A long, arduous journey awaited us at birth. We were never warned about trauma, or how to heal from it. Rather, we learn how to deal with it later in life, if we’re lucky. Sonia Vernier, owner and trainer at Vive la Fitness (1920 W. Mitchell St.), is one of the lucky ones.

Sonia was diagnosed with fibromyalgia five years ago and was given many different medical treatments, including electroshock therapy and injections. She had to quit her job because her ailment didn’t let her continue.

“Depression set in and I kept taking all these medical treatments to be able to maintain a semblance of life,” she says. “Luckily, my husband Victor was always by my side and supported me through our relationship. I thought to myself, I have to beat this. I wanted to be a parent, but the medication wasn’t allowing me to have kids.”

Sonia started making small changes to her diet, exercising in small intervals. Her husband, Victor, started accompanying her on her morning runs.

“Slowly I started seeing changes and I was able to get off some of that medication that was preventing me from living my life,” Sonia says. “I’m happy to say we now have two children.”

Sonia and Victor opened Vive la Fitness four years ago on West Mitchell Street, surrounded by south side stalwarts Carniceria El Indio, La Caribena, and Panaderia El Sol. The bilingual gym—dubbed “MKE Southside’s first Latino gym”—is not one you can walk into, pop your earbuds in, and get to work. There is a system here, one tied in with the Verniers’ philosophy that in order to have a healthy body and a good relationship with it, you must first have a good relationship with your mind. “Love yourself first” can be a tall order, but Sonia makes it easier.

“Your time working out is personal, where you should forget if you washed the dishes or worry about your day tomorrow,” she explains. “It should be balanced, like meditation.”

Sonia and Victor give classes, which usually last about an hour. The couple start at 6 a.m., take a midday break, reopen at 4, and go again until 7. The classes are a type of CrossFit, but as I learned in our interview, CrossFit is a brand, not a style of exercise. So…this isn’t CrossFit.

Our relationship with food can be a very abusive one, especially in Latine and Mexican culture. The food we eat is heavy and mostly corn-based. Our minds tell us we want to eat healthier; sometimes we try eating healthier, quitting alcohol and cigarettes and starting a rigorous exercise routine all at the same time. This is wrong—our bodies are wired to reverse drastic changes. Sonia prepares meal plans for her students, and comes up with food that may be found as staples in Latine homes.

“You don’t have to change what you eat all at once, just change the way you eat it and when—when you are stressed, or as a response to mood changes, for example,” she says. “The most important thing is that people stop looking at social media and thinking that bodies they see on Instagram are bodies that may be attainable. We all have different bodies. Media has told us we are supposed to look a certain way, neglecting the very fact that not everyone looks the same. That stress causes you to have a poor self-image, which in turn causes physical detriment.”

Vive la Fitness is a celebration of all bodies. It puts Latine folks’ health and nutrition at the forefront. It really is the first of its kind.

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About The Author

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Juan Miguel Martinez is a writer from the south side of Milwaukee. He only writes until he can land a role as the mechanic friend of the handsome lead in a telenovela. His favorite movie is Repo Man.