The last few years have been hard on my body. Between quarantine, the pressures of a career change, financial shifts and entering my later 30s, my relationship with health and fitness needs a reboot. That’s why I jumped at the chance to meet with two of D.C.’s most dynamic fitness leaders and entrepreneurs: Mona Laviñia Garcia and Dawson Saint Jour.
Even a quick sprint through their CVs shows why these two are fit to land on the cover of our Winter Issue. Garcia, a native Washingtonian, is the co-founder of Northeast Track Club, a free and inclusive running community; creator and movement specialist at MVMT Lab, an experimental strength and conditioning space; and founding trainer and talent manager at D.C.’s Rumble Boxing. Saint Jour, a founding trainer at Rumble, is a boxer, an MMA fighter, a certified National Personal Training Institute trainer, the founder of HIIT Hard Training (which combines boxing and high-intensity interval training) and a rising multimedia star.
I sat down with them at FLEX DC, a new gym housed in a historic firehouse. It’s a suitable location for these two, who spoke with enough heat, and heart, to inspire me to sign up for my first-ever fitness challenge. As soon as I’m done typing, I’ll be moving.
District Fray: How did your fitness journeys start?
Mona Laviñia Garcia: I was stuck in traffic at the circle by George Washington Hospital and realized I felt stuck in life. There was a restlessness with my job, and I wanted to figure out what I was doing. Then, I saw a woman running in the rain. She wasn’t stuck. She looked strong, she looked powerful. She wasn’t letting anything stop her. I was like, “I want to be that woman.” So, I signed up for a 5k. I wasn’t a runner at that point. I played soccer when I was younger but after college, I didn’t do movement or anything. Fast forward from there, I’ve gone all the way from marathons to ultra-marathons, and I’m at the point now where I want to share this with people.
Dawson Saint Jour: I’m an immigrant from Haiti. My mom brought me here to be born because she thought that was the best way for me to have opportunities in life. We went back to Haiti for six years, and when I came back [to the U.S.], I got bullied and beat up on the regular because I couldn’t speak English, couldn’t enunciate words. I started boxing so I could learn how to defend myself. In high school, I made friends with people who were being bullied, so it felt like teaching boxing chose me. I ended up going to school for physical therapy and received a personal training certification. I worked at every major gym you can think of, found my niche and now it’s second nature to me.
“Never limit yourself by saying you’re not something. Stick to it, do the work and see what happens.” – Mona Laviñia Garcia
How do you each define fitness?
Garcia: The first mission is longevity; you want to live and lead a good life, to be there for your family. It also helps with mental health. Moving your body every day helps with your mindset; having that routine, that habit, that consistency in doing something you enjoy. Performance wise, you will get what you want if you work on it every day, but there are so many aspects of fitness. Have fun with it.
Saint Jour: Fitness releases endorphins into your body which makes you feel more positive and have good vibes. When it comes to boxing or weight training or HIIT, it’s about overcoming mental humps. If you ever have bad days, if you ever thought you couldn’t get over something, if you ever felt defeated, if you ever felt that you can’t look at yourself in a positive light, work out. Give yourself an hour where you work on yourself. That’s what fitness is for. You need an hour to yourself to dedicate to yourself. Every rep, every set, every hardship you go through helps you grow as a person. Invest in yourself — in the best version of yourself.
What do you say to someone just starting out?
Garcia: Things worth doing take time, but it can feel intimidating and isolating, like you don’t know where to begin. When I started running, I had shin splits. I didn’t know anything about that, but I was curious, like, “Is it supposed to hurt this bad? What am I doing wrong?” A trainer can work with you one-on-one, give you information that will work for you and will feel comfortable for you. It’s about showing up, giving it a try and celebrating the things you can do.
Saint Jour: Your mindset has to be number one. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You might not like it day one but try something for 30 days. Put yourself on a disciplined path for 30 days. Try ballet, running or yoga for 30 days. If you don’t like it, if you don’t feel powerful, then try something else.
“You don’t have to be great to get started, but you do have to get started to be great.” – Dawson Saint Jour
What keeps you both motivated?
Garcia: I love getting people to their goal. I have a client who thought five pounds was her limit. Now, she’s lifting 70. Giving people that moment, letting people feel seen, inspires me to continue building a space for them and developing my skills and owning my craft as a female leader in this community.
Saint Jour: I’m always grateful for where I’m at because of where I come from. Everything I do is to give back to my people in my country and show my mom that I’m living the life that she will always wanted me to strive for. Whatever motivates you, figure it out and use it as fuel.
Flex DC: 219 M St. NW, DC; moosefit.co/flex-dc
Tips from the Pros
Set achievable goals
Show up for yourself
A trainer can educate + motivate you
Any movement is better than no movement
Celebrate all progress
Give yourself grace
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