Inspire the World to Fitness®
Carrie Ekins overcame her own physical limitations to help others overcome theirs.
Like many fitness professionals, IDEA member and presenter Carrie Ekins, MA, was born to move. Since she can remember, she has been involved in exercise, sports and dance—always with her family’s support and encouragement. Ekins is among the generation that first became certified in aerobics in the early 1980s. Her passion for movement and wellness has inspired her to create and participate in many programs over the years.
Ekins is in a unique position to understand where a new exerciser is coming from when he or she talks about pain or fatigue. She understands how physical limitations can challenge someone, because she has overcome them herself. In 1993 she underwent a total hip replacement. In 2001 she developed problems and had to have a bone transplant and capsule change in her existing prosthesis and pelvic structure. Despite these physical and mental setbacks, Ekins has followed the beat of her own drum to recovery and created motivating programs for others.
When Ekins was 30 years old, she began having pain in her left hip. A medical examination revealed that she had slight hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis. Although she continued to teach and further her fitness education, Ekins tried to cut down on any high-impact exercise that would worsen the progression of her osteoarthritis. “When the pain became a continual burden, the doctors told me to limit my activity to swimming or riding a bike,” Ekins says. “It was devastating news, but I began thinking up a program I could teach even when it was too painful to walk or move.”
In 1990, Ekins started “Pedal Power,” a program that revised aerobic dance routines for the stationary bicycle. As her hip worsened, she turned to mind-body exercise. “This was a way to integrate my passion for dance, yoga, Pilates and meditation into programs, without too much unnecessary impact or stress to my hip,” she says. In 1998 Ekins was inspired by Lord of the Dance and developed a program for the fitness industry called “Riverdance Rhythms.” In 2001 she presented the program at World Fitness IDEA® in San Francisco. “It was such a joy to watch the class move and capture the spirit of dance. It was beautiful,” she recalls.
The day after the convention, the titanium head of the capsule slid into Ekins’s pelvic structure and she was no longer able to walk. “I flew back to Germany, where I live, in a wheelchair and immediately underwent surgery,” she says. “I had to stay in intensive care for longer than expected. I lost a large amount of blood and had to realize that the healing process would not be easy and would take a long time. I was on crutches for more than 6 months (non-weight-bearing), and it took me almost a year to begin walking again. It was a painful, drawn-out process but I knew someday I would be able to move and teach again.”
As Ekins’s strength and range of motion began to return, she started thinking about ways she could maintain her fitness level without adding too much stress to her hip. “I began toying with the idea of rhythm, drumming and dance,” she says. “I tried out a variety of equipment until I came up with the idea of using stability balls as drums.” The “Drums Alive” program was born.
“‘Drums Alive’ includes many aspects of health and wellness—physical, mental, emotional and social,” Ekins says. “It combines the rhythms of the drums with the passion of the dance and allows for expression and creativity. It provides a high degree of fitness and, most importantly, it’s fun!”
During a typical class, stability balls are held in place by special plastic holders (step risers will work in a pinch), and each participant has a pair of drumsticks. The teacher cues simple movements and introduces the terminology: single beats, double beats, side beats, side clicks, etc. As participants warm up and become more familiar with the rhythmic pace, the teacher adds patterns until the entire class is moving, drumming and dancing in a synchronized, energetic mass.
According to Ekins, drumming helps people use whole-brain, whole-body thinking by developing sensory motor reflexes and kinesthetic awareness. It helps people connect with themselves and “the deeper rhythms of life.” She credits her mother for inspiring her to consider drumming as a fitness format. “She fostered our creativity. Even as small children we would make drums by hand. We were allowed the freedom to experiment with rhythms and movement.”
Developing “Drums Alive” has helped Ekins cope with her physical pain as she uses her expertise to reach others. She hopes the unique and welcoming program will attract children and adults who are otherwise afraid to try an exercise class. She’s already seen its positive effect. “Obese people love to take the class because, at first, they feel that they have a place to hide (behind the ball). Once the class gets going, they loosen up and simply enjoy the exercise. Children, especially those with behavioral issues, love that they are given permission to bang on something. They let out all their feelings and go away refreshed and renewed.”
Ekins’s wellness journey continues, and she must now face another hurdle. “Unfortunately, I will have to undergo a third operation and hip replacement on my right hip in the near future. But I know that with a positive attitude and hard work, I will be able to overcome this new setback.