Cheryl Schneider Takes the Stigma Out of Going to the Gym

Still, Schneider felt at odds with a fitness industry that she felt said “skinny is best,” “you’re never good enough” and “you always have to achieve more.”  That’s how the idea behind her company, No More Excuses, was born.



Cheryl Schneider

FRED KATZ PHOTOGRAPHY

Ten years ago, Cheryl Schneider looked in the mirror and knew she had to make a change. What bothered her most wasn’t the fact she was 100 pounds overweight.  It was how she was retreating into a cocoon. 

“I didn’t go swimming with my children because I was embarrassed,” says the mother of three.  “And started saying ‘no’ to functions because I didn’t feel great about myself.”

Schneider’s main psychological roadblock was her long-held belief that mothers who took care of themselves didn’t take care of their children. But she realized that not having balance contributed to her unhappiness. She made a resolution to get healthy.

“I went to a gym and felt extremely intimidated, judged and not welcomed, but I persevered,” says Schneider. “When I went to a fitness class, that’s where I found my people.”

Someone suggested she’d make a good fitness instructor.  She didn’t have the skills, but she had a love of people, and her confidence grew as her classes started filling up.  Still, Schneider felt at odds with a fitness industry that she felt said “skinny is best,” “you’re never good enough” and “you always have to achieve more.”  That’s how the idea behind her company, No More Excuses, was born.

To this day, there are no mirrors in her fitness studio, located in the basement of the North Millbourne Community League. Instead, motivational posters line the walls. Her focus is on inclusion, a non-intimidating place to work out and getting healthy — not weight loss. She even brings in a psychologist once a week to help members with their fitness goals. 

Also unique are her fitness classes for families.  She has just one rule she is adamant to keep. No parent is allowed to just drop a child off or sit and watch a child work out.

 “The idea is to spend some time with your children and have a workout at the same time,” Schneider enthuses. “My biggest joy is to see grandma and mom and dad and the two kids working out together and everyone walks out feeling so much better about themselves.”   

In 2009, Schneider was approached by a teacher asking for help to create a better physical education program for her students. Schneider developed “No More Excuses Boot Camp for Kids”, with resources, assessment plans and safety guidelines that each teacher can use on his or her own. The program is now running in 92 Edmonton area elementary and junior high schools.

“It’s circuit-based,” says Schneider. “It’s inclusive, non-competitive and fast-paced. It is boxing and water skiing and just incredible amounts of diversity in the exercises. We get the students moving to know how great it is to sweat, release those endorphins and feel that camaraderie with the rest of the group.”

While working with the schools, Schneider started to notice the haves and have-nots, and felt a calling to start helping inner city and high needs schools. 

With funding from the Butler Foundation, Schneider developed programs that dealt with physical activity, nutrition and mental health.  Academic test scores went up while absenteeism and negative behaviours decreased. 

Two summers ago, she engaged members of her studio to participate in the Sweat, Hope and Rock ‘n Roll fundraiser, an outdoor marathon of spin and zumba classes.  They raised $16,500, enough money to pay for a physical education program in 11 inner city schools. The fundraiser received the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues' Innovation and Inspiration award. Last summer, the event raised $15,000, this time supplying a year’s worth of fruits and vegetables for three high needs schools in Mill Woods. 

Schneider has also recently founded a non-profit organization, Konnecting the Dots for Kids, with a goal to help high-needs families through physical activity, mental health supports and other resources.

Schneider believes that helping others has helped her to rise above her own challenges.  She lost a daughter at birth, has a developmentally-challenged son and is recovering from back surgery. In 2006, she saw a children’s book while visiting one of her schools that has become her mantra in life. David Messing and Carol McCloud’s bestselling, award-winning Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids demonstrates how easy and rewarding it is to express kindness, appreciation and love on a daily basis.   

“We are, I believe, put on this Earth to not only fill your bucket with joy and laughter and courage and determination, but we also have an obligation to fill each other’s buckets,” smiles Schneider. “Because the magic is when you fill someone else’s bucket, your bucket also gets filled.”

Lesley MacDonald is the producer and host of the Global Woman of Vision series.  Stories can be seen the first Monday of every month in the News Hour at 6 p.m. on Global Edmonton and online at GlobalTVEdmonton.com