Trusting Yourself: Social Identity in Fitness by Monica Rochon

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Monica is from Bloomfield, Connecticut and received her BS in Sports & Leisure Management from Eastern Connecticut State University. Post graduation she was an AmeriCorps Vista Volunteer for the Center for Community Engagement at Eastern CT State University. Monica received her M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida where she served as an Assistant Residence Life Coordinator for two years. Currently she is entering her second year as a Residence Director at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her overall interests include race and sport, health and fitness, and creating sustainable living socially, physically, and environmentally. You can connect with Monica on Twitter and Instragram @iammrochon.

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A part of my Social Identity

I’ve been an athlete all my life. Growing up, every chance I had to play outside or participate in an organized sport, I did. P.E. was always one of my favorite classes all through secondary education, and truthfully they always seemed to be the most valuable. Being active in sports was and still creates a sense of freedom for me. It’s allowed me to express myself, build relationships and confidence within myself, my teammates and from time to time show boat in a friendly yet competitive way.

At an early age my interests in race and sport grew quickly as the demographics of the town I grew up in was almost equally divided among Black and White people. Despite this population’s demographics, the student composition of my high school consisted of a majority of students of color with heritage from the African Diaspora specifically various regions of the Caribbean, and African Americans. In high school my teammates and I lacked updated equipment, sometimes proper uniform sizes, adequate “gym or field” time, and in some sports experienced a new coach every season. Although these factors did not completely discourage our teams, we received a message about our value through this lack of support, and it was clear to me that White students had a completely different experience in other districts. We didn’t have the feeder programs that helped to grow an athlete’s skills at a young age, and as a teenager coming from a working class family, we couldn’t afford to pay for travel ball.

Although I was athletic, I didn’t have the technical skills that some of my peers at other schools had. I picked up the skills I had by playing street ball and practicing moves that I saw professional athletes do on television. I often would practice alone on school fields or in my parents’ front yard. This extra practice time helped me stand out when we played other teams. Standing out made me visible to coaches from other districts, and they reached out to me asking if I would play summer travel ball with their team. They were willing to pay for uniforms, meals, and travel funds, something my family could not do. This experience afforded me the opportunity to increase my skills and receive notoriety in and around my small community. In fact, during my senior year of high school, a coach from another school asked if he could help me make a softball recruitment tape to send off to colleges. Though valuable, these experiences truly highlighted for me the racial divide that exists within team sports and within all sports. My sister and I were the only Black, in fact the only people of color on this travel team. This opportunity was not afforded to my teammates in high school. This experience made me feel like I could do anything; it made me feel like I had the ability to play at the next level, at the college level. And when I look back at the percentage of students from my high school that went to and graduated from college I become discouraged, and I want to ask the hard questions: Why weren’t these same opportunities afforded to my teammates? Why didn’t my teammates feel like they could play at the college level? How do we make sports and other health and fitness activities accessible to under-served and under represented populations—with the intent to send them to college, graduate them, and not necessarily become professional athletes? I can’t help but think that if my teammates had the same opportunities that I had to feel like they “could do anything,” they may also have had the same success, or what society deems as success, that I do now.

Athletics was a positive reinforcement in my life; I always felt confident around my athletic ability and that I knew my contributions to the team were meaningful. Confidence and self-awareness are attributes that all young people, students, and frankly everyone should have the opportunity to build. However, when access and resources to outlets, such as organized sports and health and fitness activities, are absent from so many communities I understand why the disparities around privilege and oppression in the United States are so cyclical.

My Fitness Journey post Graduate School

In graduate school I didn’t have a car for two years. My main source of transportation was walking, biking, and the Bull Runner shuttle bus. Living in a place where there was sunshine most of the year was also a motivator to get out and be active! Being active became my routine, and leaving graduate school I made a commitment to myself that when I started my new job I would continue to make my health a priority in my life. There’s a term these days called “YOLO” (you only live once), I believe it’s true and applicable when thinking about the choices that I make in my life. I want to live long and I feel it’s my responsibility to do what is in my control for me to be my healthiest self.

I began preparing my meals for the week on Sunday’s while watching football (Go Cowboys!). It was helpful to come home from a late night at a House Council or Staff meeting and not worry about having to cook or leave campus to buy a meal. I also got a membership at the Campus Recreation Center and would go at 6AM or 7AM. If I didn’t go to the gym at those times it was tough competing for machines with at the time was 12,000 residential students on campus—though they weren’t all in the rec center at once — I’m hoping you get my point. I soon found out about Urban Health (UH) (http://www.urbhealth.com), a fitness and health organization in Connecticut, through a college friend who is a personal trainer. I began working out with UH trainers and invited some of my closest friends to join me on the weekends. It was important for me to find an environment that challenged and made me feel comfortable. The folks at UH genuinely care about inspiring and educating others around health, fitness, and nutrition. I began doing circuit training, something I hadn’t done since playing college softball. My goal was to build my strength and endurance and be able to do several sets of pull-ups, which I don’t find difficult to do anymore. What matters to me is feeling good and feeling strong.

Going to a personal trainer and joining a gym have been privileges in my life. However, staying fit does not have to be so expensive. This summer and this year I have decided not to join any recreation or fitness center. Instead I have made a fitness space in my apartment and will use campus stairs, benches, bike racks, and the track for some creative cardio workout sessions. Because the accessibility of physical education is important to me, I would like to share some of the activities and inexpensive equipment that I use in my apartment and outside, that I believe people can do with few resources: 

Resistance Bands

  1. Tie the band to the back of a door. Step away from the door so there is some resistance. Angle your arm at 90 degrees for 3 sets of 10 or 3 sets of 12. This will help to strengthen your rotator cuff.
  2. Place your resistance band on the ground. Step in the center of the band with your feet, shoulder width apart. Grab both sides of the band, one in your left hand one in your right hand. Pull up with your right hand, pull up with you left hand, then pull up with both hands at the same time to work your biceps

Street Curb (Video)

  1. This is a great cardio exercise that is a full body workout! (Click on Curb Jumps below — and wait for video. Also, make sure you note the peaceful birds singing in the background.)
  2. Curb Jumps

Pull-up Bar 1-10

  1. You can insert any three exercises you would like for this workout. My examples include: Pull-ups, air squats, and Pushup ups
  2. Begin with 1 pull-up, proceed to do 1 air squat and 1 pushup this is 1 set. After you do 1 set, do 2 sets, then 3 sets and you will continue this process until you get to 10.

Fitness is about challenging myself physically and mentally. In order to push your own limits you must learn about yourself. You have to learn how to trust yourself if you want to reach your ‘best self’. This idea parallels with the work of student affairs in so many ways. We often challenge our students, colleagues, and administrators to be their ‘best self.’ We challenge students to take personal responsibility for themselves around academics, co-curriculas, and to take into consideration their social responsibility as a member of the community — this is no different. Taking responsibility for my fitness, health, and wellbeing is something that I do not expect anyone or any organization to do for me. It’s empowering to speak about my fitness goals with friends and colleagues and this has inspired me to stay committed not because people are watching but because they are participating with me! There’s a tendency to separate our personal and professional lives—which I understand to a certain extent. I consider myself to be a particularly private person however my values in my personal life certainly intersect with my professional life and I think I would be doing our profession a disservice if I tried to always separate the two. I feel that I would not be being my ‘best self.’

Beyond the excerpts of my story, I hope you leave this blog post thinking of ways you are going to both challenge yourself and trust yourself enough to commit to your own health and fitness goals. I’m rooting for you because you deserve it! As of September 30, 2013 I will have ridden in the Autumn Escape Bike Trek across Cape Cod completing my longest ride of 105 miles to  increase awareness about the importance of lung health. I dedicated this ride to two friends who passed away from asthma and lung cancer. Though I am not a trained cyclist, I always remind myself, that I can take on any challenge, whether winning or losing, it’s a success as long as I start and finish.

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