Faces of Schweinfurt: SFC Patricia Ortiz-Lawas
June 26, 2013
SCHWEINFURT, Germany -- The deep thud of a radio's bass echoes across the gym, the floor scattered with aerobic steps, free weights, yoga mats and medicine balls. Eyes focus intently on the instructor. Sweat beads on foreheads. About a dozen people jump to the rhythm of the pulsing music, all within their own small piece of gym floor real estate.
Suddenly the beat switches. A new song. And from the front a woman in a bright yellow shirt and black tights exclaims "Oh, my favorite song! You know what that means -- cyclone time!" Topped in her signature black baseball cap, the class's instructor bounds across the gym floor with a grin.
This is Schweinfurt's cardio kickboxing class, and Sgt. 1st Class Patricia Ortiz-Lawas couldn't be having more fun.
Ortiz-Lawas, a Soldier assigned to U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt's 7th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, has been teaching fitness classes and training for six years. Hailing from the Bronx, N.Y., she first identified the Army's shortage of fitness instructors while deployed to Camp Arifjan Kuwait in 2007.
And when she arrived in Schweinfurt in 2011, she identified another gap. The 7th TTSB helped her obtain certification through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, or AFAA, paying for courses and materials. And two years later she's volunteering her aerobic skills to the community at large.
"I went to the gym and asked 'what do I need to do in order to instruct here?'" she said. "They asked first of all 'Are you doing this for pay?' And I was like, 'Totally voluntary, I'm getting something out of it.'"
Cardio kickboxing, though, isn't the best way to describe her class, she says.
"I think a better description would be AKS, which is Aerobics, Kickboxing and Step, because I try to make it a full-body workout," she says.
"I believe that if you do the same thing all the time, your body will get used to it and then you won't see any improvement -- you'll plateau. So I like to change up the program all the time. I say cardio kickboxing, but that might be 30 percent of my class, 40 percent tops. The rest is muscle building, muscle strengthening and cardio."
For those worried about the need for a high level of coordination to attend the class, such as what you'd need in Zumba or Step, she calms their fears.
"My class doesn't have a whole lot of choreography," says Ortiz-Lawas. "We don't do a whole bunch of fancy coordination. We do the basics."
According to Ortiz-Lawas, class participants will "actually start doing some ground work, they're going to get down, they're going to do push-ups, they're going to use weights. That doesn't take coordination."
"I have regulars, but I get a lot of new people all the time" she said.
Attendees are a combination of experienced athletes as well as those new to fitness in general, and she plans her classes around that fact.
"Even if someone doesn't have a high level of fitness, I would come over and give them the remedial step to ensure they're doing as much as they can," Ortiz Lawas said.
Her class participants agree that her approach works.
"Patricia makes the workout fun, and before you know it an hour has flown by," says class regular Margaret Johnson. "Everyone leaves tired and smiling."
What also influences the creation of her routine -- and what attendees note as essential to her class's fun factor -- is the up-tempo, contemporary music. Ortiz-Lawas chooses the driving force of her classes based upon a song's beats per minute.
"I go for whatever's latest on iTunes. I go to iTunes, download the radio version, listen to the beats per minute and then say 'Ok, this will go well with this particular move.'"
But perhaps the most unique aspect of her class is her willingness to accommodate parents with children who may not be able to find child care. She encourages her participants who have kids to bring them along to class.
"I'm a mom; I have three kids," said Ortiz-Lawas. "As a female Soldier I know how hard and how difficult it is to lose the weight after pregnancy. You want to start with the walking, but now I have to take this brand new baby with me out to work out.
"So I'm saying, as long as it doesn't bother the other people in the class, it does not bother me," said Ortiz-Lawas. "I like the kids watching their moms getting into fitness because that encourages them to get into fitness. I encourage it, and I love it."
The impending closure of Kessler Fitness Center this July doesn't threaten to stop her classes.
"We will be moving to Conn. I'll have to work out the logistics, whether the aerobics room will be large enough for my class. So I might have to do it [in the gym]. It really depends on the audience, because I think a lot of the audience doesn't feel comfortable doing it out in the open. That's the biggest thing: I want people to want to come because they feel comfortable and they enjoy my class."
Community members also don't have to be concerned with becoming attached to an instructor only to have them PCS prior to garrison closure. Ortiz-Lawas isn't PCSing until June 2014.
"I'll be here until the end," she said.
Classes are held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and during lunch from 11:45 to 12:45 p.m. Mondays and Fridays. Both classes are held at Kessler Gym.
Asked about advice for those discouraged about working out, Patricia is optimistic.
"I always say, in this class we don't quit, we pause and come back and do it again. And I truly believe that. As long as you're moving, and it doesn't have to be exactly what I'm doing, but as long as you're moving, you're progressing. You're doing way better than the person on the couch."