More than a fitness group, CHAARG is about women empowering women

Members of Northeastern’s Chaarg fitness club for women work out on Carter Field. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

On any given day on Northeastern’s Boston campus, small groups of five or so women are meeting to work out together and pump each other up. These small groups are each composed of members of CHAARG, a national community of women that established its first chapter at Northeastern in 2019.

Avery Collard, a third-year student of psychology, founded the local chapter. A two-sport varsity athlete in high school, Collard found herself adrift in college, missing the fitness community she’d relied upon before. So, she created one.

Collard says she saw a post on social media about CHAARG (which is an acronym for the organization’s mission: “Changing health, attitudes, and actions to recreate girls”) and thought it sounded like a good fit.

“I’d always been into fitness, but couldn’t really find the right space when I got to college,” she says. “CHAARG seemed like a way to provide a safe, supportive, and empowering space for people to find their fit, whatever that means for their own bodies.”

According to its website, CHAARG was founded in 2012 at The Ohio State University. Since then, more than 100 universities across the country have started their own chapters, including Northeastern.

Collard participated in a nine-week training program organized by the national CHAARG organization, recruited people to join her executive board, and soon enough, CHAARG Northeastern was here. A year later, the group has grown to more than 170 members, Collard says. And, she adds, though the national organization is geared toward women, Northeastern’s chapter is open to anyone who believes in the mission, no matter their gender identity.

Members meet in groups for workouts as well as social events, most of which have been held online in order to follow COVID-19 public health guidelines. As the weather in Boston improves, small groups have been able to exercise outside as well, Collard says. Indeed, she participated in an early morning stadium workout in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood on a blustery day last week.

For members of the group, CHAARG is about more than just fitness, though. It’s also become a sisterhood of sorts, a community of friends to turn to when the going gets tough.

“It’s been amazing,” says Nicole Abbatine, a second-year student majoring in biology, and vice president of membership for CHAARG. Abbatine joined during her first year of college, during a time when she, like Collard, had been trying to figure out who she was without the rigid structure of high school.

“I think the first year is tough for everyone but having an outlet to release some stress probably saved my mental health my first year here,” Abbatine says. “I just fell in love with it.” Abbatine adds that she’s met lifelong friends (and her current roommates) in the group.

Collard says that the group has helped her navigate depression and her struggle with body image.  

“Through CHAARG I’ve gotten to be around people who are so committed to loving themselves, who are committed to being appreciative of what their bodies do, and it’s helped me so much,” she says. “I’ve grown into a completely different person over the last two years.”

Iona Stephen, a third-year student studying biology and computer science, joined CHAARG in 2019 for similar reasons as Abbatine and Collard: Stephen was captain of her cross-country team in high school, but lost touch with running when she started college.

Stephen is now treasurer for the group, and says she too found much more than a fitness community in the group.

“It’s just a great opportunity to be closer together in such a big city and school,” she says. “To be around so many amazing women on campus, and to be united in this health mission is great because you’re not afraid of judgment here. We’re all here to be the best versions of ourselves. It feels like you’re with your people.”

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