O'Fallon Progress

This 71-year-old O’Fallon woman is using tai chi to help her fight diabetes

Tai chi demonstration in O’Fallon

Nicholas Alsup and Kris Colvin demonstrate the form of the first section of three of tai chi. It's the beginning of the form which will help develop the basic principles and postures to further training into more advanced movements and flow.
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Nicholas Alsup and Kris Colvin demonstrate the form of the first section of three of tai chi. It's the beginning of the form which will help develop the basic principles and postures to further training into more advanced movements and flow.

Kris Colvin has told Father Time and type I diabetes to take a hike.

At age 71 and diagnosed with diabetes a year ago, the O’Fallon resident has become a fixture at 5 Elements Fitness located in O’Fallon Plaza. Her fitness is focused on an ancient form of Chinese martial art — traditional Yang style tai chi.

“After I retired from teaching, I was looking for some kind of exercise besides walking on the treadmill, which is really, really boring,” said Colvin, who more recently added personal training and boxing to her repertoire. “And I don’t like exercise that makes you feel like you’re dead at the end of it. So a friend and I had read about tai chi classes being offered through the Katy Cavins (Community) Center. We thought we’d try that out.”

Colvin started with once-a-week classes Saturday mornings. That expanded to include Monday evenings and then Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Now, Colvin is a tai chi stalwart, routinely taking four to five classes per week, while performing the martial art at home daily.

Her trainer is 5 Elements Fitness owner Nicholas Alsup, who taught her at Katy Cavins as well. His father, LeRoy — a former Navy Seal — also trains Colvin.

“When you first start Thai Chi, particularly for health, as opposed to the martial art part, there’s a rhythm and a flow to it that I could relate to with dance,” said Colvin, who noted her exercise background is in dance. “It just accumulates to where you really enjoy it and want to do more. It was just something that really worked. You didn’t feel like you died at the end of the class, but, at the same time, you felt like you had a really good workout.”

As defined on the 5 Elements Fitness flier: “Traditional Yang style tai chi is an ancient form of Chinese martial art and is a big part of the rich cultural heritage of China. This art, though persistent in practice, provides ample physiological and psychological benefits.”

Nicholas Alsup said he is proud of Colvin, noting her dedication to tai chi and the consistent, steadfast effort she exhibits toward the martial art.

“I always say when you do tai chi you have to at least to take the time to get to know it,” Alsup, 25, said. “And so she took the time to get to know it ... she started adding more days. Me, I’m becoming this teacher who is really proud of someone who is taking this art seriously. Kris, to me, is a modern day warrior.”

In fact, Alsup said Colvin has made him a better coach. “because I looked forward to our sessions and because I know that what I teach is going to stick. And if it doesn’t stick, I know at least she’s going to try to make it stick and my efforts aren’t just out the window,” he said. “It feels great as instructor to be able to invest in something and get a return. I’m very proud of her growth and balance.”

Colvin said breathing correctly and control are the most difficult aspects of tai chi, while explaining it’s an excellent focus teacher and both a mental and physical exercise.

“It works both your brain — which is why it’s so much nicer than the treadmill — as well as your body,” said Colvin, a retired teacher from St. Clare School in O’Fallon. “It teaches you a lot about control and focus and balance. It has done wonderful things to get me out of my comfort zone.”

Now, Colvin’s renaissance has expanded beyond tai chi. Suffering significant weight loss due to the diabetes, she in turn, started personal training recently to build back muscle and upper body strength. It’s working. She already has added three pounds of muscle.

“And that’s all muscle because diet-wise there’s no way I’m going to gain weight ... the diet is very restricted with Type I Diabetes,” she said.

Colvin credits tai chi for getting her started in weight training and admits she otherwise never would have approached a personal trainer about building muscle. Furthermore, Colvin has enjoyed the weight training, particularly the variety.

“It’s all different, every day,” she said. “You just don’t go in and lift weights or you don’t just go in and run laps or you don’t just go in and do squats, or push-ups, or crunches … so each time is different, which keeps me interested.”

Additionally, Colvin has recently added boxing, and, with only one session under her belt as of Aug. 7, she is still feeling her way.

“Learning how to hit something is probably the hardest part,” said Colvin, who has three daughters. “My nature is just not built that way.”

Overall, Colvin has a message for anyone unsure of taking up tai chi, whether due to age or other factors.

“Tai chi is a wonderful way to keep you mentally and physical moving, no matter what your age,” she said. “You find that you kind of do some of the things you learn in Thai Chi because you know they make your body feel better.”

Added Alsup: “Age is just a number. I’m very proud of her, and very happy for Kris. My father would say the exact same thing.”