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Worcester, as a Workout City: Summer Fitness for All


Irena Kaci

Summer in a northeast city is both long awaited and hard won, and when it’s here it passes much too soon. Luckily if you are looking for a way to stay in shape during this season, Worcester has some fantastic (and budget friendly) outdoor offerings, making it possible to set fitness goals while not giving up even a single drop of coveted sunshine. 

If you are already or are looking to become an early riser, I’d like to introduce you to the November Project. Don’t let the moniker fool you; this organization has summertime written all over it. The official workout happens twice every Wednesday morning, once at 5:20am and then again at 6:20am. It is thirty minutes of nonstop movement from beginning to end, but with a lot of flexibility in between. 

“Whether you’re looking to set ambitious goals or just looking to have a very easygoing approach to movement, there is someone here at your level. There’s someone here to meet you at your level and people here to challenge you to go outside of your comfort zone and set some new goals. There’s something for everyone.” Abhinav Ghandi, WPI Graduate Student, and veteran November Project devotee. “I’ve been going to November Project workout since mid 2021. I’d been following them on Instagram for a while but had never made it to a workout. Then the pandemic hit and the workouts became virtual, which wasn’t really my thing. When they started announcing their in-person workouts again, sometime mid 2021, I decided to give it a try. I remember my first time very clearly; I was 5-10 minutes late. They were working out in the commons and someone named Jim Athy was in charge. I walked up to the workout and Jim immediately recognized me from our Instagram exchange. He said ‘You reached out via Instagram; so glad you made it.’ They instantly called me in and it was a very, very inclusive experience. I felt so welcome.”

The November Project was started almost 11 years ago in Boston. Two former Northeastern crew athletes and friends were struggling to continue to maintain their fitness during the cold months. They began an accountability program by agreeing to workout together every Wednesday morning.  Before they knew it, word spread and the desire for community of fitness grew. From that very small beginning the project has blossomed into a multi continent movement. In fact, presently there are more than 50 cities around the world that have November Project chapters. 

The staggering growth has necessitated some foundational architecture. To wit, there is a board that monitors growth of every community and in order to set up a chapter in any new location, the first step is adhering to the community agreements. I spoke with Jessie Arnold, one of Worcester Chapter’s two co-leaders. “Now that we have a board, we’ve become totally legit.” Says Arnold. “The main theme behind November Project is that fitness is a community and we really strive to be as inclusive as we can. Our board monitors the growth and inclusivity.” In order to streamline the process of inclusivity, NP has distilled their structure into 6 ‘community agreements’, to which they strictly adhere. 

“They are all six of them on our website, but I like to explain them. Our first one is come as you are. That means that anyone in any condition can come to us wanting to participate, to work out and we will work hard to accommodate and modify. We’re not just here for people who are already confident in their fitness; we are here for everyone who wants to work out together as a community. So, no matter your relationship with exercise, if you’d like to join us, we’ll be glad to have you.” Arnold is careful to explain the remaining five, including things like respecting, motivating each other, choosing leadership from within (Arnold herself was once just another participant), and something they like to call ‘Calling In’. “Calling in just means that we love getting feedback. We want everyone to feel respected and if there’s ever anything about that that needs discussing, or anything that feels like it’s not meeting that standard, we want people to call it in.”

November Project truly goes beyond just a fitness routine, though fitness remains at its center. Another draw for busy professionals is the social aspect. “Now, I have friends throughout the world. It’s really cool. It’s kind of insane to say but it’s true. Every year we have something called ‘summit’. One year we set up our own race in San Diego, and everyone from the global community is invited to show up. It’s a great way to meet people and see connect from all over the world. It’s kind of funny, I’m originally from New Hampshire, I moved here about 10 years ago. I worked at the hospital and I wanted to meet people that do stuff that I do, and I really like to run. It wasn’t immediately easy. Finally a coworker suggested that I check out something called “November Project”. This was is 2017 so I went and my first workout was great. I met a ton of people. That was really hard. We did the stadium stairs at the college of the holy cross. I met so many people. It was instant that connection.” Gandhi reports something similar: “I moved to Worcester in 2018 for my PhD. and, aside from people in my program, didn’t know anyone. It was hard to meet people and to connect. Since joining November Project, I feel like I know so many people and get to do so many things.”

This is not unintentional. November Project really values that group connection and solidarity, and –as a community –have a committee dedicated to exactly that: “We do have socials. We have a social committee and those are people who get together to volunteer for once a month. We keep people up to date and changes in the workout. During the summer months we tend to do more social outings. We keep the workouts during the week, because members are doing a lot of races and we like to keep weekends open for family time. We do sometimes to a pop up workout. Monday mornings; for example this past Wednesdays, for global running day a sunrise 6k.”

The free fitness initiative does not begin and end with November Project. Worcester’s Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield as well as both YMCA & YWCA of Central Massachusetts are continuing with their offerings of free summer fitness in the park series  “We have really worked hard to expand our programming to offering a variety of classes, as well as a variety of locales.” Says Leah Serafin, Coordinator of Community Initiatives. This is the fourth year in a row that Worcester is offering the ‘Free Fitness in the Parks’ program and classes have only expanded and improved. “We are offering hip hop, yoga, Zumba, meditation, HIIT, and even a boxing class this summer, so there really is something for everyone.” The classes will take place in 8 different parks, including some off the beaten path like Oread Castle Park, YMCA’s Fuller Family Park and Cristoforo Colombo Park, to name a few. “Our goal here is accessibility. We want to bring fitness into neighborhoods. We want people to be out in their communities and see something cool happening and want to join in.” The classes are also family friendly in that the venues require very light supervision from parents who are working out. “Plus our instructors can accommodate and include older children who are willing to participate. And for the younger kids, some events will have a little bubble table or hula hoops strewn around for small children to use.” While getting into a new groove always takes some doing, Serafin encourages anyone who is interested to ‘come on out and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.’ 

Aside from these two more formal group offerings, Worcester outdoor workout communities are becoming more and more ubiquitous. I am myself partial to the Facebook group Massachusetts Women’s Hiking Club, filled with locals looking to connect over climbing any of the surrounding seven hills and more. Additionally, Elm Park’s Art in the Park offers some extra encouragement and motivation for taking a stroll around its historic grounds. Any way you play your summer cards, whether it’s through simple solitary walks through our fair city, or kayaking Quinsigamond lake, the message is simple: the pandemic has receded, the sun is shining, and the air is warm even on rainy days. The time has come to shed the body oppression of winter and find joy in movement.

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