Rita Rita

Life transformations don’t get much bigger than Rita Peterson’s. She’s in her element when she’s up on the stage, leading classes and motivating her members. But the popular group fitness instructor hasn’t always been as happy and healthy as she is now.

Rita's weight gain

Back before she was even a teenager, Rita began to take notice of her size. “I never felt like I belonged. My friends were very active and I was left behind because of my size and my weight,” she says. “I hated sports class. To have to sweat in front of the other kids? I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me.”

After Rita gave birth to her daughter, her weight problems intensified. She suffered from post-natal depression, but dismissed it as just the “baby blues”, trying instead to ride it out. But the dark clouds didn’t go away. “It was the worst time ever,” she recalls. Three years later, Rita’s weight had ballooned to more than 130 kilograms.

The impact on her health

All sorts of health issues began to surface. Rita was pre diabetic, and her legs struggled to carry her weight. A simple walk to the shops or her car was a struggle and her eyesight began to suffer. Always puffed and out of breath, Rita comfort ate, but dismissed her health concerns and insomnia as side effects of work stress and the pressures of raising a young child.

“Everyone was concerned for my health. My husband was concerned not because of the size I was but because of how it was affecting my moods – how I was as a wife, a mother and a member of the community. If I’d had to be around myself back then I would have run the other way,” admits Rita.

“In order to get out of bed or off the couch I would have to roll onto my side, and roll onto the floor, onto my knees. And then from there figure out a way to get up. It was just awful.

“The scales weren’t going down and my clothes weren’t getting any looser. It wasn’t a way I wanted to live any more. I wanted my daughter to see me as a role model, and I wanted to see my daughter grow up.”

Group fitness classes ‘saved me’

Rita can still pinpoint the exact moment when exercise actually became enjoyable for her. “It was a Tuesday afternoon. I was at the gym [Fernwood Epping], and there was a group of ladies talking, excited about a particular class that was coming on at 5.30pm … I thought ‘OK, I’m going to try a group fitness class. I’m going to try the one that they’re talking about because they’re excited and they’re happy.’ I thought that even if I couldn’t do it I could at least share and join in their joy.”

The instructor was among the group of ladies, and encouraged Rita to join the class. “She said, ‘I’ll help you along. Give it your best.’ She made me feel comfortable and she made me feel welcome. She … was so caring. She made me feel like I belonged in that class.”

That Tuesday class was BodyStep, and Rita admits it became her “saviour”. “It is the one thing in my life that has saved me from falling back into old habits; from going back to that 130 kilo-plus woman,” she emphasises.

In that first class Rita “went to the back of the class – the furthest corner”, but as time went past she went from the back corner to centre front.

“I started to get results. I started to feel liberated and alive. On a bad day I would walk into a step class and leave everything at the door. That hour was me time and I was happy.”

‘I decided to become a Body Step instructor’

Slowly the weight fell off and life kicked in. Keenly aware of the enormous positive impact a good instructor can have, Rita made the decision to train as a BodyStep instructor.

“I now have the confidence to show people anything is possible. When someone is a little reluctant to come and try a class I share my story with them. I tell them what a huge hurdle it was for me to step over that line and join a group fitness class.

“My members are never alone, I welcome everybody into my class. There are options for everybody so nobody is left behind. I want them to feel like they belong, like they’re part of the family.”

Rita teaches four BodyStep and three BodyPump classes each week. If you are interested in becoming a group fitness instructor or personal trainer, Fernwood Learning offers online courses to get you certified.

*Fernwood client testimonial was achieved as part of an overall healthy diet and exercise plan. Regular exercise and proper diet are necessary to achieve and maintain weight loss. Consult your healthcare professional before beginning any diet or fitness program.