If you work in the CCE Admin building, it’s likely you’ve run into Renee Williams at some point. Known for being funny, charismatic, and easy to get along with, she is a friendly face among these halls. But chances are, even if you don’t work in CCE Admin, you’ve likely still seen her at some point. The question is, which version of Williams have you seen? Was it the director of PACE programs heading to a meeting or the group fitness instructor going to lead a class? Whichever Williams you’ve seen, the goal for both versions is still the same: being a leader, in both fitness and her career.
Fitness from the Start
Williams’s passion for fitness began in high school, where she played volleyball and basketball on the school teams. She continued playing while in college but injuries to her Achilles tendons during her freshman year put her on the permanent sidelines for high impact sports.
“I will never forget the first game I had to sit out,” Williams said. “It was so hard to do since I was so used to playing!”
Once she had recovered well enough, she was able to play various intramural sports throughout most of her undergrad years. But in her last semester of school, finding time for fun, let alone fitness, became a challenge. Between working three jobs and taking a full course load, Williams found herself overwhelmed and there was no time left for exercise. That routine continued even into her grad school years. But like with most health success stories, it started with one small change.
“I started going to the gym again. I jogged for one minute and then walked for five. Eventually my health and muscle tone came back and the weight slowly came off,” Williams said.
About four years after Williams lost the weight and kept it off, she was ready for a new challenge: to become a group fitness instructor.
Low Impact Leads to Positive Outcomes
Williams got her group fitness certification in 2005 and started teaching STEP and strength training classes. But when knee injury and surgery hindered her in 2006, she had to forgo running and high impact activities. Williams was determined not to let her fitness levels go by the wayside, so she looked for a way to find balance. When her family moved to New Jersey, Williams took a position at Rutgers University and also started teaching group fitness courses on campus. But after a while, teaching the same 3-4 classes became monotonous and she was ready for a change.
In 2008, Williams became an internationally certified Spin instructor and she has been leading Spin classes ever since. Williams currently teaches Spin and HITT at the Houston Huffman Fitness Center but has also taught TRX, CardioSculpt, Kickboxing. Williams tries to teach 3-4 days each week and usually leads her classes in the midday to better accommodate her busy schedule.
“Once I had kids and am gone nine hours a day, I didn’t want to be away early in the morning or at night, so that’s where lunch time came into play,” Williams said. “It has its strengths and weaknesses but the unexpected benefit of teaching at noon for me is that it’s a great stress reliever.”
Williams says that being able to work out in the middle of the day is a great reset mechanism and refresher, especially when the workday is hectic. She says occasionally it can feel like “just one more thing” to cram into her busy days, but once she is there, everything falls into place and she can’t imagine being anywhere else.
The workout in the middle of the day has more benefits than just physical activity and mental clarity. Williams says that she also benefits from knowing she is helping others reach their fitness and health goals. Her students are at all fitness levels and she does her best to help them along the way. She also helps the entire class during the workout by explaining how they should be feeling, offering alternative moves and, most of all, by being encouraging.
Williams says she enjoys getting to know her regular students and likes to share her journey with them, and on occasion, she gets rewarded by hearing about their journey in return.
“It helps you realize that you are making a positive impact in someone’s life. I realize that not only am I doing this for my health, but maybe I am making a difference,” Williams said.
An Analysis of Work and Working Out
It’s not uncommon for people to have undergraduate and graduate level degrees in different fields. Williams holds an undergraduate degree in exercise science and a graduate degree in adult and higher education. What is uncommon, however, is finding the perfect path that balances both degrees. But Williams has made it happen with her career at OU Outreach and the Houston Huffman Fitness and Recreation Center.
As the director of Intersession, Williams coordinates with faculty and academic departments to offer credit courses to nearly 3,000 students three times a year. With PACE, she oversees various programs including Developmental Math, Medieval Fair and Advanced Placement training. Williams says one of her biggest strengths is strategic analysis and in both her position as director and fitness instructor, it’s a talent that serves her well.
“I love to look at the details.” Williams said. “Where are we, what are we doing well, what can we do better, how do we get there...I enjoy the strategy of where we are and what we need.”
It’s no coincidence that Williams finds satisfaction in those details during her Outreach job, as they are just as relevant during her time on the Spin bike. Since her background is in exercise science, Williams chose to get her Spin certification from the most exercise-science based instructor she could and that is how she teaches her classes. Exercise science is the study of how the human body functions on every level, going down to the smallest details. In Spin class, that involves endorphins, blood gases, rate of exertion and listening to one’s body.
“In Spin, it’s so important to help people understand how they’re supposed to feel,” Williams said. “I want to help people understand what’s happening in their body, what they should and shouldn’t be feeling, what they’re accomplishing with each profile that we do on a certain day.”
Williams also finds a way to occasionally merge her two jobs. Since she oversees Intersession, Developmental Math, and Medieval Fair, she will occasionally take a moment during her courses to promote the programs to her fitness class participants.
"I don’t do it too often but it is a great marketing moment,” Williams said. “I try to use it very sparingly but when you are in front of a class on Spin bike, you do have a captive audience!”
"You might be surprised!"
Williams knows that achieving a healthy lifestyle and maintaining it can be a battle for even the most determined of people. She says that even though she has been a fitness instructor for many years, it doesn’t always come easy and she still has her struggles. She encourages people to remember that even though there are challenges, each body can be fit and that fitness looks different for each person. She says most often, people don’t give themselves enough credit and assume they can’t do something, and are defeated from the start. But she is setting out to change that mentality. Williams encourages anyone interested in health and fitness to come and give her class a try.
“If I help you know how to use that bike correctly and listen to your body and feel the way you are supposed to feel, it takes away the intimidation factor,” Williams said.
She says that while Spin can be one of the most challenging workouts, the beauty of Spin is that one doesn’t have to be perfect and it can be a great experience at any fitness level. She also tells people that each instructor has his or her own style and if she isn’t the right one for someone’s taste, no offense is taken! Her door is open for anyone willing to walk through it and she says would love to see some more Outreach faces in the crowd.
“Come, listen, and let me help guide you. I will pay attention to you, give you the basic starting information and just let you try it out. And you might be surprised…within a few weeks, you might be surprised with what you can do!”