A day in the life

Published July 2, 2005

PORT RICHEY - There's no sunshine to yank open your eyelids. No noise to keep you from dropping back into that soft state of euphoria.

Something finally breaks you from your dream - a ring that grows louder and louder.

Hit the snooze button on that annoying alarm clock and you're back in la-la land, likely for an hour or two.

One group of Pasco County women fight the urge to sleep. They're up, dressed and on the move to Shapes Total Fitness in New Port Richey while many are still adjusting their pillows.

The women have their reasons. To stay active, healthy and useful; to prepare for the walk of a lifetime; to stay mentally strong in the wake of a daughter's murder.

This is their cup of coffee, and a day in the life of a fitness class.

A one-hour class begins at 6 a.m. and runs Monday through Friday. Each day boasts a different workout, from stationary cycling classes to weight training.

Wednesday's class was extreme training.

To an observer, it's everything one would expect. The sound of bass and juiced-up Jackson tunes pour through the twin speakers hanging high above. The women are stepping, jumping, biking and stretching at a fever pitch.

The class is in full stride less than a minute in.

Leader of the pack

The core group is the same. The women range in age from 24-year-old Christine Pratt to 62-year-old instructor Sonja Scali, a scrappy fitness instructor from Long Island, N.Y., who devotes more than 50 hours a week to the club.

At 4-foot-111/2, 104 pounds, Scali is the sparkplug of Wednesday's extreme fitness class. She yells instructions through a microphone cradled on her head. When her students seem to hit a lull, she screams out.

Her energy spills across the room, and her students seem to soak it in. Scali has enough fuel to outlast a kindergarten class.

She wasn't always this fit and energized. She traces the transformation back to her 40th birthday and a bath, when noticed her middle-aged body through the soapy water.

Some parts were sagging. Her stomach was protruding. She weighed 125 pounds.

"I woke up fat and 40," Scali said. "I was like, "What happened?' I knew I had to do something."

Scali had never considered exercise. She held three part-time jobs and was raising two children alongside husband Michael.

The fitness industry for women in the early 1980s was a lemonade-stand business compared to the billion-dollar industry it is today.

But Scali was determined to recapture a youthful tone and joined an all-women's club. Her recollection of the experience was bland - women without sneakers lifting jugs of water to no music.

"We didn't know back then," Scali said. "The industry was new."

Many fitness clubs were desperate for instructors.

Scali went from student to teacher within a month. There was no certification requirement and little training. She was hired by another club two months later.

But her greatest personal gains came nine years later when she discovered weight training. She worked with a personal trainer an hour a week, in addition to the classes she taught.

"Within 31/2 months there were major changes," Scali said. "I was astonished."

Now her days begin at 3:30 a.m. with an egg-white omelet and coffee. She's at the club an hour later to begin teaching classes or any one of her 30 clients. She goes home for three hours at noon, then returns until 7 or 8 p.m.

She's zonked by the time her body falls flat on the bed at 10 p.m.

"I feel like a wall hit me," Scali said. "I have no trouble sleeping at all."

But the long hours and exertion are worth it, as Scali's goal is to help women as she helped herself.

Support group

Many fitness classes have women such as Scali, others realize these classes offer much more.

Sandy Delancey couldn't predict the 6 a.m. class would ultimately help her cope with the murder of her daughter, Kim.

Delancey joined Shapes in May 2004 after an automobile accident and hoped a personal trainer could help alleviate her neck, back and shoulder problems. And it did. Delancey soon joined the early-morning fitness class.

Classroom banter blossomed into friendships, such as the one she shares with 41-year-old Kristine Hallisey.

Delancey, 55, quickly learned how tight the bond was Dec.6.

She received a call after her daughter failed to arrive to teach a class at Anclote Elementary School. Co-workers called police, and Delancey raced to her 27-year-old daughter's New Port Richey apartment.

"When I got there 911 was there and the police were there," Delancey said. "I ran through and I saw her laying there."

Authorities later arrested Adam L. Calcote on charges of first-degree murder, and in January a grand jury indicted him. He told detectives he smothered Kim with a pillow, authorities said, after she refused to have sex and cried for help.

Devastated, Delancey tried to make sense of the murder.

Her three-week absence from the class was felt as friends begged her to return.

"I had calls and support like you wouldn't believe," Delancey said. "They were at the funeral. They encouraged me to come back as quick as I could, and I did. It helped rather than sitting at home. The girls have been terrific. They're like family."

Beyond the physical benefits, Delancey believes the early-morning fitness class helped her stay emotionally strong.

"By talking to other people I wasn't constantly thinking about her laying there," Delancey said. "It's been very difficult."

Never enough time

Tammy Keough also learned to lean on classmates in times of need. She often walks out of Shapes energized and ready to tackle the challenges of running her New Port Richey hair salon, Classic Styles.

The 34-year-old mother of two has plenty of motivation.

On the lighter side, she and husband Robert sent a three-minute tryout video to the reality TV show Survivor . They hope to hear something by August.

But Keough has a more important reason to stay motivated after her friend, Carrie Marinakis, was diagnosed this year with breast cancer. Keough is preparing for the Breast Cancer 3-Day in October, a 60-mile walk around Tampa Bay to raise money and awareness for research. Keough said Marinakis had both breasts removed and is in the final three weeks of radiation treatments.

"It's like I'm doing the walk for her," Keough said. "When it first happened I was talking about it with the group."

Keough started going to the class in November.

It was a change in her daily routine to wake up before sunrise. She quickly noticed a physical difference within a few weeks.

"People wonder how I can get up in the morning," Keough said. "I tell them if you get up and you are there you have all this energy and it lasts all day long."

Keough realizes if she wants to workout she has to go early. She cherishes family time, and knows running and lifting at Shapes steals family time.

That's easily solved with a morning class.

Her husband, Robert, tolerates the wake-up calls so Tammy can make the 6 a.m. class. Her sons Austin (7) and Aren (3) are still tucked away in their beds as she sneaks out for her morning workout.

"They're really supportive," Keough said. "It's not like I'm missing any family time. I really like it."

--Izzy Gould can be reached at 352 521-6517 or igould@sptimes.com