Known in the fitness community for her extensive knowledge and experience as well as her caring and encouraging attitude, Brycie Arruda has been helping people reach their fitness goals for more than 28 years. However, she wasn’t always the fitness powerhouse she is today. She was once the out-of-shape, self conscious, shy girl in the back row at the gym. Her change, both inside and out, didn’t happen overnight nor did it happen alone. She was encouraged and lifted up by others, which is why she believes in the power of group fitness. Are you in need of a “lift” – body, mind, and spirit? Meet Brycie Arruda.
Originally from San Bernardino, California, Brycie was born to Cindy (Clark) and Ralph Bennett. Cindy was a young mother, having three children before the age of twenty, of which Brycie was baby number two, behind brother Marc (of Chicago) and followed by sister Amber (Cronn of Reno). Her parents divorced when Brycie was three. Her mother, Cindy, was overwhelmed with three young children, so Ralph agreed to raise them and moved them with him to the Bennett family ranch in Wyoming where Brycie and her siblings grew up amongst the horses, cattle and sheep.
Ralph met and married Cheryln Workman of Man, West Virginia, whom Brycie lovingly calls “Mom.” Cheryln was unable to have children herself so she cherished the Bennett children, raising them as her own.
Although Cindy stayed behind in California where she married Jeff Harris a few years later, Brycie and her siblings were able to stay with her during their summer vacations. Brycie and her mother Cindy had a very close and loving relationship until her untimely death last year.
Ralph was a coal mining engineer and moved his family where his work took him. Brycie spent first through seventh grade in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, then seventh through eleventh in Sheridan. The family then moved to New Mexico, where Brycie graduated from Farmington High School. She attended San Juan Junior College for one year, then New Mexico State University in Las Cruces for another with a declared major of Architecture, before her family moved again – this time to Omaha, Nebraska.
Brycie was unsure of the direction she wanted to take with her life so with the blessing of her parents she began visiting recruiting offices accompanied by her mom, Cherlyn. Her parents were shocked when, in 1984, she announced that she had enlisted with the United States Marine Corps because, Brycie says, “They were the toughest.” Due to her ASVAB score, which was the highest in that recruiting station at the time, Brycie was offered a signing bonus with the stipulation that her vocation would be chosen for her: Avionics.
Brycie went to basic training in Parris Island, South Carolina, and then to Avionics School was in Millington, Tennessee. She was assigned to Marine All-Weather Attack Squadron 224 in Cherry Point, North Carolina working on the A-6 Intruder, where she met Staff Sergeant Mike Arruda who was also in Avionics working in the Communications & Navigation Department.
Mike and Brycie butted heads initially. She was feeling a little insecure carrying a few extra pounds on her frame and was uncomfortable with the constant “eye-balling” she always got on base, while Mike was a trim Richard Gere look-alike who acted like he couldn’t care less about the new female Marine because he had sworn off women Marines. Brycie was attracted to Mike the first time she laid eyes on him. She recalls an early run-in with him after he had taken a phone message for her.
“I was on my back under a plane working on a generator and he walked up and said, ‘Are you Bennett?’ When I excitedly said ‘Yes!’, he responded with a brusque, ‘Your checks are in,’ and walked off. I thought, what a jerk!”
Although Brycie had been active growing up, she had put on weight since joining the Marines and was unhappy with her fitness level. She started running to drop the extra pounds and a friend taught her how to use weights at the gym on base. “There were times when I would leave the gym and sit outside on the steps and cry,” she says of that time.
Enter Mike, who loved to work out and spent his free time at the gym. It was there that they began to converse past the previously one or two word exchanges. According to Brycie, Mike was the one who got her into fitness and helped her lose the extra weight.
“He loved to work out and was into eating right, and he really encouraged me.”
Their shared interest in health and wellness fueled their courtship while their squadron was deployed in the Pacific. A year and a half later they were married. Their particular squadron was deployed for six months overseas as part of the Rapid Deployment Force, followed by a 12-month rotation at home in North Carolina. The newlyweds traveled with their squadron to Iwakuni, Japan. It was there that their firstborn was conceived. Brycie jokes, “Aaron was made in Japan!”
It was while she was pregnant with Aaron that she began taking aerobics classes on base. Aaron, now a chemist working for a medical lab in Duluth, was born in 1988 in Cherry Point, North Carolina.
Shortly after his birth, in January of 1989, the Arruda’s decided to get out of the Marines to raise their family. They moved to Nevada to be close to Brycie’s parents, where Mike worked as a high voltage electrician in an underground gold mine in Battle Mountain, while Brycie stayed home with Aaron.
Mike worked long twelve to fourteen hour days in the mine. Brycie filled some of her time doing aerobics with a group of miner’s wives five nights a week. The group rented space for their aerobics “classes” and took turns teaching. Baby Aaron was often in tow, entertaining himself in his playpen.
“We really didn’t know what we were doing. We just made it up as we went along,” Brycie says, laughing. “Sometimes we tried to outdo each other with reps until all of the mirrors were fogged!”
Eventually the group decided to get serious and pursue fitness certification together. They bought the manuals and studied, but in the end Brycie was the only who drove to Reno to take the test, earning her Group Fitness Certification through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Soon after, Mike got a tip on a job in Atlanta with Delta.
Mike was hired by Delta in 1990 and the Arruda’s moved to the South Metro area of Atlanta, where Brycie had no trouble finding work as a group fitness instructor. She made the rounds at Workout America (Riverdale), as well as at Southlake Athletic Club and Bally’s (Morrow). She continued to teach aerobics through her second pregnancy. The Arruda’s bought their first house in McDonough, where Abram, now a student at University of West Georgia, was born in 1991. Mike’s daughter from his previous marriage, Alisa, who came to live with them when she was thirteen, made them a family of five.
Brycie is known for cultivating an atmosphere of warmth and friendship in her fitness classes and often gets to know her students personally. She credits one of her former students, Joy Scott, an Ultrasound Tech, for talking to her about her career and convincing her she too could do it. Brycie attended Ultrasound Diagnostics School from 1993-1994 to become a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS). During orientation Brycie remembers feeling somewhat embarrassed when she stood and introduced herself as a fitness instructor to a room full of doctors and RN’s. She went on to graduate with honors at the top of her class. She did her clinicals at Henry General (now Piedmont Henry) and worked PRN (as needed) for them. Her first official job as an ultrasonographer was at a urology practice in Riverdale. It was there that she met Dr. Myron Katz who hired her for his obstetrics and gynecology practice, which is where she really wanted to be. She worked two days a week for Katz, Gladstone, and Rabin OB/GYN in Riverdale (now My OB/ GYN).
The Arruda’s had friends who lived in Peachtree City and had always liked the area for its safety and security as well as the reputation of the Fayette County School System. In 1999, when the boys were in first and fourth grades, Brycie and Mike sold their house in McDonough and found a home that fit their needs (a full basement for Mike’s tools), where they have lived ever since.
Meanwhile, Dr. Katz needed someone who could work full- time which Brycie wasn’t ready to do with two young sons, so she switched jobs and went to work two days a week for Dr. Sonia Suddala in Stockbridge. She worked for Dr. Suddala for ten years, commuting from Peachtree City. When she was hired by Peachtree City OB/GYN in 2008, it was a dream come true.
“I love working there!” she gushes. “I love all of the doctors and every woman that I work with. It is truly a family and I am blessed to be a part of it!”
Brycie also found work as a fitness instructor close to home under Linda Famularo at Gold’s Gym (now Fitness 54). When Gold’s merged with World Gym, she was reluctant to follow as she didn’t enjoy teaching the pre-choreographed classes that were popular at the time. Instead, she moved over to Ultimate Fitness Peachtree City in 2006, where Jeri Moore first encountered her.
Jeri was more than 100 pounds overweight when she first tried Brycie’s Cycle classes. She was only able to pedal for ten minutes, after which she’d put her bike away and leave the class. After two or three tries, she remembers Brycie following her out into the hallway. “I heard Brycie tell the whole class to hold on for a minute and she ran after me.” She asked for Jeri’s phone number and pledged to help her get fit, taking her under her wing and introducing her to the other instructors at Ultimate. “I firmly believe if she didn’t go above and beyond in helping me I would have just been in the background and probably would have quit the gym.”
Sometimes her job at the gym bled over into her day job in OB/ GYN. Fitness student and friend Cathy Bowen, a postpartum nurse, describes Brycie as “magical,” at the gym and at work. “If she said a baby was going to weigh a certain amount, you could bet money on that baby being within a couple of ounces of that weight!”
Lisa Albritton, who met Brycie at Ultimate Fitness in one of her weight training classes, is also a fan both in and outside the gym. “As a fitness professional, she positively motivates people both mentally and physically.” Lisa also had the privilege of being under Brycie’s care during a challenging time in her life when she was trying to conceive. “Brycie is extremely knowledgeable and does her job with emotional empathy. Brycie was there for me every step of the way and is now a significant part of my beautiful three-year-old daughter’s life.”
When Ultimate Fitness Peachtree City was bought by World Gym in late 2014, Brycie had literally come full circle in the local fitness scene with many of her students following her from gym to gym – including this writer.
In her 28 years of teaching group fitness classes, Brycie has taught Step/Sculpt, Heartzones Cycle (Green Jersey Heartzones Certified), Kickboxing, Muscle Challenge, High and LOW Impact Aerobics, and her favorite, Freestyle Step.
LeAnn Austin, who says Brycie exemplifies “strength and goodness,” loves Brycie’s Tuesday morning Freestyle Step class at World Gym’s Lexington location.
“Brycie is the best step teacher around! She constantly changes things up and by the end of the class when we put everything together, I feel like a stepping queen!”
Brycie claims her students keep her motivated, but it’s a two-way street. Friend Melinda Faunce met Brycie nine years ago in one of her classes at Ultimate Fitness. When Melinda fell off the proverbial wagon due to commitments at home, she was reluctant to go back to the gym being a little embarrassed by her weight gain.
“[Brycie] told me she understood how I felt, but that everyone there was my friend. She made me feel like I could do this and I did!” Something else also keeps Brycie motivated: Her faith in God.
While Brycie was raised in the church, she had stepped away as often happens with young adults. But Mike was always very spiritual, and helped lead her back to her roots. Brycie is passionate about her love for Christ and sneaks in a little “good for you” contemporary Christian music into her Cycle classes, often dedicating songs to her class. Brycie and Mike will celebrate 30 years of marriage this year in June.
Now empty nesters, the couple breeds Cairn terriers together, which they have done for twelve years. They love the whole process, including the end result of seeing the joy the dogs bring to their new families.
Brycie continues her work as Chief Ultrasonagrapher at Peachtree City OB/GYN, where they have celebrated her in their Health and Wellness Vlog at https://www.youtube.com/user/PTCOBGYN (Episode #6). Dr. Mironda Williams says, “Brycie is who I would like to be when I grow up! She is warm, compassionate, wonderful sense of humor and she could hurt you physically if need be! A true representation of health and well-being.”
And with Brycie cheering them on, victory is within reach.