July 27, 2017

From Skydiving to Zumba, Exercising Gives Me Joy – Maxine Jonas

Maxine Jonas teaches in the Biological Engineering Department at MIT (Course 20), working with students on lab-centric classes. She earned her own PhD at MIT, and returned to teach here after a world-traveling career with BioTrove. These days, when not in the gym, you might find her teaching undergraduates how to build a fluorescence microscope from scratch, how to filter and analyze electronic signals, how neurotechnologies around the Institute are being implemented to study the brain, or even how to make battery cathodes with a virus scaffold!

To MIT and Back Again

I grew up in Tours, a mid-size city in France between Paris and Bordeaux, on the Loire River, whose valley the Renaissance kings punctuated with castles. After undergraduate studies in France at Ecole Polytechnique, I came to MIT for a PhD in Biological Engineering. Upon graduation, I stayed in the Boston area, now my home. I spent seven years traveling the world to dispatch BioTrove’s RapidFire systems at customer sites, but my inclination toward teaching and my curious mind led me back to MIT. I am now an instructor in my alma mater department of Biological Engineering.

Exercising Gives Me Joy – Maxine Jonas

Playing sports in my childhood was a pastime; exercising today has become essential to my felicity and wholeness. I danced for a few years, then played tennis and volleyball casually, simply sensing that sports contributed to making me a well-rounded individual. Skiing avidly and rowing on the Ecole Polytechnique team highlighted my love for the outdoors. I also became smitten with skydiving in college and jumped 241 times out of planes and helicopters in under three years.

Exercising Gives Me Joy – Maxine Jonas

But it’s not until I came to MIT that I started exercising almost daily. I fell in love with the swimming pool just minutes away from my office. My brisk time in the water never failed to leave me invigorated and proudly breathless, but also calm, stretched and clear-minded; smiling. For thirteen years, swimming was my primary physical activity. I supplemented it with yearly half-marathons to enjoy the fresh air of the outdoors, and with lifting small weights to enjoy my friends’ company and advice.

Exercising Gives Me Joy – Maxine Jonas

Life’s Road Blocks and Hurdles

Three years ago however I suffered a near fatal heart attack, caused by cancer radiation therapy I received as a child when I had leukemia twice, at ages 8 and 11. I was very fortunate to have caring and resourceful students around me and top-notch MGH next door. Even though I was delighted, after a few weeks of hiatus, to be back on my bike to commute to MIT, and back in the swimming pool, I was noticeably and forever weakened. I tried not to be heartbroken about it. I just had to keep going at my own pace and be there for my body.

One winter day, a free Zumba class was truly revelatory for me: exercising as a group, with a motivational, competent and joyful teacher, could be so much fun! Since then, I’ve been fervently participating in group exercise classes, mainly Zumba and BollyX, Pilates and Barre, Step, Core Conditioning and Strictly Strength. They’re often the happiest hours of my day.

Exercising Gives Me Joy – Maxine Jonas

A Like-minded Community

The variety of gym classes offered at MIT keeps exercising playful and challenging. It makes it easy to incorporate athletic pursuits in a daily routine, whether on mornings or evenings, or on good or bad days. I’m also grateful for the new community of like-minded adepts I belong to, thanks to the group exercise pass, and whose ties get strengthened every winter by the GetFit challenge. Finally, an encouraging and non-judgmental culture makes MIT Recreation welcoming to all, from low-key explorers to hard-core champions. MIT students and affiliates are not at the gym to impress, they’re comfortable in their own skin. It’s more about the form than about the force; everyone should practice at their own level and extract a positive experience for their own body and life.

The spirit and sports of MIT Recreation help me keep my heart strong!

I don’t exercise toward a specific goal, or identify with a particular motto. Consistency and steadiness are my ambition! Working out makes me feel happy. I make sure to prioritize my time in the A or Z centers every day. I always keep in mind a focus on enjoying my time exercising, slowly but surely. Every day, I wish to fully breathe in this lucky active parenthesis away from intellectual or emotional worries.