All it took was a moment of curiosity for Tashina Fritz to discover the one outlet that quickly became the turning point for her life, and soon afterward, for the lives of many others, too.
Six years ago, Fritz, a former high school biology and anatomy teacher, had all of the challenges and nearly none of the answers as a first-time mom living with her husband in Phoenix, Az. In December 2011, she left her job to become a stay-at-home parent to then-newborn daughter Emma.
Nearly six weeks later and harboring feelings of uncertainty, she felt on the verge of succumbing to the postpartum blues when she spotted a group of women exercising with baby strollers in a community park the following January.
What she found was a wellness program that would give her the strength and tools to tackle all obstacles in motherhood. That later led to a FIT4MOM franchise in Gainesville.
While Fritz knew she wanted to eventually become a stay-at-home parent, making the immediate switch from a job with plenty of give-and-take to mothering a newborn full-time was both tough and draining. She said without FIT4MOM, she would have probably given in to the self doubt and reverted within herself.
“Really having that tribe of moms helped pull me out of that, and kept me strong,” said Fritz. “It showed me that strength for motherhood, definitely.”
Finding that “village of mamas” going through those same struggles helped Fritz find her purpose: to serve all mothers in need.
When Fritz’s mother, Debra Bader, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in late 2015, her family relocated to her mom’s residence near Gainesville. While spending those last precious moments with her mother, she saw a need for a community that lacked these type of resources, and she acted upon it.
So on July 31, 2016 — two months after Bader’s passing — FIT4MOM Lanier was born.
“I knew I needed it, just to meet other people really. And I definitely wanted to bring it to the moms of Gainesville, give them the gift that was given to me in Phoenix,” said Fritz, proud owner of FIT4MOM franchise for nearly a year. “Moms like to hide, stay at home because life’s hard with young kids. I want to give them a community of other like-minded women who could just be there for them.”
Now if you stumble into Laurel Park in the morning hours during the week, you may spot a large congregation of athletically dressed women running, jumping, lunging and sometimes singing beside their baby strollers — smiles and sweat in no short supply, of course.
Since 2001, Fit4MOM (formerly called Stroller Strides) has been educating, strengthening and preparing women for all stages of motherhood. It is currently the country’s largest wellness program for mothers, offering prenatal and postnatal fitness classes. Now Fritz’s FIT4MOM Lanier is the primary destination for members in Northeast Georgia.
It is a place for fellowship, and an outlet for mothers — and even sometimes the patriarchs of the families.
Any mom, including those pregnant and others with infants and toddlers, can join in the mother-focused and rigorous classes while having vital interaction with their child. Classes run one hour on weekday mornings and tackle aerobics, anaerobics and muscular endurance alongside a stroller. Singing is also incorporated at various workout stations to encourage youngsters to chime in on the fun and emulate the parents.
“There’s lots of modifications for where you happen to be in your postpartum journey,” said Andi Bruinsma, a FIT4MOM member and close neighbor of Fritz’s. “There’s a lot of variety. It’s not just the same thing every day. ... And Tashina does a really good job at mixing aerobic and anaerobic cardio and muscle toning.”
Above all else, the purpose of providing a place of congregation for all mothers in-need has been Fritz’s cornerstone from the beginning. FIT4MOM especially makes a point to rally around mothers on the verge of postpartum depression, as Fritz was, and helps them overcome the irrational fears first-time parents face.
“To a mom with a 6-week-old baby, those fears are often real. And we get that support with one another, that trusting environment where you’re not alone,” Fritz said.
After just a brief trial session, Bruinsma decided to take full advantage of that comradeship as there were miles of separation between her and her immediate family – her mother living in Kentucky and husband’s mother not a short drive away. Fritz also benefitted in that aspect while living in Phoenix and her mother lived in Gainesville.
“My daughter (Everly) just turned 5 months old, so it’s all so scary for me,” Bruinsma said. “But having that group of moms to ask questions or to look at her when she has a runny nose has really been a piece of salvation for me.”
Gainesville resident Genevieve Henggeler first received a flyer about FIT4MOM Lanier at grocery store several months prior. That same day, she contacted Fritz to learn more about the program.
She found a wellness program equally suited for both mother and child. Henggeler has been a dedicated member since her daughter Olivia was a week old.
Besides being immersed in the great outdoors, Henggeler said it has not only been a saving grace for her but also a rewarding experience to watch daughter Olivia, who turned 1 on July 6, grow with the other children in the group. The afterclass “village playgroups” held each week allow for even more fun for the young ones.
“She’s formed, if you will, little friendships of her own, and recognizes each baby, each child ... and especially Tashina’s daughter,” Henggeler said. “They’re super close in age. It’s really neat to see (Olivia) excited when she gets to see her little friends.”
FIT4MOM Lanier runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Laurel Park; Lakewood Baptist Church at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For additional details on programs, locations and history, visit www.fit4mom.com or visit the Fit4mom Lanier Facebook page.
“We are gonna be there, five days a week for those mamas, to pour into them and do life with them,” Fritz said.