Let me start out by saying this: the students that make up the Fit University community are SO. F#!%ING. AWESOME. When I started Fit University as a blog a few years ago, I had zero idea what it would eventually turn into and how it would affect the lives of others. One year ago today there was one Fit University chapter – the pilot at Northeastern University. Today, there are 8 launched and another 8 set to launch this upcoming Fall. One of those currently launched chapters is Fit University at Binghamton University.
I’ll give you some background about this awesome chapter. Before Fit University, Binghamton already had an established Nutrition & Fitness Club. As one of the top 25 healthiest schools in the country, there is a huge focus on wellness within the university – the even have a Health & Wellness minor and a Nutrition & Fitness Internship (wish my school would have had that!). One day this past January, I got an email from Fit University ambassador Monica Hope. She wanted to try to convince the already established Nutrition & Fitness Club to transform into a Fit University chapter. My response? HELL YES, LET’S DO IT (obviously). Within the next few weeks, the switch was made, and Fit University at Binghamton was born. That’s the epitome of the crew leading the chapter in upstate New York: They get sh*t done.
So it was no surprise to me when I heard that Fit University at Binghamton was planning what sounded to be an incredible event: The Winning At Health Symposium. The goal of this event was to get students to speak up about their health issues and share their stories about how they’ve improved their condition through a healthy lifestyle, in the hopes of connecting with students with similar struggles. Pretty amazing, right?
Winning at Health is the brainchild of the chapter’s Co-Community Manager, Veronika Polyakova, who was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) at the age of 15. She was told that she would be infertile and because of that, she felt ashamed and like a burden. Overtime though, she was able to change her blood results for the better and get off her medication. She attributes that directly to healthy eating & exercise #thatfitlife. She wanted to share her story – and she wanted other students to share their stories too.
There are so many noncommunicable diseases people can get unexpectedly and Veronika realized the importance of opening up about these things in an effort to help others get through whatever conditions they may be experiencing. “When you have a crowd together, sitting there listening, you start thinking about yourself or the person next to you. You start to question your own health. Am I doing enough? Am I doing everything I can?” Veronika wanted people to question themselves and their current health habits, and to think about ways they can improve their lifestyle.
After getting through some pushback from administration, Winning at Health was hosted on April 26, 2016. To say it was a success is an understatement. Veronika gathered four additional students to share their stories with the 75 or so attendees. Topics ranged from PCOS, to mental illness, to the negative affects fitness can have on individuals.
How was this event for the speakers? I’ll let them speak for themselves (note: I tried to cut these short but their quotes were too meaningful and well written to do that).
"Sharing such personal details about my life in front of a crowd was really difficult but equally rewarding. Being open about hard topics is what helps to destigmatize them, and I'm was honored to be a part of that through Winning at Health and through Fit U."- Lauryn Maleski
"This was my first time being publicly open about my battle. It was such an emotional release to finally let the story free. I was extremely touched to see people with tears in their eyes in the audience. The truth is we are all in this human experience together. Whether we realize it or not, we are all on the brink of life and death, daily. Some may get sick and some may die suddenly. We do not know. We may get a phone call in an hour that someone has passed. We may also get a phone call that a miracle has happened. The take-away was not to let this inevitability of the unknown dampen our days, rather to let it heighten our relationships and let it prove the importance of love, laughter, strength, vulnerability, and positivity."- Danielle Preiser
"It was a fun experience sharing my story. I am used to sharing science and information in class presentations, but this was a completely different way to connect with people"-Robert Huang
"I could feel the entire room engaged in every presentation as we listened to everyone tell their stories. Coming out to speak for the first time about my health issues was scary and empowering at the same time. I wasn't sure how everyone would react, but the fact that I spent an hour after the event speaking to people who said my courage and bravery helped them with their problems really touched me. My goal was to touch just one person, but I ended up reaching so many more and I can't even begin to describe the gratitude and pure joy I have for that." -Sarah Phillips
See? There was no way I could have said that any better myself.
Veronika has big plans for Winning At Health. She hopes to continue it as an annual event, making it bigger & better each year. She hopes that students who attended this year may one day feel like they are able to open up about their stories too, whether or not that’s on the Winning At Health stage.
Winning At Health was an event for the books and I am honored that Fit University gave students the platform to make it come to life. Fit University at Binghamton, just like our chapters at every school, is doing amazing things and it’s all thanks to their incredible leadership team dedicated to spreading health & wellness on their campus.
Veronika’s Co-Community Manager Monica (who you met in the beginning of article) puts it this way: “I continue to be amazed by the power of collective action. Reaching the volume of students we did in such a raw, provocative, heartwarming way is something I could not have dreamed would happen our first semester as Fit University at Binghamton.”