George Bonilla’s voice fills with pride as he talks about the life improvements his students have made since starting his Tai Chi class.
One of his students, he said, used to have trouble attending her grandchildren’s soccer games. She couldn’t climb up the bleachers to find a seat. After studying Tai Chi with George, she now climbs to the top of the bleachers without a problem.
It’s about “the minor victories that are a part of life,” he said.
Teens and young people, too, benefit from his classes. The balance and focus students pick up by studying Tai Chi helps them as they play baseball, football and other sports.
“The things you learn in Tai Chi even help with soccer,” George said.
George teaches at his local community center in Sacramento, California as part of the Troops for Fitness program.
The program, supported by a grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation, employs veterans across the country to teach a variety of fitness classes, like Zumba®, water aerobics and boot camp classes. Classes are available to community members for low cost, or even free. Working with the National Recreation and Park Association, The Coca-Cola Foundation plans to engage 200 veterans in 12 cities nationwide.
George thinks it’s natural for veterans to teach fitness classes. He attended West Point in the early 1980s and said the importance of exercise is something service members learn quickly.
“Veterans are good at teaching fitness because they have an understanding themselves about the importance of being fit,” he said, “That’s something that’s built into you.”
George studied Tai Chi for years before teaching it. After retiring from the police force due to an injury, he realized he needed to get active in order to keep himself healthy through his retirement. He decided to resume taking Tai Chi classes. His wife eventually urged him to start sharing what he’d learned, believing that other people might want to join him in his practice. She was right.
Twenty-five students now join him twice a week for classes. In addition to their exercises, the group has a round table discussion about how their training is going, so George can keep track of everyone’s progress.
The goal of George’s class, and other Troops for Fitness classes, is to provide new gateways to physical activity for community members. The classes stress the importance of exercise for an active, healthy life and help participants at all fitness levels get into a routine. Students don’t need a gym membership or any fancy equipment to see results.
“In Tai Chi you don’t have to wait until you become a master or perfect the form,” George said, “You start getting the benefits as soon as try.”
The classes, though, are now about more than fitness. They’re about friendships and community. Students who have never met each other discover they’ve lived near each other for years. The class celebrates birthdays and supports each other through rough times.
“It’s a lot of fun really,” George said, “Everyone learns to be better neighbors and better people.”
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