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Breaking the Chains that Bind Us

Photo credit Amanda Palmer

CapU alum April Newman challenges perceptions about Indigenous people and inspires healthy lifestyles and mindsets.

april bags

April Newman lights up the room when she smiles —  and she smiles a lot. Though we spoke virtually, connecting through our computer screens because of the pandemic, her vivacious personality and passion for empowering others shone through.

She struck me as a woman who has connected with her life’s purpose, has big dreams for herself and her community, and has a clear vision on how to achieve them. 

As the owner of  Break the Chain Fitness, which offers personal fitness training and boot camps to clients in Squamish,  this CapU School of Kinesiology alum is in year five of a  10-year plan to help her community build healthy and sustainable lifestyles. 

april portrait April Newman in Squamish in December 2020. Photo by Amanda Palmer.

Even as we spoke, she started gently coaching me to change up my daily routine. Instead of beginning the day with yoga, she suggested starting with a short gratitude meditation and a brisk morning walk to get my body moving, and encouraged me to report back on how it impacted my energy and mentality for the day. 

“What fuels my fire is being able to help others through their own journey,” she said. “I want to be there for anyone who genuinely has a vested interest in reaching their goals. I want  to help them  achieve a lifelong lifestyle, not a quick fix.” 

Overcoming adversity  

Newman’s life wasn’t always so promising. As an Indigenous child growing up on the Skwxwú7mesh  (Squamish)  Nation  reserve, she had difficulty paying attention in class and struggled academically. It wasn’t until Grade 7, when her family moved to Seattle, that she was diagnosed with a hearing impairment. She learned she had one fully and one partially collapsed ear drum, something  no one had noticed or perhaps bothered to investigate before.

April Newman working with a client in her home gym
Newman works with a client in her home gym in Squamish. Photo by Amanda Palmer.

Start 2021 with healthy, new habits

Ready to make some changes in your life? Perhaps you want to get in shape or get in a more positive frame of mind? It all begins with how you start your day, says April Newman, a CapU School of Kinesiology alum and personal trainer. Here are her top five tips for starting your day right.  

  1. Start the day by connecting to yourself – Take 10 deep breaths and say five positive things about yourself and your life. If you can be grateful from the moment you wake up, it will start to shift your thoughts to a more positive mindset.  
  2. Drink water –  Stay hydrated by drinking  water throughout the day. It will help you flush toxins from your body and keep your energy up during the day.
  3. Get dressed – Even if you’re not working,  make a point of getting dressed. If you want to have an active  and productive  day, it will make you less inclined to lay on your couch. 
  4. Go for a walk – Grab a coffee and  go for a refreshing walk. It will wake you up, get your heart  pumping and give you time to reflect on what you want to achieve that day. 
  5. Take time for self-care throughout the day – Use your lunch hour or break to do some yoga or stretching, rather than looking at your phone. Hit a timer for 10 minutes and do some jumping jacks. Taking a few minutes for yourself during the day improves your mood, rejuvenates you and makes you more apt to introduce other positive behaviours like going to the gym, taking a walk or just eating better. One positive step leads to more positive behaviours.  

“All of my childhood, I had this preconditioned idea that I wasn’t smart, that I was a misbehaved child,”  recalled Newman. “That was a hard thing to break as it had become a core belief.” 

While it was a relief to realize her problem wasn’t intellectual, she continued to struggle in high school as she had missed so much foundational learning and she was always playing catchup. A C-average student at best, Newman believed university was out of the question. 

Connecting to her purpose 

She found solace in athletics, taking up soccer, ballet, gymnastics and cheerleading, and later adding snowboarding and trail running, pushing her body hard to see what she could do.  

“Sports were my outlet in high school,” said Newman. “It was the one thing I was good at, and I loved the way it made me feel. It got me through the hardest parts of my life.” 

After graduating from high school, she moved back to Squamish, a place she loves and that will always feel like home to her. Her father is a member of the Skwxwú7mesh Nation, while her mother comes from the Shoshone Apache Gabrielino tribe in California.  

It was as a recreation facilitator with the Skwxwú7mesh Nation that she first started to connect her love of athletics to a career. She would invite community members to join her for workouts, filling the gym with more than 30 people  each week. She loved what she was doing and when her massage therapist suggested a kinesiology education, she set aside her fears and applied to Capilano University’s  Human Kinetics (now Kinesiology) diploma program. 

At CapU, she started to gain confidence in her abilities. She struggled with the English and math prerequisites, but she could understand the human body and connect to it personally from her own experiences as an athlete. With support from her instructors, she was soon getting straight As for the first time in her life.  

 

“CapU allowed me to grow and believed in me when I didn’t even  believe in myself,” Newman said.

She ran for president of the student council and  started investing in fitness equipment, transforming her two-car garage into a home gym. By the time she  graduated, she was flooded with clients and her business took off.

Breaking down barriers 

Her company name, Break the Chain Fitness, has dual meanings. Newman said it’s about breaking the cycle of jumping on and off diet and fitness fads and creating a healthy lifestyle that you can commit to, but it’s also about breaking down stereotypes about Indigenous people.  

april with family Newman takes a walk with her family in Squamish. Photo by Amanda Palmer.

“There is an extra perception of operating an Indigenous-owned  business like mine on reserve land,”  she said. “I want to break past that barrier of beliefs about what an Indigenous person lives like. I want to  demonstrate  that there are successful Indigenous people. I want to show my community that there is more out there. I want to shift the way we think about life in general, fitness and culturally diverse businesses.”

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Empowering young womxn

Newman's latest initiative focuses on empowering young womxn to be their best. Last summer, the mother of two co-founded with Devyn Perryman the Wild Rose Club, a group that aims to instill confidence and a healthy mindset in girls aged 11 to 13 who identify as a young womxn.  

She describes their approach as conversation facilitators, not counsellors. Their goal is to provide a welcoming space for girls to be themselves and embrace their uniqueness, while they think about their perceptions and how they navigate the world. 

wild rose club bag Newman and her dog Simba walk to meet members of the Wild Rose Club.
sophia Sophia Chandler, a member of the Wild Rose Club. Photos by Amanda Palmer.

Activities have included a Zoom dance class where they discussed social media safety, a yoga class and conversation about accepting yourself and loving your body, and a book club day exploring racism, diversity and inclusivity. Most  recently, the club wrote and delivered letters to residents of a local seniors’  home who have been isolated from their loved ones during the pandemic.

“When I think about myself at that age, I always felt odd because of my hearing,” said Newman. “It’s an awkward age with so much change. If we can instill any confidence, self-love and positive self-talk, it will give them the tools to navigate these tough times.” 

April Newman with girls by a river
Newman meets with members of the Wild Rose Club in Squamish. Photo by Amanda Palmer.

Paying it forward

Newman recently applied to CapU’s new Bachelor of Kinesiology, a program she advocated for as a student and an alum. The degree program launches this fall and she is looking forward to being part of the first graduating class. 

She has big dreams about taking her business to the next level and helping to bridge the gap for Indigenous athletes who face barriers in getting to higher levels in their sport.  

“I was always taught to get an education and bring it back to the community,” said Newman. “If you’re not doing that, then you’re working for yourself. I want to see my community be healthy and succeed. If that’s just being an encouraging person, then that’s what I’ll be.”