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Finding community through fitness

Classes at the Wade King Student Recreation Center offer a taste of comfort for Western students during demo week

Zoe Gadbow shows students different exercises that target and strengthen their abs at the Wade King Student Recreation Center in Bellingham, Wash., on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. // Photo taken Briana Tuvey

The Wade King Student Recreation Center at Western Washington University offers daily fitness classes for those seeking a more social and inclusive space to exercise. The rec center offered a demo week – seven days of free fitness classes to all Western students – from Jan. 9 to 15.

The rec center’s benefits range from reducing stress and improving yourself and your health to meeting new people. Despite the many reasons to go to the gym, for some it can be a scary and intimidating place. 

"I'm actually surprised that most people don't come to demo week because it's free and the classes are so accessible," said McKenna Fleming, a second-year student. 


Gina Mechling and Mackenzie Kilroy watch as kickboxing instructor Marcus Benson shows them how to throw a proper punch at the Wade King Student Recreation Center in Bellingham, Wash., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. // Photo taken by Briana Tuvey

While the gym is utilized by many, some feel anxious when it comes to working out in a public space. 

"If you're a non-white, non-cis straight man, the general gym is going to be a little bit scarier,” said rec center instructor Zoe Gadbow. “As a queer person and as a feminine presenting person, even just walking around the gym still makes me a little bit nervous after all this time working here." 

Gadbow has been an instructor since winter quarter of last year and now teaches three classes: HITT, ab lab and the glute class. 

"I enjoy helping people feel comfortable in a gym environment," Gadbow said. "I also really enjoy working with people for a quarter, half quarter and then just seeing them out in the gym."

Ron Arnold, fitness coordinator at the rec center, also has a passion for fitness and is constantly working toward making the gym a more inclusive place for everyone.

“You can talk all the inclusion you want to talk, but until you can make someone feel welcome, it doesn't matter,” said Arnold. "If you could just make someone feel like they belong in that space, regardless of where it is, what it is, the inclusive part happens. Regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, any of that stuff, you're welcome here. You're just as valuable as anybody else.”

Not only are these classes a way to find your place in the gym, they also give students the opportunity to meet new people and create a diverse and comfortable community.

“Being able to meet people, I think that's just extremely valuable,” said Zumba instructor Maddie Sullivan. 

Second-year student Gina Mechling said, “The classes are a great place to create a community and learn your basic workout tips.”


Zumba instructor Maddie Sullivan leads her class in an upbeat dance at the Wade King Student Recreation Center in Bellingham, Wash., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. // Photo taken by Briana Tuvey

Finding the right people and community might be the next step in feeling comfortable at the gym.

“The gym is not as scary as you think it is,” second-year student Abbi Matthews said. “It's a [much] more accepting place, especially if you find the right people."

Demo week is offered at the beginning of each quarter. After the week is up, you can buy an X-Pass for $45, which covers all classes for the whole quarter or pay $5 for a single class drop-in pass. The schedule of classes is posted on the rec center website.

“I have a hard time doing my own workouts. Having the classes to have that structure and have somebody basically tell me what to do, I find, is a lot more helpful for me and a lot more motivating to me," Fleming said. 

Briana Tuvey

Briana Tuvey (she/her) is the photo and social media editor for The Front this quarter. She just finished her third year at Western and is majoring in visual journalism with a minor in psychology and sociology. She enjoys photography, reading, watching soccer (especially Sounders FC), and spending time with her friends and family.

You can contact her at

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