Unsung Hero: Springfield woman teaches fitness class to inspire others

6:00 a.m. Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 Community News

Springfield resident Karen Riley saw too many women who didn’t think they were valuable — and wanted to do something about it.

“You’d be surprised how many women feel like they’re not worth anything,” she said.

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Three years ago, Riley, who turns 75 this month, became a fitness instructor to inspire women and improve their fitness, she said. Now she teaches three free Refit classes per week as a way to help women in Clark County.

For her efforts in the community, Riley was named an unsung hero in the Springfield community.

“I’ve never considered myself an unsung hero,” she said.

The Springfield News-Sun asked readers to nominate people from their communities who go above and beyond to help others but rarely receive recognition for their work. Refit participant Sandra Bennett nominated Riley because she’s an inspiration to the more than 100 people who attend the classes each week, she said. People have lost weight and their pain has improved, Bennett said.

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“She encourages everyone to come,” Bennett said. “She’s always upbeat and always in a good mood.”

Riley, who has five children, also serves as her son’s legal guardian. He suffered head injuries in a car accident.

“I take him to all of his appointments and help him with his housework,” Riley said.

She also serves as the legal guardian of a friend who has Alzheimer’s disease. Her friend is now in a nursing home but she previously helped her in a similar capacity.

“It’s a matter of her finances and visiting and making sure the nursing home is doing what it’s supposed to do and that she’s well taken care of,” she said. “It’s a hard disease.”

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After retiring from the Clark County Department of Job and Family Services after 31 years working there, Riley became a Refit instructor in 2015.

“My desire really started out to just encourage women that no matter what their age, they can still be active,” she said. “They can still have a vibrant life. I saw too many older women say, ‘I’m too old, I can’t do this.’”

The class serves women from teenagers to those in their 80s, as well as a few men.

“I’m a firm believer that when you do physical fitness, it helps your mind and it helps your emotion,” Riley said.

When she began the class, Riley didn’t want to charge people. She walked into Central Christian Church on Derr Road without ever having met Pastor Carl Ruby in hopes of using of its gymnasium. A few weeks later, they gave her a key to the church.

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“They’d never met me,” she said. “I thought that was amazing.”

The class began in late January of 2016 and its met three times per week ever since, even through the holidays.

“I feel like I truly can give back,” Riley said. “I’m a person that will never impact the entire world. I’ll never be a missionary, I’ll never go overseas. But my heart’s desire is to impact the piece of world that I’m in in a very positive way.”

The environment is nonjudgmental and is for all age groups, Riley said, as well as a family friendly environment.

“Every person who comes feels comfortable,” Riley said.

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The class participated at the Springfield Health Foundation’s Health Expo 2017 in October.

Her husband, Marvin Riley, is also very supportive of the Refit class. She plans to teach the class until she’s no longer able to do it.

“I will do it until I wake up one morning and my body doesn’t hurt,” she said.

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