YMCA fitness instructor Nickel demonstrates healthy living practices

WORTHINGTON -- Looking at the toned, slender, all-smiles woman Tina Nickel is today, one would never suspect she was once a self-described "chubby kid" who still recalls being taunted for her weight."Every child goes through an awkward stage, and...

Tina Nickel is pictured at the Worthington Area YMCA, where she is a fitness instructor. As a Y employee, she is responsible for a wide range of classes and fitness options. (Ryan McGaughey/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Looking at the toned, slender, all-smiles woman Tina Nickel is today, one would never suspect she was once a self-described “chubby kid” who still recalls being taunted for her weight.
“Every child goes through an awkward stage, and I’ve had multiple awkward stages,” said Nickel, a skilled and sought-after fitness instructor at the Worthington Area YMCA, with a laugh.
“At one point I was significantly overweight,” she attested. “I remember a few negative comments that have stuck with me all my life, and in the back of my mind, I don’t want to be that chubby kid who gets picked on.”
Those personal experiences and Nickel’s resulting transformation into an active, health-conscious athlete have made her an empathetic and motivated fitness instructor who practices what she preaches.
“I meet people where they are with their skills, and for me, being healthy is a lifestyle; you can’t beat yourself up over what you are or aren’t doing,” Nickel said.
But getting out and doing SOMETHING is critical, Nickel believes, and she personally engages in a variety of physical pursuits - swimming, running, biking, yoga, softball, volleyball, golf and even a little hockey.
“In Worthington, we have so many opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle,” said Nickel.
“We have a lake, a new biking/walking path, golf, an ice arena, the Y, Tae Kwon Do, Pilates, Zumba, yoga, boot camps - you can do just about anything here, and it’s all accessible and quite affordable.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
As a YMCA employee, Nickel is responsible for a wide range of classes and fitness options. 
She leads a Fusion (strength/flexibility/cardio) class at 9 a.m. three days a week and a senior cycling class at 10 a.m. each Friday, substitute teaches for evening and senior fitness classes (like Silver Sneakers and Active Older Adults) when needed, is an instructor with the annual Learn to Swim program for second graders, provides fitness/equipment orientation for new YMCA members, teaches the summer preschool day camp program and serves as a personal trainer, among other duties.
“Strength training is a must, especially for women, but for everyone as we get older,” advocated Nickel. “It doesn’t have to be a chore - it can be fun and quick - and it definitely makes people feel better.
“Posture, energy levels, flexibility and balance all improve, and it’s a huge stress reliever.”
Additionally, Nickel says strength training aids in injury prevention and injury recovery.
“You really shouldn’t just do all strength work or all cardio work; both are helpful, and you get more benefits from doing a little of everything,” assured Nickel.
“I really enjoy making people happy and want them to feel good, and increased physical activity is usually the cure.”
When Nickel leads YMCA group training sessions (with a maximum of eight people at a time), she teaches clients a total body strength-training workout they can later repeat independently.“I don’t want people to come in and be lost - I want them to be comfortable and consistent, and I don’t want things to seem overwhelming for them,” said Nickel, who is also a dry land training instructor for the Worthington Hockey Association’s Squirts level and is in her fifth year as the assistant Lady Jays volleyball coach.
Nickel is a 1998 graduate of Worthington High School who holds an associate’s degree from Southeast Technical Institute, where she majored in horticulture and church management.
“It all comes into play,” Nickel said, smiling.
Her evolution into fitness instructor and health advocate grew from several seeds.
“When Jeff and I were first married and living in the St. Cloud area, I needed a job so I took a customer service position at a Gold’s Gym and away I went,” explained Nickel.
“I moved up the ladder there to a supervisory position and became good friends with a trainer, too.”
When the Nickels returned to Worthington, with the first two of their three children in tow, Nickel began working as a front desk attendant at the YMCA and became acquainted with then-fitness manager Brent Mielke.
“He was in the midst of getting some new classes going and needed someone to teach evening water aerobic classes, so I began doing that,” she shared, noting that her past experiences as a lifeguard and a Stingray swim team member made that an easy decision.
“Most of my training has been through the YMCA,” agreed Nickel. “I read and study things about nutrition and exercise every single day, and I have great friends in our community who are wonderful instructors to learn from,” she noted.
“This industry changes constantly, so I need to keep up and constantly seek ways to improve myself and help others.”
Additionally, Nickel’s oldest child - fifth-grade daughter Jaden - was born with a congenital heart defect that has required multiple surgeries and ongoing care, so Nickel’s “family journey in the medical world” has contributed to her outlook on life and health.
“Jeff is coaching the Squirts hockey team, our two younger kids (third grader Spenser and kindergartner Tayler) are involved in hockey, and Jaden went through the YMCA’s Active Teen program so she can use the Y’s exercise equipment; she enjoys doing her own workouts, even though she can’t do contact sports,” listed Nickel.
Currently, Nickel is promoting the Big Hearts Challenge, a program (via the YMCA) that raises funds for the American Heart Association and encourages people to stay active and fit during the winter months.
“It started Jan. 11 and runs until April 3,” said Nickel. “You can still join, and it’s possible to do it individually or be part of a team.”
Basically, participants pay a small fee and then submit weekly physical activity logs, which are then recorded for progress purposes on a large poster at the YMCA. A T-shirt and improved fitness levels are the outcomes.
“I’m also working with Studios on 5th for a yoga class fundraiser that will benefit the American Heart Association,” said Nickel.
Although Nickel lost her mother, Leslie Jensen, to ovarian cancer last year, she uses that loss as further motivation to make the most of each day and to encourage others to do the same.
“I like to push for an ‘everything in moderation’ approach,” said Nickel. “Go ahead and enjoy a piece of cake or a donut - just don’t do it every day,” she suggested.
“Yeah, I have some of my kids’ French fries and an adult beverage sometimes, but the key is to keep moving and don’t become easily discouraged.
“We need to embrace what we have here in Worthington because wherever you go, there are always people making bad choices,” she continued. 
“And we’re very fortunate to have a great diversity of people and recreational opportunities in Worthington. Life throws us curve balls all the time, but it’s up to us how we handle that - and whether physically or mentally speaking, everything we need is right here in our community.”
For more information about membership, fitness programs or the Big Hearts Challenge, contact the Worthington Area YMCA at 376-6197, visit it at 1501 Collegeway, Worthington, or see

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