From Tragedy to a GRIN: A 7 year Journey

Nearly 7 years ago, recovering from three bullets and two surgeries and 14 weeks of growing new bone and muscle and tissue, lying, non-weight bearing, on my couch, I hatched a plan to improve my little corner of the world.

A deranged gunman murdered my 9 year-old companion on a sunny, Saturday morning as we waited to shake our Congresswoman’s hand. That loss was my constant companion, as I made small leg circles with my damaged hip, trying to make sense of the senseless.

Those two pieces of my life – regaining my mobility while mourning her absence – required a connection I just couldn’t find. Then Kyria Sabin, Studio Director at BodyWorks Studios, smiled as I told her about bringing GRIN, the 501(c)3 I started after the shooting, into the public schools. ”I’ve always wanted to get Pilates into the schools” was a dangerous statement for her make to someone like me, especially if you are teaching the Fletcher lineage and have a group of evangelists to share with willing students.

Group mat workout

It took some poking and prodding to develop the right format, and two very generous donations of equipment from Balanced Body to create the right atmosphere, but Pilates at Amphi is now in its 7th year as part of the school’s PE curriculum. Once each week, Coach Powell’s Girls’ Sports Fitness class, participate in a 40 minute mat class led by BodyWorks Studios instructors.

Over the years, we’ve done posture measurements and body image analyses (I am comfortable in my body on a scale of 1-10) and have seen straighter spines and higher numbers, but mostly we’ve seen the smiles. We’ve watched slouchers begin to glide across the floor. We’ve seen I can’t turn into I’ll try.

We’ve watched them clap their feet and arf like seals as they roll like two dozen balls. We’ve laughed with them as someone farts.

Some are more perfect than others. Some are chatty, some are snarky, some are reluctant. But everyone tries. After all, if I can do it, with my white hair and my perforated body, so can they. They’ve known me as Grandma Suzi since we bonded, over Gabby Giffords and Tucson’s tragedy, when they were in kindergarten and first and second grades. We’ve spent the years together. They helped me learn to walk again by guiding me around and around their playground. Now that they are big kids, it’s my turn to share what I know and love.

We’ve rewarded them with no-show socks and stickers and high fives. They’ve rewarded themselves with the changes in their bodies. I breathe easier now. I feel taller. I’m stronger. And I, sitting on the sidelines, watching 8th graders lead the class because, in their 3rd year of the program they know the drill, can feel my little friend hugging my heart.

This is a true public-private partnership, enriching lives and sharing the wealth and making things just a little bit better in our own neighborhood.

It’s exactly what we all needed.

Learn more abut the GRIN program at

Suzi Hileman

About Suzi Hileman

Founder of Grandparents In Residence

Suzi Hileman is the founder of GRIN, Grandparents In Residence, an inter-generational mentoring program. Its mission is to promote, support and create opportunities for interactions between those who have time and those who have need. Learn more about the GRIN program at