By Brandon HENSLEY
They’re all great trainers, he insisted, but Joe Kroening let it slip to his peers that he has one trainer he enjoys the most. Inside the community room at Crescenta Valley Park, after another invigorating workout with 100 Citizens, Kroening held a tennis ball, signifying his turn to speak, and he gave his admission.
“My favorite part of the program is Andre,” Kroening said, eliciting laughs from those around him, including Andre Darbidian himself.
Later, when everyone was leaving, Kroening tried to clarify in private. He didn’t need to. What matters most is the 75-year-old is making the most of his time with his newfound love: exercising.
“He’s a real enthusiastic person,” he said of Darbidian. “All of the trainers are enthusiastic.”
It’s that kind of work ethic from the trainers of 100 Citizens that has many in the foothills wanting to rise in the morning, ready to run wind sprints and throw medicine balls rather than lounge in a recliner and tackle another crossword puzzle.
The exercise program has been at the park for three years, every Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. It is led by kinesiology students at Cal State Northridge, looking for internship credits and potential careers as trainers, coaches and doctors.
“All of the interns, we put them in leadership positions,” said Darbidian, one of the program managers whose excitable personality has his group running and punching their way to fitness. “The ones who want to be personal trainers, they’re getting that experience right away. They’re leading five or more people in exercise.”
The program is free and open to anyone 16 and older. There are three fitness levels: Let’s Get Moving, for older participants and people newer to exercising; Active Lifestyle, the next step up, and Performance, for those who can handle the best of what each trainer throws at them.
Each group is split into different workout stations for 12 minutes at a time. There’s not much rest in between. Stations include throwing medicine balls against a wall, stepladder moves (for agility and speed) and free weights, for stability and strength.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever seen. I’m not tired now as I was when I first started. Man, I was dragging. But I can feel a complete difference,” said Kroening, who estimated he’s lost a couple inches on his waist in the seven months since he’s joined.
MaryJane Matoza, 68, is a runner who is used to aerobic exercise, but the kind of workouts she’s benefitting from now almost had her giving up after one session. She didn’t know if she wanted to come back last spring, but with the encouragement of the trainers and her peers, she gave it another try. A year later, she’s burning calories in the top level group.
What did it take for her to reach the Performance level?
“Dedication, being consistent, and determination: just wanting to get better,” said Matoza.
CSUN is one of three Cal State University schools to offer the program, which is held at five parks around the Southland. Some actually have around 100 people participate, like the San Fernando Park group. At CV, program director Amelia Sherman said there are currently around 50 members. That number will hopefully grow.
100 Citizens is trying to raise enough money to be included as a program for students at all 23 CSUs. There are several reasons for establishing 100 Citizens, but Sherman said the comradery among those who join is the best and most obvious benefit.
“What I love most is seeing the students having a good time and our participants having a great time with them. The reason I stuck with the program is to see the participants feeling better and they’re making new connections and making new neighbors,” she said. “That’s my favorite thing.”
Darbidian went to Rosemont Middle School and Crescenta Valley High. For him to give back specifically to his hometown is a special feeling.
“I realized how much of an impact it is having in the community. They’re enjoying working out and talking to their neighbors. You can see they’re having a good time and losing weight at the same time,” he said.
Cathy Francisco, a kinesiology graduate student at Northridge, has been with 100 Citizens at CV Park long enough to remember when there were only 20 to 30 willing bodies. She’s confident that if the community gets the word out, more will come.
“It’s free exercise. Some people don’t see the need for exercise until they go to the doctor,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of success stories of weight loss, people getting off of medication.”
While it may be a struggle for some at first, improvement can be seen in just a matter of months. Matoza knows what that’s like. She loves the challenge of improving herself every week. The friendly atmosphere doesn’t hurt either.
“What keeps me coming back are the people,” Matoza said. “The instructors make it fun, and the participants are really nice people. It’s like a family.”
For more information, visit 100citizens.org.