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Keeping the body and soul in shape

Kit Harra of Clearwater said she has participated in many differentclasses during her 40 years as a YWCA member.

But her newest aerobics class is unlike any other she's taken - the movements are done to Christian music.

Ms. Harra is a student in a Christian aerobics class taught by Linda Dohnal from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Mondays and Fridays at the YWCA at 222 Lincoln Ave., Clearwater.

"I don't like hard rock," said Ms. Harra, who has been a member of the Clearwater YWCA for 20 years. "I really like her Christian rock."

Miss Dohnal, 28, said some of her students come specifically because she uses Christian music in the exercise program. Also, she begins each session with a devotional reading.

"I believe I can always spread the word of God in some little way," she said. "I love aerobics. The (Christian) music is uplifting, and it makes them think a little bit. If (an aerobics student) is not religious, they may want to look into it and see what God is all about."

Miss Dohnal teaches corporate classes and has her own fitness business called Ms. Fits "for people who don't fit into working out in a health club. We can be ourselves here," she said.

Miss Dohnal gives individual attention to each student in the Christian aerobics class. All are women, and their ages range from 19 to mid-70s. She said she tries to help each person work at her own level.

Although younger participants are "there to work out and increase their cardiovascular fitness, from (age) 55 on, it is no longer important to get the heart into training range," Miss Dohnal said. "It is important to have social interaction, to meet with people and feel a spirit of togetherness. We are just here to have fun.

"I am glad there are no mirrors here. Mirrors are intimidating.

People will try to compare themselves to (others). But without mirrors, all they have to watch is me. In their minds, they're doing exactly what I'm doing and they look like I look. It is a kick for me to see they're enjoying themselves. If there are smiles on their faces, it makes it all the more worthwhile for me."

Miss Dohnal, who has been teaching aerobics for three and a half years, chooses the Christian music she plans to use in her classes.

Then, she counts out the beats per minute and coordinates movements for each song.

She chooses songs that are "pretty, light, praising God," she said. "I want really pretty songs for cool down and stretches. This is my way of reaching people and it fits, since the Y is a Christian organization."

As she demonstrates each movement, she explains which muscles are being worked and cautions against any harmful movements. She also teaches the students exercises to practice at home.

"I am certified so they don't have to worry about getting injured," she said. "I'm very, very careful. There is a lot of research being done on elderly exercise."

Miss Dohnal, a native of St. Petersburg, graduated in 1984 from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., with a bachelor's degree in political science. "I thought I wanted to be a reporter or go into broadcast news," she said. She came to Tampa and worked as an account executive for WTOG television and then for radio station WUSA-FM in Tampa.

Although she was quite successful and was making $70,000 annually, she said, "I walked away from that job. I was making money hand over fist, but that's not enjoying life. There is more to it than having a fancy car, having a car phone and having a secretary. It is so easy to go out there and sell advertising, but what are you doing for your fellow man? What are you doing for God? I was doing nothing."

She said she moved to Orlando and spent several months "re-grouping," then began working for Bali fitness centers and working as a dancer at the former Boardwalk and Baseball attraction near Orlando. Eventually, she "felt it was time to come home," and returned to St. Petersburg, continuing to work for Bali.

Last April, she started her own fitness company, teaching corporate classes for Fortune Savings Bank and Honeywell, as well as training individual clients and teaching several other classes. She lectures on nutrition, smoking cessation, fitness, exercise - "anything to do with total well-being," she said, and her average working day is from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. "I teach an average of 26 classes a week of aerobics," she said.

She just recently began the Christian aerobics class at the YWCA.

Miss Dohnal attended a Christian school for six years as a youngster, and listens to religious radio programs regularly.

"I believe in fate a lot," she said. "God puts us here for a reason. We all can make a difference."

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