Claudine Cooper’s high-intensity fitness classes are part boot camp, part sermon and part party. Folks show up early to stake a spot in the studio before it overflows. They endure Cooper’s yells to push harder. They bob their heads along to her always-banging music, even when that third set of burpees and lunges makes their muscles scream.
“I know you came to work hard, or else you wouldn’t be here,” Cooper said to a jam-packed room on Thanksgiving morning. Each year, hours before turkey and cornbread dressing pile up on her students’ plates, Cooper cooks up a butt-kicking workout for her cult-like following at the 24 Hour Fitness on Slauson Avenue in L.A. The room swells with bodies and sweat and … laughter.
In between pounding the floor and lifting weights, Cooper weaves in snippets about her harrowing experiences growing up in south Minneapolis and her current roles as wife, mom of three and fitness professional. In her memoir, “25 to Life,” she chronicles visiting her father in prison during her early childhood, suffering from depression as a teenager, getting caught up in street life and how her mom’s VHS workout tapes helped save her from an unhealthy lifestyle.
You call your life an “open book.” How did you develop your teaching style of sharing personal stories to motivate others?
Teaching classes forces you to be ugly – I’m talking about the mere act of sweating and getting red-faced and physically discombobulated. Me looking ugly and just tearing myself up in a workout is the same way that I can use my voice as a storyteller to connect to others. We all have these imperfections, we are all just human.
It’s the season of New Year’s resolutions. What do you expect to see?
From September to December, there aren’t many people in the gym. At the beginning of each year, those classes that were looking like ghost towns are like the No. 4 train at rush hour in Manhattan. But I have no judgments. Quite honestly, life happens to us. Maybe two years have passed since you hit the gym because your mom died or you had surgery or a serious injury. I’m as happy when someone re-dedicates to fitness as a pastor is over a parishioner re-dedicating to the church.
What advice do you have for mothers trying to “get their bodies back” after a baby?
The very first step to get to a healthy path is to give our bodies forgiveness. The biggest miracle is bringing life into the world. Instead of focusing on the imperfections as we do as American women, we need to focus on living long and living healthy. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Our family uses Sundays to hike or have living room dance-offs. When you are active, you don’t have to enlist anyone else to be active with you. Your being active is a motivating factor.
What are your personal goals?
My goal is to be more of a cheerful giver without expecting any thanks in return. I have been a silent giver to Angel Tree (a Christian ministry that provides gifts to children of incarcerated parents) for five years, but this Christmas was the first year that I stepped out of my comfort zone to give gifts to the kids myself. So many feelings are bubbling up for me just thinking about it. I remember visiting my father in prison. I remember writing him letters – that’s how I fell in love with writing. I ended up marrying an officer who works for the Department of Corrections. Isn’t that an interesting dynamic? But I don’t have to think about the past in my daily life. Sometimes, I think if I see a child who’s like I was, I’ll be reminded that the cards were stacked against me. I can’t explain the emotions I feel, but I look at those kids and know that they can do whatever they put their minds to, and I just feel such gratitude to be here.
Learn more about Claudine Cooper at www.claudinecooper.com.