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Lynn woman turns 100-pound weight loss into personal training and kickboxing business

Robin Cotter of Lynn teaches Body Rock by Robin, a cardio-kickboxing class, at Burke's Tumbling Academy in Swampscott on Wednesdays and Sundays. (Spenser R. Hasak)

SWAMPSCOTT — Robin Wilson Cotter of Lynn took stock of herself 20 years ago. She was 250 pounds, and with all the unhappiness that weight issues can cause.

She knew she needed something. But things were such that she couldn’t even afford DVDs for the Tae Bo classes that interested her.

Tae Bo is a total body fitness program that incorporates elements of martial arts techniques. It became popular in the 1990s.

Cotter saw a television infomercial about it, and knew she wanted to try it.

“Then, my girlfriend said there were free classes at East Coast Karate in Swampscott (now Burke’s Tumbling Academy). And I fell in love with it right away.”

Without even having to change the way she ate, Cotter lost 100 pounds.

“I was in my 20s,” she said. “I could just exercise and lose weight in those days. I couldn’t do that now.”

Tae Bo became her new passion, she said, and she studied all she could on the subject, even going to California to train with Billy Blanks, who founded the Tae Bo discipline.

“And that’s how it all started,” she said.

Sunday Cotter marked her 20th anniversary as a Tae Bo/kickboxing/personal fitness instructor at Burke’s, which is off Essex Street near Burpee Road.

“From there, I branched out to cardio kickboxing,” she said. “My goal was to take what I’d learned from Billy and put my own mark on it.”

She calls her classes, which she teaches twice a week, “Body Rock by Robin. It’s my own brand. It’s cardio kickboxing with muscle conditioning. It incorporates everything I’ve learned.”

One of her creeds is that when it comes to physical fitness, one size does not fit all. Also, the discipline of her workouts has sustained her through some serious personal tragedies.

“I found out that my brother died on a Thursday night,” she said. “The next day, I was where I needed to be, which was teaching a class.

“This has gotten me through the death of a brother, a divorce, and just about everything else in the last 20 years. It’s a good form of stress release.”

The confidence she’s gained from her transformation has helped in other, not-so-obvious ways.

“Doing this,” she said, “has made me more comfortable to teach. It kick-started me into studying cosmetology, and now I teach that at North Shore Community College. That’s actually my main job.”

She also says that her life experiences help her identify what certain clients might need to help their personal recoveries along.

“From the perspective of being a woman who has been everywhere from 130 to 250 pounds, it’s easier for me to see, when someone is struggling, what workouts might be needed.”

For example, she shies away from giving nutritional advice.

“Many of the people who come are already on plans, such as Weight Watchers,” she said.

So, she focuses on their fitness.

“Sometimes, I see women doing all kinds of crazy things they don’t need to be doing,” she said. “They may be working hard, but it’s not what their bodies need.

“We do a lot of cardio work, and a lot of body weight work too,” she said. “Things like pushups, planks (defined as an  isometric core strength exercise involving maintaining a position similar to the start of a pushup for as long as possible).

“These are exercises people can do when they don’t have access to weights,” she said.

Though she doesn’t get into it in her teaching, she does say the best way to marry exercise with nutrition is to drink lots of water and eat in moderation. And, she says, unusually strenuous or constant exercise is not necessary either.

“You just need to be moving,” she said. “Even if it’s 10 steps today, 20 tomorrow. Slow and steady. You have to know to go at your own pace. Everyone started out at the back and moved to the front.

Her overall message is this: there’s hope, and it’s all mental.

“Your mind tells your body what to do,” she said.

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