Mary Whitaker is a beloved aerobics instructor who has been teaching fitness at the local branch of Southwestern Oregon Community College for more than a quarter-century. That's why, when she informed her students that she was retiring, they became distraught and upset, fearing their favorite instructor would no longer be there to teach them. Luckily for her students, Mary meant she is retiring from her position of Curry First Stop Representative at SWOCC after nearly 25-years. She has no plans to quit teaching aerobics anytime soon.
"When I told my students I was retiring they were all so upset, they thought I was retiring from the class. They were relieved when I told them I was going to continue teaching aerobics," said Whitaker, who has been an aerobics instructor at the college since 1984.
Whitaker's path to fitness began shortly after the birth of her daughter in 1974. Like many women, she wanted to get back into shape after delivering a child. She walked into a local YMCA in Southern California and has been involved in a healthy living lifestyle ever since.
"There was no cardio workout back then and nobody was doing anything aerobic," said Whitaker.
She moved to the Brookings-Harbor area from Encinitas, CA in 1980 and, after a rainy winter spent indoors, realized she had to get back to exercising.
"It was so rainy and horrible that I stayed indoors and didn't get out and exercise. I thought to myself, "I have to get out and move," she said.
Whitaker began teaching aerobics at SWOCC through their community education program in 1984, leading male and female students through low-impact aerobic routines on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.
"We start with a basic routine that we run for a couple weeks, to get everybody used to the class. Then every two or three weeks we do something different, like changing the music or the routine to make it fun," said Whitaker. "I've seen a lot of changes in the fitness industry, with styles like jazzercise becoming popular. The fun part is choreographing the workouts. I love doing that."
According to Whitaker, the camaraderie between she and her students and her love of teaching keeps her.
"This is what I love to share with the people. I give my students a chance to improve their lives and live healthy. It's fun to teach the students and it's a good way to start your day.
I really appreciate the ladies in my fitness class and they are really supportive. They also support the college by participating in fundraisers and by signing up for the classes," said Whitaker. "I do it for them and also do it for myself. The camaraderie is what makes you come back to do more. It's not a class where there is competition, it's a class where you do what you want to do and enjoy aerobics."
"Most of us have been in the class for many years, some well over a decade," said Carol Imada, a student of Whitaker, via email. "Mary has kept her workouts fresh and interesting. She has encouraged us to work hard, but with respect to any physical limitations we might have. We have learned to encourage each other's successes and to laugh at ourselves when we make mistakes. Close and long-lasting friendships have been formed."
Though Whitaker is retiring from her office job at SWOCC, she has no plans to stop teaching aerobics.
"I'm a people person and I like people. I've always loved working here. I put in my time here and now it's time for me to do my aerobics class and my gardening," said Whitaker.
When asked when she would ever consider retiring from teaching aerobics Whitaker joked, "We'll probably all be showing up with our walkers." Her students are fine with that.