Fitness coach Kathie Dolgin powers her high-energy, low-sugar ‘Energy Up’ exercise program for overweight girls
After working for Katie Couric, Bette Midler and other celebrities, the training guru started helping students trim down and stay healthy
by Joanna Molloy
January 5 2012
Whoever was crazy enough to be running around the Central Park Reservoir in the 18-degree freeze Wednesday morning might have thought they were seeing a mirage.
A beautiful woman in white from head to toe was doing the high kick with her students in the 8 a.m. chill. Had the joggers known that Kathie (Voltage) Dolgin is 65, they’d have stopped in their tracks to learn her secret.
“Energy up!” the force of nature exults.
It’s Dolgin’s motto, and the name of the program she adapted for New York City school girls 10 years ago after training the likes of Katie Couric, Estella Warren and Bette Midler. In a city that just got the good news that child obesity has gone down 5.5%, Dolgin’s stats are even better.
In a 2007 study, pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Ileana Vargas and her colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center found that more than 50% of “Energy Up” participants at Mother Cabrini High School lost weight, with obese girls losing an average 13 pounds per school year.
“In the beginning, I could only do one pushup,” Ramona Fittipaldi, now a teacher, told me then. She lost 67 pounds in “Energy Up!”
It says a lot that many of the thousands of girls who joined “Energy Up!” in ninth grade never left. They still work out together. Dolgin tries to boost the girls’ self-esteem at the same time she tries to decrease their body mass index.
She makes it fun, playing “girl-empowering” music, and giving rewards if the girls drink bottles of water or try a fruit or vegetable of each color of the rainbow.
To see Madeline De la Cruz jump around yelling, “I’m fit! I’m fab! I’m fabulous!” in the frost, you would never believe that the 21-year-old pre-med student was 190 pounds when she joined in ninth grade – 50 pounds heavier than she is now.
“My weaknesses were the traditional Dominican foods,” she says with a wide grin. “Obesity is a pattern in my family and I wanted to break the cycle.”
“Cookies were my weakness,” says Jackie Georgantzas, a 19-year-old videographer. “You’re brought up thinking they’re a reward. You have to reteach yourself.”
One of Dolgin’s teaching tricks is to fill a Ziploc bag with the amount of sugar a “treat” may contain: “In the case of some sodas, that’s 14 teaspoonfuls,” she says ruefully.
“Sugar is like a drug in your brain,” says Dolgin. “We want to get it out of the schools. Out of the vending machines, out of the cafeteria.”
On Tuesday, the city will take one aerobic leap toward Dolgin’s dream, making the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Astoria, Queens completely sugar-free. What’s more, the students’ mothers have asked the tireless Dolgin to create an “Energy Up!” program for them.
“There are a lot of reasons why folks get fat, but you have to stop blaming everybody else,” Dolgin concludes.
“You have to take responsibility. My kids are not victims. They’re going to survive, and they’re going to thrive.”
To get information or make donations to Energy Up, visit Energyup.org.