Q&A: Yoshi Saka and Matt Swiontek

They promote fitness and community with November Project.
Yoshi Saka and Matt Swiontek
Yoshi Saka and Matt Swiontek. Photo by Johnny Quirin

During last winter’s polar vortex, a group of dedicated fitness enthusiasts headed outdoors at 6:01 a.m. for an invigorating workout. They are part of the November Project, a workout community that has chapters across the country.

The Grand Rapids chapter was founded by Matt Swiontek and Yoshi Saka, who in March 2017 began a fitness group, Carpe Diem, with the intent of joining the November Project (they officially joined the November Project in December 2017).

Today, the group meets weekly on Wednesdays at 6:01 a.m. — no matter the weather — at the corner of Lyon Street and Bostwick Avenue by the Grand Rapids Community College Ford Fieldhouse. Typically, 30-40 people show up for the just over 30-minute workouts, which are a mix of running and bodyweight exercises arranged in a circuit “so no one gets left behind.”

Some people might bristle at going outdoors in the middle of winter; what motivates the group to get out even in the harshest winter conditions? YS: It’s motivating to know that there’s going to be a group of people that are stoked to show up for a workout, even in the worst weather, because they want to embrace everything that West Michigan has to offer. And ultimately, it helps with accountability and creating a habit; we’ll be out there no matter what.

What was the craziest weather the group has faced? MS: We held a workout on the day of the polar vortex but moved to a parking garage staircase to shelter us from the wind. We look out for each other and do our best to keep things safe, but also, it’s a badge of honor to say that we took the worst Michigan has to offer and had a blast.

This group has dual goals: fitness and community. How and why do you work toward both goals? YS: We’re working to build community through free fitness while being intentional about creating a culture of inclusivity and positivity within our workouts. We believe that this community connection and positive atmosphere extends into our daily lives and pushes us to be better citizens of Grand Rapids.

Are newbies welcome? YS: Newbies are always welcome! GR

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