Just call her the ‘Sports Lady’
BY KAREN MARTIN
Special Sections editor
In Kuwait, Lisa Sistrunk says she’s known as the “Sports Lady.” Each week, readers of the Arab Times can get the Denham Springs resident’s take on vitamins or ab crunches, low-impact workouts or nutrition.
Sistrunk, 57, now regularly teaches fitness classes at the PARDS (Parks and Recreation of Denham Springs) and the C.B. Pennington Jr. YMCA and occasionally at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
But today’s technology also keeps her in touch with her faithful Arab readers, who have been following her health and fitness column since 1996. She still gets questions almost daily from across the world.
“Here’s one,” says Sistrunk, scrolling through the mail on her iPhone. “He wants to know about (antioxidant) CoQ10, which I wrote about recently.”
Sistrunk started the column when she lived and worked in Kuwait as the personal trainer to the royal Al-Sabah family.
“My father was in the military, so I grew up traveling overseas,” says Sistrunk, ticking off Okinawa, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Dubai among her many addresses.
Back in the U.S. in the early 1990s, Sistrunk, who has always led an active life beginning with dance classes as a youngster, got into aerobics and personal training. She was teaching aerobics and dance and participating in fitness and body building competitions, where she took home more than a few trophies and national titles.
At one such competition in Texas, she was contacted about becoming a trainer for the Kuwait royals. She took the job, and lived in the Middle East from 1994 to 1998 where she taught fitness classes for everyone from the Al-Sabah royals to the soldiers at Camp Doha.
“It was very challenging,” Sistrunk says, although her familiarity with the culture made the transition easier.
She says about 18-20 members of the family, from the Sheikh and the princess to aunts, sisters and cousins, came to her for individual personal training. Some family members, she says with a smile, preferred shopping to exercise.
In addition to writing her column, Sistrunk also did a regular fitness segment on “Good Morning Kuwait,” which she says is very much like our “Good Morning America,” and is broadcast by satellite throughout the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Canada. She conducted lots of classes for residents and youngsters as a Reebok instructor, and made three exercise videos for Kuwait Airways to show on flights.
In 1998, she came back to the U.S., but returned every couple of years to Kuwait. She hasn’t been back since 2002, she says, “because I was almost kidnapped twice … It’s just too dangerous now.”
Sistrunk says her work in the fitness world expanded when she met a 17-year-old girl who had been pushed from the eighth floor of a building in Kuwait. The girl had spent 18 months in the hospital and was held together with pins. She could barely walk.
Sistrunk says she spent almost five months working daily with the girl, who is now a lawyer, married and a mother.
“The doctors told her she would never live a normal life,” Sistrunk says. “… But helping her opened my eyes to the fact the I have a gift to help others.”
She expanded her work with youngsters and today spends lots of her time helping seniors who may be limited by disabilities or disease.
She married husband Stan five years ago (that’s how she ended up in Denham Springs), and Sistrunk now teaches dance, sit-and-fit classes, water aerobics, pilates, cardio classes and more at the top-notch PARDS facility. She also teaches sit-and-fit classes and intensive cardio boxing at the Y. She works with seniors in assisted living homes in the Baton Rouge area.
“I wish we could clone her,” says Sandi McGrew, PARDS fitness director.