Crohn's Can't Stop the Beat: Melody Condon Uses Zumba to Spread Joy
Fitness passion helps woman with Crohn's disease practice self-care and inspire othersby Jackie Zimmerman Patient Advocate
When you first meet Melody Condon, you’ll notice her bright smile, her adorable pixie cut, and her ability to genuinely engage anyone in conversation. You might think she’s shy at first, but that’s because you haven’t seen her in her element. By day, she’s a content manager at a marketing agency, but by night, she becomes her Zumba-instructor alter ego.
As someone living with Crohn’s disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Melody has used Zumba as a way to stay active, practice self-care, and raise money for the IBD-related organizations that mean the most to her. HealthCentral spoke to Melody about her Zumba passion and how it’s been a part of her Crohn’s journey.
HealthCentral (HC): How did you first discover Zumba?
Melody Condon: I first heard about Zumba from a high school friend during our first year of college, and it made me curious enough to sign up when it was offered as a one-credit PE course at Southern Oregon University.
My friends and I entered the room, anxiously whispering amongst ourselves, not at all sure what to expect — and then the music started and I felt myself fill up with joy like a balloon filling with helium. We laughed gleefully as we struggled to keep up and not just flail around in the wrong direction. It was so much fun, and it fulfilled a lifelong desire I’d had to dance. It also ignited a love of fitness that I’d never experienced and tapped into my passion for music. I knew immediately that I wanted to keep taking the class; I signed up repeatedly every term and harbored fantasies of becoming an instructor myself.
HC: What made you want to teach Zumba?
Melody: When I heard during my senior year that my instructor was graduating — and also moving away — this crazy idea grew in my head. What if I became an instructor and took over the class from her? But she was auditioning instructors in mere weeks, so I had to act fast if I had a hope of being considered.
The process of becoming a Zumba instructor is easy by design; the only thing that was difficult in my case was the urgency of becoming licensed. I signed up online the week the idea occurred to me, but the only training early enough was in Sacramento. I flew down and took the single-day training, and I found myself more enchanted than ever with this crazy program after eight hours of being surrounded by others just as excited as I was. And then — with a rave review of “I guess you’re the best option” — I won the honor of taking over the same spot my first instructor had held as the teacher of the college PE course.
At this point, I’d been diagnosed with Crohn’s for about six months, having had fairly mild symptoms for less than a year prior to diagnosis. It didn’t occur to me that Crohn’s would ever have an effect on my Zumba life.
Watch Melody in action in this Zumba routine.
HC: How has Zumba had an effect on your Crohn's?
Melody: Because I was taking Zumba classes for a year or so prior to exhibiting any Crohn’s symptoms and haven’t stopped since, it’s hard for me to say how the disease and the physical activity interact, if at all. When I had my first real flare, which was terrifying at the time but, in retrospect, quite a gentle introduction to flares overall, I did wonder how I would ever be able to teach my classes again if I couldn’t leave the bathroom and felt unable to do anything other than lying on the floor in an agonized daze.
But in reality, Zumba has been my anchor in the storm. At some point in my time having Crohn’s disease, I decided to treat my body with kindness and love rather than feeling constantly at war with it. Although this is nothing but an emotional shift, it has made a world of difference to my daily life — and Zumba is the outlet that continuously reminds me how grateful I am to be inhabiting this body every day that I’m able to dance. It’s a wonderful thing, feeling present and feeling joy despite physical pain. And when I’m feeling at my lowest, having a powerful reason to get up off the bathroom floor is a gift in itself.
"Zumba has been my anchor in the storm. At some point in my time having Crohn’s disease, I decided to treat my body with kindness and love rather than feeling constantly at war with it." — Melody Condon
HC: Has living with Crohn's ever affected your ability to do or teach Zumba?
Melody: It is only at my very worst that I’m unable to teach. Though the decision was torturous, during one flare I had to give up the university class that was my motivation for becoming an instructor; it was too hard to find a sub and felt too important to give the students a consistent experience. But in all my other teaching positions — at gyms, at private studios, and even teaching independently — I can count on one hand all the classes I haven’t taught due to Crohn’s. And a couple of those were because of colonoscopies.
I’m careful about when I eat (i.e., not immediately before class), but I’m lucky in that I rarely have to make any other adjustments to my Zumba life. I’d be willing to wear an adult diaper if necessary, although it hasn’t been yet. I’ve worried about having to rush off the stage to the bathroom, but I never have had to do so. At one point the antibiotics and the prednisone I was on for a flare bizarrely made my knees swell and stiffen up; I hobbled up to the stage on crutches and taught with less energy than usual, but my students were grateful to have me there. Even during periods of crushing fatigue, even if I find myself crying silently during my cool-down song when the high wears off and sorrow rushes in, the last thing I would give up would be Zumba.
I’ve had students with IBD who told me I inspired them. I’ve leveraged the power of the local student communities to lead several successful fundraisers for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and one for Girls With Guts. Those things are incredible, but nothing matches the feeling of the music starting and all worry and fear melting away. If I can share that feeling with any one person in my classes, that’s the best reward.
HC: Do you have any suggestions for IBD patients who are interested in Zumba but may be worried about how the movements will feel?
Melody: I would say that having IBD doesn’t preclude you from finding something active that makes you happy. I can imagine that if I hadn’t done Zumba before having Crohn’s, I might be scared about taking a class — or running, or swimming, or biking, or doing yoga, or… But don’t count yourself out before you try, and if you do try and have to dash to a bathroom halfway through, there is no shame in that, and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
You can learn more about Melody and sign up for her classes here:
[Interview has been condensed and edited.]