By Stephanie Fong | Submitted Photos
On any given Wednesday or Friday, guests to the West River Community Center (WRCC) in Dickinson can peer through the windows of the Mac Gym and see a throng of preschoolers leaping, running, hopping, or singing enthusiastically.
For children ages three to five, coming to Kids Fit classes can be the highlight of their week. Bopping their little hearts out, finishing the hour-long class with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, the kids get a good dose of fun and exercise in one shot.
Depending on the season, the action may be led by the Easter Bunny, Father Time, Uncle Sam, the Queen of Hearts, or an inflatable dinosaur.
But no matter which special character appears, the steadfast face bringing the fun week in and week out is that of Sharon Wallace.
For the past 15 years, Sharon has been teaching preschoolers about muscle groups by encouraging fun and creative exercise through the Kids Fit class. What makes the sessions truly magical is a combination of enthusiasm brought by Sharon and the imaginations of the children in her class.
Sharon, a certified group fitness instructor and personal trainer, has taught fitness classes to groups of all ages, but she especially loves working with the preschool-aged kids.
“They still have their imaginations. They are at a really fun, fun age. In class, they are using their imaginations and still getting a workout in. It’s just fun—they don’t even realize they are exercising.”
A Faithful Presence
While parents dot the outside perimeter of the gym and offer plenty of assistance, Sharon is often a one-woman show.
“I don’t really have a back-up person. During the height of the oil boom a few years ago, we would have 75 kids show up at a time. It might look like chaos, but I say the more the merrier!”
For years, her family’s summer vacations have been planned around the Kids Fit class schedule so that she is always in town to teach, ensuring not only consistency but also a certain comfort level with the kids.
“The kids are used to me.”
That faithfulness to the program and the children in the community is a big part of what makes Kids Fit so appealing and successful.
Fun and learning
Sharon has always had an interest in fitness. Simply put, her motto is, “Exercise should be fun!”
Each class is different, sketched out in Sharon’s head each week.
“No notes—just in my brain!” she laughs. “I just sit down and come up with it. Sometimes my ideas work well, and sometimes not. The kids will be quick to tell me if we’ve done the same thing before.”
One week the children might participate in an ABC Run, combining letters with exercise. The next, the kids may have a visit by local police or firefighters to learn about their jobs and vehicles. Another week, superheroes might be darting all around the WRCC campus as part of Sharon’s superhero theme.
Every holiday is a chance to learn and celebrate, sometimes with social and snack time following classes.
Sharon finds that the social aspect of Kids Fit is sometimes just as important as the physical, especially for the parents. The class is a great way for those new to Dickinson to meet other parents, mingle, set up playdates, and feel included in the community.
“It’s a Joy”
Like any classroom teacher, Sharon has acquired quite a few supplies on her own, most notably a closet full of costumes for every occasion.
Sharon’s youngest daughter Kayla, 20, offers help around her college schedule. Kayla was in Sharon’s first classes as a child and is game for almost anything, often dressing up in a costume. “[Kayla] talked me into buying the inflatable dinosaur costume. I told her if she’d wear it, I’d buy it.”
And Sharon’s husband Phil, along with other staff members at the WRCC, are also great sports about helping bring her Kids Fit themes to life.
“They’ve all been very supportive. It’s a joy,” Sharon explains of the time spent planning and teaching Kids Fit year after year.
“I’m the kind of person that when I do something, I am passionate and gung-ho about it. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t love it.”
When: Wednesdays & Fridays, 9:15 a.m. Mountain Time
Where: West River Community Center, 2004 Fairway Street, Dickinson, ND
Cost: $2.00 or free with WRCC membership
Stephanie Fong lives in Dickinson with her husband and two young children. She works in marketing and communications for CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson and enjoys con- tributing freelance work to Inspired Woman magazine.