During a time of physical distancing, virtually connecting with other Hokies through a new club has helped Lavanya Venkatesan exceed some physical-fitness goals.

“I did not believe I would be able to do a 5K in a week when this started, but now, I can do two or three a week,” said Venkatesan, a second-year graduate student studying biology. “I just never realized lack of inspiration was the reason I wasn’t running every day. Like, I actually missed being around other people and being inspired by their fitness journeys.”

Venkatesan was one of hundreds of Virginia Tech students to workout with one another virtually through Rec Sports’ student exercise incentive program, Hokie Movement Club, this fall. Launched in October, the app-based program has already grown to more than 700 users, features weekly challenges and prizes, and allows for users to encourage each other from afar.

“It was cool to be able to connect with other people who like to stay active because it’s kind of hard to meet people with COVID [precautions],” said Aimee Straka, a first-year student studying engineering. “Just to know people are doing the same thing I am, that’s cool even if I’m not directly interacting with them.”

The Hokie Movement Club was brainchild of Kelly McPherson, the event coordinator for Rec Sports event coordinator, after successfully overseeing a similar program with Virginia Tech employees this summer. It is one of dozens of virtual and safe in-person activities students have available and are highlighted by Student Affairs Hokies Can Do campaign.

Using the mobile exercise app, Strava, students are able to join the Hokie Movement Club group, share their workouts, and give “kudos” and comments to others.

“We have a very active campus and many of our students were already working out anyway, now they’re able to more easily motivate one another and win prizes,” McPherson said. “After all, if you’re not enjoying working out, you’re probably not going to continue doing it.”

The weekly challenges allow members to choose exercises that fit with their individual needs and interests, but that also follow the group challenge guidelines, such as doing work outs that start with a certain letter each day in order to spell “Hokies” during the week or exercising at favorite spots on campus.

“That was a really fun one because I haven’t really been on campus this semester because all my classes are online,” said Evelyn Robinson, a senior studying industrial and systems engineering. “It was great to get out there and feel more connected to campus.”

Robinson was also the winner of one of the program’s prizes, which are drawn at random each week from a pool of participants who completed the challenge.

“I won AirPods, which was super exciting,” said Robinson.

While the prizes are a nice perk, some students said simply having a new challenge provided all the motivation they needed.

“It’s been nice to have a goal that you don’t set for yourself,” said Ben Stadler, a fifth-year senior studying civil engineering and member of the Corps of Cadets. “What drives me is being challenged and competition, so I kind of like the leaderboard too. You can see how you’re stacking up.”

McPherson said students can join at any time and the challenges would continue until December 2. The challenges are scheduled to restart in March 2021.  

“For most of the students, the technology is right there on their phone, they’re staying social and they’re moving, so both mental and physical health is impacted and they’re also winning prizes…It’s just a lot fun,” McPherson said.

Written by Travis Williams