The duo behind the Santa Cruz Challenge explain their philosophy of fitness
Thirty minutes of exercise a day can be one of the hardest activities to incorporate into an already busy routine—even when we know that a daily sweat is the only thing standing between us and our healthiest, happiest selves. But if anybody knows how to reignite the passion for bodily movement within the less-than-active, it’s fitness training duo Dr. Michelle Bean and Dr. LeTa Jussila.
“People that rock climb, people that paddleboard, people that surf, you don’t have to remind them to do it,” says Jusilla. “Because they understand, they’ve caught the fever. If you haven’t caught that second wind—which is like inspiration of life, right?—you can still find it. It’s never too late.”
In addition to their outdoor “boot camp” classes, Bean, a chiropractor, and Jussila, a licensed acupuncturist, designed the Santa Cruz Challenge. The 12-week health and fitness program incorporates 30 different local fitness studios and educational seminars, with the aim of helping locals … well, basically reset their lives. So far, 500 participants have sweated, danced and stretched their way through the SCC, now in its fourth year, and the fifth round begins Aug. 30.
In order to kick start the drive to work out, Bean and Jussila encourage thinking outside the box; getting fit doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. Santa Cruz has no end of inspiring fitness resources, starting with the great outdoors.
“There’s something magical about this land,” says Jussila. “There’s something really amazing about the energy here. And if you don’t get yourself right in front of the water, down where the water laps the sand, and you don’t immerse yourselves in the negative ions, then you won’t catch the fever.”
Aside from the outdoors, Bean and Jussila emphasize a plethora of studios in Santa Cruz, and their challenge connects locals with every kind of activity, from martial arts to pickleball. Venturing outside one’s comfort zone can be motivating, says Bean.
“I’d say, you’ve got to try maybe three to six different things. Try one of those things that you’ve always wanted to try, and try something you thought you’d probably never try,” she says. “When people find that thing that they really like, it becomes a lot easier to actually do it. I think that people fall off of exercise programs because they’re doing something that they don’t really enjoy.”
Like the woman who thought she’d hate jiu jitsu, but now continues with classes even after the challenge has ended. Or Anita Raffaelli, 49, the grand prize winner of the last Santa Cruz Challenge. A mother of four teenagers who had recently moved to town, Raffaeli decided to make some time for herself for the first time in years, and signed up the day before the challenge began.
“I went from dreading working outs and making any excuse not to go to a class at the gym to wondering if I could squeeze in a kickboxing, body pump, kung fu, qigong or Pilates class after boot camp before my other daily obligations,” says Raffaelli. “I am not only stronger, healthier and more confident than before but I wake up looking for new ways to explore this wonderful place we live.”
Jussila recommends taking an honest assessment of yourself to find out where you are and where you want to be. Even adding a home stretching routine for five minutes a day can change your life, she says. And if you’re the kind of person who needs a goal, she recommends signing up for a race. “We have all these events in Santa Cruz County and beyond,” says Jussila. “Really, it’s just like, pick one and set a date. I think races are huge now because people really want to feel like they’ve accomplished something.”
The Santa Cruz Challenge begins Aug. 30. Sign up at santacruzchallenge.com. PHOTO: Julie Fasolas of Fa So La Photography