Stephanie Arroyo

A fitness program for womxn of color
Story by Mary Gallagher

Senior in kinesiology with minors in sport psychology and Spanish. She also works as a personal trainer at the Student Recreation Center.

Arroyo, who is contemplating a career in naturopathic medicine, wants to inspire more women of color to adopt healthy lifestyles and exercise habits. People in marginalized communities already face barriers to obtaining health care and information about preventing chronic illnesses, Arroyo says. On top of that, she says, chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity are more prevalent in communities of color, and women of color are more sedentary, as a group, than white men or white women.

Arroyo is a fitness fanatic, but she knows what it’s like to feel a little lost in the gym. She fell in love with basketball at age 7, but her knees broke up the affair. By 17 and already a knee surgery veteran, she knew she needed to give up basketball. But for what? At Western, during her first visits to the Student Rec Center, learning new activities by herself was lonely and awkward.

After she became a certified personal trainer, many women of color sought her out for help. She started thinking about how to create a welcoming, culturally relevant active community of women of color.

Arroyo’s answer is Tumbao, a word drawn from Afro-Cuban music and other elements of black and Latino culture. “Tumbao” refers to the rhythm of a conga drum. It can also mean strong and empowered or an in-your-face self-love that Arroyo wants to bring to the group. In a welcoming atmosphere for womxn of color – “womxn” signaling her inclusion of all who identify as female – Arroyo wants her audience to rediscover how fun it is to move, with a different kind of exercise each week, from swimming and lifting to dancing and hula hooping.

And most of the time, she’s learning something new, too.

“I think a lot of the reasons why people are convinced they don’t like fitness is not because they don’t like exercising. That’s what our bodies are meant to do: We’re meant to move,” Arroyo says. “I honestly think it’s because you just haven’t found the right movement for you.”

How you can help: As Arroyo gets ready to graduate, she’s looking for someone else, perhaps a fellow student with a passion for fitness, health and social justice, to continue the program. 

is editor of Window magazine

Video by Suzanne Blais