The University of New Mexico did not make the short list in a recent Huffington Post and study of the most physically fit universities, but if student participation in events such as Saturday’s bodybuilding competition is any indication, UNM is moving in the right direction.

Future UNM emergency medicine student Danielle Valdez took first place in the National Physique Committee Mid-USA/NM State Championship on Saturday. After 12 weeks of intense training and dieting, Valdez became one of many UNM students to compete in this high-stakes fitness competition.

Valdez competed in the open-figure short division. ”Short division” refers to contestants’ height, and “open-figure” is a competition in which participants are judged on symmetry, tone and overall aesthetic. In recent years, Valdez has trained relentlessly to boost her self-confidence and physical strength, she said.

“Since I can remember, I’ve been in a constant struggle with my body, always trying to be small and thin, but I wasn’t healthy ,” Valdez said. “I feel like I’ve finally overcome my body issues. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, so I decided to compete.”

Her training regimen included up to seven days a week of weight lifting, Valdez said. With the support of her husband and coaches, Valdez was able to balance other responsibilities of life with her intense contest preparation, but there were still challenges, she said.

“Of course it’s hard,” Valdez said. “It’s exhausting trying to balance everything. I’m on a strict schedule; everything has to be done at certain times otherwise it can’t get done. Sleeping, meal prep, eating, training, class, studying, work, cleaning and even driving time has to be diligently accounted for.”

Training like a body building competitor may not be for everyone. For students at UNM, striving toward a more fit campus includes participating in any type of aerobic exercise. UNM’s Johnson Gym offers many free services to enrolled students and staff: a fully equipped weight lifting gym, pool, basketball courts, a cardio floor and racquetball courts are just a few examples.

Diet is also vital for those interested in maintaining a fit lifestyle. In the midst of studying, partying and sleeping, diet often gets lost. However, eating healthy is easier and cheaper than most students believe.

The UNM co-op, La Montanita, is a great resource for students looking for close, healthier options that are also affordable, said Mark Summerlin, a nutrition major and certified CrossFit trainer. The co-op also has “owner’s deals” that are bi-monthly promotions of products picked by staff members to help students save money, according to its website.

“Intaking healthier food from the co-op truly makes the difference between feeling energetic and feeling sluggish and tired,” Summerlin said. “Eating natural and organic foods keeps the body clean from any byproducts found in processed foods that can lead to heart disease, diabetes and obesity.”

Not everyone on campus is a fitness connoisseur or nutrition enthusiast, but a surprising number of students are knowledgeable on this topic. David Repp, a first-year physical therapy student, said one of the best ways for students to begin getting fitter is by forming groups and creating a sense of community or a shared goal.

“Rarely do students just walk into a gym and start to work out,” Repp said. “I think the best way students can get started with their fitness goals is to seek out a friend or a group of friends that all have the same general goals. Once there is more than just yourself, they can seek out a trainer or someone who can help them toward their goals.”

Robert Salas is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. Contact him at