New Orleans 2014: An unforgettable experience that raised the bar

Some come to New Orleans for the authentic food. Some flock here for the craziness of Bourbon Street. Others come to watch their beloved Saints.

Over the last week, the Big Easy was invaded by more than 2,000 fitness fanatics, as Fitmarc and Les Mills collaborated to host the largest quarterly workshop the United States has ever seen.

While all of us were certainly intrigued by the sights, sounds and tastes of this Deep South metropolis, it was our passion for Les Mills group fitness programs that brought us here from all corners of the globe.

I’m a veteran of many Les Mills quarterlies, dating all the way back to 2010 when I attended my first one a mere three months after passing initial training for BodyPump. Usually, the anticipation of seeing trainers, presenters and catching up with old friends starts to build roughly a month leading up to the event. But when the New Orleans workshop was announced in October – eight months before it was supposed to happen – you knew it was going to be big.

It absolutely raised the bar in more ways than one.

This incredible spectacle celebrating group fitness had a little bit of everything crammed into two days of masterclasses. Superstar program directors coming from New Zealand, Australia and other countries taking the stage with their United States brethren. Friendships between instructors going stronger. Instructors trying classes they may never try on a regular basis.

But even as history was made, we got an extremely valuable history lesson from a man who is the brainchild behind these successful group fitness programs.

Les Mills Sr., an Olympic athlete who represented New Zealand in the Summer Olympics on four occasions in the 1960’s and 70’s, provided us with an inspirational presentation on the history behind the programs we proudly teach.

Les Mills Sr., founder of Les Mills group fitness classes, speaking to us. He received a lifetime achievement award.

Les Mills Sr., founder of Les Mills group fitness classes, speaking to us. He received a lifetime achievement award.

I’ve gotten asked on numerous occasions, “Is Les Mills a person?” But he’s more than that. He’s a visionary and a hero to many of us who present his workouts on a daily basis.

Fitmarc obviously agreed, as they presented Les with a lifetime achievement award, to which he received a rousing standing ovation from thousands of instructors who took a break from workouts to hear Les speak. It’s extremely rare to spot Les at a quarterly, so when he spoke, the room was as quiet as a church, with the exception of his inspirational voice.

In addition to the man who started it all, there were plenty of other heroes in the Big Easy, including directors of each program and multiple other international presenters. With my club gearing up to launch BodyPump 90 the weekend after the workshop, I was excited to learn that program director Glen Ostergaard and DVD presenters Will Pritchard, Emma Barry and Megan Peterson would be leading us in the masterclass.

And what a masterclass it was. When the doors swung open shortly before 7:30 a.m. Saturday, a mass of 2,000 benchtops and barbells were waiting for us, just like the hundreds of RPM bikes awaiting us the afternoon before.

BodyPump trainer Emma Barry

BodyPump trainer Emma Barry

BodyPump program director Glen Ostergaard

BodyPump program director Glen Ostergaard

Emma, Glen, Will and Megan were absolutely outstanding. The energy in the room was unlike any other I’d have ever experienced in any BodyPump class. In addition to Glen, Emma, Will and Megan, there were numerous other U.S. trainers onstage shadowing, including Kim Ames, who I had the pleasure of learning many things from at AIM II in 2012, and Jacki Kellogg, who was my AIM I trainer in 2011.

U.S. RPM trainer Kim Ames, who was my AIM II BodyPump trainer in 2012

U.S. RPM trainer Kim Ames, who was my AIM II BodyPump trainer in 2012

For a lot of us, this was not our first rodeo at a quarterly. But for some, including my teammate, April McKinney, it was their quarterly baptism. And what a baptism it was.

All weekend, April, who teaches RPM and BodyCombat, was on cloud nine about meeting Dan and Rachel Cohen, the program directors for Combat, both of which came true. Both of us also got to try classes not offered at our gym, including Sh’Bam and BodyStep. We had an unforgettable experience that both of us hope to share with more of our team members in the future.

I can’t really put into words how inspirational and unforgettable this workshop was, and it goes way beyond the doors of the New Orleans Convention Center. Sitting in a BodyPump education session and learning many new things from Glen and Will is something I can take back to my club for a lifetime. Reconnecting with old friends and fostering new friendships is always a major highlight. And before last weekend, I had never tried oysters or Alligator.

The combination of the job done by Les Mills, Fitmarc and Reebok to put this event on was absolute first-class and professional. With security tight in the convention center, we never had to worry about losing our belongings. Robert Dyer and the Fitmarc crew deserve a tremendous amount of credit, along with Les Mills, for bringing us all together for what was a truly unforgettable weekend. By Saturday night, I could not feel my legs at all. But every ounce of pain, every drip of sweat, and every clap pushup and bupree performed in GRIT was absolutely worth it.

To my friends across the country, it’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. To all the trainers and program coaches who pushed us through the weekend, thank you. And I still owe you that lemon drop, Kim!

Ryan McLaughlin

About Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective with BDN readers about what's happening on the Boston professional sports scene.