Northeast Joco

Fit4Mom program rolls exercise, life lessons and motherhood all into one

Tarah Jansen of Lenexa recently played pattycake with her 6-month-old son, Maddox Jansen, while exercising in the Stroller Strides class, part of the Fit4Mom group at Roe Park in Overland Park.
Tarah Jansen of Lenexa recently played pattycake with her 6-month-old son, Maddox Jansen, while exercising in the Stroller Strides class, part of the Fit4Mom group at Roe Park in Overland Park. Special to The Star

A row of moms squatted in front of strollers, cheerfully singing the alphabet. Some babies cooed, while others nibbled on snacks. A couple of toddlers giggled in the grass.

The scene is a familiar one at Roe Park.

“When I walk by and hear the young women singing nursery rhymes as they exercise, it brings a smile to my face,” said Arnold Manvitz, a retired Overland Park resident who walks around the park every morning. “I look forward to seeing them have fun with their babies.”

The moms with strollers are part of Fit4Mom, a nationwide fitness program. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, the Stroller Stride class, a group of a dozen women, works out underneath the blazing sun.

They squat, lunge, jog, plank and do crunches, all while weaving children’s songs into their routines.

The Overland Park Fit4Mom is the only one in the Kansas City area, and the state of Kansas.

Classes are held in both Overland Park and Lenexa.

“It’s not just about exercise, it’s about making friends and being healthy,” said Meredith Paranjothi, franchise owner and instructor. “It’s about supporting each other through motherhood.”

Those were the exact reasons fellow mom Wendy Williams-Abrams brought the program to Overland Park five years ago.

Her family had just relocated to the area from Maryland and she was looking to make new friends. Her husband suggested she start up a Fit4Mom program, which is popular on the East Coast.

After spreading the word about her venture at a children’s clothing sale, her first class attracted a dozen attendees. After having her fourth child a couple years ago, the busy mom passed the baton to Paranjothi, who has a 5-year-old. But she still helps teach.

The program, while offering intense workouts, is modified for each person’s needs. It doesn’t matter whether a woman is pregnant, an exercise guru, or can barely do a push-up, Williams-Abrams said, because everyone goes at their own pace.

But more importantly, she added, the classes provide a safe place for moms.

The women talk about the usual perils of motherhood, such as car seat safety and potty training. But they also discuss deeper subjects, such as miscarriages and post-partum depression.

It’s these conversations and friendships that keep women from feeling lost in a world where everyone expects a new mom to smile, both instructors emphasize.

“Motherhood is encompassing and relentless and it’s so easy to lose yourself,” Williams-Abrams said.

“You’re sleep-deprived and you feel like you’re going crazy. And all those emotions are mixed in with the fact you love your baby more than anything in the world. It’s easy to feel confused and overwhelmed.”

Having a place to discuss that roller coaster ride is invaluable, those in the class said.

For some, it’s nearly therapeutic.

“There’s no mom competition here, which is a breath of fresh air,” said Cassie Lee, a mother of three from Olathe. “You can breast-feed, bottle-feed, whatever. It’s easy to get down on yourself as a mom, so when you meet other moms and realize no one is perfect, it’s a relief.”

Fellow attendee Kristi Capps of Kansas City echoed her sentiments.

“When I came to my first class in June and saw a mom nursing while working on her abs, I knew this was the coolest group ever,” she said, with a smile. “There’s no judgment here. When your baby cries, nobody gives you dirty looks.”

Capps, who has a 5-month-old son, joined the program to meet other moms and get back into shape.

A retired ballerina, the new mom is now the ballet master for the Kansas City Ballet, where she teaches classes and rehearses upcoming pieces with the professional dancers.

“For my job, it’s important to be physically fit and keep active, so this program has really helped me get back on my feet,” she said. “Your body changes after childbirth and I’m learning to appreciate my body in different ways now. I’m getting comfortable in my skin again.”

For many of the moms, their favorite aspect of the program is how it emphasizes mother-child bonding time.

Sometimes the women hold up their babies while squatting. Others gaze adoringly at their infants as they do bicep curls.

The classes are held year-round, rain or shine.

If the weather is dreary, indoor locations are used.

In the past five years, Williams-Abrams estimates that around 400 different moms have attended a class.

As the Overland Park program grows more popular, Paranjothi hopes to expand by adding more classes in Olathe and Kansas City.

But for now, her attendees, who come from all over the area, don’t mind the drive.

On the Web

For a class schedule and more information about the Fit4Mom program, visit www.overlandpark.fit4mom .com.