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Off Campus: Building Confidence and Community With Fitness
By droseyb [at] chop.edu (Barbara Drosey)
She may be an ace at pullups now, but Kaitlin Lehmann, clinical research coordinator, wasn't always a fitness aficionado.
"Growing up, I was the kid who never wanted to play outside," Lehmann recalled. "I just wanted to watch TV, drink soda, and eat chips."
Today, Lehmann works with principal investigators in Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Department of Neurosurgery on a number of biobanking studies through the Center for Data-Driven Discovery in Biomedicine. When she's not consenting patients for studies, you're likely to find her at the gym or working toward her second master's degree.
Lehmann's journey to making physical fitness a priority and a pleasure began during college following a difficult break-up. Instead of sitting in her dorm room feeling down, Lehmann would join her roommate for a run or trip to the gym.
"We ended up starting a club in college called MOFO (Maintaining Outdoor Fitness Organization), and we planned camping trips, relay races, ski trips, all supported by the school," Lehmann said. "It was awesome."
Into the Groove
Over time, Lehmann found her real fitness groove with classes. She thrived with instructors' guidance and especially enjoyed toning and conditioning with weights, and workouts based on boxing and martial arts.
"I loved those two classes," she said. "They were introductory weightlifting classes at low weights but high reps, and I was doing that every day. Someone who I worked with suggested a popular high intensity interval training program, and I thought, 'No way! I can't do what they do!' But I agreed to give it a try."
Lehmann found the closest gym to her Fairmount-area apartment that specialized in high intensity interval training (HIIT) and stopped in.
"I was told to ask for a guy named Goose," she said, who turned out to be the owner of the gym.
The fitness program included a 15-minute strength segment performed with a group and a workout of the day, or WOD, that combined strength and cardio for a 15 to 20-minute total body workout. After two weeks of private lessons in which she learned different movements with a barbell and the program's lingo, Lehmann was hooked.
"I took to it right away because there was such a community feel," she said. "Everyone was so welcoming, and it just made fitness fun. That's my daily happy hour — seeing my friends and getting a good workout in."
Lehmann dedicated herself to getting better at the different movements and was most proud when she was able to do a pullup without modification bands. Once she decided to master this skill, she committed to doing 100 pullups with the bands, three times a week to build strength.
"Now I can do 100 on my own, no problem," Lehmann said.
More Than Physical
She loves how the benefits of her workouts extend far beyond the gym.
"It gives me the confidence to tackle new goals that I may not have thought I could do," Lehmann said. "I think, 'Well, I never thought I could do a pullup, and now I can do more than I imagined! So maybe there are other things I can do, too.'"
The combination of social interaction and physical activity plays a huge role in Lehmann's well-being, so going from five or six days a week at the gym to none during pandemic-related gym closures was challenging. When it reopened, the owner modified the program to allow space between participants and limited class sizes. Each station is blocked into a 10 by 10-foot workout area, and patrons sanitize the equipment before moving to the next station.
Participating in HIIT competitions pushes Lehmann's endurance and skills to new levels. She recently competed for the first time in more than a year and a half, due to pandemic postponements.
"Those are really fun," she said. "A bunch of teams show up from the gym, and we spend all day rooting each other on. Depending on the type of workout, the competition might be for reps or for time; for example, 100 burpees for time, but the cutoff is eight minutes."
Lehmann credits her fitness journey as the foundation of her life philosophy and motivation.
"It's changed my attitude toward how I feel about my body," she said. "I used to work out to look a certain way, and now it's because I want to feel strong. Completing the workouts gives me an amazing sense of accomplishment."