On a cold day at Fort Carson, Colorado, a group of military spouses meets in a gym to laugh, sing and let their kids play — except laughing and playing are not really the point. The moms are here on a fitness mission. It just happens to be one that’s fun and child-friendly.
Tess Partridge, an Army spouse and mother of three — as well as a one-time Division 1 college soccer player, med-school applicant, chemistry lab researcher, and the owner of a very enviable set of abs — is leading the group through a blistering sequence of push-ups, planks, jumping jacks, burpees, lunges, thrusters, squats, and, well, you get the point.
Many of the ladies have babies strapped into strollers parked at one end of the gym, but just as many have toddlers and preschoolers who sit on the floor, quietly playing with each other while their moms lunge up and down the length of the gym.
Partridge started iStroll while her husband was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Like so many military spouses, military and family life had made it difficult for her to pursue her education and career goals and she was looking for a way to use her knowledge and energy.
“I always worked out,” she said. “I saw other stroller classes and I thought, ‘I can do this. And I can do it better.’”
Another Army spouse at Fort Campbell took over the chapter when the Partridge family PCS’d to Tampa, where a new chapter of iStroll was born. And yet another military spouse took over the Tampa chapter when Partridge and her family PCS’d to Fort Carson, where she started this iStroll class last year. But by then word had gotten out about iStroll, and chapters were starting to pop up all over the place — 14 chapters and counting now.
The chapters are primarily at military installations, but there are some in civilian areas, too — though all are owned and operated by military spouses. To start a new chapter, a leader just needs to have a good understanding of fitness, an encouraging attitude, the ability to motivate participants and an upfront investment of $1,000, for a business that tends to earn between $500 and $1,800 a month, Partridge said. For participants, a membership costs $40-$60 per month, depending on location.
The women in the class have body types that range from ripped-like-Tess to how-do-I-get-rid-of-the-baby-weight to I’m-actually-growing-a-baby-right-now. Absolutely anyone, at any fitness level, would feel comfortable joining the group.
From time to time a baby cries and one of the moms — not necessarily the one who birthed it — will respond. And sometimes a chubby cruiser gets used, much to their giggling delight, by a mom — again, not necessarily the one who birthed it — as a weight to make squats or lunges more challenging.
“It’s so nice to be surrounded by people who can relate, and we all help each other. If one kid is having a hard day, other moms will pitch in and help,” Partridge said.
When the weather is nice, the group meets outside, but when it’s cold, raining or snowing, they take the workout indoors.
“I was just working out by myself before then I saw something about iStroll on Facebook,” said Jessica Donaldson, an Army spouse. “I had hit a plateau working out alone. This helps me get out of the house, stay motivated and meet a lot of awesome people. Getting back into shape after having my daughter was a struggle, especially with my husband getting ready to deploy. Here, everyone gets it.”
The children range from newborn to about 5 years old, and the bigger kids don’t just run loose — they all seem to know the drill. The class meets four times a week and that means these kids see each other most days. This may be their mommas’ work out time, but for the kids, it’s simply a playdate.
Justine Coyle, an Army spouse, started taking an iStroll class when she lived in Kentucky. She was thrilled to find that the program had added a Fort Carson class just in time for her PCS.
“Moving can be so daunting,” Coyle said. “You never know what you’re going to find. But here you can meet women who are like-minded, who have kids around the same age as yours, who want to help you get settled and help you with your kids. It’s made it much easier for me to connect quickly.”