Military vet and Paralympian leads community fitness classes with inspiring results


Laura Ortiz high fives a student

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U.S. Army National Guard veteran and Paralympian Laura Ortiz knows a little bit about sacrifice and determination. Six years ago she experienced a below-knee amputation after having reintegrated to civilian life. But it didn’t stop her from moving her life forward and helping others.

With a prosthetic leg, Ortiz completed two sprint triathlons by 2013, medaling in her Master Class Division; trained with the U.S. Paralympic Parasailing team; and is currently training with the Miami Heat Wheelchair Basketball Team as preparation for the upcoming Paralympic Rio Games in 2016.

Now, as a certified personal trainer, fitness instructor and spinning instructor leading classes for the Coca-Cola Troops for Fitness in Miami — a program that hires U.S. military veterans to run boot-camp-style fitness classes — she is determined to spread the message that regardless of the challenges you face, once you put your mind to something you can achieve anything you want.

The Troops for Fitness program, which is made possible through a $3 million grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation to the National Recreation and Park Association, is currently in Sacramento; Miami; Atlanta; and Newark, New Jersey, with plans to expand this fall into Boston, Detroit, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Its mission is to help inspire healthier, active lifestyles among the public employing veterans to lead the classes.

“The idea is to get people to want to be part of something bigger, get together and socialize, and be fit while having fun,” Ortiz told HellaWella.

It's a win-win situation. Vets have the opportunity to lead these classes in the community, and to have employment, while the public gets to exercise and reach weight-loss goals with the support of and coaching from each other and instructors.  

The veterans who run the classes also benefit from the Troops for Fitness program.

“A lot of [the vets] are just coming back from conflict, and not only are they dealing with medical issues but also with integrating back into society, so this is the kind of impact that some of them need to feel part of a bigger solution,” Ortiz explained. “We're looked up to because we've made sacrifices so that we can all be safe, and also it's in a safe environment. I believe when you're vested and people can see that you care, then you start to build a dynamic with [them] because they know that they're in good hands."

Some of the high-energy classes range from Zumba to water aerobics to boot-camp fitness at zero to low cost for the community.

“I hear all of the time from my students that they forget that they're exercising because they're having so much fun because there’s music, they’re outdoors and not restrained. It's been amazing and keeps me doing what I love to do,” Ortiz said.