If you want to sign up for a class through Johns Hopkins' noncredit liberal arts program, Odyssey, you might find yourself enlisting the help of Bada Hebron, the program's registrar. It's Hebron who registers students, helps JHU employees and staff and their spouses make use of their tuition discount, and promotes the program on social media. But in her non-Odyssey hours, you'll likely find Hebron—who doubles as a part-time fitness instructor for JHU's Wellness Program—leading JHU employees and staff on the often-sweaty, always-rewarding path to better health. We talked to Hebron recently about her own fitness journey, her goals for her students, and what makes it all worthwhile.
What is your role with JHU's wellness classes, and how did you get involved?
I teach a Zumba class, and I also teach a muscle toning and conditioning class once a week. I first learned Zumba and was certified in 2009, and a little later I was like, the university doesn't have anything with Zumba. So I inquired to the Benefits Office, and I remember the person said, "We would really like to do it, but the problem is going to be getting the space." And it really was, and still is! It was probably a year before I was introduced within the Wellness Program. When I started the class in 2011, I had about 60 participants. Zumba was the new craze, and people were really interested.
And then you also got involved in the muscle toning class?
Yes, there is a great instructor, Kara O'Connor, who started the class about nine or 10 years ago, and when she was on maternity leave, she wondered if I could step in for her to teach her classes. I also teach at the YMCA—I'm certified through the Y to teach group fitness classes—and I was doing a cardio blast class, so I kind of knew how to do the muscle toning and conditioning classes. And also, I had been taking Kara's classes for such a long time, so I knew how she taught it. When she got off maternity leave, she asked if I could just continue to teach the Thursday class. It was such a generous offer, and I really love it.
Were you always into fitness?
When I was in high school, I was severely overweight and I was just really, really depressed. Then I had a health scare, and I remember they had to do a biopsy of my kidney and instead of pulling out a piece of my kidney, they pulled out a piece of fat! This was the thing that I really needed to start me on my fitness journey. I ended up at College Park, and I started off with a tennis class. I was terrible at that. I also did a jogging course, which I really enjoyed. And I took a step aerobics class, which I fell in love with. When I graduated, I thought maybe I could become a step aerobics instructor.
And how did you make that happen?
After I graduated, I encouraged my parents and my sister to start at the Y with me. There was a mentor, her name was Laureen, and I inquired about becoming an instructor, and she said, "You can do it!" So when there was an opening or someone was away, I stepped in. I was terrible at it. After one or two times, I was like, you know what, I'm better as a student. But there was an opening as a dance instructor, and I got in there and started a line dance class. It didn't really garner students, so I started looking things up online and I thought, let me just go ahead and make this class my own. That's what made me start to do a cardio blast class. That was 2007 or 2008.
What's the goal of the classes you teach?
The goal is for better balance for individuals, strength, and more stamina. Weight loss is secondary. I don't want people to feel pressured to lose weight because that is also tied to nutrition. You can exercise, but if you don't have a proper diet, you're not going to lose anything. A majority of my students are female, and we are ALL getting older. We're still at work, putting in 40 hours a week, and sometimes with these classes it helps to a) break up the day, and b) it creates even more energy for you. You feel tired but you're energized. You're like, I got it done! Also, there is camaraderie. There are people from such different facets from all over campus. You can have a PhD and an administrative assistant, but when you're in there, nobody is looking at titles. It's really a family atmosphere.
What's the most challenging part of teaching fitness classes?
There are people of all different fitness levels, so that's a challenge. Whenever a first-time participant comes in, I tell them, please go at your own pace. You start off at a beginning level and as the weeks progress, the intensity increases. I try to keep it interesting for people who have been with me for a long period of time, too. I try to incorporate different moves, changing them up. It's the same with muscle toning. I try to have a balance so that people don't get bored but also so it's not so difficult that they don't come back. It's a fine line to walk.
And what's most rewarding?
After people have left class and they say, "Oh Bada, that was a good class today." Or if the next day they say, "Oh Bada, my abs are hurting," but then I see them the next week. There's pain. I don't want it to be excruciating but just enough gentle pain that you come back for more. It's also rewarding to have people keep signing up for the next session. I've had my return people for Zumba that have been with me since 2011.
Do you talk to your students about your own journey to fitness?
I do sometimes share that journey with my students. I'm friends with many of them on Facebook, so they see where I come from. I'm not bragging and I don't want anybody to feel sorry for me, but it's more like, if you don't think you can do it, let me show you that you can. I was at a point where I was very unhealthy and it took me a long time. And it wasn't just me: My parents encouraged me, my instructors encouraged me. This fitness journey is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. I want my students to know that sometimes it's not going to be easy, but we're going to get there together. I feel like whatever they want to do, I'm there for them and they're there for me, too.
Is there anything else you want people to know about your classes?
The most important thing is if you're feeling intimidated to try fitness and wellness classes, please come and try it once. I really do think it makes a difference with the mind-body connection and self-esteem, and it releases endorphins. Plus, everyone needs a little break from the 9 to 5—the wellness classes are a great way to do that.
More about the classes: JHU employees and staff can register online for Zumba, Muscle Toning and Conditioning, or other health and fitness programs. Classes are offered to benefits-eligible employees at discounted rates.