Stuck home during the pandemic, Joanne Edmonson simply wanted to work out with a few people. Never did she imagine it would turn into a nonprofit.
On March 15, 2020, Edmonson, a resident of Riverdale, invited four friends to exercise at Van Cortlandt Park and asked instructors to come along. When all the instructors said no, Edmonson was forced to teach..
“Nobody wanted to risk it,” she said about gathering during the beginning of the spread of COVID-19 throughout New York. “Everybody was afraid.”
But before long, more women began to work out with Edmonson, as she was garnering quite a following throughout the borough. For the first month she taught all the classes.
It was then when the Female Fight Club was born. The FFL serves more than 400 women and provides daily fitness classes, strength training, yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, Piyo, bootcamp and Zumba. The group also performs community service such as volunteering with The Friendly Fridge and the Food Justice Ministry, park cleanups with local elected officials and health education with in-person tutorials from nutritionists, psychotherapy, chefs and professional trainers.
“At the FFC NYC, we have one requirement: ‘bring your will to fight,’” it says on its website. “Our slogan: ‘What are you fighting for?’not only encourages self-introspection but challenges each member’s personal convictions about achieving and maintaining self-love, physical/mental/emotional/spiritual health, family, healing, justice and independence.”
Edmonson was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in Washington Heights and moved to Riverdale at the age of 20. She graduated from Lehman College with a degree in business management, but always envisioned herself as a social worker. Although Edmonson didn’t follow that career path, she opened a daycare center in Riverdale nearly two decades ago.
In addition to helping children, her other passion is fitness. She began teaching yoga at a gym, but that quickly dried up as the gym shut down once COVID-19 arrived.
Edmonson — not the type to just sit home — and her friends began to work out at Van Cortlandt Park. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only 10 people were allowed to gather at a time and the women were required to socially distance and wear masks.
“Everyone was very nervous,” she recalled. “Once I got outside and the trees were blowing, and the birds were chirping I knew things would be okay.”
One day she saw a friend at the park who looked stressed, so she welcomed her to work out with the group even though it exceeded more than 10-person limit. “After that, the wall came down and I invited everybody,” she said.
By April 2020 instructors were ready to come out and during the summer, the FFL really grew. Edmonson said that many women were struggling during the pandemic, so not only was this fun, but therapeutic as well. In fact, the 50th Precinct even brought water for the women one time and exercised with them.
“People kept coming and they would come with their stories,” she said.
The only hiccup was the city Parks Department fined her and made the Club move a few times to different locations in the park. Edmonson officially formed the nonprofit in November 2020 and added an administrative and social media staff. She told the Bronx Times that she never imagined creating anything like this, but is glad she did.
“I was not afraid to be around people,” she said. “I think that’s what helped out.”