Building Community through Movement

Feeling Alone in Raleigh

In May of 2013, I finished grad school at James Madison University and landed my first job at NC State University. I had dreamed of running a group fitness program at a university and finally made it. It didn’t bother me that I knew no one in Raleigh, I was just ready to get to work.  I would work my 9-5 hours and then walk home without plans to do anything. Being a socialite, I would usually end up walking downtown to grab a beer and people watch. I actually never minded going out by myself, as it felt liberating. I didn’t have to wait on anyone, I just went somewhere when I felt like it. (This is my positivity bias seeing the good in isolation).

One day, I was at Raleigh Times and someone asked me, “Are you waiting on a friend?” Even though I didn’t mind being by myself, I felt pressure to say yes. (He was probably attractive and I didn’t want to seem as though I had no friends…) After responding with a yes, we continued to converse for some time. Later, he asked again, “where’s your friend?” Busted with an easy fix. “Oh yea, she actually bailed on me.” A little white lie never hurt anyone.

Getting Connected

Fast forward a year, I received a message from an alumni friend from Penn State. She was recruiting indoor cycling instructors for a new studio called Flywheel Sports. Even though I felt as though I was too busy with work at University Recreation, something made me audition. It was probably a little bit of FOMO or that I typically can’t say no to new opportunities. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity because Flywheel Sports changed my life.

I met so many people and felt as though I was really establishing a community of meaningful relationships. It took me a little over a year in Raleigh to feel my social wellness truly thrive. I planned a lot of “Taco Tuesday” rides with Gonza and “Sunday Funday” rides with mimosas to get me where I am today. (Wellness tip: Go meet people! Go to these silly meet-ups! We are social creatures and truly need connection to feel whole. Go care about people and trust that people care about you.)

Raleigh Group Fitness is Born

Flywheel also brought me to my dear friend and fellow fitness pro, Ashley Liu Kirkman. We were always chatting about all the fitness things and enjoyed checking out new places in Raleigh. One night in October 2016, I couldn’t sleep and was thinking about a fitness Instagram account to document our fitness adventures. I texted Ashley to see if she wanted to go halfsies on this account. She sent back an immediate yes and Raleigh Group Fitness (RGF) was born. Back then, we did not identify ourselves as the creators because we wanted it to be solely about the community. We even snuck pictures of local instructors to feature on our account. Creepy… and we’ve come a long way.

Our first photo shoot with Anna Routh

Headbands of Hope Birthday Workout

A couple of days ago, we hosted our 4th RGF Pop-Up to celebrate Headbands of Hope’s 6th birthday party. (Side note about connection: Jess Ekstrom, founder of Headbands of Hope, used to teach Group Fitness at UREC and graduated the year that I came to oversee the program. We later met on the crossover of teaching indoor cycling at the Alexander Family YMCA. Small world!)

There were 165 members of the Raleigh community moving, smiling, and jamming to DJ Randy B’s beats in the back of the Raleigh Beer Garden. My cheeks hurt from smiling the whole time. My favorite part was the mingling throughout the whole event. After the workout, our crew TOOK OVER the outdoor picnic tables to sip and socialize. Seriously, heart so full. A couple of years ago I wrote in my Facebook bio, “Building Community through Movement” and it’s coming to life in front of my eyes. This is my mission because I needed it so badly back in 2013, whether I knew it or not.

Headbands of Hope Birthday Workout 4/28/18

What does RGF mean to you?

I ask some of these RGF community members to write up what Saturday’s Pop-Up meant to them and here are their words:

  • “Nurturing a community”

“The RGF event at Raleigh Beer Garden was truly an inspiring thing to be a part of. What RGF is doing is more than just providing a work out, they are fostering and nurturing a community.”

  • “Working mom”

“As a working mom of two boys it’s hard to find the time to recharge for a few moments. I really appreciated the pop-up work out on Saturday because it gave me that moment and allowed me to feel connected and inspired by my community.”

  • “Meeting new people”

“This just made my day. It’s really about the community. Building community, meeting new people, and seeing people you know.”

  • “Helping a great cause”

“So fun helping a great cause, meeting new people, and being a part of something. I’m trying to branch out and do new things, so this was perfect.”

  • “Feeling excited, happy and ready to move”

”I’ve attended four RGF events and always look forward to the next one. Not only for the great workout they bring but also for the sense of community. Everyone arrives feeling really excited, happy and ready to move. Brittany and Ashley are so positive and encouraging. Can’t wait until the next one! Until then I’ll be inspired daily be their great Instagram posts!”

  • “Let my guard down and just enjoy”

“The hardest part about trying something new in the community is feeling intimidated that you might not fit in to the group.  But that’s not at all what happened yesterday at the RGF Headbands for Hope event at the Raleigh Beer Garden. When I walked up to the event the place was packed with people smiling, engaged and already ready for the great workout ahead.

You and Ashley walked around talking to people and just being yourselves-supportive, encouraging and grateful for everyone to make an appearance and this made it so much easier to let my guard down and just enjoy.  DJ Randy Bennett played music that had me dancing before the workout even began, the sun was shining and the energy level was maxed out. The time flew by and before we knew it, the workout was complete and it was time to celebrate the success of raising money for such a great cause with beers and mimosas.”

Us with Jess Ekstrom, Founder of Headbands of Hope

Raleigh is Home

Sure, these are biased because they are my friends and love some RGF. My goal is not to revel in the compliments, but to share a sense of what these community workouts mean to people. It’s not about me, it’s about the experience. It’s moments like these that make me so proud to live in Raleigh. Before knowing all of these amazing people, Raleigh was just a city and Raleigh Times was just a bar. Now, I feel integrated into the city and love running into people I know when I’m out and about downtown. I love hearing about all the creativity and innovation that these individuals are bringing to Raleigh. My partner just said last night, “I never knew how partial I would be about a city until I moved to Raleigh.” It’s so true. We feel connected. We feel home.

In true community fashion, please comment below how you get involved in your community or how you would like to start getting involved. I’d love to connect!

Stay well, friends!