BY THERESA SCANLON
In Rockford, Illinois, Matt Stewart entered his senior year of high school in 2010 weighing two hundred and eighty pounds. Tired of his unhealthy lifestyle, Stewart began attending a cardio kickboxing class at his local gym as a Lenten sacrifice. Between March and August of 2010, Stewart shed about ninety pounds, and has lost a total of one hundred pounds since high school.
“The biggest way I could die to myself was to start exercising,” Stewart said. “So I became a certified instructor in the summer of 2011 and began teaching classes.”
Upon attending Franciscan University of Steubenville, Stewart took “a leap of faith,” and was granted permission to start up a cardio kickboxing class for students, instructing the class himself. After putting up flyers, Stewart was astonished to find that more than 60 students showed up to attend his new class.
“We were working out of the aerobics room upstairs in the Finnegan Fieldhouse,” Stewart said. “And we had to turn more than half of the students away at the beginning.”
Gaining priority over other fitness classes offered at the University, cardio kickboxing has since been moved to the gym floor, allowing more space for the 40 to 50 students who are in daily attendance.
“Franciscan has never seen a program like this before,” Stewart said. “A lot of students depend on these classes, they look forward to them. It is so rewarding to see how we can use this workout as a prayer, and intercede for people we are fighting for.”
In its fourth semester, cardio kickboxing is now offered everyday from 11 am-12 pm in the Finnegan Fieldhouse. Ranging from cardio work to abdominal exercises, cardio kickboxing is an extremely tough and compact workout. Stewart only gives his students a twenty-second water break throughout the hour-long class to increase stamina and endurance. Adrenaline-inducing music is constantly blasting throughout the workout, only to be interrupted by Stewart’s motivational chants.
Sophomore education major Mary O’Brien attends Stewart’s class daily for the electricity and community cardio kickboxing has to offer, along with the rigorous workout.
“I go to the classes everyday because unlike tedious workout routines, cardio kickboxing pushes me farther than any other workout I’ve experienced” O’Brien said.
Now a junior at Franciscan University, Stewart has become busy pursuing medical school, as well as household commitments and rigorous classes. Starting this past year, Stewart has enlisted help from Mary Scott, who manages the classes and teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays when Stewart has other obligations.
“I could not run the program without Mary Scott,” Stewart said. “Last year I was canceling classes left and right. Now that we have two instructors, cardio kickboxing has flourished.”
Aside from wanting to offer an intense yet accessible workout program at Franciscan, Stewart also knows that mental and spiritual fitness go hand in hand. The true motivation behind cardio kickboxing is the idea that every workout is being offered up for something or someone as a sacrifice, as displayed on a white board in the gym, with the words “who are you fighting for?” written across the top, on which students are invited to write their petitions.
“There is a spiritual aspect to these classes,” Stewart said. “We are being set free: mind, body, and spirit. We’re coming together to fight through hard workouts. We’re fighting against mediocrity.”