Boot camp for the body - Legally blind instructor motivates students

By Ruth Longoria

``There you go, hop higher,'' Joseph Raineri yells to his two guinea pig students, parks department Recreation Coordinator Diane Mortenson and Raineri's friend, Gretchen Doran, during a recent trial fitness workout at the Islander Middle School track.

``Get your feet off the ground, you're supposed to be frogs,'' Raineri says, as he demonstrates large, lithe leaps.

His students follow suit.

``OK, go ahead and use your arms too. Now, make some noise so I know if you're still there. Even if you leave I'm going to keep talking,'' he jokes.

For Raineri, being legally blind isn't a deterrent to staying physically fit and challenging others to push beyond their comfort zone.

The 51-year-old personal fitness trainer and licensed counselor from Bellevue will lead the Parks and Recreation Department's three-week Fitness Boot Camp, which begins May 2 at North Mercer Gym, 8817 S. E. 40th St. The camp, for adults of all ages and fitness levels, is from 6 to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday. Participants will work out at their own pace with exercises designed to increase blood flow, overall health, well-being and stamina. The cost is $150 per participant.

But -- despite its militant moniker -- the Fitness Boot Camp won't be reminiscent of movies such as ``Private Benjamin'' or ``G.I. Jane.'' In fact, at times, it's more likely to take on the humor of Gomer Pyle or even Monty Python.

``It's not going to be a crawl through barbed wire with someone shooting live ammo over your head boot camp -- this is going to be fitness and fun,'' Raineri says.

Rather than crawling, students in Raineri's classes can expect to hop like frogs, stretch like cats, run the track like the hare and, oh yeah, laugh a lot.

Just ask Mortenson and Doran, who Raineri had sweating and snickering as they stretched and pushed their muscles to the max.

And despite his comments about not noticing if the women left while he was talking, Raineri's visual impairment doesn't seem to hinder his ability to notice variances in the women's abilities and to make corrections to their stride or limb placement.

``Now slow down; don't make jerky movements, that's how you get hurt,'' says the pony-tailed physical trainer. ``Now then, don't forget to breathe.''

Mortenson, 35, and Doran, 51, make appropriate grunting sounds as they complete their pushups and sit-ups.

``I'm beginning to hate you,'' Doran jokes back as Raineri coninues to count: ``25, 26, 27, 27, 27, 27, 27, OK, 30.''

Doran, who has worked out with Raineri for about two years, says he has been inspirational in his encouragement and technical advice.

``I was in good shape before, but I'm a lot wiser about my exercising now,'' she says.

Raineri may be inspirational, but he hasn't always felt upbeat. When he was diagnosed at 13 with retinitis pigmentosa -- a progressive degenerative, hereditary disease which affects night and peripheral vision and makes things appear blurry -- he felt a lot of anger. But, with the help of the U.S. Association for Blind Athletes, Raineri was able to put his energy into positive physical and mental activities, though he was unable to keep doing a lot of the things he had enjoyed, such as driving.

``Well, I didn't have to give up driving, I chose to,'' he jokes. ``I'm really a good driver, I just can't see where I'm going.''

Raineri has accomplished several feats including: completing the Ironman World Championship Triathlon, cross-country skiing in three para-Olympic games, in 1984, 1988, and 1992, running 19 marathons, and participating in numerous long-distance biking events, including the Seattle to Portland bike ride.

Being in good physical shape is one of the things a person can do to enhance overall well-being, Raineri says.

``It's important to feel good, and part of feeling good is laughing and having fun,'' he says. ``The boot camp will be a chance to get in shape, laugh and have fun.''

Only a handful of people have signed up for the camp so far, Mortenson says, but she hopes another dozen join the early-morning fitness program.

``This is a great opportunity to start getting in shape, no matter what level you are at now,'' she says. ``I think there will be a lot of people who haven't done much workout before, and nobody is going to be in the shape they would be in the end, at the beginning.''

Raineri agrees. ``At the very least, people who go through the program will increase their cardiovascular strength, lower their resting heart rate, and be able to do a more intense workout with greater stamina,'' he says.

``I can't guarantee that anyone will be able to run a marathon at the end of the three weeks,'' Raineri says. ``But, I will guarantee that at the end of every class people say they feel better.''

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