After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called psoriatic arthritis in July 2010, Adrienne Wilson began to take steroids that made her gain weight. In order to motivate herself to stay healthy, she began taking fitness classes that would eventually break down the insecurities she had about her body.
“I remember going to my first [fitness class], and I only did the first five minutes and ended up just sitting in the corner almost in tears because I just felt like I couldn’t do it. But I didn’t leave because I wanted to see what it was,” Wilson said. “After class, the instructor actually came up to me and really became invested in me over the course of my group fitness, and I ended up gaining a lot of confidence and strength and felt really good about myself.”
Six years ago, Wilson became a fitness instructor after she became close friends with her past fitness instructors and mentors. They encouraged her to take the step to teaching others with the same positivity she was taught with.
She began by teaching classes at the YMCA and then later at Genesis Health Clubs. After she got a job as a nurse at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Health Center, she decided to start teaching classes on campus. She now teaches a barre class three times a week at the UNL Campus Rec.
She uses her group fitness classes as a way to promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage students to be appreciative of their bodies. Wilson puts an extensive amount of time and effort into her instruction, and she uses her classes as a continuation of her health education without the extra schooling.
“It’s just another way that I can be in the field of health promotion, so for me, it is kind of an extension of my nursing degree,” Wilson said. “It’s a different scope of practice, but it’s still promoting wellness and a healthy body and a healthy mind.”
Wilson approaches teaching her classes by making sure everyone in the class knows it is their class, not hers, and they should do whatever is needed to leave feeling accomplished. She makes a point to incorporate self-love and positive body statements into every class, straying from the “bikini body” mindset and instead focusing on what each body is capable of.
“It’s never about numbers, whether that is on the scale or BMI, and it’s also never about losing something,” Wilson said. “Instead, it is much more about gaining confidence, gaining strength and really about being in control of your own body and learning about your own body.”
Andrea Fees, a sophomore child youth and family science major, has been attending Wilson’s barre class since her first semester freshman year, and she said she appreciates how Wilson centers her class around body positivity.
“She is very open about the fact that she knows each and every one of us is struggling with something that looks different,” Fees said. “But she is always so welcoming to everyone in the class, and she really wants to get to know you and really does want to invest in you.”
Wilson strives to create a space where community is fostered and people can leave her class feeling encouraged and loved. Fees said one day they did an exercise where all the members of the class went around and said their favorite things about themselves.
“Those type of things are always really encouraging because I feel like a lot of college students struggle with only looking at the physical side of themselves,” Fees said. “Adrienne is just so good at knocking down those walls and helping us to see things that we wouldn’t otherwise see in ourselves.”
According to Wilson, she works to foster an environment that welcomes anyone willing to step through the doors of her class. She said the best part of her job is her students and the connections she makes with them, both in and out of the class environment.
“I love teaching at UNL versus other places, because at other places I am teaching to the same demographics, but here I am teaching to people all over the world,” Wilson said. “I grow just as much as they grow because they inspire me all the time.”