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SPECIAL ISSUE: SHAPING L.A.

And Next Up . . .

For these inspirational instructors, the spotlight is only a matter of time.

January 07, 2008|Janet Cromley, Jeannine Stein

Even as L.A.'s fitness superstars take center stage, there are legions of trainers and instructors toiling alongside them who provide much of the innovation and fresh ideas that drive the city's fitness community. It's these creative risk-takers who have made L.A. one of the most engaging, stimulating and welcoming places in the world to work that body.

Riley McAlpine

Pedaling mile after mile in inky darkness in the 508-mile Furnace Creek in Death Valley 10 years ago, McAlpine found her mind wandering. She shifted her focus and began to meditate.

A concept was born.

She has since spun the experience into a class called Meditation Spin at Revolution Fitness in Santa Monica. The class, held in a darkened room, with a single tea candle placed in front of each cycle, started with six students a year ago and has ballooned to as many as 50 in a session. The concept of combining spinning with meditation, and the spinners' acceptance of it, is quintessential L.A. -- open-minded, pioneering and a little zany.

McAlpine has also created a fitness program for women called Justbee, which provides personal training in small groups; she teaches a class that she calls "Click-In" for first-time cyclists, and she's launched her own line of cycling clothes, called Riley, which features her artwork -- yet another passion. By combining all of her interests, she's living the life of . . . a latter-day Renaissance woman.

-- Janet Cromley

Milo Levell

After 10 years of traveling the world, training future choreographers and performing before crowds of up to 5,000 at fitness expos and conventions, Levell, 44, is ready to tackle a truly Herculean task: bringing funk to Costa Mesa.

Since March, when Levell joined Team OC, a new, 45,000-square-foot gymnastics, cheer and dance facility, his Physical Phunk classes have expanded sixfold. The classes are attracting baby boomers, new mothers and, in his Phunky Kids classes, even young gymgoers.

Levell has designed his Physical Phunk classes to be accessible to the coordination-impaired. "These classes don't require the hand-leg coordination of intricate hip-hop choreography," he says. "Funk is more on the one count, and we're keeping it really basic."

Some members of Levell's advanced Physical Phunk class have gotten so good that they've formed a dance team, Milo's Mommies. "I'm thankful and blessed that God has given me purpose," says Levell. "I've always been touched to know that God's purpose in my life is to reach out to people and share an hour of dance."

-- Janet Cromley

Julian Walker

Yoga instructor Walker incorporates music, poetry, live drumming, ecstaticdance and just about anything else that strikes his fancy into his classes and retreats. In doing so, he's blending contemporary and traditional approaches to spiritual practice. Although other instructors incorporate nontraditional elements into yoga classes, Walker was a pioneering force behind the concept.

"I just started bringing in things that were exciting to me, literature, psychology, philosophy, and then combining those with a real interest in the body as an arena for healing and awareness and spiritual growth," Walker says.

He thinks his classes at Santa Monica Yoga are filling a void. "We have a lot of people who are perhaps not religious in the traditional sense but want to feel a sense of community and have a place to go where they can tend to their inner life."

"If you'd said to me 15, 20 years ago that this is what I'd be doing for my career, I would have laughed, because I wouldn't have seen how that could be possible."

-- Janet Cromley

Karen Smidt

Completing a triathlon may seem like a Herculean task, but often the right coach can make the effort less arduous and more enjoyable. That's Smidt's M.O. The Irvine-based triathlete coach thinks that being friendly and approachable is the best way to motivate her clients.

"Some coaches are more hard-core, like sergeants, but I'm very nurturing," says Smidt, who's been doing triathlons herself for seven years and offers in-person and online coaching. That gentle side doesn't mean Smidt is a softie; she packs a lot into training sessions, which can include trail runs, ocean swims, runs on the sand and cycling -- or spinning classes if going on-road isn't possible.

Of the 50 people she's trained to do triathlons, many started from ground zero, or close to it -- one client had never ridden a bicycle. Working with newbies is something of a specialty, and Smidt says she's lured more than one future triathlete by convincing them that anyone can do it: "They say there's no way they could do it, that they can't even run a mile. I tell them I couldn't either."

-- Jeannine Stein

Dan Christensen

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