by Alexa Rodríguez
Growing up around the Fifeville area, Nicole Hawker’s dreams of giving back to her community by creating a space for health and wellness have finally come true. A gym focused on accessibility and inclusivity, Heart and Soul Fitness with Nicole opened its doors at 818 Cherry Avenue in November of 2022. A vibe that is best described as bohemian and quirky, this charming gym is nestled within the Cherry Avenue Shopping Center and is adorned with Christmas lights, a disco ball, leafy plants, and orchids.
Nicole Hawker, the founder and owner of Heart and Soul Fitness, originally entered into the health and fitness space while living in Tennessee in 2012. After a friend invited Nicole to the grand opening of her new gym, Smoky Mountain CrossFit, Nicole won a month of free CrossFit training. Looking back at that point in her life, Nicole describes herself as “somebody who could barely…walk to the end of my road to go get our mail without feeling like okay, I’m just gonna sit down for a minute.” But after the intense month, she noted how this profoundly transformed her life. Nicole identified how the community that formed from the fitness training was what stuck with her the most, stating, “It was just something about that space. It wasn’t just the working out; there was something about the community of people.” A year and a half later, Nicole received her level one CrossFit certification and then, in 2016, became a certified personal trainer.
Nicole returned to Charlottesville in 2016, and two years later found herself looking to continue her fitness journey while also hoping to cultivate a space that brings people together, just as Smoky Mountain CrossFit did for her in Tennessee. I sat down with Nicole to talk about Heart and Soul Fitness. When asked about why she founded the studio, Nicole said, “I know how expensive it can be [to go to the gym]. And so, I wanted to make sure that what we did here was accessible, and that people could come in and make sure that they could work out without money being…a barrier to them.” Nicole also wanted to ensure the Black community in the area had a place where people looked like them, particularly since the neighborhood feels like home. As a child, Nicole had family members living less than a mile away and holds many fond memories of spending time with her father in the Tonsler Park area.
Nicole is particularly interested in attracting everyday people interested in starting or continuing their fitness journey. “It’s that woman who is saying, ‘I need to try something different.’ The mom who is winded from taking care of her kids… the dad who you know is going to work but who’s saying, ‘If something doesn’t change, I don’t know if I can keep at this pace.’“ It is for those who, like she was, are “sitting on the couch and [saying], ‘I’m not sure I can do this, but I’m willing to give it a shot.’”
Heart and Soul offers classes focused on what Nicole calls “metabolic conditioning,” or a plan that integrates a combination of strength building and conditioning exercises. These workouts are designed to build strength and then a little bit of conditioning or cardio. Metabolic conditioning workouts are offered Monday through Friday mornings. The studio also offers Zumba on Wednesday evenings and is beginning to offer yoga classes on Fridays. For more information, see the full class schedule. Keeping in mind that all bodies are different, Nicole noted that “everything that is done here is modifiable to that particular person’s body.” While membership is $80 per month, Nicole encourages anyone who is interested in joining and not able to afford the monthly fee to reach out and speak with her about options.
Returning to Charlottesville after so many years has presented both benefits and challenges for Nicole and her new gym. With any new business, it is tough to get the word out, but it has been particularly difficult since Nicole is establishing new relationships and reconnecting with old ones. However, it is evident that while the studio is relatively new, several members of the community have taken action to help the new gym. As a non-profit, Heart and Soul Fitness accepts donations for materials. Just in the last few weeks, people have donated various pieces of equipment including dumbbells, battle ropes and yoga mats.
So, what’s next with Heart and Soul Fitness? The gym is holding an internal five kilometer walk/run for its members on Saturday, June 24th. Nicole is also expanding her yoga class offerings and is working on creating a self-defense class for the University of Virginia community as a proud Wahoo mom.
If you’re interested in learning more about Heart and Soul Fitness classes and events, donating equipment, or for more information about membership, feel free to contact Nicole Hawker at 865-216-7846, or visit the gym’s website at https://heartsoulfitness.org/.