The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, commonly called “Charlotte,” hosted the 29th annual Southeast Collegiate Fitness Expo (Fit Expo) from February 11-13, 2022.
This year was the first time Charlotte has been able to host Fit Expo as the university opened its doors to the first-ever dedicated recreation center on campus in January 2020. Fit Expo was a sentimental and special experience for me as I completed my undergraduate studies at Charlotte, and I’ve hosted the conference multiple times at various institutions. It was nostalgic to be at Charlotte and share the experiences with my team since Charlotte was my first home away from home.
A Rundown of the Expo
More than 300 students from over 30 institutions attended the two-day conference. The day started with an opening Extreme HIIT Chaos master class led by Carolyn Erickson, president and CEO of CE Consulting, LLC and vice president of group fitness for Genesis Health Clubs.
Following the master class, participants attended various breakout sessions led by students throughout the day. During lunch, students could network with sponsors and other attendees and watch the ever so popular Demo Team performances.
Demo Teams started at the 1995 Fit Expo and have been a long-running tradition each year for colleges and universities to showcase programs through a choreographed routine. This brought excitement to the audience and inspired many students to plan their performances for next year.
A Fit Expo social was held Saturday night at Frankies FunPark. Sunday began with a hip hop yoga master class followed by a half-day of breakout sessions. Sunday morning also included a brunch meeting for the fitness directors in attendance.
Back in Action
The 2022 Fit Expo was the first Fit Expo to be back 100% in-person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
East Carolina University (ECU) hosted the 2021 Fit Expo in a hybrid format with in-person and online options. In addition, it was the first to feature a main stage presenter live-streamed from Italy. More than 75 people attended the in-person option at ECU. Close to 300 participated in the synchronous and asynchronous options online.
I asked Tori Lord, the assistant director for Fitness at Charlotte, how it feels hosting the expo in 2022.
“Not only was it an amazing opportunity to host this event and showcase our facility, but it was also such a joy to be back in-person with students who have a passion for fitness for this event,” she said. “COVID-19 took away this opportunity for [many] students last year. And, to have gone two years without Fit Expo you could feel all the energy and excitement bouncing off the walls of our University Recreation Center this year. The majority of my students had never attended Fit Expo before, and I think it gave them a spark we all needed to bring back to our fitness programs here at UNC Charlotte.”
Why Should Students Attend Expos?
Sophia Marshall, the senior associate director of University Recreation at Charlotte, mentioned to me the importance of peer-to-peer learning. That’s one of the founding principles of Fit Expo. The essence is blending the expert main stage presenters with student presenters. This allows the conference to provide continuing education credits for students. That way, they maintain their certification at minimal cost, another founding principle of Fit Expo.
I asked her why universities should financially support their students going to expos:
“Universities should financially support students going to the Southeast Collegiate Fit Expo because the return on investment is immediate and worth it,” said Marshall. “Not only do student instructors, [personal] trainers and graduate assistants who attend get an opportunity to learn both from their peers and national presenters, attending rejuvenates them. They bring back new ideas and creativity to their campuses, either due to a class they attended or because the expo sparked their creative side again.
“Also, during this weekend, they become better team members. Riding in the van together or rooming together at the hotel, or spending extra time together practicing for demo team, is a phenomenal bonding experience for the students. Now when they get back to campus and Susie needs a sub — but I didn’t know Susie before going to Expo, but during the trip, we spent time together and bonded — now I’m more likely to sub Susie’s class because there’s a connection there and I want to help her out. So sending students to Fit Expo is worth the financial investment double times over.”
Looking Forward to 2023
Since its inception in 1994, various universities have hosted Fit Expo. Occasionally, multiple have hosted in the same year to maximize the number of participating students. Historically, Fit Expo is hosted no further south than Columbia, South Carolina, and no further north than College Park, Maryland. Marshall noted the critical date to host is February.
This year’s Fit Expo was memorable; Charlotte sets the bar high. So what’s next for Fit Expo? The University of Virginia (UVA) will host the 2023 Fit Expo; it will head back to Charlottesville, Virginia, where it began 30 years ago. Jackie Lebeau, the senior director of fitness and instruction at UVA, said she’s excited to host next year’s conference.
Coming Full Circle
Interviewing Marshall for this article was a full circle moment for me. She is a long-time mentor of mine who inspired me to align my mission with the work of collegiate well-being and recreation.
My final question for her was how she feels to finally host Fit Expo in the queen city.
“It’s hard to put into words; [I’ve] waited so long,” said Marshall. “One of my major goals is accomplished. I feel full; I feel proud.”
And if you ask me, Charlotte did a phenomenal job hosting the conference and gave everyone a world-class experience. Simply put, it was an expo fit for a queen.
Learn more about the expo here or @sefitexpo on Facebook or Instagram.