Opelika woman nominated for national fitness award

Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 9:33 AM CDT
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Three times a week you can find 74-year-old Mona Burke at the gym.

“I like the squats, and stuff like that,” said Burke. “I like working with the weights, I like doing the planks.”

However, Mona’s weight lifting journey hasn’t come easy.

“I had both my knees replaced a year apart, and I was getting over this knee when I fell and broke my hip and my femur,” she said. “I had to have a rod and a pin.”

She spent nearly five months working with a physical therapist in rehab. Then, Mona discovered SilverSneakers, a community fitness program that encourages people over the age of 65 to stay active.

Each week, Mona got stronger, but she was just getting warmed up.

“When Mona first started training with me, she had a hard time getting up out of a chair unassisted,” said her trainer at Anytime Fitness, Alicia Cruz. “Now, she’s able to get up out of a chair with heavy weights - like 10 pounds.”

“She has always been one to want to do more and more and more,” said gym owner Julie Thorn. “She always has to be the one with the most weight in the class, so I knew right away that Mona was going to succeed because that’s just who she is.”

After achieving her personal weight loss goal, Mona began working towards a new fitness accomplishment, thanks to Cruz.

“I secretly nominated Mona without her knowledge for the 2020 Swanson Award because I feel like she has worked so hard,” said Cruz. “She’s gone above and beyond and every time something happens, like if she falls, she just gets back up and says ‘Let’s try harder, what can we do better next time?’”

The national accolade is awarded to an individual who has improved their way of life while inspiring others to do the same, something Mona says she couldn’t have done alone.

“I have made so much progress, since I had Alicia training me,” said Burke. “We do full body workouts every session, and that little girl over there keeps me busy. She makes sure that I know what my goals are. She’s very encouraging.”

“It’s an honor for me as an owner to have a team member on our team that has taken somebody that was so frail, and had this injury and made them into a rockstar,” added Thorn. “Of course we want Mrs. Mona to win. She’s worked hard - not saying the other finalists haven’t worked hard, because all of them are amazing people - but of course, Mona belongs to us, and she’s part of our family, so we want her to win.”

And after countless hours in the gym, Mona says it would be a huge accomplishment to take home the trophy.

“Oh gosh, it would mean the world to me,” said Mona. “I’ve worked so hard, and I’ve tried and tried and tried, and I think I’ve come a long way.”

In order to win the award, Mona needs your help! Visit to vote. Voting closes at midnight on Sept. 4.

Copyright 2020 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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