Self-taught fitness pro teaching classes she loves


What started as a 4-H project for Gail Wickham has turned into a lifelong pursuit and career.

"Living on a farm, I didn't have the opportunity to go in for dance classes or gymnastics, so I taught myself in the basement with old records," Wickam said of the interest she had in fitness during her childhood. "I did project talks on it and 4-H Day dance.

"I just started in and continued on it."

Wickham, who has taught fitness classes for 26 years, started as a part-time aerobics instructor while employed at Hays Area Children's Center. She taught aerobics at Ultimate Fitness Concept for Women in Hays, and in 2000, joined the staff of Hays Recreation Center as an aerobics instructor. She was promoted to HRC program director six years ago.

Through the years, she's taught step aerobics, yoga, Zumba, pilates and other classes and continually keeps her eyes open for new fitness concepts.

"I'm always looking on the Internet and through fitness magazines just to see what's the up-and-going trends and what's going on ... and if that's something we haven't hit upon that we would be able to bring in," she said.

Although she values her role in bringing Zumba and yoga classes to a wider audience in Hays, her heart also remains true to traditional workouts.

"I started with Jane Fonda," she said. "I still enjoy the old-fashioned stuff."

Class sizes have varied for Wickham, who has taught as many as 110 people at a time in a Zumba class. By watching class numbers, she is able to assess the need to either continue a particular class or replace it with a new class.

Yoga, because of its holistic health benefits, is Wickham's favorite class to teach.

"It teaches you how to breathe easy," she said. "How to de-stress from a stressful day.

"And you don't have to have any special equipment for it."

Getting started with a fitness routine can be as easy as devoting 10 to 15 minutes a day to an activity, she said, and can include walking a dog, early morning yoga stretches and moving or stretching at work.

"Find something that you like," she said. "If you like to dance, but are too embarrassed to go to a Zumba class, turn the music on when you clean the house.

"Just move around when nobody's watching you. Just start at home and then go from there."

Wickham has made an impact on both HRC's group fitness and its leisure programs, according to HRC Superintendent Roger Bixenman.

"When I started quite a few years ago, we were pretty sports-oriented and the leisure programs are actually catching up and becoming a lot more well-balanced and a lot more activities in the leisure side of it for all ages," he said. "She's definitely got a lot of energy and has brought a lot to the recreation commission, both leisurely and fitness-wise."