CHICAGO — Elite strength coach Cam Paulson is making it his mission to build commitment and community in under-served communities by donating weight rooms through his It Takes a Village (ITAV) Chicago foundation.
“A weight room is simply an uncomfortable area," Paulson said. “I love that because if you can thrive and get punished in a weight room — and you want to do it more and come back and build those habits — I’m telling you, it’s going to translate into anything.”
The weight room serving 3,000 students at CPS's Curie High School in Archer Heights had been in disrepair until ITAV stepped in, according to the school's athletic director Joe Riley.
“We had a lot of cables broken,” Riley said. “Missing a lot of pins, teachers going to Home Depot to buy long screws to use as pins for our machines, a lot of rusty free weights.”
A brand new $110,000 facility was built over the summer at Curie and opened in late July. It boasts state-of -the-art equipment like squat racks, benches and free weights, along with indoor running turf for agility and speed drills.
“I’m in it for one reason,” Paulson said. “Building resiliency and those habits that come with toughness.”
In three years, Paulson opened three state-of-the-art weight rooms in under-served communities, including the San Miguel School community center in Back of the Yards, and the James Jordan Boys and Girls Club on the Near West Side.
At the Boys and Girls Club, Paulson met a Curie High School student who mentioned that the school’s weight room was in bad shape. That day, Paulson called Curie’s administration and offered to fix the situation.
“Out of nowhere — we didn’t even solicit this,” Riley said. “It just fell in our laps, which is amazing.”
The investment in the new facility is already paying dividends for Curie High School athletes and alums.
“Being pushed beyond our limits kind of helps us mentally,” Juliana Pantoja, a student, said. “Not only physically, but mentally to keep grinding, and keep getting better.”
Paulson is a former strength coach with the University of Florida and the Ohio State University football teams. Three years ago, he opened a gym in River North called Strive Village, which caters to the downtown business crowd.
Paulson said he’s happy to give back, hoping students will approach life with integrity and passion.
“It’s called passion, and passion spreads like wildfire,” Paulson said. “If you’ve got special people, you can do anything.”