Faces of CNM: Irene Ballard

Irene Ballard, a 71-year-old Exercise Science student at CNM, has big plans to launch a second career as a health and fitness coach
February 15, 2022

If you ask CNM student Irene Ballard what inspired her to become a certified yoga and fitness instructor at the age of 71, she has quite the story to tell.

Irene, who was born in Yugoslavia and moved to the United States when she was five, recalls learning about nutrition in a Home Economics class at Sandia High School and that’s what first piqued her interest in healthy living.

“I’ve always had a real passion for learning and achievement and perseverance,” she says. “And I’ve always been fascinated by wellness and nutrition.”

After graduating from college in 1973 and working as a communications manager for an underwater robotics company, Irene met her husband and the two started a business where they created displays and marketing for industrial trade shows.

Sadly, Irene’s husband, a Vietnam War veteran, had been exposed to Agent Orange and suffered from many health complications as a result. He eventually passed away, but Irene says the experience reaffirmed her commitment to pursuing a life of health and wellness.

Irene received a scholarship from the Veteran Affairs Scholarship Program in 2017 and that’s when she decided to enroll in CNM’s Exercise Science and Wellness Program.

“It was really hard to lose my soulmate, my husband, my business partner all in one, so school kept me focused and helped me through that transition,” Irene says.

In school, Irene has taken her commitment to healthy living to the next level by studying the science of the body. 

“I’m absolutely fascinated by the body and how the muscles work. If your back hurts, the cause might start down in your feet. The whole body is connected as a system.” Irene says. “The fun thing for me is I get to be Sherlock and find out why certain things are happening in the body.” 

While in school Irene has also been certified as a personal fitness trainer by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and trained to be a Yoga Alliance instructor and a Pound Pro aerobics instructor.

Now, Irene is hoping to launch a second career as a health and fitness coach.

“I didn’t realize after I retired that I would start another business, but God willing, I hope to be a 101-year-old yoga teacher and fitness instructor like Tao Porchon-Lynch,” she says. “That’s my goal. If people don’t have goals, they wither away.”

Irene says she is especially interested in working with her fellow seniors and those with connections to the military. She also has plans to write a book that explores why some people struggle to find the motivation to be healthy.

“My heart goes out to all the veterans and people who are young at heart who want to get up and move. I want to spark that movement,” she says.

Irene, who prides herself on being a straight-A student, is a member of the prestigious honor society Phi Theta Kappa and expects to graduate from CNM’s Exercise Science and Wellness program within the coming year. After that, she’s excited to start her new coaching business.

“I can’t tell just someone they need to exercise and eat healthy because it has to come from within. But I can motivate them and be their cheerleader,” Irene says. “It’s the process. The end goal may not be about being able to touch your toes. It’s about what you learn on the way.”

Learn more about CNM’s Exercise Science and Wellness program here