Kam Matthews ‘20 has turned the end of one journey into the beginning of a new one with her fitness account created March 16. Courtesy

When Kam Matthews found out the NCAA ended the spring ath­letic season because of the coro­n­avirus, she couldn’t believe that playing com­pet­i­tively was really over. This was her last of four years on the Hillsdale College women’s tennis team, and one that was off to a dom­inant start that earned her the G‑MAC Player of the Week award in Feb­ruary. 

Once the shock wore off, Matthews started a fitness account on Instagram @kammathews_ that has helped cure her tran­sition away from sports and into the socially dis­tanced reality of this new normal.

“Given all I have learned about fitness and training over my years as a college athlete and as an exercise science major, I hope I can use my love for fitness to help others with their own,” she said in her March 16 post. “Tran­si­tioning out of college sports wasn’t some­thing I was quite ready for, but I am so excited to jump into a new adventure.”

Since then, her adventure has created a sense of com­munity and brought many the chance to keep up with their fitness in quar­antine. She has posted videos demon­strating at-home workouts just about every day and has been fea­tured on Kappa Kappa Gamma’s Instagram Live.

“Working out is some­thing that makes me happy,” Matthews said. “I wanted to share that joy with other people and give them the tools they need to find joy even in these hard times we are facing.”

Before spring break, the Chargers were riding a wave of dom­inant matches in Feb­ruary and gearing up for the start of con­ference play at the end of the March. They trav­elled to Florida for a pair of matches against some of the top com­pe­tition in NCAA Division II tennis for spring break. 

After the tour­nament ended in Florida, the Chargers could sense that the season wouldn’t go according to plan. But all at once the team found out for sure the season was can­celled.

“We had kinda heard we weren’t going to be starting back for a while and then I got an email from coach saying it was done,” Matthews said.

Head coach Nikki Wal­bright had the dif­ficult task of passing on the message vir­tually, after the team began to go their sep­arate ways toward the end of spring break. Passing it on through Matthews, co-captain with senior Katie Bell, made the news that much more dif­ficult.

“Hon­estly there is no other way to describe it other than dev­as­tating,” Wal­bright said. “We both realized that her last match had just been played and she was crushed. It was a stressful week and sud­denly it was just over.”

That second Florida match against No. 5 Nova South­eastern ended in a loss, and maybe the hardest part of the season being can­celled for the Chargers was knowing this would be their last. There was so much left to play for.

“We’re a super young team and we had a lot of really young talent and won con­ference two years in a row,” Matthews said. “It was def­i­nitely really hard for me stepping away from it. Espe­cially with that Feb­ruary season we were all on a high.”

The Chargers were not just dis­ap­pointed that another strong start to the season wouldn’t see its con­clusion. There was a lot they wanted to prove. 

“Our team as a whole had so much left to accom­plish this year,” Wal­bright said. “We were on track to defend our two GMAC titles and wanted to prove our new team could con­tinue what we have built over the last few years.”

This can­cel­lation was an espe­cially big mis­fortune to Matthews and Wal­bright, the pair that worked closely together for four years to much success. Matthews holds the team record for most career wins and highest winning per­centage and was in Walbright’s eyes “one of the most dependable players” on the team. 

Matthews’ 30 – 40 minute workouts strengthen the whole body without any equipment, making them tai­lored to the restric­tions of quar­antine. In each post, she walks through how to do each exercise before setting the viewer off to get a sweat in, as she likes to say. 

“The number one thing I look for in a workout is what gets my heart pumping and gets me sweating,” she said.

The exer­cises she chooses are vari­a­tions on burpees, push-ups, planks, and many other common move­ments. She says the variety helps her to stay focused and engaged. 

“We’re all already bored at home and the last thing we need is to be bored doing our workouts,” she said.

So far, the formula has worked. Each post gets praises from friends and fol­lowers who have enjoyed the oppor­tunity to be active at home. One friend, Marie Theisen’s, comment on one post encap­su­lates this feeling: “Seri­ously thank you for doing these! It’s hard to go outside in a city and this has kept me sane 😅.” 

Matthews’ workouts are often fast-paced and require no equipment, letting friends and fol­lowers enjoy the oppor­tunity to be active at home. Instagram

Though the account is new, Matthews’ expe­rience leading her friends through workouts is not. She had been leading spin classes at Hillsdale after getting a spin instruction cer­ti­fi­cation in 2018. This spring, she began leading workouts of a dif­ferent sort to a small class that she describes as “more of a group fitness boot camp-type class.” 

Her classes were very popular, fre­quented by ath­letes, friends, other stu­dents, faculty, and even members of the com­munity. The spin classes were even so popular that people had to show up a half hour early to get a bike, she said.

Matthews is used to moti­vating others to reach their fitness goals. All along, she has been careful to lead her classes by doing them along with her class.

“I want them to feel like we’re all doing it together,” she said. “Even when I was teaching spin I’d do the entire workout with my class.”

Though the quar­antine has sep­a­rated her from her classes, the posts, and more recently Instagram Live workouts, have helped bridge that dis­tance.

“Doing Instagram Live allowed me to get back to that and I think that’s some­thing that’s super important and some­thing I wanted to do when I started. It may hurt and it may burn but I’m right there with them.”

Her lead-by-example approach, so dis­tinctive of her workouts, was formed on the tennis courts. That attitude, Wal­bright said, was apparent at the beginning of Matthews’ career.

“One thing became clear early on, she had a natural ability to lead,” Wal­bright said. “I remember as a Sophomore she was eager to take on more respon­si­bility and wanted to con­tribute as much as pos­sible.”

Her con­tri­bu­tions would become the foun­dation for her lead­ership, with service always at the center. She was the type to be in the middle of the circle leading team warmups and orga­nizing team activ­ities, Wal­bright said. The team is a major source that helped her learn these qual­ities, espe­cially given the unique way college tennis teams compete.

“Learning how to lead people while working with them as an equal, tennis really allowed me to apply that,” she said, reflecting. “In a sport like tennis it can get indi­vid­u­alized so quickly. You may get a per­sonal win but that’s a win for the team.”

Even in the middle of a workout, Matthews has that ability to stand out as a leader. Former teammate Madeline Bissett ‘19, asked in one post, “How do you look like that holding a side­plank?” 

She didn’t offer any clues in the com­ments, so I had to ask. 

“I just have fun with it,” she revealed. “I think the biggest thing is anyone can make any­thing look great as long as you’re having fun with it. Smiles are con­ta­gious.”

Matthews serves during a match last season. Her lead-by-example approach to her workouts were formed on the tennis courts. Courtesy

Matthews’ account has met a growing need in the lives of many stuck at home during the quar­antine. People who may not have pri­or­i­tized working out before now circle their neigh­borhood on walks or runs in evenings. All around, public parks seem to be more traf­ficked than ever. Every­where, it seems, people are paying more attention to their health.

So it makes sense that Matthews’ fitness page has blown up during the crisis. In just over a month with the account, she has gained more than 575 fol­lowers, which she said is mind-blowing. Even more sur­prising to her is the broad reach her platform has gained.

“So many people have sent me dm’s saying thanks so much for the workouts,” she said. “I never expected that. It has been so cool to see that I’m able to help people I don’t even know.” 

While at first Matthews had to cope with missing out on pur­suing many mile­stones that seemed like the cul­mi­nation of a suc­cessful career like the 100th win, a third con­ference title, and one final run at the NCAA tour­nament, her reaction showed what’s really important to her.

“I know this all weighed heavily on Kam but I am proud of her for keeping her head up,” Wal­bright said. “She kept sup­porting her team and jumped straight into a new venture that directly helps the com­munity around her.”

With the promise of what could have been now lost, Matthews shows by example how to put per­sonal set­backs aside and help those around her reach their potential.

But then, her four years as a Charger showed that all along.