By Maggie Mills | Photography by Lori Douglas
October 16, 2020
When it comes to the Outer Banks, there is no shortage of amazing women. You can find them doing incredible things up and down this strip of sand we live on. And these five women are part of the reason why. They help keep us strong and fit, mentally, emotionally and physically. They help us become our best selves when we walk out of the gym and into the community. They challenge us to try harder, to face our fears, to believe in ourselves and push beyond what we think is possible. They inspire. They motivate. They empower. And they all have an incredible story. They are – the women of fitness.
Cena Jeanette of Hatteras Yoga
Cena Jeanette, 37, fell in love with yoga at the Wilmington Yoga Center.
“But I couldn’t afford a pass because I was a broke college student,” Jeanette says. She told a friend she was thinking about teacher training. “Don’t do it,” the friend told her. “You won’t make any money.”
But, when Jeanette and her now-husband moved to California, she still couldn’t get it out of her head. The problem was, she had a huge fear of public speaking, and the thought of getting in front of a group of people to teach a class terrified her.
When they moved back to Hatteras, she decided it was now or never. She made the three-hour commute to Chesapeake every weekend for 14 weeks to attend classes. “I remember the first training we had to practice teach, and there were only three of us including me, and I just died. I was like, ‘I’m so nervous!’” she says.
So, how did she go from being terrified to owning her own yoga studio teaching multiple classes a week? “I liked it so much that I was willing to be vulnerable and kind of overcome that fear,” she says. “It’s a work in progress. I still get nervous and that’s partly because you care, and you want it to be well received.”
For the first two years of teaching, Jeanette felt physical symptoms from her nerves before each class. She started using the tools of yoga and breathwork to overcome her butterflies. That’s something she’s passionate about now – teaching people how to use the tools of yoga off the mat.
“Even when my kids get worked up because they’re fighting, I’m, like, just take a second and just breathe,” she says.
In class, Jeanette will often read a quote from self-help author Melody Beattie that ends with, “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”
53013 N.C. 12, Frisco; 252-996-0713, www.hatterasyoga.com; Facebook: @hatterasyoga
Angie Todd of Angie’s Gym
Eleven years ago, Angie Todd was overweight and over miracle diets. She was tired of hearing “experts” telling her to take this pill or eat this cookie and wake up skinny. Then she saw an infomercial for Beachbody.
“What was different was they said you have to work really hard and that hard work will pay off. I thought, ‘Well, I’ve never tried the work-hard option, so let me try this!’” says Todd, 42.
Before she knew it, she’d lost the weight and was teaching classes. For three years she taught at school gyms, the community center, the beach. There was no gym on the island, so she built one. Last month was the eight-year anniversary of Angie’s Gym, where she teaches Turbo Kick, TRX, T90x, PiYo, and her own popular class that she created, Row-mania.
“It’s not everybody’s cup of tea,” Todd says of her teaching style. “I tend to be more on the hard-core end. But people who are stressed and want to throw it all out on the floor, love it.”
Todd is also working on completing the six Abbott World Major Marathons, a championship competition for marathon runners that takes place in cities like Tokyo, London and Berlin. It is a feat she never would have thought possible eleven years ago.
“I find that there are so many people who you talk to who say, ‘I could never exercise because of my knees, or I’m just so tired;’ there are a million excuses, but everybody can – nobody can’t.”
Todd wasn’t athletic in school, she was in band; she was “every kind of dork you can imagine,” she says. She took jogging and walking in college be-cause she couldn’t get into badminton or bowling. “And I stayed on the walking end,” she laughs. “So that would be my mission, to make everyone realize that they can. That they have it within them.”
141 Sand Dollar Road, Ocracoke; 252-928-2496; Facebook: @angiesgymonocracoke
Charlee Ulmer of Village Yoga
Charlee Ulmer, 33, discovered yoga by a fluke. She went on a surfing trip in Costa Rica and the waves were too big for her liking. Her friend was teaching yoga and invited her to come along. “
So, I went to all of her yoga classes and I fell in love with how it made me feel and how relaxed I was after,” says Ulmer. She returned to the Outer Banks and it happened to be Village Yoga’s one-year anniversary. She took free classes all weekend, fell in love with the studio, and ended up signing up for its first teacher training.
“It changed my life,” says Ulmer.
She eventually started managing the studio until she moved to Montana for love in October 2018. When she returned months later for a visit, the owners sat her down and told her they were selling the studio and wanted her to take it over. So, she bought it in May 2019.
Ulmer’s mission is to make yoga lighthearted and fun. “I like to have an open mind when I go into teaching and really observe what’s going on with the people in front of me,” she says. “I could walk into a class expecting to do X, Y and Z and it could end up being A, B, C.”
According to Ulmer, after each class some people say it felt tailored specifically for them. That’s what makes it all worth it, she says.
“At the end of shavasana, it’s the look on their face, the softening in them at the end of the closing meditation; that difference between the beginning of class and the end of class, even after it’s a super hard yoga class – even after that.”
1240 Duck Road, Duck; 252-564-2219, duckvillageyoga.com; Facebook: @duckvillageyoga
Mandy Savage of Roanoke Island Fitness Lab
Mandy Savage, 43, has been in love with fitness since she was 15. It’s been the constant in her life that has helped her get through every hard moment.
“Even when I was in labor and you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh this is painful, how am I going to get through it?’ Then you think, ‘If I can run a marathon, if I can lift heavy weights, it’s just like that, I’m gonna carry this right into the labor and delivery room.’”
Her mission as the fitness director at Roanoke Island Fitness Lab is to help others realize their potential not only in the gym, but in life.
“I love seeing people make gains in their fitness, find themselves in fitness, step outside of their comfort zone and do things that they never thought they could do. You see people who are maybe timid or scared and you see them not only come to life in the gym but in life, and I think that’s really cool,” says Savage.
She loves hearing stories of how her clients are surfing better, starting triathlons, or lifting heavier things at work. She wants her clients to discover their passions, not just be gym rats. She encourages them to be in it for the long haul.
“I have a member that’s 59 years old and last year we were lying on the ground stretching and she looked over at me and said, ‘Do you think that I could start kite boarding?’ And I’m like, ‘YES!’ And I wanna be like that when I’m 59. I wanna be that woman that says, ‘Why not? I’m fit. I’m gonna try it.’” Savage hopes to carry that out to all the fitness lab’s members.
“Never say never. You might not be able to jump as high, but you can still jump on that box. Or a smaller box. Keep going.”
823 U.S. 64, Manteo; 252-305-8223; Facebook:@rifitnesslab
Ashley Digby bootcamp and yoga instructor
In 2006, Ashley Digby was in her 20s, working in sales, and fed up with the party lifestyle. She was on a plane for work and saw an ad for a fitness competition.
“I signed up for this figure competition and I was like, there’s no turning back now, so I just did it,” says Digby, 41. It was a positive experience, but it was extreme. She had to take her own food everywhere, and it was hard to be social. But it gave her the inspiration to train hard.“
After that I was trying to figure out more of a balance of how to still live and still be social … but still train hard and eat healthy and see results,” says Digby.
Later as a new mom, Digby discovered a class called Body Back. She loved it so much she started taking night training, and eventually she bought the fitness business — with a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old at home.
In 2017, the family relocated to the Outer Banks. Digby began teaching her popular TRX Bootcamp class at the YMCA in Nags Head, and hot yoga at Outer Banks Hot Yoga. This summer, with quarantine restrictions, she led her own beach bootcamp.
“I teach classes the way I like to take classes, so they’re going to be challenging,” says Digby.
She jokes that it’s easier for some than others. “There have been several women who bring their husbands or boyfriends and they are the ones I have to watch out for because they will be the ones doubled over,” says Digby. “Basically, these women are beasts.”
Now a high school marketing teacher, and running her bootcamp in the summer, Digby just wants to bring the good vibes.
“I kind of feel this way now that I’m a school-teacher, too, is just be a positive role model and a positive influence, whether it’s teaching high school or teaching fitness or coaching nutrition,” says Digby. “I feel like if I have good energy, hopefully I pass that along and make someone’s day better.”
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message through Instagram @fitmama_obx