Alicja Kielczewska and Jeff Zhang: FitFam's Super Couple and Inseparable Team On and Off the Field.
If you were lucky enough to meet either Jeff or Alicja at one of our FitFam sessions, chances are the other one wasn’t too far behind. In fact, I am pretty sure that in the two months I have known them, there have only been two to three instances when the international couple was not exercising together. Yes, they are that committed.
Their dedication, passion and love for our community and for each other have created a major source of inspiration for others to feed off of.
This is their FitFam story.
Cupid at his best.
Born and raised in Suzhou in the southeastern Jiangsu Province of East China, Jeff studied Computer Science at university and subsequently moved to the neighboring megacity of Shanghai in search of what he perceived as better job opportunities than what he could find in his hometown: “In Suzhou, the Chinese don’t make a lot," Jeff explained. "Offers in Shanghai are usually twice as much. There are a lot more opportunities here.”
Alicja grew up an hour east of New York City where she studied International Relations at university. Over the course of her four-year degree she was able to learn a great deal about China’s fast development, but eventually grew tired of reading about its success stories purely from her textbooks. Longing for the opportunity to see it for herself, she took a big leap of faith by moving to Suzhou in the summer of 2015: “I wasn’t actually sure about what I wanted to do with my life after graduation," she admitted. "I wanted to give myself more time to think about it.”
Barely a month after having settled in, Alicja’s company decided to transfer her to Xiamen in Southeast China’s Fujian province: “I really wanted to live in Suzhou permanently, I really love this city.” Alicja said. “I was joking around with friends saying “Ha ha ha, maybe I need to find a Suzhou guy so I can move here.”
Well… Funny how life works out.
While living in Xiamen, Alicja’s friends suggested she creates an online dating profile to get her love life back on track. Ironically around the same time and about a two-hour flight away, Jeff was also being influenced by his co-workers to open a profile of his own in Shanghai. He was one of her first matches on OkCupid.
Approximately 6 months into their relationship, Jeff decided to go all in: “Our plan for the evening was to go to a fancy restaurant, but I didn’t want to wait” he said with a little smirk. “I thought it might be too much there, so I thought ‘Screw it, I’m just gonna do it now.”Alicja explained: “He decided it was an appropriate moment to propose while I was trying to put on my pair of pants! I should have said no and have him do it again!”We all began to laugh hysterically.
Alicja and Jeff were engaged in May 2016, married on paper in Nanjing a month later and eventually hosted the official wedding celebration in Suzhou in January 2017.
There’s no way this is actually free!
Back in December last year, Alicja overheard a few women at an all-girls event talk about a fitness community called FitFam. Intrigued by their conversation, she looked up the name on social messaging app WeChat and was surprised to find the information provided on the account: “There’s no way this is actually free!” she thought. “There’s gotta be a catch…” It wasn’t until April 2017, however, that Alicja began to join a few sessions. Forced out of their apartment by their landlord in in their first apartment towards the end of the same month, they relocated to downtown Shanghai. FitFam workouts were now within biking distance.
You did what?!
Because of their very unusual and different work schedules, Alicja and Jeff would often miss the opportunity to see each other during the week. The 10-workout Challenge we organized in June was the perfect occasion for them to spend more time together: "I worked 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. while he would go off to work at 10 a.m. and not come home until 9 p.m., so I rarely got to see him," Alicja told me. "When I heard about the challenge I told Jeff “Oh by the way, I signed you up for this challenge with FitFam.” He was like 'What?! What challenge?' I told him 'Oh you'll just have to wake up every morning at 5 a.m. and work out with me.'" Love works in mysterious ways.
Their mission was to complete 10 workouts within 14 days. Through the Challenge, Alicja and Jeff were able to establish a lot of close friendships, which had been a struggle for both of them given Jeff’s workload and Alicja’s transition from having a lot of friends in Xiamen to not knowing anyone in Shanghai. 10 workouts in 14 days, however, were not enough for the international couple. In order to spice things up, they decided to double the amount of workouts in that same period of time but could “only” pull through 15 due to sore knees.
From no-shows to becoming very active members of our community, Alicja and Jeff have improved their physical and mental capabilities dramatically: “Before FitFam I was doing a lot of different gym stuff but was always very inconsistent about workouts. I couldn’t even do 10 burpees” Alicja admitted. “But when I started joining that’s when I noticed the most gains.”
Jeff’s progress alone over the past 2 months has been particularly impressive. Despite not having exercised in over 3 years prior to joining FitFam, the motivation he was able to pull from every session he attended in such a short amount of time has allowed him to improve his endurance and strength in ways neither of them had predicted. Alicja felt very proud to point it out: “He went from barely being able to run a lap to completing 8K+ runs. I was in shock when he came home from his first run and told me he’d completed it!”
You can now catch Alicja and Jeff at many of our locations: Luwan Stadium, Yoga, Run to the Bund, WeWork and Xintiandi. Their latest accomplishment dates back a couple of days when Alicja led her first FitFam workout during our combo run this past Thursday! Of course, Jeff was there to help demo: “We do everything together.”
Onto wilder adventures.
Although their time in Shanghai and with FitFam has come to a near end, their legacy will surely live on for many burpees to come. Alicja has planned to leave China on August 29th, followed by Jeff a couple of weeks later into September. Their final destination will be some place in the United States some time in December, with multiple travels across Europe and south America in between, but fear not! A return to Shanghai is very likely to occur in the near future.