Community Focus: Meet Fairmount’s Drill Sergeant Gina Mancuso
I’m sweating like crazy and can barely catch my breath.
“You’re doing great and you’re almost done,” a voice behind me calls out. The first part is a lie. The second part is the best news I’ve gotten all day.
I’ve been running up and down the Art Museum steps with a group of about thirty people– if you can call my labored and increasingly slow pace “running”– and Gina Mancuso, the instructor leading us, passes me without even the slightest effort.
Mancuso is sprinting up and down the steps like a mountain goat, not breaking a sweat, her shoulder-length brown hair is still looking freshly washed. Mancuso is tall, her toned body is nothing but lean muscle, and a few hundred steps seem like a very minor challenge to her.
Between sprints up the steps, Mancuso yells out instructions to the group– we all lay down on the ground for push ups and planks and bounce back up for jumping jacks.
It’s exhausting and all I want to do is collapse right on the asphalt, but Mancuso’s energy seems boundless.
A young, muscular police officer pushes himself almost to the point of getting sick. An older man offers me a sip of water as we arrive at the top of the steps panting, with bright red faces.
Mobile fitness classes like the one I participated in that Saturday in December have become Mancuso’s trademark since founding “CoreFitness” in 2002. Trained as a physical therapist, Mancuso worked at Moss Rehab Hospital in Philadelphia for years, but always taught fitness classes on the side. In 2002, she decided to make this her full-time job.
“The thing that I enjoy the most is watching people learn what they can do and experience their abilities,” she said.
CoreFitness is a mobile company without a brick and mortar home. The organization offers fitness classes six days a week outdoors and indoors around Fairmount locations, like the Ukrainian League of Philadelphia. Trainers also see clients in their homes. Mancuso’s approach to fitness is simple and requires no gear or equipment.
“To me it’s most important to handle your own body weight first,” she explained. “There are so many exercises you can do without any gear.”
For Mancuso, exercising is not about weight loss or looks, it’s about bringing people together in a healthy spirit. “It’s about building a community of like-minded people who support each other in a healthy lifestyle and creating and developing a lifestyle where fitness and wellness fit in.”
She says participants in her classes get together for social events, sign up for races together and support each other in their fitness goals. This sort of buddy system is important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
“When you have your friend knocking on your door saying ‘grab your shoes, we’re going’ it’s harder to say no,” she said.
Mancuso gets people to give their all during her classes, she is a stickler for solid form while pushing people to try new things and expand their limits, but she always wants her classes to be fun. “Let’s move in ways we haven’t moved before, let’s try new things,” she said.
This year, Mancuso is planning to participate in the Broad Street Run, her goal is to beat her 2015 time of 1:28.
She’s also organizing a team for the “Big Climb Philly” fundraiser – where participants will climb the steps in the Comcast building in April of this year. The proceeds will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Mancuso lost her father to lymphoma in 2009.
Mancuso says she has always loved exercising, but she acknowledges that staying on the healthy lifestyle wagon can be very difficult.
“Find something that makes it fun for you,” she advised. “Get a buddy and go for a three mile walk, maybe that’s the time you get to spend with them and that’s why you’ll do it. Connect exercising to something that is fun for you.”
As for me – I was sore for about four days after taking Mancuso’s class at the Art Museum steps, but I’ve since decided to sign up for “Commit 30” with CoreFitness.
Basically, I’m going to take four classes a week for a month and also make some changes to my diet – so, wish me luck!