Chaplain becomes area’s first male Zumba instructor
by Jennifer Cohron
Jan 27, 2013 | 2157 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Leonard Rigsby, an instructor at Fitness Facotory, personifies the Zumba tagline, “Ditch the workout; join the party.” Daily Mountain Eagle - Jennifer Cohron
Leonard Rigsby, an instructor at Fitness Facotory, personifies the Zumba tagline, “Ditch the workout; join the party.” Daily Mountain Eagle - Jennifer Cohron
For years, Leonard Rigsby’s smile covered up a secret — he felt trapped in his own body.

At his heaviest, Rigsby weighed more than 350 pounds. He was suffering both emotionally and physically.

“The doctor told me, ‘Leonard, you can’t be this big. You just can’t,’” Rigsby said.

Rigsby took his first tentative steps toward fitness by walking at Gamble Park. He gradually built up his endurance and in December 2011 completed the Jingle Bell 5K.

By the following March, Rigsby was ready for another challenge.

He found himself drawn to Zumba, a Latin-inspired dance fitness program that has exploded in popularity in recent years. According to Zumba’s official website, there are now more than 14 million participants in 150 countries.

Rigsby was intrigued by one of Zumba’s taglines, “exercise in disguise.” At his first class, he also enjoyed the way that the workout was driven by the music rather than relegating it to the background like other fitness classes do.

“It was fun. You got home at the end of the day and knew you had worked out, but it was fun,” Rigsby said.

Initially, Rigsby’s wife joined him in Zumba, but she soon returned to a more traditional exercise routine. Rigsby, however, was hooked.

Rigsby took jokes about being a male Zumba student in stride, especially once he learned that the program was invented by a man.

“I think a lot of men would enjoy it if they would just get past the image. There are plenty of men who do it all over the country,” Rigsby said.

In November, Rigsby became Walker County’s first male Zumba instructor. He currently teaches night classes on Monday and Friday at Fitness Factory in Jasper.

His students range in age from teenagers to senior adults, who modify some of the more difficult steps to fit their abilities.

“It’s a party. You come in and you have a good time. If you can’t do one of the steps right, don’t worry about it,” Rigsby said.

Since starting Zumba, Rigsby has been able to stop taking blood pressure medication and has lost 90 pounds.

Just as importantly, his life is no longer limited by his weight.

Several years ago, Rigsby and his wife took a vacation to Savannah, Ga., a pedestrian-friendly city. The two were miserable as they navigated the streets, making frequent stops to rest.

The couple recently returned and was able to enjoy the experience without worrying about how far they were from the next bench.

Rigsby points out, however, that his physique is still that of an average Joe, not Joe Six-Pack.

He still enjoys eating and struggles with late-night snacks while working odd hours as a chaplain.

“Everybody thinks that to be an instructor and to really say you have succeeded you have to get to be completely fit. I’m not that way. It’s a journey. Zumba isn’t the answer to everything, but it’s one aspect of it,” Rigsby said.

Rigsby also draws strength from his faith. One of his favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 9:27, where the Apostle Paul writes of disciplining his body like an athlete and beating it into submission so that he will not be disqualified for the prize after preaching the gospel.

“That’s what any kind of physical activity — putting it into submission and saying ‘I am not going to be a slave to my body,’” Rigsby said. “I used to say, ‘My body’s a temple; I’ve just made a few additions over the years.’ That’s fine, but we also need to be good stewards of what God has given us.”