Inspirational ‘City Gym Boy’ raises the bar for exercise

In most ways, Jelani Medford ‘14 is a typical first-year at the College. He plays football, dances for Ritmo Latino and works hard in his classes.

Less typically, he’s also a model of sorts for an organization in New York City called the City Gym Boys. “It’s a fitness organization based in New York, and basically our goal is to reach out to the community, particularly to youth and young adults, just to stress the importance of exercise, eating healthy and just making healthy life choices,” Medford said.

When you think “fitness organization,” it’s probably not anything like the City Gym Boys. With muscled arms and perfectly defined washboard abs, every one of the half a dozen or so Gym Boys is like a walking billboard for the potential of hard work and dedicated exercise. And most of what they do is, in fact, essentially publicizing the value of exercise. In addition to doing frequent workshops in schools and after-school programs, the City Gym Boys put out an annual calendar.

“Every year we model for the calendar, which showcases a different Gym Boy for every month,” Medford said. “The idea behind that is to engage people and show people that working hard goes a long way, and it motivates the young men and women to stay active and go to the gym. [They] see us as role models, people who aren’t using any steroids or taking any drugs of any kind but still look great.”

Medford is also quick to emphasize that what is important is not getting the chance to model or show off his body. “Being a person involved in fitness isn’t just about being arrogant and self-centered, it’s also about giving back,” he said. “There’s a stigma of athletes being boneheads and not helping others, and at City Gym Boys we try to change that.”

Charles LaSalle, from Medford’s own neighborhood of Washington Heights, N.Y., founded the organization in 1997. Lasell recognized and worried about high rates of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, and he wanted to do something about those issues locally. “He began getting groups of his friends who were also interested in fitness and motivating others, and a couple years later they came up with the concept of the City Gym Boys calendar,” Medford said. Last summer, he ran into the group and, seeing his potential, they asked him to join.

Exercise has always been a part of Medford’s own life. As a kid, he played soccer, baseball and basketball, while in high school he also “picked up” hockey and football. It seems he picked them up pretty quickly; here at the College, Medford is on the football team.

Sports are one thing, but Medford also works to keep his body as fit as possible, even in the off-season; he trains every day except for Wednesday and Sunday, totaling about 10 hours a week. He gets his inspiration from his mother. “As well as being a physician’s assistant, she also used to compete as a bodybuilder and she worked as a personal trainer on the side,” Medford said. “She’s always a great influence on me as far as helping people and trying to motivate others.”

Even while here at the College, Medford has managed to keep up with the organization, returning every now and then for weekend events. Most recently, the group is publishing an exercise book, “a 90-day workout book based on bodyweight exercises,” Medford said. The book is based on an idea that the City Gym Boys try to emphasize: Anyone can learn to get in shape, wherever you are. “It starts with you. You don’t need necessarily a gym membership or fancy equipment; it’s things that you can do at home, at your job, at the park, based on different body weight exercises,” Medford said.

While he’s certainly made an impact in his hometown, Medford’s dedication to fitness and helping others is spreading to the College. “One of the librarians actually asked me to be her unofficial personal trainer, which is pretty flattering,” Medford said. “This Wednesday, I’ll be going to the gym with her.”

Medford sees himself as part of the strong culture of fitness we have here at the College. “I think Williams is a great environment. The athletes are not only athletes, but they’re versatile, getting involved in theater and arts and dance, and giving back to the community,” he said. Athletics is often discussed as its own world at the College, but Medford illustrates that athletes are more than their sports.

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