When IDEA member Nancy Norris was 4 years old, her mother did something that set her life in motion, literally. “She enrolled me in a dance school, and I fell in love with dance,” says Norris, who lives in Grand Blanc, Michigan. Dance fulfilled an exercise niche way before fitness was “cool,” and Norris danced and taught dance classes until age 37, when something new caught her attention: aerobics. She began to focus on the then brand-new fitness industry and has grown professionally as it has grown. This personal fitness trainer and group fitness instructor runs her own business and also serves as group exercise coordinator at Hurley Health and Fitness Center in Flint, Michigan. “My motivation comes from within,” Norris says. “I want to inspire others, so I need to walk the talk.”
With more than 27 years of experience and expertise beneath her belt, Norris shares her passion about fitness with everyone who will listen and continually strives to improve her own skill set. In addition to helping others discover the joys of fitness and wellness, Norris herself is an avid mountain climber who began seeking summits in 1998 at the age of 54. Her goal is to climb the highest mountain on all seven continents. To date, she has climbed 23 mountains, six of which are the highest peaks on their continents. The seventh, Mount Everest, is in her sights. “My goal in climbing the seven summits is to inspire the world to fitness and bring attention to the fact that if you have a healthy lifestyle, you can achieve any goal you set, regardless of age.”
Norris’s mountain climbing resumé is as extensive as her fitness resumé. Line after line details mountaineering school, base camp experiences, altitude and weather challenges and even an expedition that was interrupted due to the accidental death of a climber not affiliated with Norris’s party. As impressive as her achievements are, Norris gets a large share of her enjoyment from day-to-day activities with her clients and participants. “I am passionate about fitness,” Norris says. “I encourage others to try everything and then pick what they enjoy the most. I think everyone needs to be well-rounded in fitness, as well as life in general. I’ve tried and taught almost everything. My real passion is teaching others all I can so they can become fit, healthy and happy.”
Norris particularly enjoys working with clients who have closed head injuries. Her reputation as a dance instructor is what initially introduced her to this niche. “A facility member’s daughter had a closed head injury,” Norris says. “She was also a dancer. [The father] knew I was a dancer and a personal trainer and thought if I could get [his daughter] dancing again, combined with a strength training program, it might help. I danced with her, and she became stronger physically and mentally. Fifteen years later, she is a married college graduate and mother who also works with closed head injury patients. Now the doctors at Hurley Medical Center send me patients once they have finished their initial rehabilitation. It is the most rewarding personal training I do. I love all of my clients and enjoy watching their progress.”
Like any other person, Norris has dealt with her share of obstacles. She sees them as learning experiences and opportunities to share solutions with others. “I have done high-impact activities since I was a little girl and have continued as an adult with running, high-impact aerobics, skydiving and more; [as a result], I have had knee problems for several years,” she says. “In September 2005, I had knee replacement surgery and 3 months later climbed Mount Vinson in Antarctica. I use this example to tell others that even if something happens to you, it doesn’t mean the end of the world.”
Norris says mountain climbing is the most challenging thing she does, and it offers an unparalleled spiritual dimension to her life. “When I’m in the mountains I’m away from phones and computers, and I am one with nature,” she says. “I feel so small on this universe and so thankful that God is allowing me to see these wonderful mountains. It also humbles me to see people living in such poor conditions, and it makes me want to help others more. I feel that climbing makes me a better person; it gets me in touch with reality.”
Norris is currently seeking sponsorship to help her make her next trip to Mount Everest, which is an expensive journey. Once she has reached this goal, she wants to write, travel and lecture about her experiences. The “mountain climbing grandma” hopes that her aspirations will encourage other fitness professionals to continue to help others. “I think the best thing we can do as fitness professionals is set a good example for the people we want to inspire,” Norris says. “The best compliment I hear from family, friends and clients is: ‘When I look at your accomplishments, you inspire me to be the best I can be.’ It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Are your clients obese, disabled or just starting to exercise after years of sedentary living? We want to hear how you are motivating, challenging and retaining clients on a long-term basis. In 200 words or less, detail the specifics of your program and client(s), along with your name and contact information. If your success story is compelling and unique, we may use it in a future issue or on the Inspire the World to Fitness® section of the website.
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Mail: Sandy Todd Webster
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Joy Keller is a senior editor of IDEA Fitness Journal.