As a child growing up in New Orleans, Paula Hand loved to hula hoop. Today, the South Shore resident, who goes by the nickname “PKay”, uses her childhood enjoyment to fight diabetes, a disease she’s lived with for most of her life.
Though diagnosed as a child, Hand, who was born in Chicago but raised in New Orleans, is today a fitness instructor, encouraging people of all ages to fight diabetes through preventative methods using hula hoops.
Hand, a stunningly beautiful 44-year-old divorced mother of two sons, wasn’t always heavily into fitness.
And though she has never studied the effects of her illness academically, she affirms that her nearly lifelong affliction with diabetes is, “more of a learning tool than anything from a textbook.”
It all started with an itching sensation when she was eight-years-old.
Hand, the youngest of three children, knew even then that something was wrong with her.
Along with extreme itching, Hand suffered through bouts of depression and uncontrollable urination. All are symptoms of diabetes.
“I did not want to worry my mother at the time because she was so busy with managing her grocery store and cab businesses,” said Hand. “Eventually I decided to tell her and she took me to the hospital. I was diagnosed as diabetic and my mother was deeply disheartened.”
Hand lived in New Orleans at the time, and following the diagnosis, she began to undertake a series of uncomfortable treatments to maintain her blood/sugar levels.
“At the time, there weren’t nearly the treatment options for diabetes that there are now,” Hand recalled. “I was treated with injections of saline solutions, insulin or simply glucose.
“It was hardest taking shots directly into the pelvic area,” she added. “I am a woman who has given birth to two sons and I still think that those pelvic injections were the most pain I’ve ever felt.”
Nevertheless, despite years of treatment, Hand still had issues maintaining an adequate weight. Following the birth of her second child, her weight reached 232 pounds.
It was at that time that she decided to make a radical change in her life.
“I began working out independently three times a week and began to see immediate dividends,” she said. “And my husband at the time bought me a hula hoop to use during my exercises. He knew how much I loved the hula hoop while I lived in New Orleans.”
It was the start of a new career path for Hand. She became a certified personal trainer, aerobics instructor and fitness coach. She also began speaking out at Chicago schools and community hospitals about health and diabetes prevention.
“I wanted people to know that whether they had diabetes or it was in their family, it is an illness that could be conquered through exercise, eating the right foods and reducing stress,” said Hand.
Hand performs exercises using special weighted hoops. Under the name “PKay,” Hand has hosted her exercise sessions at The South Side and New City YMCA, LaRabida Children’s Hospital and The Black Woman’s Expo at McCormick Place.
She’s also hosted her sessions at African Accents in Austin.
With a group of kids, she demonstrates how to work biceps, calves and abdominal muscles using her hula hoops.
She said children are generally receptive when talking about their nutrition. In terms of exercising using hula hoops, though, it’s tougher to get the boys involved.
“Well, boys can be a tough nut to crack because they sometimes have the conception that hooping is too feminine,” said Hand. “So, I generally show them ways that they can exercise with hoops without using their hips. I also assure them that plenty of very masculine men use the same method to get it shape as well.”
To help illustrate that point, Hand created a “Real Men Hoop” program to show that hoop aerobics is “not for ladies only.”
Her hooping aerobics class meets three times a week at Tilden High School and twice a week at Sherman Park on the South Side.
Tilden High School junior Telina Tennort has attended Hand’s class for a year.
“I started taking the class last summer because I was interested in toning up and heard about it through my summer job at Kennicot Park,” Tennort said. “It’s about 25 teens and preteens in our class. She teaches us about healthy eating like drinking less pop and more juices and vitamin water, how to create a diet that includes the six components of the balanced diet, and how to use hooping to lose weight and build strength. The class is a lot of fun.”
Hand still must seek treatment for her diabetes. She currently uses an insulin pump to assure her blood sugar level is adequate.
Still, she hopes that her efforts can encourage more people to work to combat diabetes.
“If I had not made changes in my life it would have become even harder to live with it,” she said. “Through my hooping aerobics, I want people to get the idea that it doesn’t have to feel like work to create that change it your life. It can be something you can enjoy doing. That motivates you even more.”
For more information about PKay’s Hooping Aerobics and Nutritional Fitness visit www.pkayshealthandfitness.com.