Snowbird keeps fit, at home and in the tropics

  • By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
  • Monday, November 11, 2013 1:01pm
  • Life

Micki Cunningham is living the Washington dream.

During the long gloomy season, she’s 80 steps away from a sun-kissed beach on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

But you won’t this find this snowbird sprawled on the sand, sipping an umbrella drink.

Instead, the 71-year-old retired language arts schoolteacher is back in the classroom. She teaches Zumba and yoga at a fitness studio in her winter home in Sayulita, a village about 25 miles from Puerto Vallarta in Nayarit, Mexico.

She has the best of both worlds.

In spring and summer, she and her husband, Ken, a retired construction worker, live in a condo in Mukilteo, where she takes, not teaches, fitness classes at the YMCA.

Wintery months are spent in a tropical paradise with a gardener, a housekeeper and a handyman. It’s more necessity than luxury.

“Someone once said, ‘You’ve never met maintenance until you’ve met maintenance in the tropics,’” Cunningham said. “You are constantly painting.”

Want to visit her? She rents two guest rooms for $50 a night. Each room has two beds, complete with mosquito netting.

Casa de Mis Tios, as she calls her homestead, is not a bed-and-breakfast.

“It’s just a bed. A bed and free yoga. Or a bed and Zumba,” she said. “I can point them in the right direction to the best breakfasts.”

It does include happy hour on her rooftop deck.

The Mexico connection started when Cunningham taught at Marysville Junior High.

“One of the teachers — Bob Guard is his name — bought a house in Sayulita and he said, ‘Hey, I want everybody to come to Mexico.’ I said, “Yeah, I’ll come. I’ve never been.’ There were five of us who went. I liked it. I got in the groove. In those days it was very much still a fishing village. There were a few cantinas on the beach and two grocery stores.”

She went back to Sayulita again. And again. “I was hooked.”

Cunningham got a house before prices spiked and began snowbirding when she retired 12 years ago. To stay fit in the sunbelt, at first she did step aerobics in front of a little TV.

“Every morning I’d get up and do my step tape,” she said.

Well, that got old.

While back in Washington, she got certified as a Zumba instructor and started teaching in Mexico.

“I did it to stay in shape. I knew if I had people committed to coming to my class I’d stay on top of it,” Cunningham said. “I started with a small Zumba group and it got bigger and bigger.”

She taught at gyms in Sayulita until taking the plunge and opening a home studio. It’s now a hub for locals to meet and work out. As for that Marysville teacher who inspired her first trip to Mexico, he’s in her yoga class.

Cunningham teaches six days a week, with plans this year to add a cocktail hour Zumba class.

She didn’t exactly shine on the gym floor when she was a student at Everett High School (class of 1960).

“I never could get a decent grade in gym class due to lack of athleticism,” she said. “I always liked to dance. My mom said before I could walk I could dance.”

She came from a music filled home. Her mom, Imogene Murdock, now 95 and living in Seattle, played piano at nightclubs and piano bars in Everett for many years. Her dad, the late Ernie Murdock, a millworker, was a jazz history buff who contributed to books about Seattle’s Jackson Street music scene.

While she was growing up, their Everett home was a rest stop for musicians driving the club circuit between San Francisco and Vancouver.

“A lot of times they would stay at our house, much to the consternation of the neighbors,” she said.

After getting a teaching degree, she married Ken and became Mrs. Cunningham — or “Mrs. C,” as some students affectionately called her during the “Happy Days” era.

“I had a lot of fun with the kids,” she said. “I wasn’t a mean teacher, but I didn’t take any crap.”

She said former students might be surprised to learn Mrs. C is spending her golden years shaking it on the Zumba floor.

Or maybe not.

Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com

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