FitFest shows off surging GCU Fitness

Seniors Sophie Kalinke (left) and Zulema Gomez lead a spin class during FitFest on the Canyon Activity Center lawn.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Senior Zulema Gomez had just led a spin class with Sophie Kalinke under the pink and dark purple skies on Grand Canyon University’s campus, and she was beaming.

“It’s a good way to take stress off, especially in college,” she said. “I feel like it helps me be a happier person.”

Spin classes are the most popular offering of Campus Recreation’s GCU Fitness, a department that has grown steadily in the past few years. Up to 500 students a week take part in group fitness classes at five campus gyms, the Lopes Performance Center or the Canyon Activity Center (CAC).

But the more the merrier, and that’s what Wednesday night’s FitFest was all about. Spin, Pilates, boxing and a sampling of other classes were offered under the open air of the CAC lawn with music blaring and a lot of calls to “up and up and down and down” and “woooooo!”

Sophomore Jordan Vescio (left) and freshman Maggie Luce dance as they work out in a Pilates class.

That mental health component that Gomez talked about is a vital.

“Physical health has such an impact on your mental health,” said Matt Lamb, director of Campus Recreation. “The more active you are, it has such a benefit to you mentally.”

GenZ is all in on exercise, he said, influenced by social media and the growth of tight-fitting athletic wear that people want to look good in. That may be the motivator, but social growth also is a payoff.

GCU Fitness is hoping to do more campus events, such as FitFest, to introduce students to classes they might not know about (sign up here for classes open to students and employees).

“It is so much fun,” Gomez said of the spin classes in Verde Fitness Center. “You have LED lights, so we turn off the lights, and the music is blasting. You just get lost in music.”

“It’s a really great way to meet friends and have a community of like-minded people who love fitness.”

Sophomore Aidan Perales takes part in a Pilates class during FitFest.

It worked for senior Aiden Barnes. He’d never been to a spin class so tried it out Wednesday night.

“It was a challenge, they really push you. They have you up off the saddle, and my quads are killing me,” he said. “I’m intrigued to try it out.”

For D’Annette Stephens, who took over in December as fitness program coordinator, that’s the point of the event.

“We are trying to show that fitness is utilized in everyday life, and it gives them a sense of community, of partnership and teamwork when they are in a class,” she said. “A lot of students come in and say, ‘I met my friend in this class,’ or ‘I learned to lift properly’ or ‘This made me feel less homesick.’ It’s great for freshmen.”

Senior Paige Sauerbreit leads a Pilates class during FitFest.

Paige Sauerbreit is one of 12 student instructors. The exercise science major said that especially women students like to come in and socialize while they work out.

“A lot of the girls will be scared or not know what to do in the gym. It’s nice to have fitness classes to give them a community and just a structure to work out,” said Sauerbreit, who teaches Pilates. “It’s cool to see girls who come in consistently get stronger. When I taught a Learn to Lift class, I saw some not be able to squat the bar, and by the end of the semester, they squat the bar with 10 pounds on each side. That’s what keeps me going.”

Several sponsors and clubs joined FitFest, including the GCU Powerlifting Club, where students had fun seeing how much they could dead lift.

Freshman Samantha Altschuler (left) and junior Daphlie Hawkins work the battle ropes at FitFest.

Freshman Samantha Altschuler tried to dead lift 270 pounds and couldn’t budge it but was delighted to succeed lifting 135 pounds.

“It’s a good way to get involved on campus, and I’ve wanted to work out with a community,” she said. “I might give it a try.”

Young men are fewer at group classes, but the lifting club is a good option, too. As one described a night with the group: Socialize between sets, get big, go to Bible study.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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GCU News:  Outdoor Rec trips ascend to heavenly harmony

GCU News: Campus Recreation event shows Lopes play hard

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