OK. So you all know that I have recently tried and fallen in love with EcoTrek Fitness — and am eagerly awaiting the day I can return to the weekly sessions. Perhaps this Sunday? Anyway, I asked Cari Draft, founder of EcoTrek, if she’d take a few minutes out of her schedule to answer some questions about EcoTrek. Here’s what she had to say.
Q: What’s your health and fitness background? Grand Valley State University bachelor’s degree in advertising/public relations and graphic design; ACE certified personal fitness trainer for the past 10 years before creating EcoTrek Fitness in May of 2006. I have always had an ongoing personal interest in health & wellness.
Q: So, why EcoTrek? How did you come up with this idea — and why? I received a specialized outdoor fitness certification at the Nike headquarters in Oregon. The weekend after returning from my Nike outdoor training, I asked a few friends to join me for a trial run, and voilà, EcoTrek Fitness was born. I spent one year as the sole trainer, sculpting EcoTrek into what it is today. That was over four and a half years ago; EcoTrek Fitness now employs nine series leaders besides myself — one in Morgantown, W.V., and eight more with me here in West Michigan.
Q: What is EcoTrek and how does it differ from other workouts? Every workout, from the lakeshore to Coopersville to Grand Rapids, is held outdoors in a well-researched, strategic location. Myself or one of my series leaders choreographs each session, utilizing the landscape and making prolific use of sand dunes, rolling hills and various man-made “props.” A picnic table is a perfect place for tricep dips or push-ups, and bleachers are the best for toning legs and glutes. The best thing about being outside is that you can be distracted by the beauty of nature, and almost unaware that you’re doing squats or building your core strength. We jump over mud puddles. It’s so fun to see people acting like little kids. The weather should not play a factor in exercise routines. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad choices in clothing,” is posted right on the EcoTrek Fitness website. The key is dressing for the situation. If you dress in layers, there’s no reason for not enjoying the outdoors, even in the depth of winter. People at any level of fitness are invited to join even if they are “fresh off the couch.” EcoTrekkers are encouraged to work at their own level, so there’s never a feeling of intimidation or competition.
Q: Is there any special gear required? Nope! Each series leader supplies the resistance bands. You’ll need to dress for a workout appropriate for the weather — tennies with YakTrax in winter — light layers that can be peeled as you warm up; of course always cover your ears and hands when it’s cold. There are other things like neck & leg gaiters you could pick up as the snow gets deeper, but it’s not completely necessary. A small flashlight or headlamp can be helpful for seeing the trail during the winter months’ evening or early morning sessions too; we like the deals Home Depot or Lowe’s has on these.
Q: What about people who aren’t at the peak of fitness? Is EcoTrek for them, too? As mentioned above, each leader works hard to cater to the fitness level of the group. The line behind the leader functions much like an accordion — as those in the back of the line fall a bit back, it’s already time for the front of the group to stop to do some strength training or stretching, so it always evens out and everyone feels a part of the group. We’ve also heard many people comment how they were last in line at their very first session, and surprised themselves with how quickly they improved their fitness levels to move up further in line — always a good feeling!
Q: How many people are doing EcoTrek right now? How many groups are there?
Ten series total; nine in Michigan. We have had more than 2,000 people pass through EcoTrek in four years — our motto is “Once an EcoTrekker, Always an EcoTrekker” — people always come back even after being away for a few months. I’d estimate in any given month we have at least 275 people EcoTrekking in all of the series at once — there is an EcoTrek session every day of the week SOMEWHERE.
Q: Any parting thoughts you’d like to share about EcoTrek or health/fitness in general? One more fun tidbit about EcoTrek: You can create your own “package” of sessions with your series leader, and then use those sessions in ANY series anywhere. We’re so unique that way. Example, you could live in East Grand Rapids and create your package to include sessions in Coopersville, Grandville, Kentwood … you could even plan to make a couple of roadtrips out to our lakeshore sessions in Holland, Grand Haven and Muskegon — and by buying 11 sessions at a time, they only cost $8 each! I always love to hear about how people get excited to bring their friends to experience EcoTrek; we build an intense loyalty with our EcoTrekkers that we truly appreciate.
Q: What’s the best piece of motivational advice you’ve ever received (or given)? Honestly, it’s a shame when people let life pass them by. We are on this planet for such a short time. Why not get outside to expore the beautiful surroundings right in your own area? Your EcoTrek leaders can help open your eyes to West Michigan outdoor fitness, even beyond EcoTrek sessions: We encourage our peeps to run in 5K races, come kayak or snowshoe with us. There is SO much to do in the fresh air! You can click through photos and videos at http://ecotrekfitness.com to ease your anxiety before your first session — everyone who comes to EcoTrek had to step outside their comfort zone to get themselves to that first session — try it, you won’t regret it!
Please note: I’m not getting paid, reimbursed or anything for sharing this story with you. I just found something I really enjoy that I think is kind of unique — and I wanted to share it with my readers. Also note, these photos are all from the EcoTrek Fitness website, except Cari’s photo, which came from her Facebook page.