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WHEN THE TEENAGERS IN EL GRUPO, A NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION IN TUCSON THAT INTRODUCES YOUNG PEOPLE TO CYCLING, ENROLLED IN CLASSES AT FLETCHER PILATES, they got a lot more than increased strength and flexibility to help them power through grueling training rides and competitions.
El Grupo was founded more than 10 years ago by Daniela Diamente and her husband Ignacio. Participants, who come from every socioeconomic group, typically sign up as eighth graders, she explains. “We have kids who are learning to ride, kids who are nationally ranked—and everything in between. They practice five days a week, riding over 50 hours a month.” In addition to teaching cycling skills, “we founded El Grupo to help young people and a positive physical, social and emotional outlet,” says Diamente, who works with upwards of 1,200 young people between the ages of seven and 22 every year.
For Kyria Sabin Waugaman, director of Fletcher Pilates in Tucson, getting involved with El Grupo was a natural fit. “We have been involved with the Pilates Youth Program through the PMA and the Tucson public school system since its inception,” says Waugaman. She first heard about the group through her husband, Lou
Waugaman, a philanthropist, avid cyclist and El Grupo supporter. “We wanted to work with youth athletes to focus on how Pilates might benefit their performance and their overall well-being.”
So last summer, Diamente, along with seven El Grupo participants between the ages of 15 and 20, began a program of Pilates matwork and Fletcher Braided Towelwork that was specially developed for cyclists. It was taught by Brianna Jahn Malinowski, who was completing the Fletcher Pilates Comprehensive Program.
After attending sessions in a three-week period, “they were like, ‘Whoa, what an improvement!’” Diamente recalls. “One young lady now recognizes when she brings tension into her shoulders and can now release them away from her ears, both when she is racing her bike and taking a test in school. Another young man now knows he must maintain core strength and good posture to eliminate the lower-back pain that had been an issue while he was riding.”
But Pilates provides so much more than physical benefits for these teens. “It also helps them
find emotional balance through breathing and destressing—it really complements how we approach youth development beyond the bike,” she adds.
The program didn’t just benefit the kids. Diamente went along for the ride, enrolling in Fletcher’s teachertraining program and is now teaching the El Grupo kids herself.