For many women, the weight room at Roberts Pavilion can be a source of intimidation and insecurity. Many shy away from the gym for fear of being judged by athletes and bodybuilders who seem to reign there. However, Jesse Edwards SC ’19, who founded the Healthy Lifestyles Club — a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps fitness club for female-identifying and non-binary students — wants to change that.
On Feb. 2, I attended one of her sessions at Roberts, feeling the trepidation that I’m sure many others do when they step foot into a giant gym surrounded by muscular athletes in their sleeveless shirts.
Edwards greeted me exuberantly and led me to the basketball court on the second floor. We then warmed up with light jogging, kickbacks, and side lunges. She told me her own history with fitness, and how it brought her out of a bad place during her sophomore year. She said she hopes to pass on this knowledge to others.
Since last semester, Edwards has been holding group workout sessions in Roberts on Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. She also offers consulting and limited private sessions for those who need help with individually tailored lifting programs, nutrition advice, and training tips.
“I started this club mainly to empower women-identified individuals,” Edwards said. “I think there’s a lot of pressure with society, like you have to look a certain way, so X, Y, and Z will happen for you. But it’s important for women to feel good about themselves before they can ever feel good about anything else.”
As an advanced athlete, Edwards started working out at a high-performance gym at age 11, surrounded by Olympic athletes and even military personnel. Needless to say, she understands how intimidating the realm of fitness can be for newcomers, especially for women who feel that they do not belong. She hopes to alleviate some of that anxiety by making her club as inviting and supportive as possible.
“Yes, the aesthetic part is nice, but I personally promote mind, body, and soul,” Edwards said. “Notice that ‘body’ is the second thing I say. For me it’s about strength from the inside out, not from the outside in.”
Our session lasted about half an hour. She led me through two high-intensity interval training circuits, consisting of squat jumps, mountain climbers, TRX rows, and more. Edwards provided a steady flow of positive feedback and suggestions for my form throughout the workout. Upbeat pop music from her speaker filled the room. By the end, I was sweaty and in dire need of a shower but already feeling much more comfortable in my body and at the gym.
After our session together, Edwards whipped out her notebook, showing me the pages of meticulous notes she had dedicated to each of the seven private clients she currently helps out. She started off working with her female friends at first and soon expanded to other people who sought her advice.
“I realized [my sessions] started to really push [other people] not only in their physical life, but it gave them a sense of drive to keep pushing socially or on homework assignments,” she said. “That was rewarding for me.”
Her private sessions are free of charge because her main motivation is to help others, empower women, and contribute to the community in the way she knows best.
Patricia Rivera CM ’19 is one of Edwards’ private clients. She said signed up because she was interested in gaining discipline, getting into lifting, and learning proper form and technique.
“I would recommend this to my friends, especially those who are new to the gym,” Rivera said. “Jesse creates a very welcoming environment for anybody of all gym and fitness levels, and really works hard to make sure everyone feels comfortable in the space.”
Sabrina Chung SC ’20 echoed these sentiments.
“I've only done the one-on-one sessions, but I think it's great to have a women-focused exercise club,” Chung said. “Creating a comfortable space to learn how to exercise well is important.”
Chung also appreciates the accountability aspect of the sessions and sees Edwards as an “amazing role model and person to learn from.”
Although Edwards was initially nervous to tackle all the logistics of being the only person running the club, she has found a sense of purpose in what she does, as she believes that women can learn to be healthy for themselves.
“I want my club to be all about women, because it’s about time [that] it’s all about women,” Edwards said.