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Empowering communities

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Fitness trainer Cori Parks brings her training to bear on being an active agent for improving the lives and health of the people with whom she lives

Photo by: Sarah Whyte

Students learn self-defence during a Saturday class at Cori Parks’s home studio in Phnom Penh.

There's nothing stationary about it

I WASN’T too sure what to expect from my first spinning class. Cori Parks welcomed me with a big smile to her air-conditioned studio and a bank of stationary bikes. She picked one out and strapped me in. I sat with eight other cyclists, not realising that I was about to chase trains and compete in the Tour de France – an exercise in imaginative fitness training. We began with a brief warm-up that quickly had me perspiring. We were then instructed to pedal in time with the music. Parks guided us up and over every mountain I’ve ever heard of. Then, we traversed the French Riviera and ended our journey in a peaceful rainforest. After an hour, my legs were numb. I stumbled off the bike feeling delirious but alive.

CORI Parks is a firm believer in supporting the community in which you live.

It's a way of life she learned while serving in the Peace Corps. Now in Phnom Penh, she is finding ways to use her past experience to serve her local community.

"I came from a Peace Corps background, where it is instilled in you that you have to give back to the community that you're in," she said.

A fitness instructor with 11 years of experience, Parks has reached out to the expat and local communities in Phnom Penh.

She has for more than a year hosted daily fitness classes in her home studio aimed at improving overall health and empowerment, and providing free classes for deaf Cambodian women every Saturday.

Among the training on offer are spinning (or stationary bike) classes, self-defence courses, first-aid education and yoga.

Parks recently enlisted a friend visiting on holiday from the United States to lead several self-defence courses free of charge for a group of deaf Cambodian women who live in her neighbourhood.

"The classes were really great. It taught the women how to take care of their bodies, empowering them to say your gut instinct is right and you should keep a distance from people you are not comfortable with," Parks said.

Classes were conducted in American sign language that was translated into Khmer sign language, Parks said.

Parks said the purpose of the self-defence training was to teach Cambodian women that they have the right to step away from any situation and to instruct them always to stay with a friend and be mindful of their surroundings.

Parks's friend is planning to return to Phnom Penh in the spring and resume the popular self-defence classes, Parks said.

A popular spin on health

Perhaps the most successful fitness program Parks offers is her weekly spinning classes. She hosts eight sessions each week.

But interested parties should be warned. These classes are not for the faint-hearted. They begin as early as 5:30am and run as late as 7:30pm.

"I have been coming to the spin classes for five weeks, and already I am seeing a difference in my fitness and strength," said one participant.

Ever mindful of the needs of her community, Parks has urged expat friends to donate athletic shoes for deaf students in a Saturday spinning class. The response has been remarkable, Parks said.

Parks also contacted a gym in the United States - a place called Frogs, near her parents' home - to seek donations of additional stationary bikes. The gym was eager to help and shipped several bikes to Phnom Penh to boost Parks's growing fitness program.

"Now, I can have bigger classes to reach out to the community, with other people who wouldn't normally be able to do so," Parks said.

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