Carol Rodriguez’s Zumba students clapped their hands and kicked their feet off the Plainview Middle School gym floor Wednesday night to the beat of African drums.
“And shake,” yelled Rodriguez, 56, of Bayville. They raised their arms, twisted their hips and shook their midsections, smiling and laughing at the provocative moves their instructor was pushing them to do.
Rodriguez, or “Carol Zumba” as some have come to call her, has been teaching the popular fitness-oriented dance style for a year-and-a-half. She calls it “doing God’s work” since she felt seriously ill.
The hairdresser-by-day had been living with a thyroid condition that worsened when she went through menopause in 2006, although she didn’t know the two were related. The complications weakened her body, making it painful just to breathe.
At the time she was teaching exercise classes at Fitness Figures, owned by Gail Stevens and her sister Debbie Krzyminski. Stevens is a chiropractor and began treating Rodriguez for her pain, but it worsened.
“My son had to carry me up the stairs to my bed because I was so weak,” she said.
She battled the symptoms and sought help from 13 different doctors, all of whom told her that she needed to be on anti-depressants.
“They told me I was crazy,” she said.
Rodriguez said one day, when she was alone, she was overwhelmed by the thought of dying, so she prayed.
“I told God, ‘Please let me live. I’ll go wherever you want, just let me live,’” she said. Shortly after her prayer she found a holistic doctor, Glen Cove’s Richard Linchitz, who figured out the problem.
Rodriguez said when she went to see him, Linchitz pulled her husband aside and told him that she would have been dead in two weeks had he not brought her in.
“It was very scary,” she said.
Linchitz gave Rodriguez nutrients to help make her stronger, worked with her on her diet and encouraged her to resume an exercise routine. Rodriguez returned to Fitness Figures, which began offering Zumba classes.
Rodriguez said she was a little intimidated by it at first, but in time realized that this was the calling she had prayed for. Fitness Figures put Rodriguez through a class to be a certified Zumba instructor, and since then, Rodriguez said, “It has totally taken over.”
She is now teaching about 10 Zumba classes throughout Nassau County each week so she can help others the way Zumba helped her.
“Each day is a gift for me,” she said. “I teach women in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. My oldest student is 93 years old.”
Rodriguez said she still has some fibromyalgia pain and was recently informed that she has arthritis in her knees and a torn meniscus. But it’s not enough to take her away from Zumba.
“I feel like I’m more than a Zumba instructor,” Rodriguez said, “because I want to help older women feel beautiful, sexy.”