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Maddie Biancalana says she started to take her health and fitness more seriously after freshman year, enrolling in a Fox Valley Park District program.

The following is a public-service announcement intended solely for inbound college students. It’s brought to you by someone who’s – let’s say – well-schooled on the subject.

“The ‘Freshman 15’ is real!” confirms Maddie Biancalana.

Like so many others, Biancalana learned calories can pile up as quickly as the classwork in our grab ‘n go culture. And it’s especially true for 18-year-olds with newfound independence and the bustle of college life – a seismic shift from the daily guidance and comfy routine that were provided all those years at home base.

“I kind of just let myself eat whatever,” says Biancalana, who recently graduated from Aurora University with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.

An Addison native, Biancalana lived on the AU campus her first two years to, one, immerse herself in the holistic college experience and, two, take full advantage of room and board (the latter being the part with “too many fried foods,” Biancalana says).

“I really started to take my health and fitness more serious after freshman year when I was more like, ‘OK, I’m gonna go run on the treadmill for 10 minutes and call it a day.’”

After playing sports “for as long as I can remember,” including softball all four years at Addison Trail High School, Biancalana filled the exercise void by enrolling in Fox Fitness at Vaughan Athletic Center during sophomore year.

Despite a demanding schedule, which only got more intense when she began clinicals at different healthcare facilities across the suburbs, Biancalana set a goal of five workouts – in some capacity — per week.

“It takes me away from the stress and it’s kind of like this is my selfish time,” Biancalana says. “I don’t even have to think about my day, I just zone in on whatever workout I’m doing.”

Acclimated to the college scene and in control of a schedule with all sorts of moving parts,  Biancalana, who “really didn’t get into lifting until my sophomore year in college,” entered the fitness fray without a workout partner or personal trainer.

Nope, like 90 million others who comprise Gen Z in the U.S., she relied on a trusty pal to help design her fitness blueprint.

“I get a ton of inspiration on TikTok!” Biancalana says. “There’s so much out there, but for Lent I had to put a time limit on it. I didn’t give it up completely, but my weekly screentime was embarrassing.”

During senior year alone, Biancalana balanced classes, her work-study position at AU’s mail center, and a lineup of clinical stints: patient care technician at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital; eight weeks of labor and delivery/eight weeks of pediatrics rotation at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago; and medical/surgical assistance on the cardiac floor at Central DuPage Hospital.

Next up is the NCLEX-RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses), which is required for nursing grads to successfully pass to be licensed as a registered nurse in the U.S. and Canada.

“My goal is to become a travel labor and delivery nurse for a private agency,” Biancalana says. “Once I get acclimated, I can travel, and some pay for living expenses and continuing education.

“I like caring for the babies and each labor and delivery is unique in that moms and babies have different needs. But it’s a happier time to come to the hospital.”

Her resume buttoned-up and ready to distribute once NCLEX is in the rearview, Biancalana’s summer of 2023 carries excitement (first job!) and uncertainty (where will it be?). Meantime, she’s reviewing exam materials, working part-time at VAC’s guest services desk and, yes, hitting the fitness center, which a few short years ago seemed like a whole lotta work on top of an already big pile.

“There were times when I was like: ‘Oh, my gosh … do I really have to go today?’” Biancalana says. “You don’t notice changes right away, but you start feeling better about yourself and if you stay consistent, you’ll see results.

“And there’s definitely a mental aspect to working out. Even if it’s 30 or 45 minutes, I feel productive.”

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