Fitness enthusiast zealous about exercise, healthy eating

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The jolt of pain in Paula Battle’s head was so excruciating it took her breath away.

On the way to a hospital emergency room by ambulance, she panicked. “Oh my God,” she thought. “Why isn’t anybody looking at my head?” She got treatment, but she wasn’t cured. Repeatedly overcome by misery, she returned to the emergency room several times over the following three days.

She hadn’t been clobbered with a sledgehammer or a pickax. But what seemed like a traumatic injury to Paula was a real hypertensive crisis: skyrocketing blood pressure.

The agony that became a life-changing event took place nearly 10 years ago, striking Paula when she was a hard-charging corporate manager. It prompted Paula to transform herself from a 212-pound convenience-food junkie to a 135-pound exercise maven, who gets up at 4 a.m. daily and heads to the gym for a workout. Now 52 and a grandmother of two, her blood pressure is consistently low. Processed foods are no longer part of her diet.

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At Metro Parks Tacoma, she’s known as a maestro of MixxedFit®, an easy yet high-intensity fitness program set to the beats of current popular music. She teaches five classes each week and regularly organizes MixxedFit® demonstrations at community-oriented events. This is in addition to her current day job in the Port of Tacoma’s billing department.

“I try to reach people and inspire them to make one small change in their lives for the better,” Paula said of her passion for exercise.

Paula is an American Heart Association Go Red for Women ambassador. For about the past seven years, she’s volunteered by sharing her story and leading warm-ups at the start of the association’s annual Heart and Stroke 5K fund-raising walks.

The goals are to raise awareness about the risk of heart disease as the No. 1 killer of women and to encourage women to do something about it, said Francesca Minas, the association’s senior director of communications and marketing for the Western states.

“We’re just in constant contact with Paula,” she said. “She knows what’s going on with our organization and she helps as much as she can.”

After her crisis in March 2009, Paula’s doctor told her to change her diet and exercise by walking. In 2012, she signed on as a part-time Metro Parks fitness instructor. In 2015, she began teaching MixxedFit®. Other Metro Parks instructors proudly describe Paula as a high-energy mentor, who both motivates and inspires. In class, Paula makes a point of learning students’ names and goes out of her way to make sure newcomers are welcomed. “You can tell she’s very passionate,” said instructor Ebony Weber.

Paula’s ability to bond with people is key. Instructor Maria Molinero and others vouch for that. Maria’s own life story in many ways mirrors Paula’s; she credits Paula for giving her the boost she needed to make the change. “Whenever I need something or have a question, she’s there,” Maria said.

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In March 2016, Maria weighed 225 pounds and suffered from rheumatoid arthritis so debilitating that she could barely care for her youngest, now 4-year-old son. Only 5-feet-3, the mother of three had been seriously overweight since 19.

If she lost weight, her doctor told her, it would reduce the stress on her joints. She tried gyms, failing to forge a connection long enough to stick to a routine at any of them. But she lives near Metro Parks’ STAR Center and one day on a walk happened by one of Paula’s MixxedFit® classes. Maria was intrigued; she quickly became a devotee.

She now weighs 164 pounds and is aiming for 150. While she used to wear a size 18, she recently fit into a size 6. This past summer, she began teaching fitness classes at STAR Center and People’s Community Center.

“I wasn’t coordinated at all. I’m usually the person in the back row,” Maria said. “I never thought I would be a fitness instructor. Paula got me out of my bubble.”

A variety of fitness classes, such as MixxedFit®, is offered at all Metro Parks Tacoma community centers.

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