National Employee Health and Fitness Day is May 17, 2023. However, any day is a good day to start a personal health and wellness routine, according to the director of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Wellness Center.

Whether someone is starting from scratch, or they are an experienced fitness enthusiast, Leslie Cooper said the CPN Wellness Center is ready to help Tribal employees meet their fitness goals.

Contrary to many people’s beliefs, the Wellness Center is not strictly for bodybuilding or creating muscle but offers several options to improve overall wellness.

“You can come in the gym, and you can get in the pool and water walk. You can do an aerobics class. You can walk on the track. You can ride the bike,” Cooper said.

Headshot of CPN FireLake Wellness Center, Leslie Cooper. Cooper wears a purple Wellness Center t-shirt, a small pendant necklace, and her dark hair pulled back into a ponytail.
Leslie Cooper, director of the FireLake Wellness Center

The staff helps employees who are overcoming health challenges, recovering after an injury or improving their balance and coordination. As we age, coordination and balance become even more important, she said. Gaining muscle strength and becoming stronger can help reduce the risk of falling.


Physical activity can help relieve stress, something most people experience daily, Cooper said. Even a light workout like walking offers benefits to the entire body.

“When you exercise, it increases blood flow, (which helps) your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. It’s going to take oxygen to the muscle tissue to help relieve any type of muscle soreness that you might get. The more physically active you are, the more you increase the blood flow through your whole entire body, which is going to send extra oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the muscle tissue,” she said.

During exercise, the body also releases endorphins, hormones that increase feelings of well-being.

“If you feel good, you’re going to perform better. You’re going to be in a better mood. You’re going to sleep better,” she said.

In addition to exercise options, the Wellness Center has a space where people can take a few minutes to decompress. The room is a quiet space where employees can read available books, color in a stress-reducing coloring book or just sit quietly and gather their thoughts.

“There are a lot of people struggling with mental health issues right now. I’m proud that we have a decompressing room, and any employee has access to it,” Cooper said.


After work and school, finding the motivation to exercise can be challenging. The right mindset can counter the urge to stay on the sofa, Cooper said.

“I know it’s tough. If you don’t feel like getting out or you can’t get out, there are things you can do at home,” she said. “You can do squats while you’re folding laundry, you can do calf raises while you’re washing the dishes, things like that. Together, we can try to figure out what we need to do to help you.”

If working out on a particular day proves impossible, Cooper urges people to find the right balance. Skipping one workout may be necessary, but recommitting to a fitness routine the next day is important.

“If you fall off the horse, you just get right back on,” she said.

Cooper and the Wellness Center staff are available for questions, even if people usually work out at a different facility.

“Just because you don’t use our gym doesn’t mean that we still can’t help you develop a program that’s going to make exercising easier and convenient for you,” she said. “We’ll be more than happy to help anybody develop a workout program, whether it’s at another gym, your home or even in your office.”

New challenges

If an employee already has an established fitness routine, but they are hoping to find a new challenge, Cooper said the Wellness Center can help design a new routine.

“We have trainers that are certified in different areas, and they have different skills and expertise. If you’re ready to move to the next level, there are trainers who can help you get there,” she said.

The Wellness Center staff have expertise in high-intensity interval training, strength and conditioning, boxing, balance and cardio. They help guide employees on mechanics and proper techniques. They can also help clients who have a medical condition or previous injury affecting their ability to exercise.

“I think what makes us a little bit different than a lot of places, too, is we’re all approachable,” Cooper said. “We want people to enjoy coming to the gym and feel like they can accomplish anything.”


Cooper and the Wellness Center staff often find they are a sounding board for employees.

“We love for people to feel like they can come to us and talk to us about personal issues or something going on in their lives,” she said. “We try to be that outlet other than just being a place for people to come exercise. We also like to work on that wellness side of it with them, too, because there’s more to a person than just being fit.”

They often collaborate with CPN Health Services to help employees find the resources they need.

“We try to be the support for people and be there when they need us. The Nation has so many great resources for people. If we can’t help them, we can at least point them in the right direction or get them in contact with somebody that can help them,” Cooper said.


Cooper enjoys getting to know people and finding out what motivates them. She draws inspiration from the late Pat Summitt, the legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach.

“She said, ‘You win with people.’ That is so true because you have to develop the person first. You have to learn who the person is before you can help them. And when you do that, you invest in them, and you give them what they need to conquer their next goal,” Cooper said.

Learn more about the Wellness Center’s hours and services at