I Became A Fitness Instructor At 44

I’m in the front of the studio, surrounded by full-length mirrors, racks of weights, and stacks of steps. Loud dance music plays through my iPad, a microphone is strapped to my head, and there are 15 people waiting for me to tell them what to do.

“Please grab a step, a few medium and light weights, and a mat,” I say into the mic.

A year ago, standing in front of this crowd, saying these words, would have been my worst nightmare. But now, it’s just an ordinary Sunday morning and I’m about to teach my weekly HIIT (high intensity interval training) class.

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Sure, I’d attended fitness classes for nearly 25 years, but I never, ever, thought I would teach one. That was for someone else, someone peppy—a dancer or a gymnast who could touch their first toes easily and with grace. I was not that person. I was shy and tall and inflexible. I could barely speak up in a client meeting, and I avoided all forms of public speaking in grad school. Blasting instructions to a room of people staring back at me? No, thanks.

So how’d I become an instructor? I knew that I loved the energy of group fitness. And my gym had such a strong sense of community that I felt like I wanted more. My instructors were friendly and approachable, and after a few months of going to Bootcamp and HIIT, I decided that I wanted to lead a class, and not just participate in one. Really, I wanted to be the one to inspire people to move faster, lift harder, and do one more rep. I wanted to share the joy I felt after a good workout, when I’m sweaty and accomplished and happy.

I had so much holding me back, though: In addition to utterly despising speaking in public, I was in my early 40s with a full-time job and a young daughter.  There was a lot on my plate—but I chose to take a leap of faith and dive in, head first.

I made a last-minute decision to register for my fitness instructor certification, and walked into class after studying for just three days (others had prepared for months). I took copious notes, paid close attention to choreography tips, and walked out with a 93 percent passing grade.

So, at that point I was certified—but was I actually qualified? There’s definitely a difference.

I wanted to be the one to inspire people to move faster, lift harder, and do one more rep. I wanted to share the joy I felt after a good workout, when I’m sweaty and accomplished and happy.

I continued to attend classes and I got to know a couple of the other instructors more personally. When I told one of them I had passed my certification, she encouraged me to interview at the gym. It took me 18 months to build up to it, but I did.

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When I showed up to interview (more like audition), panic set in:I can’t do this. I’m too old to teach. I’m too quiet to teach. I’m not flexible enough to teach.

Seven minutes into my audition, they cut me short and told me they’d be in touch. My panic turned to heartbreak.

I was too old, too quiet, too everything. However, six months later I got an email from the place I interviewed: “We have a HIIT/CORE opening on Sunday mornings, would you like to teach it?”

Cue the panic, yet again.

What had I just done? The worries flooded through me: I’m too busy to teach, too scared to teach, too inexperienced to teach.

I needed to quell these worries so I began co-teaching with another instructor as practice. I was a total wreck. I let her do the talking, while I quietly worked out next to her. She said I did fine, that I’d be fine.

I wasn’t convinced.

Regardless, I was going to be teaching the class and I needed a class plan. I wrote one up and went down to my basement each evening to rehearse. I played music on my iPad and had a timer on my phone. I practiced the movements again and again until I felt I could get it right in front of the class.

Teaching classes has changed me. I’m more confident at work. I approach my boss with concerns or issues. I request more client meetings. And I put myself out there for other opportunities, both at work and in life.

The Saturday night before my first class I fell asleep going over the routine in my mind. That Sunday morning, I went to the basement to rehearse one more time. I had my plan and my devices were charged. I paced around my house, nervous and unsettled, until it was time to leave for the gym. I arrived well before class started and snuck into the studio the moment the preceding Zumba class was over.

With the music on and the microphone working, I set up my mat and weights. Then it began; the door opened and the class members trickled in. One woman approached me and told me it was her first time doing HIIT. I laughed nervously and said, “That’s okay. It’s my first time teaching HIIT!”

She still took my class, and I still taught it. I didn’t fall and I didn’t fail. And every single person left sweaty and happy.

Teaching classes has changed me. I’m more confident at work. I ask what needs to be asked. I approach my boss with concerns or issues. I request more client meetings. And I put myself out there for other opportunities, both at work and in life. I even volunteer more often at my daughter’s school and within the community.

Because I’m not too old, or too quiet, or too boring.

I still get nervous on Sunday mornings and I still plan the class days in advance. I worry that the music or microphone won’t work. But the moment the class starts I find that I just become… myself.

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