June 29, 2023
Discovering life lessons through the lens of fitness
When Victoria Cardenas came to Denver from Mexico City in 1997, there were two things she wanted to learn how to do. The first was to ride a bike, which she learned from her husband Francisco Cardenas. The second was how to swim, a skill she gained through swim lessons at her local YMCA.
More than two decades later, Victoria is still using and enjoying both activities. She runs, bikes and swims in triathlons thanks to the same two people who encouraged her in the first place: Francisco and Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Bravman, nutritionist and cycling instructor at the Arvada YMCA.
Every Thursday from 9 to 10 a.m., there’s a good chance you’ll find Victoria and Francisco pedaling in Liz’s cycling class, getting both sweaty and inspired. Francisco and Victoria have been members of the Y since 2001, and it was at the downtown Denver YMCA where Victoria learned to swim. Today, they frequent the Arvada-Duncan Y just a few minutes from their home.
“I went back to cycling about six months ago after I had gained some weight, and Liz Bravman at the Y has made all the difference,” said Francisco. “Liz is kind, giving, supportive and knowledgeable.”
“Liz is amazing. Go take a class with her and you’ll see how motivating and supportive she is,” echoed Victoria. “In class, Liz instructs us to set goals for ourselves and then gives us the motivation and encouragement to reach those goals. This is a great lesson to apply my day-to-day schedule – set simple, achievable goals and then enjoy the satisfaction of achieving them.”
As she sets goals for her students, Liz draws upon her own experience as a former Y student.
“Before I became a Y cycling instructor and nutritionist, I belonged to the Y, using my membership for its fantastic childcare and to improve my health,” recalled Liz.
As a mother of three, the Y became a “third place” for Liz, a bridge between home and her children’s school for workouts, stress relief and opportunities to connect with others socially.
Now that she is an instructor, Liz’s approach is to “let [my students] know they are in control of everything in cycling class, including their goals, effort and attitude. I always encourage people to find a small challenge for each day and try meet those challenges.”
“Our fellow students are awesome too,” Victoria added. “There’s no judgement, and we are supportive of each other – it’s not like a recreation center or fitness club where people just look down while they exercise and try to get out without interacting with another person.”
Francisco also noted the class camaraderie and support. “Liz sets an environment where everyone is welcome regardless of ability. She plays a killer variety of music including hip hop, classic rock and even a little country. I work out harder in a group environment, and because cycling is a low-impact exercise, I don’t have any issues with my joints or ligaments, like I did when I ran.”
“Both Victoria and I have gained so many benefits from Liz’s cycling class - physically, emotionally. When we go to the Y, we eat better, our days are better, we smile more and I’m a kinder person,” said Francisco.
Liz sees these lessons as key motivations and benefits of cycling. “Cycling class is a metaphor for life: How we push ourselves inside and outside of class. Cycling transcends physical and mental challenges. I’s very empowering to move your body. Everybody should try it. It’s low impact and good on the joints, and you’re never too young or too old to cycle. You can push yourself as hard as you want.”
Indoor cycling is available at the Arvada, Aurora, Littleton, Southwest and University Hills YMCAs. Try a class! Get a three-day trial pass or join the Y.