By Deb Silverthorn
Celebrating 10 years at the Aaron Family JCC, Terri Arends, the wellness and group fitness director, says, “Every day I want to be at work every single day; each day is a new journey in my life.”
The daughter of Anne Hamilton-Parks and Ken Parks and sister of Kelli (Lester Rowe) Parks-Rowe, Arends was born in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. She attributes her confidence and independence to her mother and an understanding of healthy living and an athletic gene from her father. As a child, she participated in gymnastics, horseback riding, ice skating and tennis, and, at Chartiers Valley High School, she was a member of the Colts dance troop and a majorette with the marching band.
Respect for education was another gift from her mother, a registered nurse who returned for a master’s degree years into her career. Long after Arends first graduated from West Virginia University, she too returned and earned a master’s degree from there as well.
From the moment Arends came to Dallas, opportunities in the fitness industry availed themselves.
“Dallas has been amazing since I first got here,” said Arends, who at first coached gymnastics and taught group fitness classes before being hired as the fitness director at the Premier Athletic Club.
Options at the J include aerial silk classes, Speedflex classes and Zumba, as well as nearly a dozen yoga courses including Hatha stretch, couples, aerial and aqua yoga. There are also many water fitness options. For all these, Arends is there.
“We’re always creating fitness trends here. I never want to ‘catch up.’ We are fueled by a passion for fitness, wellness and the knowledge to understand, appreciate and live that,” said Arends.
Hoping to get a guest to add one bike pedal stroke, one lap around the pool or one more kettlebell swing, Arends walks the walk — rather bikes the bike — each and every day.
“She has such a talent for wellness, health and goodness. She embodies it all. She is a very special individual who has become so much a part of this community,” said Daniel Taylor, the J’s assistant executive director.
For Debbi K. Levy, who teaches a number of mindfulness yoga classes at the J, it is Arends’ investment in refreshing the J, her heart in every guest and her service that she holds dear.
“Terri serves in the most meaningful capacity; she’s just exceptional. She was my first boss here 10 years ago and her passion is contagious,” Levy said.
Early on in the spin/indoor cycling craze, Arends became an accredited instructor and for many years she’s traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada providing SPIN® instructor certification courses.
While working with Jon Mize, the J’s former director of sports and fitness, Arends helped organize the Ovarian Cycle Ride to Change the Future, which launched the Be The Difference Foundation and its Wheel to Survive.
“We thought no problem, we’ll get some bikes, maybe 60 and it’ll be great,” Arends laughs. “We ended up with more than 300 riders that first year (2011) and more than $370,000 was raised. It’s still one of the most memorable things I’ve been involved in and the Wheel to Survive is still something I participate in every year.”
Keeping Arends’ emotional side whole are her Australian shepherd Mulligan and her longtime partner Dr. Douglas Wilson. On weekends, the trio can be found competing in American Kennel Club dock diving events. Pickleball, while vacationing or on the courts at the J, is her newest love.
From early on, Arends’ summer and other vacations were spent visiting family members serving in the armed forces. Just back from Hawaii, where her aunt Carolyn and uncle retired Col. Richard Hamilton live, she’s been to Argentina and Russia, floated in the Totumo mud volcano in Colombia, taken tours of the south of France and Italy and been to Easter Island in Chile. The life-changing experience for her, though, was visiting Israel in 2015 on the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ “Big One” mission.
“Travel allows us to break barriers and understand one another. I heard people around the J talking about this trip and I wanted to go,” said Arends. “I saw and did things I wouldn’t have on any other tour. From a lecture with the prime minister to a private ceremony at Yad Vashem to the friendships I made — moments and tears I could never replace.”
Years come and go for Arends but she doesn’t mark them on the calendar. She celebrates every day, never considering age anything more than a number.
“Life is about living this moment the very best you can. It’s why wellness is such an important part of our program,” she said.