Radiant and full of energy -- this is the impression that one gets when meeting 46-year-old Ghada El-Khodari. A few years ago, at the age of 39, El-Khodari decided to give up her English-to-Arabic translation work and become an aerobics trainer. Today, she runs one of the largest gym and fitness centres in Cairo’s Zamalek district.
El-Khodari’s days are very busy; they begin at 6am and end at 10pm. Each day she checks her notes, works on nutritional programmes for her clients, and gives classes.
"Those activities develop the joy of living," El-Khodari explains, adding that exercises and aerobics in particular helps retaining a slim figure and a well-toned body. She underlines that above all, they help boost self-confidence, a quality that El-Khodari tries to convey, indirectly, to the enthusiastic women who attend her classes.
"This experience has enriched me. Through the physical exercises and coordination with rhythm and music, I have realised how strong I am. Another asset is that I also got to know my body better," El-Khodari explains.
"The concept of ageing is only a subjective understanding of ourselves. It is a thought that obliterates a chance of development of an individual.”
It is El-Khodari’s striking dynamism and her ability to guide the students that in a very few years have turned her into a veteran coach -- a big achievement for someone who started her new career rather late.
She still remembers being locked up in her room for hours, surrounded by dictionaries, staring at the computer screen while trying to finish her translation work.
"I could no longer concentrate. I did not have time for my children or my family. Doing sports outside the home allowed me to relax and change the routine."
El-Khodari often felt that when compared to the effort exerted, the translation work was not bringing sufficient profit or reward. On the contrary, aerobics not only made her feel rejuvenated and filled her with new energy, it also helped her get additional income.
"Apart from the fact of feeling in great shape, working in this field has allowed me to meet many different people. I even encounter people who suffer serious illnesses and want to get in shape," she says, pointing to the fact that sometimes she has to tailor the exercises to people with a variety of health conditions, work on toning their heart or strengthening other muscles.
In her centre, El-Khodari also teaches yoga, samba and zumba fitness techniques.
Yet the physical exercises were not the only sources of her rejuvenation. Aerobics trainers must also study hard to help them stay up to date with everything new in this field.
“I mastered anatomy of the human body, how to give massages, treat injuries and offer first aid,” she says. “All way long, I am both, the trainer and the student. It is an ongoing development process."
El-Khodari was able to find the right balance between her professional life and her personal life. At the same time she does not lack self-confidence, saying that “regardless of the problem that I encounter, I know I can solve it.”
However, this career change did not come without obstacles.
As a veiled woman from a conservative community, she had to convince her family that becoming a fitness trainer was not a bad choice. For example, she had to explain to her parents that the classes she participates in or in which she acts as a trainer are for women only, and men are not allowed to enter.
"Aerobics have allowed me also to overcome all the negative pressures imposed by the society,” she says. “I feel more free now."
As she exercises, jumps and dances, she is not worried and believes no one can criticise her or belittle her work.
While she finds her world inside the fitness centre, the reality outside it is different. "When I attend a wedding, I do not move from my place, no matter how inviting to dance the music is. I am a mother and veiled,” she says.
El-Khodari hopes to continue working in the friendly atmosphere, something that unlike many other professions she finds in her current job in the fitness centre. "It's a fun job and without problems. It is also my time of relaxation, a real bliss."
This article was first published in Al-Ahram Hebdo.