Just before spring break, I hit a milestone in my college career: I stepped foot into the gym for the first time. I hesitantly joined a couple of friends on a sunny Friday morning at CARW — Pomona College’s Center for Athletics, Recreation and Wellness.
Why is this such a grand milestone, you may ask? Well, if you’ve gotten to know me since I started at Pomona in the fall, I am far from athletic. If you’ve really gotten to know me, you probably know at least tidbits of the reason why — I had a major surgery at the age of four.
Growing up, I had always tried to draw attention away from the way I walk and my struggle to do certain forms of physical activity. So, even after starting college, going to the gym where people would see me exercise was my worst nightmare. I was afraid of the vulnerability I would feel from my physical weaknesses being on full display.
That Friday morning, though, my friends coaxed me to come with them to CARW, promising to teach me how to do exercises with the proper form and make modifications as needed. “We will be there to help you,” they encouraged me. And so with them I went, still nervous, but trusting that they would support me through the whole process.
My friends were lifting weights that day, and I had never lifted a weight in my life. But like they promised, they helped me find weights that I could handle and showed me the proper form when lifting. They showed me how to use various pieces of equipment I had never once touched, and by the end of the hour, I felt like I had gotten a workout. I had survived at the gym — contrary to my fears, no one was staring at me; no one laughed. And, despite my physical weaknesses, I could do more than I thought I could. My friends were proud of me, too.
Afterwards, we headed to Pomona’s Coop to get challah from the 5C Challah Club, and though I had gotten challah many times before, it was especially satisfying that day. As I bit into the swirls of cream cheese — the everything bagel seasoning and cream cheese challah is superior — and fluffy bread, I was reminded of how first-year me often grabbed challah with friends as a study break and how the very thought of doing so after exercising in front of other people would undoubtedly make her shudder.
The fact that I was eating challah with friends, but this time with sore arms and sweatpants, showed me how much I’ve grown from my first year until now. I’ve conquered my fear of the gym and have the sweetest friends here who support me both emotionally and physically.
One reason why I love writing about food is because food is so closely intertwined with memory. I like to think that every time we eat something, a new memory forms and becomes part of your mental representation of that food (cognitive science concepts meet TSL!), almost like a mosaic. I see food as an avenue to see — and taste — the sweetness of just how much we’ve grown, and so in my mosaic-like mental representation of challah, I now see study fuel — memories from first year — and post-gym refuel — memories from spring semester sophomore year.
Food helps us recognize and celebrate our growth. I encourage you all, the next time you eat or drink something familiar, to reflect on how much you’ve changed since you’ve last had that food or beverage; or, if you regularly enjoy a certain delicacy, perhaps reflect on how much you’ve changed since a semester or year ago. What memories of the past and present stick out in its mosaic-like representation in your mind? How do they compare to one another? These questions I will leave you to hungrily ponder.
As for me, I’ve known since the start of my college career that late-night study challah is delicious. But now, post-gym challah may taste even better.
Emily Kim PO ’25 is from Irvine, California. Ever since spring break, she considers the electric bass ukulele to be the most charming little instrument to ever exist.