BEST1 LONGMONT, CO – JUNE 22:SilverSneakers Instructor Jennine Amato poses for a portrait outside the Longmont Recreation Center on June 22, 2020. Amato is a finalist for SilverSneakers instructor of the year. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Longmont’s Jennine Amato doesn’t try to pretend that exercise isn’t work, but her ability as a fitness instructor to infuse humor with routine often makes her senior students forget that it is.

These traits were among the reasons Amato was named as a finalist for the SilverSneakers’ Instructor of the Year award, which recognizes fitness teachers who make a positive impact on students in SilverSneakers senior fitness program. In March, SilverSneakers put out a calling for nominations for the 2020 award at its more than 18,000 program locations in the U.S., according to the Associated Press. Amato was the first finalist of four recognized in the competition. Eliot Perez, a fitness instructor out of Houston, Texas, was awarded the title as Instructor of the Year.

Amato earned a personal trainer certification and is a licensed massage therapist, specializing in care for seniors. She works for the Longmont Recreation Center and teaches classes at the Longmont Senior Center and Gold’s Gym in Longmont. When she’s not in the gym, she likes to work on her improvisational comedy, testing out her skills on stage at places such as the Voodoo Comedy playhouse in Denver. While comedy and exercise may seem like different worlds, Amato believes humor and fitness are key to overall wellness.

“They call it working out for a reason, because it’s work,” Amato said. “It feels like work. Nothing has to feel heavy and uncomfortable for it to be productive, adding play and light heartedness, you don’t even notice how hard you’re working out.”

Amato has about five years of experience teaching fitness classes. Before the coronavirus pandemic brought group fitness to a halt, closing gyms and city buildings across Boulder County, Amato taught about eight classes a week. Through her classes and work as a masseuse, she’s seen seniors regain some mobility and independence. Seeing this progress is one of the most rewarding aspects of her job, she said.

“Reclaiming that autonomy is so huge; that’s my jam, I love it,” Amato said.

Amato understands what it’s like to live with daily physical pain. She has an auto immune disorder called Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, a multi-symptom illness that causes a wide array of issues such as brain fog, shooting pains and shortness of breath. Having her own health struggles to work through gives her compassion for what her senior students are experiencing.

“Maybe you can’t do everything you used to do and that might challenge your identity,” Amato said. “It challenges you daily, so how do you be resilient through that and work with those ebbs and flows? I get what they’re going through.”

Amato’s students say fitness results and the atmosphere Amato creates in her classes have kept them coming back.

Laura Cooper,  71, of Longmont, has been taking Amato’s classes for the past three years. Before the pandemic, she was a regular in Amato’s twice-a-week circuit classes.

“Her classes rocks my world in so many ways,” Cooper said. “It gets my heart rate up, gets me exercising, the whole bit and she keeps you smiling through the whole thing. (Jennine) has a lot of devotion. She doesn’t talk down to us. She respects us as human beings and she makes it fun and that’s important.”

Each month, Amato creates a new routine to build on students’ skills.

“You start off thinking, ‘What has she come up with this time?’ but by the time you get to the end of the month, you can do it,” Cooper said.

Joan Tallman, 84, of Longmont, has been taking Amato’s classes for about three years. Tallman said she’s tried other fitness classes, but described them as “monotonous.”

“(Jennine) is fabulous,” Tallman said. “With Jennine, every month, she has a new series. It could be the same exercises but in a different way. If you’re doing something wrong, she bounces off that stage and helps you.”

Debbie Davis, 66, of Longmont, has been Amato’s student for almost two years, making many new friends through her classes. She said Amato’s care for her students is apparent.

“She’s funny, warm, professional (and) always upping her own training in senior physical and mental fitness,” Davis said.

When Amato thinks about the recognition from SilverSneakers, she said it is also a tribute to her students, too.

“It was pretty exciting,” Amato said of being named a finalist. “It isn’t from anything that I feel like I’ve done directly, because it came from my members and the stories that they submitted, so it kind of felt like we were all getting awarded.”

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