Throwback Thursday: Seven Ways to Get in Shape this New Year

Throwback Thursday: Seven Ways to Get in Shape this New Year

This article originally appeared in Dec/Jan 2007/8 Ottawa Magazine print edition.
All photos by David Kawai

Jacqueline Ethier Photo: David Kawai

IT’S A NEW YEAR, and with it come new ways to get fit and fabulous. Forget the gym craze of the premillennium. Such mind-numbing step routines are the old codger to the ahead-of-the-curve activity-based routines of the young.
Here are seven sporty Svengalis with kicks, skates, and new moves to get you in gear:

Fabio Cuencas Photo: David Kawai

Fabio Cuencas: kick up some culture with a brazilian mestre

The Roots: Brazil, circa 1600. Slaves from western Africa developed capoeira to protect themselves against violent owners. The characteristic roda—a circle formed around a sparring duo with percussion and call-back songs—helped disguise this martial art as a dance. Today’s acrobatic, rhythmic display maintains its back-alley history, giving nicknames to group members to help them hide from The Man.

The Trailblazer: Brazilian expat Fabio Cuencas kick-started the scene when he came to Ottawa in 1999. Teaching at recreation centres, studios, and gyms, he formally initiates 30 students at the baptizado every year.

The Workout: The hour-long sessions are peppered with ritual, like the opening sau. After running and stretching, it’s time to kick, cartwheel (aù), and escape (esquiva) to the beat of traditional music. Cuencas ends his sessions with a roda, so students get a chance to spar (play) and understand capoeira’s many customs.

The Benefits: Increased cardiovascular health; improved flexibility and strength.
An introduction to Portuguese is also part of the class. The mestre says, “In order to become a more well-rounded capoeirista, you have to learn the language.”

Hit It Here: Dende do Recife. 613-884-1161,

David Hart Photo: David Kawai

David Hart: have fun at this fit-fab pool party

The Roots: England, circa mid-1800s. Originally an aquatic version of rugby, water polo quickly attracted spectators to swimming events. Its crowd-pleasing quality led to water polo’s introduction to the second Olympiad in 1900, making it the longest-
running Olympic team sport.

The Trailblazer: David Hart, head coach of the Titans Water Polo Association. After eight years on the national team, Hart retired as a professional athlete, but he couldn’t stay away. He helped develop the competitive, recreational, and adult programs and assisted the team that took gold at a 2003 national-level competition.

The Workout: First up: theory, followed by a quick stretch, then hop into the pool. Most of the workout is spent honing passing and shooting skills. Adult recreational-league participants should be able to swim 250 metres, then tread water for three minutes.

The Benefits: Increased heart and lung health; social camaraderie. “Compared to going out and trying to run for an hour, you’re going to develop a much higher aerobic capacity,” Hart says.

Hit It Here: Titans Water Polo Association, 613-741-1224,

Peter Slivka Photo: David Kawai

Peter Slivka: reach new heights at vertical reality

The Roots: England, Germany, and Italy, circa 1890. Though Europeans previously trained for big mountain ascents on difficult patches of rock face, it wasn’t until well-
publicized first-summit climbs brought out the weekend warriors that sport climbing really took off at indoor gyms.

The Trailblazer: Peter Slivka. After he escaped communism in 1989, the former Slovakian national climbing team member brought his passion for the sport to Ottawa, opening the doors of Vertical Reality climbing gym in 1993.

The Workout: Slivka offers one-hour introductory lessons, which vary depending on the individual’s athletic background. A person’s sense of balance is especially important, Slivka says. First-timers always have a chance to get on the wall, but Slivka demands patience from his students. “It’s like every other sport. It takes time.”

The Benefits: Primarily upper-body strength (diehards hit the gym to cross-train). Despite the fact that women generally are weaker than men in this area, some believe a woman’s ability to analyze gives her a leg up. Slivka stresses the psychological benefits. “In my experience, fear of heights or climbing is almost 100 per cent learned.” Slivka says overcoming this leads to increased self-confidence.

Hit It Here: Vertical Reality Climbing Gym, 613-569-3903,

Jacqueline Ethier Photo: David Kawai

Jacqueline Ethier: get straight with the posture queen

The Roots: Germany, circa 1900. Founder Joseph Pilates was bullied as a child, giving him a resolve to become stronger. Pilates taught the fitness method, first termed Contrology, to remind students to use their minds to control muscular movements, at a First World War camp. After he immigrated to the U.S. in 1926, his work caught the eye of dance maverick Martha Graham and has since been used by dancers to connect with their inner sense of flow.

The Trailblazer: Jacqueline Ethier of The Pilates Space. A student for 15 years, Ethier trains with 86-year-old Ron Fletcher, who studied under Pilates himself, making her Ottawa’s closest link to the founder.

The Workout: Leave outside thoughts at the door—these hour-long sessions require an intense body-mind connection. Classes start with 10 minutes of centring, a slow stretch that gets students using their abdominal and back muscles to control their body. Then come sit-ups and torso curls, executed with an intense focus on breathing. Class ends with more centring.

The Benefits: Core muscle strength, improved posture, and reduced risk of injury. The creation of a midsection “girdle of strength” gives a boost to both energy and confidence.

Hit It Here: The Pilates Space, 613-745-2837,

Tony Greco Photo: David Kawai


Tony Greco: stay motivated with the lean-and-fit enforcer

The Roots: North America, circa 1980. As the fitness boom progressed, those with hectic schedules and disposable income demanded a more efficient workout. Enter the certified personal trainer, dedicated to sizing up bodies and calculating heart rates. Suddenly, hitting the gym became an appointment instead of a to-do-list item.

The Trailblazer: Tony Greco of Greco Lean and Fit Centre. After winning the light-heavyweight IAKSA World Kick Boxing Championship title in 1995, Greco wanted to share his knowledge. He has taken more than 1,000 students through the semi-private exercise regime since 2000.

The Workout: The 10-week course combines goals, science, and a whole lot of blustery Greco-style motivation to keep students returning. After a first-day body analysis and a nutrition pep talk, individual objectives are laid out. Students then sign up for three instructor-guided workout sessions in which they rotate through stations every week. When students are no-shows, the teachers come calling.

The Benefits: Improved mental, emotional, and physical health. Greco tackles negative self-images with science and strategy, so students can “figure out who they are” and accept themselves.

Hit It Here: Greco Martial Arts and Fitness Centre, 613-825-LEAN,

Elizabeth Manley-Theobald Photo: David Kawai

Elizabeth Manley-Theobald: take a spin around the rink with an olympian

The Roots: Europe, circa 1900. Though figure skating had been practised for years, the Olympics really gave the sport a lift.

The Trailblazer: Elizabeth Manley-Theobald of the Gloucester Skating Club—better known as the silver medallist from the 1988 Calgary Olympics. After her win, the bubbly blonde from Trenton, Ontario, continued to skate professionally in Philadelphia, making the transition into coaching after she broke her foot in seven places (no dramatics here—she was getting out of a truck). Eager to be closer to her family, Manley-Theobald accepted a position with the GSC last summer.

The Workout: After warm-up laps, students go through skill drills to work on jumps, spins, and fancy footwork. Classes are subdivided according to skill level, and coaching is done both one-on-one and in groups. Though most are there for the fitness and social aspects, Manley-Theobald says adult students can be very focused on their skill development. “It’s like they’re going to the Olympics!”

The Benefits: As well as cardiovascular exercise, Manley-Theobald says figure skating is “great for the mind,” because it requires a focus that our technology-obsessed society leaves little room for. “You can have two hours on the ice and get away from the telephone and the TV. It’s a very rejuvenating sport.”

Hit It Here: Gloucester Skating Club, 613-830-1610,

Ray Zahab Photo: David Kawai

Ray Zahab: go the distance with the ultraman

The Roots: Boston, 1861. Extreme long-distance running can draw a line back to pedestrianism, started by Edward Payson Weston. Weston bet $10,000 that he could walk from Boston to Washington in 10 days, just in time for Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration. Ultramarathons (any race over 50 km) push the limits with events characterized by feats of endurance, such as running without sleep or racing in remote areas.

The Trailblazer: Ray Zahab, personal coach and motivational speaker. He brings wisdom gleaned from ambitious treks. This year alone he took on the Sahara desert and the three coasts of Canada. Only ever run to catch the bus? No problem. “Some people don’t want to start with the 10K and work their way up,” Zahab says. He’ll help you change: as a former pack-a-day smoker, he’s a poster boy for the power of transformation.

The Workout: Zahab creates the perfect training schedule and hashes nutrition plans and gear, sharing his own insights and mistakes. Speaking of his pre-running life, Zahab says: “I was tired of being unhappy. It’s that simple. So I thought, the one thing I could control was how I felt physically.”

The Benefits: Increased cardiovascular health, heart efficiency, and lung capacity —not to mention happiness.

Hit It Here: Connect with Zahab at 613-868-2888, Prices range from $99 for a one-hour consultation to $495 a month for a personalized program.