Their faith may be firmer than their abs right now, but Debbie
Eisenstadt Mandel isn't looking to turn these 10 Dominican sisters, clad in
skirts instead of sweats, into women of iron.
With each pass of the
8-pound medicine ball, with each military press and wall push-up, she is helping
them affirm, as much as firm.
"Nuns are a community that believes the
body at best is a container for the soul," Mandel said. "So I went to this
community that was all spiritual to see what their health was ... and it seemed
out of balance." At the invitation of one of the nuns, Peggy Tully, and with the
help of her own personal trainer, Frank Mikulka, the former English teacher from
Lawrence devised her first workout for nuns, which she began offering a few
The 45-minute stress-reducing, strength-building exercises
she teaches to the group of 60- to 88-year- olds at St. Gregory's in Bellerose
is the same workout she teaches to a larger group at the order's mother house in
Amityville. "We also have had sisters come from other orders. They crash. It's
fun," she said.
Mandel, 52, who became a motivational speaker four years
ago, also has done fitness training for new mothers, college professors, cancer
patients and their families and even young students under stress. Nuns are the
newest group for Mandel, who's writing a book, "Changing Habits," based on the
experience, and who'll be discussing the workout with the nuns on WLIE/540 AM at
8:30 p.m. on Aug. 25.
The only child of Holocaust survivors, Mandel
considers these sisters her soul sisters. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she
was born in a convent hospital in Rome where, she quipped, "I was baptized a
Not that religion is even an issue here. Fitness is: "This is not
just for nuns but all women. I mean, if I have an 88-year-old nun using a
medicine ball and doing hard chair squats, why can't you?"