by: Shasta Kearns Moore, Noelle Johnson runs back down a slight hill after slaloming through baby strollers during a Baby Boot Camp session at Gabriel Park.

MULTNOMAH - At Baby Boot Camp, the babies are really pretty lazy. They just sit there in their strollers: babbling, sucking on fingers, staring off in the distance.

They don't even seem to mind that mom is running, jumping, sweating, lunging, laughing and chatting.

Erin Ruff, a West Linn resident who pushes her double stroller up and down hills in Gabriel Park, calls it 'mommy's play time.'

'It's my lifeline,' Ruff said, adding that after she had her daughter, Molly, she tried to do exercises at home, but she was never able to get back to her pre-pregnancy weight.

'It's hard to get motivated when you have little ones running around your ankles,' she said.

But then Ruff found Baby Boot Camp, and the pounds started coming off. Even after having her son, Atticus, she got back to pre-Molly weight in six months.

'And I think it really made a difference in that pregnancy (with Atticus),' she said.

This class, the first stroller fitness program in the Northwest, started in Gabriel Park three years ago and has expanded to parks all over Portland and Beaverton.

Head instructor Erin Shirey thought of the concept after she had her daughter, Makenzie. With a background in kinesthesiology and a focus on encouraging women's self-esteem through exercise, Shirey wanted to design a course that would keep mom and baby together.

But when she look up possible names, she found that 'Baby Boot Camp' was already trademarked. Investigating a little deeper, she found Kristen Horler's nationally acclaimed program and signed up to start a franchise in Portland.

Shirey is now the Northwest Regional Manager and just received the Franchise of the Year award for her franchise that has grown to more than two dozen classes in the Portland metro area.

'My goal is to have every mom have a class she can go to,' Shirey said.

Dads are welcome to come as well, and when they do, they find out that their wives aren't just taking a stroll around the park.

'When they come, it's a lot harder than they think,' said Shirey's husband, Jack, who sometimes helps teach classes. 'They get a rude awakening that this is tough for anybody.'

Building an exercise ethic

The classes are designed like a boot camp fitness program: running or jogging in between jumping jacks, resistance cord exercises, lunges and other exercises. So that the moms and tots both stay engaged, no two days' workouts are exactly alike and there are plenty of accommodations for a variety of fitness levels.

The unique structure of the class means that this isn't just another group workout, Shirey said.

'Their kids might be crying, they might be crying,' and instructors have to be ready to handle that, she said.

Shirey said she and her instructors have to think of ways the workout will be fun and safe for the children, as well as the parents. For example, the strollers might be used as obstacles that parents run around, tickling the children as they pass.

Shirey also puts a special emphasis on building self-esteem to help women feel better about their post-partum bodies.

'They've had this beautiful baby, but they don't feel comfortable in their clothes,' she said. 'So our job is to help them feel comfortable.'

Shirey has also worked hard to create a social network among the class members, with a social calendar, play dates and parental resources.

'She's just built a great network of women,' said Shaunna Levy of Southwest Portland. 'It allows you to exercise while still being social.'

But the moms are also really excited about the message they are sending to their children.

At the end of the hour, the tots are pulled out of their strollers while the moms chat about allergies and compare height and weight percentiles. One of the youngest children starts doing plié squats, while two of the oldest invent a familiar game of 'run around' with exercise stations.

For her children, Molly and Atticus, 'exercise is a fun and regular part of life,' Ruff said.

For all these reasons, Levy said she'll keep doing it as long as her 7-week-old can stay in the stroller.

'I love it,' she said, adding half-jokingly: 'I may have to have another one just to stay with it.'

Free Mother's Day event!

Try out Baby Boot Camp for free at the Mother's Day class in Washington Park, beginning at 9 a.m. May 9. Meet below the Rose Garden Park. More than a hundred moms and dads are expected to attend the event with fitness challenges, a raffle for Doernbecher Children's Hospital and goody bags. Reserve a space by May 7 at or 503-703-1269.

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