In the last year, a revolutionary new fitness-and-wellness program has been the foundation for hundreds of Cree women to lose an exponential amount of weight throughout Eeyou Istchee.

The question is however, why is Theresa Ducharme’s Lemon Cree fitness program facing any resistance it all?

The Resist-A-Ball program started in the spring of 2010 as a mandate through the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association’s (CWEIA) fitness-and-wellness endeavour to improve the physical and mental health of their constituents and other women throughout the nine communities and in other areas populated by Crees, such as Val-d’Or and Senneterre.

It was Holly Danyluk, the CWEIA’s Regional Coordinator, who brought in Theresa Ducharme, originally to the program, having already seen what kind of miracles Ducharme could perform when the two worked together at the Native Women’s Association of Canada years ago.

Back then Ducharme would get the staff to do workouts with her as part of the workday to cope with the stress of their work environment. Having felt the benefits herself, Danyluck wanted to see every woman in Eeyou Istchee have this same opportunity.

A year later and Ducharme has been to seven of the Cree communities and will soon be visiting Waskaganish and Whapmagoostui, before heading to the Val-d’Or/Senneterre area to complete Phase I.

While the original mission of the program – which includes Resist-A-Balls, Resist-A-Bands, Pilates, Dance, Breath work and stress-reducing meditation – was a fitness-and-wellness program to combat obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression amongst women in the communities, the program has gone on to do so much more.

“Kudos go to the CWEIA because they are trying hard to empower. They are encouraging our women to be strong – physically, mentally and emotionally – and they can’t do it alone. I am so grateful to them because we have literally changed so many people’s lives in less than a year,” said Ducharme.

For every community she visited, Ducharme said she saw a transformation amongst the participants during the five or six days she was there. She once witnessed a woman in Waswanipi lose six inches within one of those weeks. And, just over a month ago when she was in Eastmain, the women there – while working with trainer Corie Druggett, who Theresa trained to run that community’s program – lost over 39.5 inches collectively.

“When I first arrive, I see terror in some of the women’s faces because they are fighting for their lives. Their doctors have told them that they need to exercise so they come to the class. After they have lost five or six inches, I see this different look on their faces of ‘Wow, I can do this; Wow, I see the light; Wow, maybe I can loose weight and maybe I can get healthy.’ This to me is huge,” said Ducharme.

And, part of what makes this program so accessible to everyone is the fact that by using items like the resist-a-balls and resist-a-bands as the foundation of the workout, the playing field is leveled for everyone participating in the program. According to Ducharme, this program is just as good of a workout and just as safe for a day-one beginner or a level-three master.

The success has been seen everywhere the program has taken off. According to Blanche Bosum, one of Ducharme’s trainers in Oujé-Bougoumou, demand for the program there was so great that Ducharme is now in the process of certifying a third trainer to meet the community’s demand.

While the two women who run the Oujé program are already offering four sessions per week, because they are enjoying their newfound fitness and motivation as trainers they are now offering other fitness programs, including a new running club.

Bosum said she felt as though her life had really changed with the program because as a trainer she feels like she has a responsibility to those in her classes to be a role model, stick with the program and not give up the way she might have with just going to the gym.

Once more, because the course is different and so much fun, an hour-long class feels like mere minutes, despite how hard she and the other women are working out.

“I find myself looking forward to teaching the next class. This program is really original and you are working all of the muscles in your body when you do it well. It combines two things – exercising and having fun. It’s the best combination you can have,” said Bosum.

She said the participants in her class have also echoed this. They love the program because it’s a workout they can do and because of the class’s all-woman nature, there are social and bonding aspects of the program that make it incredibly enjoyable.

“It’s a time for these women to be out of their routines and doing something that is just them with no children involved. It’s something that they really enjoy,” said Bosum.

Having that responsibility as a trainer has also created a new interest in fitness in Bosum as she is now trying to learn as much as she can in order to get into better shape herself and, at the same time, share this information with the groups she instructs.

For Druggett, teaching Ducharme’s program to the women of Eastmain may just be one stage in her weight-loss journey but an extremely important one as it is what will most likely help her achieve her final goal in loosing 200 pounds.

Originally from Newfoundland, Druggett has been teaching programs from the Cégep de Saint-Félicien in the Cree communities for many years and began her weight-loss journey in May 2010 when she weighed 341 pounds.

Her story began when, upon deciding to begin exercising, her husband bought her a Wii Fit Plus board, but when she stepped on it the game told her that her weight exceeded the limit. Druggett said this wake-up call made her both angry and sad, and prompted her to join a weight-loss program in Newfoundland to learn how to lose weight.

It was when she moved to Eastmain last year that she began to walk, though with much difficulty.

“When I first started it would take me 15 minutes to get my shoes on to be able to walk for five minutes because I could only walk for five. Now I can run 18kms,” said Druggett.

Walking and then running every day around Eastmain, Druggett has seen her body literally morph. She has lost 131.4 pounds to date, the equivalent to losing an entire average adult woman. But, even with the routine she has so diligently kept, Druggett said she felt the need for something else to help achieve her final goal of 141 pounds.

Druggett said she had heard about Ducharme’s program from a former student in Oujé who thought she might be able to get something out of it. So, with that, Druggett promptly contacted Ducharme to set the wheels in motion and kick-start the program in Eastmain. Not only did Druggett enjoy the program, by combining her teaching skills and weight-loss motivation, she trained to become an instructor.

“It was another turning point for me because I am now pushing to get under 200 pounds, which is my next big goal. So having the confidence to be a part of her class and now being able to teach it is a good move for me because it’s something that will motivate me to reach my goal and when I do, to keep in shape and live a healthy lifestyle,” said Druggett.

In speaking with the Nation, Druggett said she felt proud in sharing her story because she hopes it may motivate others to do something similar and change their lives.

Druggett has also enjoyed sharing in the joy of fitness with the other participants in the program and was proud to announce that among the 14 participants there has already been 39.5 inches lost in less than one month.

As for Ducharme, she hopes the program can enter Phase II of her plan once the first phase is completed.

Completing Phase I has been problematic however since the CWEIA only had enough funding to send Ducharme to each community only once and the program has fallen apart in some of them.

Ducharme said that while Mistissini had the largest participation during the program’s pilot phase, the community is currently without an instructor and the same goes for Chisasibi. The program has also fallen apart in several other communities as some of the instructors are no longer available to teach and Ducharme hasn’t had a budget to return to these communities.

According to Danyluk, because the CWEIA only acquired a budget for Ducharme to go to each community once, it is up to the individual communities to fund return visits for Ducharme and to pay instructors to keep them motivated in delivering the program. Two communities, Waswanipi and Oujé-Bougoumou, have done just that and are the only ones to offer salaries through their own community’s budgets, sustaining new jobs, the programs and steady weight loss in those communities.

Ducharme hopes this happen as there is nothing she would like to see more than a successful program running in every community so that everyone has the opportunity to get healthy.

Once more, she has sent out proposals to see if funding is available for Phase II of the program. This would include: enhancement of the original women’s program to include training with weights; a much-needed men’s program that would be curtailed to the men in the community through Ducharme’s partner who is a men’s fitness specialist; a Cree basketball league that the whole community could participate in; and finally a series of self-esteem and self-development workshops for female youth throughout the communities.

While Ducharme and Danyluk said there was no word yet as to whether Phase II has been accepted, they are keeping their fingers crossed in the hopes of one day seeing a much-healthier Cree nation.

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