Suddenly a rocket attack rang out in the hot desert air near Kandahar. Army Maj. Linda Dye of the Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan jumped into a bunker, closely followed by three other female soldiers. Gritting their teeth and following all the proper safety procedures, they watched and waited out the assault. Eventually conversation commenced, and Dye’s ears perked up at the mention of a word seemingly so far removed from this war-zone scenario: Zumba.
“I overheard the other soldiers talking about Zumba class, and I got so excited! I was newly deployed and had not had a chance to find a Zumba class at that point,” she recalls. “I joined the conversation, and there were tons of hugs and jumping up and down and squeals of excitement at finding a Zumba sister under these dangerous circumstances. It was so comforting because it was like long-lost family members found one another.”
She soon began teaching on base with a fellow ZIN member, and the classes became so popular that they quickly outgrew their original workout space. They even hosted a Party in Pink Zumbathon this past October, raising more than $3,000 for breast cancer awareness.
Dye’s story is a testament to a growing trend among branches of the military in locations close to home and far afield: Soldiers are improving the quality of their daily lives through Zumba Fitness, not only reaping the physical benefits of the exercise but experiencing huge mental and emotional ones as well. “Zumba class is an incredible workout … granted. Zumba class is super fun … granted,” Dye says. “So, troops come for the fun and the sweat, but, oftentimes, especially for those of us who have to go back to work afterward, it is a stress-free hour that is saving our sanity.”
It goes without saying that soldiers in any branch of the military need to consistently meet certain physical-fitness requirements — and that daily workout routines can get a little old, says Liz Medina, a ZIN member and former Marine who taught Zumba classes to troops both stateside and abroad. “When I first got into the theater [an area or place in which important military events occur] I was in Kandahar Airfield,” says the Virginia resident. “When you’re deployed, this is how everyday life is: First your mission, then the gym, then, depending on the time of day, you would Skype home.”
She began offering Zumba classes on the base as a way to add variety to the soldiers’ monotonous schedules. And, just like with Dye, her classes quickly became a hit.
By Chelsea Greenwood
Photograph by Matt Roth
Excerpted from the Z-LIFE Vol 3 – 2012 issue.