By DALE GRAHAM
“Fitness Instructor, trying to make a change in people’s lives”, is how Paula Gourneau describes what she does. She leads by example, and those who are wise enough to spend some time with her are better for it.
A longtime Kingston Springs resident, Paula has been instructing people in fitness techniques for 30 years. Paula and her husband Mark have 5 children and 2 step children, 2 kids still in Harpeth High School: Harrison and Summer, Harpeth High School’s Indian mascot. It’s hard to imagine how she balances her family, multiple exercise classes, personal training clients, and body sculpting training, but she does it quite well. She says she’s “looking forward to some ‘me’ time when the last 2 kids graduate high school”, but adds “I have a good balance, the kids have their own life, but I’m still Momma.”
Paula was born in Gulf Port, Mississippi, but her family moved at the age of 2 to New Iberia, Louisiana. Her Cajun drawl is hard to miss. Paula had been a dancer since she was 3 years old, “ballet, tap, twirling, all of that”, she said. Just as she was graduating dance at 18, she was also pregnant and had gained 55 pounds. Coincidentally with a little help from Jane Fonda, aerobics was invented and it was a perfect fit for Paula. “When you grow up being active you get used to needing that adrenaline and that feeling”, and combining dance with exercise was the perfect fit for her.
Fitness, and her nature not to let anything push her down has helped Paula overcome many things, like anxiety. “I would not let that lick me”, she said, it’s something she still battles. If you take one of her classes, it’s hard to imagine that anything could rattle her, “that’s my comfort zone now”, Paula explains. She’s also battled cancer, collapsed lung, even spinal stenosis, but she keeps winning. After being diagnosed with cancer, she had surgery which cured her, but was told she wouldn’t be able to have any more children. She had 3 more children.
Proper nutrition is responsible for “85% of the results” for Paula, and for her personal training clients. “Teaching class is my first love”, she says. She teaches 6 classes per week (sometimes more), including high intensity water aerobics, and her favorite – Body Flow (a combination of Tai Chi, Yoga and Pilates), mostly at the YMCA on Highway 100 in Bellevue.
5 days a week, 1 hour per day is carved out for Paula’s personal exercise routine. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to pick and choose what’s really right for my body. Finding the balance in everything has been the biggest challenge, but it’s the most important thing”, she said. That fitness and balance have helped her push through whatever life throws at her, “with my knowledge of the body and what it’s capable of doing and what it was designed to do, not only through the books but through my belief in God, it was designed to move and heal”, Paula explained.
This year Paula turned 50 years old, and followed through on a challenge she wanted to take on. After being diagnosed last year with spinal stenosis, she decided to push through it, defeat it, and train for a competition in October. “I could be on the couch, popping pills and collecting disability right now”, but that’s not the way she does things. She started working with a trainer to get prepared to compete in The Dexter Jackson Classic in Memphis, a body building championship, in the Figure division. She began training in January, lifting heavy weights to add muscle and definition to her very fit, lean body. Three months into it, she injured her rotator cuff, but again she fought through it, and found a way to keep training because of her personal drive and her excellent personal trainer, Carlos Ramos. “I was going to overcome it, or die trying”, Paula laughed, but she meant it.
Paula came away with a second place trophy in the 50 Masters Figure Division. Her family was in attendance and cheering her on, and she’s thrilled with her results. “I wanted them to see not only me, but all the other athletes up there, and not just limited to sports and body building but in life, no matter what age, whatever you put your mind to do, you can do it, it’s never too late.”
Paula is devoted to work as hard as she can to get to the top of her class and compete at a high level until she is 55. She didn’t take much time off after this year’s competition before she got right back at it. She plans to participate in 2 competitions in the next year, and you can believe she will give it her all.
If you want to work out with Paula, pick up a schedule at the Bellevue YMCA if you’re a member, or look her up on Facebook to find out more about personal training. She will inspire you, and if you’re looking for change, she will help you change your life!