Marvin Ridge plays host to fundraiser event
by Alison Woo
Over one thousand people will pour into Marvin Ridge High School’s football stadium June 4, carrying the tools of the trade. Instead of jerseys or cowbells, they’ll be wearing workout gear, ready to exercise for charity. The “Cardio Craze” fundraiser comes from the mind of actor and fitness teacher Andre Hairston, an extension of the classes he holds all over the area.
Hairston is a man on a mission. His goal is to transform fitness and he doesn’t have to take any prisoners. “Andre’s Cardio Crazies,” as they are known, follow him everywhere he teaches, including Myers Park Presbyterian, several YMCA locations including the Harris and Morrison YMCAs and Sports and Fitness Ballantyne.
Yet, this is no ordinary class and this is no ordinary teacher. His hip-hop inspired cardio class with music from everyone from Michael Jackson to Lady Gaga gets people moving. Among the 300-plus people standing side-by-side in the Harris YMCA gym any given Sunday are professionals, stay-at-home moms, bankers, artists, academics and everyone in between.
University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor Dr. Adriana Medina has been coming to his class religiously every Sunday for the past two years. “To me, it feels like I’m at a big dance party (only dressed in my workout clothes) and to me that feels good!” she said. “For me a lot of it is about the music and the movement.”
This is not a class for only the super fit. Hairston is dedicated to making the experience fit all levels from newbies to athletes.
“The best part is that this is a multilevel class, meaning that you can do his class any way you need to, low impact, high impact, intermediate, or you can make your own moves,” Medina said. “His workout is as challenging as you need it to be.”
Success inspired by real-life events
Hairston’s success story was inspired by tragic events in his own life. He grew up as an athlete from kindergarten to college. His affinity for the YMCA started when his mom’s job afforded them a discounted membership.
“Fifteen years ago my mom had a stroke and she has not been able to speak or walk since then,” he said. “I did some research on stroke victims and I realized that a lot of the conditions people have are preventable. Many of them are preventable through exercise and diet.”
He started taking Zumba classes at the Y and was inspired by the Latin beat. He wanted to find his own spin on it with contemporary music and soon Cardio Craze was born three years ago on a Super Bowl Sunday with just 60 people.
Hairston believes his mother would be proud. “I know if she was healthy she would love our class,” he said. “We used to dance with her.”
Inspiration beyond fitness
During class, Hairston is the model of fitness and enthusiasm as he stands on a platform and moves around the cavernous gym. The experience of hundreds of people devoted toward one goal is a huge energy rush that many in the class say they’ve never experienced before. But Hairston sees this fitness movement as a platform to move not only bodies but also hearts and minds.
“Cardio Craze is a vehicle for me to reach and touch and inspire as many people as possible, even beyond the realm of exercise,” Hairston said. He spreads positive message on his website, www.andrehairston.com, and a Facebook page.
“I’m always putting positive things out there to help inspire people even outside the realm of the gym,” he said. Now he’s compiling those quotes and messages for a book coming out shortly called “Something on the Inside.”
He enthusiastically promotes his classes at Myers Park Presbyterian, where people go if they don’t have a YMCA membership. He often lets people who are homeless or not working pay a sliding scale or work out for free. “Those are the people that need it the most,” he said.
But the people he’s most interested in reaching are young people.
Hairston has toured much of the Southeast, including Greenville, Spartanburg, Charleston and Hilton Head in South Carolina and Atlanta, Ga., to reach out to kids who haven’t been bit by the fitness bug. His most recent outreach efforts include creating programs to support First Lady Michelle Obama’s fitness initiatives.
“Exercise is a learned behavior,” he said. “If their parents don’t do it they won’t be inspired either. That’s why I think it’s so important to open up their eyes to something they haven’t seen. If I can inspire them to embrace exercise, something beyond jumping jacks and sit ups, then I have accomplished something big. Dance is something they can do forever.”
While his fitness outreach continues to expand every day, Hairston continues to act and plans to keep doing it forever.
“I don’t know if it’s my mission in life, but for right now fitness is always going to be what I’m doing regardless even if I became an Academy Award winner,” he said laughingly. “Though I don’t know how we would fit even more people into our classes.”
Hairston’s latest project will take place at Marvin Ridge June 4 from 7 to 8:30 p.m., with gates opening at 6.