Better Communities through Fitness: A Q&A with Ray Smeriglio
At City Fitness, we’re constantly learning about what motivates people to strive for healthier lifestyles. This Q&A is part of a larger interview series with a number of Philadelphians representing a wide range of industries and communities — from entertainment to fashion to fitness. These interviews and photos were completed to celebrate the launch of City Fitness’ Signature Club which is coming to the Sterling Building on 18th and JFK. Click here for more information and 30 Days of early access for just $10!

City Fitness is all about building better communities through fitness. Perhaps nobody in Philly embodies that spirit like Ray Smeriglio. You can find Ray organizing early morning running clubs for the homeless in an effort to help jump-start their lives. Or you can find him helping the mayor of Philadelphia figure out the best ways to keep millennials and recent college grads in town. We talked with Ray about his own wellness journey and how fitness can be a path toward upward mobility.

Tell me about your own journey with health and fitness.

I was fit in high school. I played three sports. I had my high school’s 100 meter record for track-and-field. But my health and fitness fell off in the college. After freshman year I put on a decent amount of weight. I was so focused on developing my professional network, working on my career and of course going out and partying, that I let myself go. My senior year, my mentor Bill Bergman signed me up for a 67 mile bike ride from Philly to Atlantic City. I knew I needed to train beforehand, so immediately started eating a lot healthier and exercising more. I ended up dropping 60 pounds. After accomplishing the milestone of crossing finish line in the bike race, I kept it going. Now I lead cycling classes. I do Crossfit. I even did the Broad Street Run.

College students are notorious for sleeping late. How do you get them to take your early-morning cycling class?

You just have to be light and fun. And have a sick playlist. We cycle to the sunrise and it’s always a good time.

You work with Back on My Feet Philadelphia, helping those experiencing homelessness get back on their feet through running and exercise. Tell me about that.

Fitness is one of the only mechanisms — other than education — that I believe creates a path for upward mobility. If you can go out and run three or four miles at 5:30 in the morning, you can do anything. It helps those down on their luck or don’t feel so confident. And they’re not running alone. They’re accomplishing things together. It’s a great program. If the participants hold a 90% attendance rate in the first month, they get financial aid and career opportunities that can help jump-start their lives.

You’re on the City of Philadelphia’s Millennial Advisory Committee, aiming to get millennials and recent college grads to stay in Philly as young professionals How can health and fitness play a role?

Millennials want to be fit and accomplish things. By creating events that piggyback on infrastructure that’s already here, we can accomplish a lot. How about a bootcamp where you run up and down the Art Museum steps? You can’t run up and down the Art Museum steps if you live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. City Fitness does a great job of that. They have events that are integrated into the fabric of community and I know it makes a big difference.

Q&A by Jared Shelly