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Plus-Size Women Run for Their Lives

by April Durrett on Jul 01, 2003


Subject: Sharon Snyder

Location: San Francisco

Position and Company: Owner, Bumblebee Fitness personal training for plus-size women

Why “Bumblebee” Fitness?: “With its short fat body, little short wings and small wing span, some experts claim that the bumblebee is theoretically incapable of flight, using conventional rules of aerodynamics, at least,” Snyder says. “Yet despite all of the experts’ contentions, the bumblebee defies those rules. I use the bumblebee as a symbol for my business because, as fat women, we are so often told we cannot be physically fit. However, I am a healthy size 14/16, a competitive athlete and a personal trainer. My clients prove every day that fitness is independent of weight and size. We can enjoy all of the benefits of improved health, fitness and vitality at any size. We can fly!”

Event Training for Plus-Size Women: Although Snyder works one-on-one with clients, she enjoys group training. Because of this, she formed a group of plus-size women to train for the Bay to Breakers 12K race in May in San Francisco. She announced the training group on a few bulletin boards and e-mail lists.

The response? “I was hoping for 15 to 20 women; I got more than 50 responses and 30 women signed up!” says Snyder.

The Program: The group met twice a month, one Saturday and one Sunday. At each meeting the women warmed up, walked, cooled down and stretched. (Sometimes Snyder planned the training on parts of the actual race course.) She gave women monthly training programs (one for beginners and one for intermediates) to keep them focused and talked about gait, footwear, comfortable training clothes and proper hydration. The program cost $100, plus the race fee. Snyder created an online discussion group for the women to find training partners (she encouraged them to walk between sessions), communicate about their progress and check in with each other. She also sponsored a shoe clinic and a heart zone training clinic.

Client Successes: Twenty women completed the program and the race. “I was so excited to see these historically non-athletic women accomplish an athletic goal they'd set for themselves,” Snyder says. “Since I did heart zone training with the group, it was rewarding to watch their heart rates go down throughout the program. Using an athletic event as a goal was a revolutionary idea for them. Many participants had been told that they had to use weight loss as a goal, which was often a source of shame, frustration and failure. It’s been a very validating experience for them to work toward an event goal, which no one can take away from them.”

How did the women themselves feel? Here are comments from a few participants. “Finishing the race is an amazing accomplishment. I am so pleased to have done the race, and it was satisfying to do it pretty darn easily,” says 41-year-old Debbie Ann.

Thirty-three-year-old Carolyn adds, “I am feeling happier and healthier than I have in 10 years. I loved the camaraderie of the walks. As a fat woman who considered herself a ‘former’ athlete, I thought the gift of exercise was lost to me forever. It has been a pleasure and a delight to realize I am an athlete now, and I can move and feel good and improve my health at any size.”

The women’s experiences propelled many of them to try other forms of exercise. “Some women have joined a plus-size women's hip hop class and one is trying belly dancing,” Snyder says. “Another woman finally feels confident enough to try surfing. Before she thought she couldn't do it unless she was thin.”

Future Plans: Training the women for Bay to Breakers was an extremely rewarding experience for Snyder. “After the race, I got what I had hoped for: The women turned to each other and to me and said, ‘What are we going to train for next?’”

She decided to run a follow-up group to train for the Wharf-to-Wharf 10K in Santa Cruz, California, in July. “I invited the women to volunteer as workout leaders; six women volunteered to lead additional weekly training walks for the new group,” Snyder says. “I'm thrilled to have them moving into leadership roles in a fitness environment.”

Snyder is also the head coach for Team Danskin/Northern California, a triathlon training program aimed at novice female triathletes. She is thrilled that two of the women decided to train for it this year, and two others are training for it next year. Next spring she is planning on running Camp Bumblebee, a triathlon training camp for plus-size women.

IDEA Personal Trainer, Volume 2004, Issue 7

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About the Author

April Durrett

April Durrett IDEA Author/Presenter

April Durrett is a contributing editor for IDEA Fitness Journal.