The benefits of fitness are far-reaching, both for your body (like having the strength to hoist that heavy box back on the shelf or the speed to sprint to your train stop with seconds to spare) and your mind (who doesn’t feel less stressed after a workout?). Problem is, lots of folks miss out on those perks because they haven’t felt welcomed into the fitness world.
Our mission is to change that. SELF truly believes that fitness should be for everyone; we want you to see yourself represented in the stories we cover and the workouts we create—starting with the models who guide you through them. That’s why our Everyday Athletes have been at the core of our fitness content for the past several years: You deserve to feel comfortable taking on fitness as on your own.
We’re so excited to introduce our class of 2024: We scoured the greater New York fitness space and culled through social media to find the real-world fitness folks who share our belief that everyone deserves a way in. Our latest crop of Everyday Athletes are powerlifters, pole dancers, yogis, runners, and so much more—they’re also dedicated to making exercise more welcoming, inclusive, motivating, and just plain fun. Keep scrolling to learn their stories, and get ready to see them as the faces of our fitness content this year!
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Occupation: Founder and personal trainer at FORM Fitness Brooklyn
Favorite workout song on repeat: “Higher Love” by Whitney Houston (don’t judge me).
Favorite kind of workout: Any form of lifting weights makes me happy.
Morit Summers first got into fitness—cardio, circuit workouts, and general strength sessions—at 14, as a way to lose weight, fit in with her peers, and “feel normal,” she tells SELF. “I hated gym classes,” she says, “and I was told over and over again I was fat.” Soon, though, her view on exercise changed dramatically. “Fitness to me now is about feeling strong; it’s about achieving and accomplishing so much more than I ever thought possible,” says Summers, who earned her personal trainer certification in 2007 and has competed in everything from powerlifting to 13-mile Spartan races. That’s why she founded FORM Fitness Brooklyn in 2018: to help others build a lasting relationship with movement that makes them feel healthy and powerful—and isn’t based on aesthetics or weight loss. It’s a concept she hopes becomes more prominent in other gyms, studios, and virtual spaces too. “I want more and more people who work in the fitness industry to stop putting their aesthetic goals on everyone else,” she says. “Let’s work to help people feel strong and confident and not like garbage for not looking the same as everyone else.”
Location: Astoria, New York
Occupation: Physical therapist and group fitness instructor at FlexFiit and Forte Lab
Favorite exercise: Heavy back squats—I love pushing myself to get stronger and hit a new one-rep max.
Best advice for someone starting out: Find a workout buddy…. The very beginning stages can feel very intimidating!
When Billy Anslow-O’Rourke was in college working toward his doctorate in physical therapy, he joined a bunch of different group exercise studios to stay active. “I found myself feeling so inspired and motivated by the coaches I trained with,” he tells SELF. About a year and a half ago, he began teaching group fitness classes, and is committed to helping people find meaningful connections through exercise. “Many fitness spaces lack the feeling of community and belonging, which can be so impactful for people starting out,” he says. This past summer, he and another coach worked to put on an event that brought all their studio members together: a fitness competition packed with challenging workouts that pushed them toward their goals and built relationships. “It allowed people from different class times to meet and get to know each other while also creating a safe space for people to compete in a friendly way,” he says. “There was a moment when the final team was finishing up the last event, and the entire room was roaring with cheers, motivation, and excitement. I still get chills thinking about it!”
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Occupation: Group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and mat Pilates instructor
Best thing to do outside of fitness: Explore the city for the best matcha lattes, go out dancing with friends, and watch trash reality TV.
Favorite time to work out: Super early in the morning. I love to start my day with some time with myself before I have to interact with the world; I am not a nighttime workout girlie.
“For many in the trans community, in-person fitness spaces can be incredibly intimidating, and often unsafe,” DJ Rock tells SELF. That’s why virtual workouts can play such a crucial role for people who are just starting out. In fact, Rock credits these at-home sessions for getting her into fitness; they provided a safe space that allowed her to focus on her workout. And the rewards of ushering in movement have been immense for her, especially during her transition. “Prior to [it], my body didn’t always feel like home to me. Fitness was a way for me to connect with my body on both a physical and spiritual level,” she says. “It’s important to me, so I want to be able to share it with others in my community.” She’s been doing just that since 2020, when she began instructing group fitness and Pilates classes, both in-person and virtually. Rock’s mission is to help people who are often excluded from traditional fitness opportunities by curating free community classes, offering sliding-scale programming, and hosting donation-based pop-ups. “I’d love to see more people in the fitness industry thinking about ways to make wellness accessible to people who don’t have the funds to pay high fees to access it, but still need these services,” she says.
Location: Maplewood, New Jersey
Occupation: Fitness instructor
Best thing to do outside of fitness: Fashion and photography.
Least favorite kind of workout: Lifting—I feel like a fish out of water. But I’ve committed to one to two days a week, and I’m feeling stronger each time.
Fitness has played a part in Rebecca Davis’s life since she was a kid—she grew up competing in tennis—but it wasn’t until just four years ago that she plunged into it as a career. “I was at a fork in the road in my life, and I had to make a decision about what I wanted to do. I sat down and thought to myself, What am I truly passionate about? Fitness was the number one thing that came to me,” Davis tells SELF. She quit her retail job, got her 200-hour yoga certification—“yoga has significantly empowered me, both physically and mentally,” she says—and started teaching. Now, she helps studio members explore their interests, hone their goals, and build consistent routines. There’s one thing she hopes to eventually see in all modalities: a true embrace of body diversity. That way, the fitness space can become more inclusive, affirming, and supportive for individuals of all backgrounds and abilities—“it would encourage a shift toward a healthier and more holistic approach,” she says.
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Occupation: Health educator and founder of Geek Girl Strong
Favorite workout song on repeat: It’s not at all difficult to hype me up with music, but at this very moment I’m feeling “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners.
Best way to recover after a workout: A good stretch with deep breathing and an even better meal.
Robyn Warren joined her first ballet class at age three, laced up her first pair of soccer cleats at five, and has been moving her body pretty much ever since—both in her professional and personal life. She got her start in the former as a New York City public school teacher, instructing physical education, adaptive physical education, dance, and health education classes; for the latter, Warren’s tackled everything from strength routines to cycling to pole dancing (which is “a natural confidence-booster,” she tells SELF). For people who want to give fitness a try but don’t feel like they “belong” in it, Warren believes finding a supportive community is key. “You’re not alone; a lot of us feel excluded,” she says. “In fact, I think there are more of us who feel that way than don’t, so finding an activity and or physical space that has more ‘misfits’ than not can really help.” Join a virtual community that speaks to your interests—Geek Girl Strong, for instance, merges nerd culture with wellness—and make sure to keep it fun, Warren says. “Try your best to approach it as playtime, like how recess felt for many of us growing up,” she says.
Location: Manhattan, New York
Occupation: Fitness instructor, founder of The Energy Academy, content creator, and performer
Best advice for someone starting out: Focus on how it feels instead of how it looks—time, patience, and self-compassion are a powerful combo!
Least favorite exercise: Burpees…hard no.
Laura Girard was an actor in New York City working a day job in a boutique fitness studio when the pandemic hit. In March of 2020, she launched an online fitness program, not only to keep herself busy, but to test a concept she’d been thinking about for a while—whether it was possible to sell exercise without the shame-based marketing that’s all too common in the space. “The fitness industry at large has a (well-earned) horrible reputation for being exclusionary, rigid, and unwelcoming—and we’re supposed to be helping people,” she tells SELF. “I had seen what a big difference fitness had made in my own life, and I wanted to share that joy, without any of the empty promises about how it was going to make your body look.” Her platform soon became known as The Energy Academy (TEA), aptly named for a pledge she could guarantee: “that you will walk away from your very first class with the energy to tackle the rest of your day,” says Girard, who has been lifting since 17 and dancing her whole life. It now has members across five continents, helping further her mission to make fitness way more accessible. “TEA has become a space where people can show up as they are, in the body they currently have, with whatever they can give on that day, and they know they will be welcomed, supported, and celebrated,” Girard says.
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Occupation: Senior coach at Body Space Fitness and adjunct lecturer at Brooklyn College
Change she’d like to see in fitness: More women in the weight room.
Best thing to do outside of fitness: Slam poetry, dancing, and making my friends laugh.
Alicia Jamison admits she first got into fitness for “selfish reasons,” as she tells SELF. “I wanted my gym community to help me get in shape and look a certain way.” But in the process, she learned that movement offers so much more than that. “My team helped me change my relationship with exercise. I now love training because it gives me more energy, uplifts my mood, and alleviates my joint pains. Now, I train with the main priority of mental and physical well-being,” Jamison says. She hopes she can help her clients—she’s been working as a coach since 2017—improve their own relationships with exercise too. A big part of that starts with baby steps, so you can get consistent with fitness and welcome it into your life for the long haul, she says. “Start small; just one to three times a week is plenty,” Jamison says. “Set small goals and collect many small wins, and that will lead to the biggest change.”
Location: New York, New York
Occupation: Physical therapist for performers and fitness coach at Mark Fisher Fitness
Best thing to do outside of fitness: Attend live concerts and Broadway shows, go to dance class, spend time with my dog Weezie.
Favorite exercise: Overhead presses.
A physical therapist working with Broadway performers, Amanda Ting moved to New York City in 2012 without a solid fitness routine of her own. Upon her clients’ recommendations, she popped into Mark Fisher Fitness—an inclusive exercise haven that helps “people who hate gyms find their fitness home,” as its site explains—and soon became a regular. “I really loved weight lifting and kettlebell technique, as well as the strong group of friends I had made,” Ting tells SELF. She was already planning on getting her strength and conditioning specialist certification (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) when workers at the studio approached her about becoming a trainer there. “It’s truly come full circle,” she says. “I’ve been honored to guide many through the program that changed my relationship with my body and fitness.” Now, she helps people that are new to exercise etch out their own start. “Find a class or a workout that appeals to your sense of fun,” she says. “It’s about finding what feels and works best for your body. Know that you deserve space—physically, vocally, emotionally—and find power in that.”
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Occupation: Founder of the Brooklyn Wellness Club, writer, and yoga and mindfulness facilitator
Favorite workout song on repeat: I really love all things Tasha Cobbs! All of her music is so inspirational and hits the spot.
Least favorite exercise: The stair-climber.
When Paris Alexandra first got into fitness more than 20 years ago, she started small. “I began my fitness journey by taking walks, and it later transformed into running, weight training, biking, dance, and then yoga,” she tells SELF. “I have always been incredibly inspired by the power of movement, and how it has supported me in self-confidence and unapologetically showing up for myself as myself.” She founded the Brooklyn Wellness Center—a multicultural and multigenerational space focused on holistic well-being—as a way to help others tap into their creativity and find what they need to thrive. “People from diverse bodies, traditions, backgrounds, and gender expressions come together in the name of being well and redefine what healthy looks like for them,” she says. “I want to see all of our stories celebrated, and for everyone to know that they are worthy of being celebrated, simply because they exist.” For people who don’t see themselves represented in traditional fitness spaces, just know this, she says: “You belong in every room that you step into.”
Photography: Katie Thompson. Creative direction: Amber Venerable. Wardrobe styling: Kat Thomas. Hair: Chika Nishiyama and Avery Golden. Makeup: Monica Alvarez. Production: Melissa Kramer.