Letter of Recommendation for Jennie Berglund, YMCA Instructor of the Year Nominee
Jennie is the kind of teacher who knows every student’s name. She notices when someone new comes in or needs help. She notices when you miss a class and checks up to make sure you are okay. She knows if you get new shoes or if you sing along to a particular song or if you make faces in the mirror. She knows birthdays, pregnancy due dates, children’s names, weight lost, jobs, favorite treats and if you think your butt is too big.
But what she doesn’t know is how much she changes lives.
I crash landed in Jennie‘s TurboKick class after the dual traumas of being sexually assaulted and the ensuing court case. I was weak, riddled with insecurity, scared of my own shadow and plagued with nightmares. When my husband decided to go to night school I was worried. “Why don’t you go to the Y,” he suggested. “Maybe try kickboxing? They have a class the night I’m in school.”
It was the head strike that sold me. “Imagine you are grabbing someone’s head and pulling it into your knee,” Jennie yelled. That I could do. Jennie, a petite blond with biceps that could crack a walnut, projected a no-nonsense, slightly dangerous air. When she punched I could see people going down.
One day after class I decided to ask her. “Have you ever, you know, punched someone? For real?” This question was important to me because when I was assaulted I didn’t fight back, a fact I was deeply ashamed of.
“Like in a bar fight?” Her eyes lit up as she considered it and frat boys everywhere got a simultaneous, inexplicable shiver. Then she waved it off, “Nah. But I was a competitive boxer in college.” That explained a lot. She wouldn’t punch your lights out and send you home with your pride in a take-out box but, by golly, she could. No one would dare mess with Jennie. And that’s what I was lacking. All these years I had made it about him, about my attacker. When the truth was, the problem was with me. I felt vulnerable and didn’t know how to deal in a world that no longer felt safe to me.
I am not that girl anymore. Besides flat abs and arms that no longer wave like they’re sending a sailor off to sea, Jennie helped me regain confidence in myself, whether I was doing a roundhouse (and picturing my attacker’s head) or doing a body roll and realizing that it’s okay to be sexy again. I don’t have any delusions that the kind of cardio kickboxing I do will actually save me from a determined attack – I’m pretty sure no one has ever been TurboKicked to death – but I like to think it makes me less of an easy mark. I stand taller, walk faster and meet people’s eyes when I pass them on the street. And if I were ever in the situation again, this time I know I would fight.
One year of working out with Jennie has done me more good than five years of therapy. Not to mention it’s a lot more fun. (Have you tried her hip hop class? Girl can dance!) It’s impossible to write in one short page all the good she has done for her students – and I am just one of many whose lives she has touched – but I truly hope that Jennie will get the Instructor of the Year award.
Charlotte Hilton Andersen