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January 16, 2014
From Puerto Rico to Push-ups

Marianne Heder’s childhood in Puerto Rico helped shape her path toward owning her own fitness business 

Marianne Heder of Erda has traveled an unconventional path to get to where she is now — the owner of her own fitness boot camp business.

Marianne’s parents were exiled three years prior to her birth during the regime of Fidel Castro. Before he took power, her family owned the most prosperous egg farm in Cuba. That changed when Castro was elected.

Marianne said Castro tried to smother any suspicious activity and turned neighbors against each other by hiring spies to watch out for any rebellion. In the midst of this chaos, the Chavez family came to the conclusion that they must leave the country. Heder’s mother was permitted to leave with the children to take her son to receive an important heart surgery. Because she was supposed to return in three days, they left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Soon after, Heder’s father was able to follow them to Florida. Marianne was born in Florida a few years later.

When she was three, her family moved to Puerto Rico. They had their own home, but life was far from easy. Her father worked a job as a hotel engineer that kept him away from the family most of the time.

“I grew up in Puerto Rico with parents that worked four jobs,” Heder said. “My mom was a schoolteacher during the day — a Catholic schoolteacher. Her work there paid for half of [the children’s] tuition.”

The quality of Puerto Rican public schools at that time was poor, and Mrs. Chavez wanted her children to get an education.

“She was a seamstress during the day, after school hours. She sewed evening gowns and wedding gowns for rich women in Puerto Rico,” Heder said, displaying her evident gratitude for her parents.

In particular, she said she admired them for finding ways to keep their family together even though her father lived on the other side of the island. Every weekend, the children and their mother would stay in a cabin on the property of the hotel where their father worked.

“We lived the most amazing life in a five-star hotel, eating whatever we wanted,” Heder said. “Then we’d go home and sleep in a house that had two bedrooms for eight kids and no dining room; we ate outside on the porch. We lived in poverty, but we attended private school and spent weekends in a five-star hotel.”

The heavy workload of the Chavez parents and long hours that the children spent unattended began to affect the family. They seemed to always be stressed. Marianne credits the turnaround to the arrival of two Mormon missionaries one night when she was 11. Her father believed in the religion immediately, but her staunchly Catholic mother was at first wary. Nevertheless, a year and a half later, Heder, her parents and three of her seven siblings were baptized into the LDS Church.

A few years later, Marianne and her family went on a trip to Utah to visit her older sister, a student at BYU. It was the summer before Marianne’s senior year of high school and she was 17 years old. Her sister had just started dating a young man and suggested that Marianne go on a double date with his brother, Quinn. Her sister ended up getting in a fight with her boyfriend that night, but Quinn and Marianne decided to go on a date anyway.

“It was wonderful,” Marianne said. “We had a great time and I thought he was so cute, but I was a senior in high school. I was going back home.”

Quinn was not to be deterred, though. With Marianne back in Puerto Rico, he wrote her faithfully every week. Through letters they became close friends. Meanwhile, Marianne’s sister and Quinn’s brother got engaged. The entire Chavez family returned to Utah the next summer for their wedding. It was a happy reunion for the two pen pals, and Marianne started college at what is now Utah Valley University that fall, planning to casually date. That lasted for all of three months until Quinn proposed.

“After that, it was all over,” she said.

They were married the following summer, and the oldest of her seven children was born a year later. In the years to come, she had three more children and lived in Puerto Rico for five years before returning to Utah so that her children could go to American schools. It was while living in Utah that she adopted her two youngest children, Andrew and Danyelle.

When Marianne moved back to Utah, she was the mother of four young children.

“I was really overwhelmed,” she said. “I was out of shape and sick all the time, and emotionally just run down.”

After a long night of soul searching, she woke up to find a flier on her doorstep for a women’s fitness center.

“I felt like that was the answer,” she said. “The light went on, and I realized I had not been taking care of myself.”

She didn’t look back and started going to the gym for an hour every day, often taking her children with her. After six months, the owner of the gym told Marianne that she should teach classes. She decided it would be a good way to bring in more income, and after she was certified, she was offered a management position at the gym.

“By then, I was realizing how good I felt, and I was starting to understand how exercising and eating healthy can change you emotionally,” she said.

Her health-related resume continued to expand as she took a job with a Utah State University nutrition program. She enjoyed that job and the opportunity it gave her to be a spokesperson for healthy lifestyles.

However, Marianne and her family were forced to move after a stock market crash wreaked havoc on her family’s finances and they lost their home and business. She would drive from their home in Layton up and down the Wasatch Front looking for a new home for her family.

“When we drove into Tooele County, I could feel without a doubt that this was the place,” she said, “but Tooele didn’t feel quite right, so we drove into Erda, and I just knew that this was it.”

They found a home, and Marianne received her real estate license and taught fitness classes in her attic. Three years and another market crash later, Marianne decided to expand her business. Marianne’s Wellness Boot Camp moved into the strip mall near the movie theater. Around this time, the Heders began looking for a new home. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, the home they found included an attached garage that could be renovated into a gym.

Heder feels like her business, which provides group exercise sessions three times a week and one-on-one goal setting, is filling a need in statistically obese Tooele County.

“I think part of the reason for the obesity is that there’s not enough education,” she said. “There’s not enough teaching in the community about health, so other people don’t get that moment of knowledge I had that nutrition and health can really change the world. But I can see that people are really trying to encourage fitness. There are grants coming in to provide for that education, but at the end of the day, people really need that one-on-one attention where they feel that exercise and healthy living can work for them.”

She also sees one group in need of special attention.

“I think we need to reach the kids,” she said. “So my vision is that there’s more education in the schools and that part of the lunch hour is set aside for learning about nutrition.”

Heder views the Presidential Fitness program as a sign of progress in elementary schools. Marianne’s passion for fitness is most apparent in the animated way she talks about her boot camp.

“I’ve seen a lot of great success stories,” she said of her business. “I love doing it because I get to be a part of that journey with people. My program is not just geared on weight loss, it’s geared on what wellness really means, which I believe is balance between everything: nutrition, exercise, muscular strength and conditioning, and flexibility.”

After years of experience in the business, Marianne said she sees the impact that wellness has made in her own life and the lives of those around her.

“I want people to see that wellness doesn’t have to mean four hours every day at the gym,” she said. “It really starts with what your goals are and what you want to accomplish.”

For more information about Marianne’s program, see www.wb4you.com.

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