,” she said with a smile.
Studio 510 is a beautiful building next to Mary’s home near Union Street in Bangor. It has mirrored walls, a gleaming floor, inspirational quotes and plenty of light. All of the equipment you need for a full-body workout is lined up along the walls — mats, weights, dowels and two dance barres.
Mary has a book filled with certificates from her ongoing training — aerobics, Pilates, personal trainer, group exercise instructor, yoga, fitness, exercise and heart health — it goes on and on. But Mary’s class doesn’t fit any particular title. She incorporates everything she knows and focuses on the basics of the body’s core strength. Long before the concept became a popular label in Pilates classes, Mary was focusing on the basic core principles in all of her classes.
“My job is to teach the basics and stay solid,” Mary said. “It is a total mind-body-health connection. Stay present; stay focused.”
If someone had told Mary 38 years ago that she would still be teaching in 2011, she wouldn’t have believed it, but she is driven by the strength of her convictions and the devotion of her clientele.
“I totally believe in it,” she said. “I just figure if I’m still able to do it, then why not? If they keep showing up, I’ll keep showing up.”
Robin Clifford Wood is a writer, musician and recent empty-nester. The state of Maine captured her imagination in 1979, and she became a full-time resident in 2002. She welcomes feedback through her blog, “a year of getting up to meet the day,” or at firstname.lastname@example.org.