Elizabeth Read (pictured above with class participant and friend Jo Ponnampalam) is always on the move. During the day she teaches primary school children PE before unleashing her enthusiasm in the group fitness studio – teaching up to three classes an evening. She thrives on the energy, so when injury struck, it took her down in more ways than one.
Tell us about your passion for physical activity and where it began?
I wasn't always into sport and fitness but when I was younger I danced a lot, which is one of the reasons I think I came to quite enjoy group fitness classes. I was attending classes regularly and got friendly with one of the instructors who suggested I consider instructing. I immediately thought “Oh no! I could never do that”, the thought of standing up in front of a load of people was horrifying! But I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and did it. Now I love it. I teach as many classes (BODYATTACK, BODYFLOW, BODYCOMBAT and BODYCOMBAT) as I can fit in my schedule at two clubs in Norfolk, England.
With so much physical activity it obviously puts a fair bit of stress on your body – and a very real risk of injury?
Last year I ended up with two disc protrusions in my lower back. I felt my back go and I knew something wasn't right but I carried on, continuing to teach for several months. I shouldn't have, because my back then went completely and I was forced to stop. It was horrible. Obviously the pain was awful, but that wasn't the worst part. It was a real emotional challenge. For five months I was forced to give up teaching and I just felt completely removed from the world I love. It’s such a big part of my life and to have that taken away created a massive void.
You didn't have surgery, but injections and intense physiotherapy. How did you stay positive?
Throughout it all, getting back into group exercise was my number one goal. I kept that goal front of mind and, even when it felt like getting better was never going to happen, I focused on staying positive. I was determined to reach my goal.
And you credit BODYFLOW with helping you?
While I was injured I was fortunate enough to be able to continue to teach BODYFLOW, which really helped me. Initially, my doctors didn't recommend it, but I felt that I could do it, I listened to my body and I did what felt right. I figured that anything that could help strengthen my core was going to be a good thing. As I went through my rehab with the hospital there was an awful lot of Pilates, so I knew that I was on the right track. I also found it really good for my mental health. I think that me doing my two to three BODYFLOW classes a week was what helped me keep going.
So you could see light at the end of the tunnel. Tell us about the transition back to teaching.
I knew that I couldn't just jump back into to teaching the lineup of classes I was teaching before my injury. I had to gradually build my classes up. Thankfully, while I was injured I still made an effort to stay familiar with my clubs and visit my participants, and I found the support from my clubs and participants really helpful. I probably wouldn’t have found it so easy to get back into it if it wasn't for the encouragement of my lovely participants. It made me realize that, although I encourage them, they encourage me as well.
So are you now completely back in the game?
I am back to teaching about a dozen classes a week, more if I cover other instructors. I teach up to three classes a day, which is quite a few given it’s a second job. Needless to say it’s a massive part of my life.
I still spend my days as a primary school PE teacher. I love teaching children who are so young and enthusiastic – they are at an age where they really enjoy getting active. It’s great to see them developing their skills and you hope that you’re going set them off on a lifelong journey into enjoying sport or activity in some way, shape or form.
It's the enjoyment from physical activity that I love seeing when I teach adults in the group fitness studio. I just love how when everyone is together there’s a real buzz in the room. You can feel amazing amounts of positive energy, and that’s what encourages you and keeps you going.