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Annual Zumbathon encourages fitness, raises funds for Freedom Area Recreation Council

Energetic music kept more than 100 attendees of the fourth annual Zumbathon pumped up at South Carroll Senior and Community Center, in Eldersburg, from 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 31. Participants, wearing vibrant Zumba-wear, rocked to rhythmic beats, following the lead of a parade of instructors who took turns on the stage.

The event, originally scheduled for Jan. 24, was sidetracked by Winter Storm Jonas, but that did not stop the enthusiastic crowd from turning out.


Carole McCracken, of Woodbine, said she was exhausted but exhilarated. Just the day before, she'd taken part in the Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point Park on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. She said she works a desk job and Zumba helps keep her active and makes her feel good.

"I absolutely love it," McCracken said. "It makes me happy. As soon as you walk in, the instructors and all the people participating are excited, the music is upbeat and it is a positive atmosphere. It is fun and there is a lot of camaraderie."


Zumba fanatics paid $15 to $20 each to participate, working out to tunes DJ'd by WBAL's traffic personality Detour Dave Sandler. Proceeds benefited the Freedom Area Recreation Council of Carroll County.

People interested in getting more of a fitness kick after the Zumbathon ended could take part in the 2016 Community Unity Fitness and Health Expo, which took place immediately after Zumba, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the senior and community center. The free expo featured two stages of entertainment, fitness programs by FARC, health screenings, fun sessions for kids like face painting and balloon art and food sales by Salernos Restaurant and Catering of Eldersburg.

Tracy Cox, Zumba instructor with Freedom Fitness, in Eldersburg, and one of the Zumbathon organizers, said proceeds of the Zumbathon will be used for programs and scholarships offered by FARC

"We raised enough [money] last year to offer two more fitness scholarships, host additional Zumba fitness trainings, and we purchased part of a stage that will be shared with another Freedom Area Recreation Council program, the JoeyDCares Orchestra," Cox said.

Cox said dance-based fitness like Zumba offers a strong cardiovascular workout and a one-hour session burns between 500 and 1,000 calories. Her husband, Don Cox, lost 85 pounds with a combination of diet and Zumba. At the Zumbathon, he was one of a handful of males among a sea of women ranging in ages from young adults to seniors.

More than half the participants in the Zumbathon also take classes with other Zumba instructors from across the state who participated in the event, Cox said.

McCracken said she was glad she attended. She compared the Zumbathon to a regular workout class.

"This is 10-fold as exciting, more intense, and it ups [the workout] about 1,000 notches," she said.


Dawn Meade, of Eldersburg, said she enjoyed last year's Zumbathon and decided to come again, partly because her instructor from the Eldersburg Merritt Athletic Club, Homero Bayarena, was taking part.

"Last year, with Zumba people from all over the state, it was a lot of fun, so I came back for another morning of ... jumping around for two hours," Meade said. "I wasn't even aware it was supposed to be held on a previous date. I just heard about it this week."

Instructors took turns leading the crowd in Zumba movements, slipping onto and off of the stage every couple of songs.

"Usually, at a Zumbathon, there are a lot of instructors. You see them flow in and out and teach different songs," said instructor Breanna Shumpert.

Jill Lambert, of Eldersburg, a teacher at Mount Airy Middle School, said this was her third time to attend this Zumbathon but in the five years she's been doing Zumba she has participated in similar events at other locations.

The instructors kept the crowd moving with uninterrupted music, but participants took quick breaks, grabbing drinks from a nearby table where a sea of water bottles and cups were labeled with names.


"It's nonstop once the music begins," Lambert, 62, said, adding that, when her schedule allows it, she takes classes five or six days a week with Freedom Fitness instructors Tracy Cox, Jan Smith and Shumpert.

"At my age, this is something fun to do for cardiovascular [health]," Lambert said "I can pace myself. I like the music, the group atmosphere, the camaraderie and the friendships and especially the instructors. They are outstanding, very caring. The time goes by very quickly and when it's over you know you've done something good for yourself."

Lambert said Zumba releases the inner "Dancing with the Stars" in her.

"It is fun and suitable for all kinds of people," Lambert said. "It is good for all fitness levels, and if you need it, the instructors show you modifications for some of the movements."

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Cox said the combination of exercise and the music keeps participants coming back.

"Zumba incorporates a lot of international rhythms," Cox said. "There should be at least four basic rhythms in a class. For example, we might use Merengue, salsa, Bachata and reggaeton — a combination of reggae and hip-hop. Music is universal and brings people together, and that's what Zumba does. Different songs, rhythms and speed of the music requires your heart rate speed up and then slow down; which is called interval training. It's optimal cardiovascular training."


Samm Harrison, of Finksburg, said she was happy to be back after taking part in last year's Zumbathon.

"It's sort of a release," she said. "You get to be silly. No one is watching you so while you work out you can be goofy and have a lot of fun."

Cox said she was pleased with the turnout at the Zumbathon. It seemed she couldn't say enough about Zumba and how she has seen it change lives.

"When someone starts they are shy and a little self-conscious. Then, they come back to classes and you start to see a change in their personality," she said. "They feel good about themselves because they can move their body more. They feel more comfortable in their own skin. That translates into all aspects of life. When you are confidant you tend to be more successful."

Lois Szymanski writes for the Neighborhoods section and can be reached at