Cooper has seen people make physical and emotional transformations by attending her Saturday morning classes in Inglewood.
By Ayanna Bonds
Every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. for the past five years, Claudine Cooper has shown up at Darby Park in Inglewood to lead a workout session… for free! She’s not selling anything or promoting any product. She’s just trying to help people get in shape. Her class features body weight exercises that people of all ages and fitness levels can do.
Cooper has worked as a trainer for the 24 Hour Fitness on Slauson Avenue, just east of La Cienega Boulevard, for over 15 years. She decided to start the free classes at Darby Park when she received a message from one of her clients.
“Somebody left me a message on social media saying that they could no longer come to my classes because they could not afford a gym membership,” Cooper said. “It had never occurred to me that people were not able to come to my classes because they couldn’t afford a gym membership. But once that woman left me that message, I thought about ways that I could service my community without having them to be in a contract or have a gym membership.”
Since finding a home at Darby Park for the fitness bootcamp, Cooper has seen community members greatly benefit from participating on a weekly basis.
“I see the same improvement that happened to me,” she said. “Besides a physical transformation, I’ve noticed the emotional transformation.”
Cooper started her fitness journey when she was 17 years old. But she was not looking for a body transformation. She was experiencing severe trauma as she was grieving the loss of a family member who was murdered. Her therapist pushed her in the direction of exercising.
“The therapist said that I should start exercising to try to boost my mood and help myself feel better,” Cooper said. “I thought that was bad advice, but she said that she wouldn’t do anything until I at least tried that.”
Cooper had a VHS tape that had an aerobic dance type workout. After consistently performing the workouts, she started to feel better emotionally. She then took a job at a gym, working the front desk. Some of the trainers at the gym taught her how to properly lift weights.
“I really fell in love with lifting weights,” she said. “Putting my headphones on and listening to my music while doing squats and lunges.”
Not too long after that Cooper was asked to teach classes, and her professional career as a trainer began. While her park workouts may not have all of the amenities of a commercial gym, she has seen people make transformations simply by performing the calisthenic type workouts at the park. She’s seen many people lose a large amount of weight.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, with gyms closed, people have been attending Cooper’s class more often.
“My park workouts would normally have 20 people,” she said. “When people started to realize that they could no longer go to the gym, they began doing more outdoor exercise. Over the last few months, I’ve seen a huge influx of people who want to feel better.”
Cooper’s class practices social distancing, as people are spread out over a large area near the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center at the park. While this class helps people maintain their workout regimen, it also helps them emotionally.
“I noticed that people were feeling discounted and down,” she said. “They had low energy. But when they come to these workouts, they are connected to their community, to their neighbors, and to their joy. It shows up on their face.”
There is no age requirement to this class.
“My kids come,” Cooper said. “It’s all ages. One woman brings her 8-month-old baby and puts him on a blanket with some toys as she works out. An 80-year-old came off the track to join us in our workout. He couldn’t do every single move. But he came and did his best.”