Nashville gym offers free training to low-income women seeking healthier lives

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.

by Sharon Nunn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When the red numbers on the gym’s digital clock reached zero, a high pitched screech rang out, and Janelle Grant dropped the weighted medicine ball she’d been lifting and throwing to the ground.

After nine months of training at The New Beginnings Center’s gym, Grant lost more than 100 pounds, down from the 360 that 10 months earlier put her in a hospital intensive care unit for 24 hours.

“The doctor basically told me that all your problems are stemming from your weight, and if you don’t do anything about it, you won’t be here this time next year,” Grant said.

Janelle Grant, 34, of Nashville, Tenn., wears a T-shirt in May that she says represents how the free gym access and training at The New Beginnings Center has made her feel: strong. (Photo by Sharon Nunn)

Years of calculating Weight Watchers points, following Beachbody eating plans, and exercising with trainers did not work for the Nashville special-needs instructor. But she fit the bill of a low-income woman willing to commit one year to improve herself, the prerequisites to enrolling in a program of the Nashville-based New Beginnings Center that offers free nutrition and physical training.

“They’re raising kids or grandkids; they’re tired; they’ve never taken care of themselves,” New Beginnings President and CEO Tash Weddle said. “They’ve taken care of everybody else, and they’ve never done something like this for themselves.”

Grant and other low-income women in the New Beginnings program face bleak health statistics.

When available, healthful food in low-income areas tends to be more expensive than food that contains more fat, added sugars and refined grains. Processed foods are easily found in low-income areas; there are more fast-food restaurants in these communities, with many situated near schools.

“Breakfast, lunch and dinner used to be fast food,” Grant said.

Fewer parks and other open spaces for physical activity in low-income communities and the relatively high cost of typical gym memberships further exacerbate the problem.

“When you look at the average price for personal training, it’s usually something that only people with a lot of discretionary income have,” Weddle said.

Karrie Balbach, 54, displays a page of the health information that women enrolled in the New Beginnings program in Nashville, Tenn., receive. (Photo by Sharon Nunn)

New Beginnings addresses those issues through its nutrition coaching, in which women learn how to shop for healthy foods on a budget. The program also provides access to workout equipment and personal trainers, with Weddle coaching many of the women herself.

“My favorite part of this is the discussions we have about life,” Weddle said. “We have to address how you think about yourself, and how you think about others, and how you think about life.”

The women create life mission statements and complete vision boards that have pictures and representations of what they want of themselves and their lives.

“(We) got to the root of things, not just the physical, but the mental and emotional,” Grant said.

Since the New Beginnings program started in 2012, about 1,000 women have completed the training, losing an average of about 7 percent of their original body weight and decreasing their body mass index by about 3 points.

Grant’s own numbers exceed those program averages.

Weddle “taught me how to change my lifestyle all the way around,” Grant said. “I didn’t love myself, I never looked at myself in the mirror. This program has truly taught me how to love myself.”

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