Alumna helps keep students fit

Going to college is like breaking out of your parents’ house and skydiving into Neverland — an entirely new environment where no one will nag about bedtimes, vegetables or homework.

Freshly set loose from high school, many students start leaning back on a cycle of late-night runs to Denny’s, weekend partying and peanut M&M’s for breakfast. Months later, they return home a few sizes bigger — another victim of the dreaded Freshman 15.

Custom built - O2 MAX's programs revolve around exercise plans based on individual needs, and are overseen by personal trainers. - Photo courtesy of O2 MAX

It’s a common scenario 33-year-old USC alumna Karen Jashinsky can identify with and one that gave her the insight that sometimes students just need a firm kick in the butt to guide them back to a healthy lifestyle.

Jashinsky aims to be that guiding hand. She is the founder of O2 MAX Fitness, a youth fitness and media company that launched a new program tailored toward college students — MAX U — less than a month ago.

Ever since she discovered the gym in high school and realized just how much she enjoyed working out, Jashinsky has always been active. As soon as she got her driver’s license, she was driving herself to the gym each night, spending about two hours there to relieve the stress and tension of the day.

But then she went to college. Though she tried to stay active, Jashinsky still gained some unwanted pounds because she had a hard time balancing a healthy lifestyle with her busy schedule.

“I would have late nights when I would just eat from the bakery,” Jashinsky said. “I just felt really yucky when I returned home, and I wanted to get healthy and in shape again.”

That summer at home, she met with a personal trainer for the first time. Working with a professional helped Jashinsky build back not just her previous physique but fresh motivation and passion for fitness. She started asking her trainer various questions, learning about different workout programs and how to properly put them together to build maximum fitness.

By the time Jashinsky moved to Los Angeles to attend graduate school at USC’s Marshall School of Business, she was working as a personal trainer to pay her tuition. It was then that she gained the inspiration to start her business through her clients.

Some of her early clients were parents who voiced their concern about the rising child obesity epidemic and the lack of physical education in schools. Meanwhile, many of her clients who graduated from high school and went to college came home out of shape. They worked hard to shed the Freshman 15 all summer, Jashinsky said, only to return to college and gain it all back.

“That’s when I realized that there’s a bigger opportunity out there helping college students,” Jashinsky said. “College students have the hardest time because they don’t have a lot of time, and they tend to party a lot in the weekends. They struggle with fitting workouts into their schedule and making better food choices, and they don’t have a lot of money [to pay a personal trainer].”

Thus, Jashinsky decided to combine her love for fitness, her college experience and her master’s degree in entrepreneurship to develop a fitness program for students that is easy to follow, inexpensive and convenient.

Students sign up for a $50 12-week program and receive a package containing a workout plan, nutritional guide, grocery and snack lists, and free samples and discounts to partner companies.

In addition, students can also set up weekly coaching sessions with professional trainers who will guide them in their workout and nutrition plans through e-mails, phone calls or texting. The trainers will help the student adjust their workouts to fit their needs, so that they can either log an hour-long session at the gym, or take several 15-minute exercise bursts within their dorm rooms during finals week.

“We’re basically always at your service,” Jashinsky said. “You can check in with us whenever you have a question or need help with something.”

But there will be no slacking off in this program. Part of the purpose behind these weekly sessions is for the coach to check up on the student, like a parent making sure that their child did his homework.

“If we don’t hear from you, we’re going to bother you to make sure you’re doing something,” Jashinsky said. “We will keep up with you and hold you accountable.”

And that seems to be precisely what many college students need to jumpstart their fitness routine.

Shawna Heinz, a freshman majoring in accounting, was having trouble with consistence and motivation in her workouts. But being determined to avoid the Freshman 15 “at all costs,” Heinz found her solution when she signed up for O2 MAX’s college fitness program.

“It’s so convenient,” Heinz said. “The coach will just tell me what to do, adjusting the workout plan according to my schedule and what I can do, and I simply follow it.”

Heinz only joined the program two weeks ago, but is already seeing benefits.

“I have more motivation now,” Heinz said. “And I am starting to realize how important being healthy and fit is. [O2 MAX is] there to always motivate me, and the things that they tell me to do is so manageable that I don’t have a problem accomplishing the task.”

O2 MAX has changed Heinz’s perspective on healthy lifestyles, she said. It wasn’t just so much about avoiding the Freshman 15 anymore, but relishing the feeling of being strong and healthy enough to achieve her goals and pursue her passions.

“It makes me feel good that I’m dong something for myself, accomplishing tasks and just being healthy,” she said. “It makes me feel so much better about myself, and each day goes so much better.”