UW WELL-FIT: 20 years and thriving

Join us in celebrating 20 years of the UW WELL-FIT cancer exercise program!

Our story

Where we started

 Caryl Russell, Mike Sharratt, and Lori Kraemer

In January 2002, Caryl Russell, Director of UW Fitness in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences, and Mike Sharratt, Dean of the Faculty of Health (formerly known as the Department of Kinesiology and Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, respectively) initiated a unique exercise program for people undergoing cancer treatment, and the UW WELL-FIT program was born. The program was inspired by the success of cardiac exercise programs and trends of athletes with cancer participating in exercise – the successes of such programs revolutionized how we view exercise – Exercise is Medicine®. With the support and enthusiasm of oncologists Dr. Dingle, and Dr. Stevens, a strong relationship was established between the University of Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences and the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre. Lori Kraemer joined Caryl as the Exercise Physiologist that prescribed, designed and implemented this innovative exercise program within the Lyle Hallman Building. As the program grew, the word spread about our program and our success grew. As our first clients were completing their initial 12 week exercise program, a strong interest was expressed in continuing to exercise following cancer treatment. We developed a new program for our cancer survivors to ensure that they stayed active. These programs grew to become the START-FIT and STAY-FIT programs and were delivered under the guidance of passionate and knowledgeable, certified fitness staff.

In 2005, the Manulife Wellness Centre was built to provide additional space, which allowed further growth in our programs, team of fitness staff, and an excellent training ground for undergraduate students to volunteer and support the programs. Staff hired had been student volunteers while working towards their Kinesiology degree, and they had become passionate about the atmosphere of the UW WELL-FIT programs.

Clients working out on treadmills and exercise equipment in CCCARE gym.
Trainer assisting client with stretch on floor mat.
A gym setting where a UW WELL-FIT staff member works with a participant while others work out in the background.

Where are we going from here?

In 2016, we acquired a new space, a 20, 000 square foot facility in the Toby Jenkins Applied Health Research Building. As UW WELL-FIT programs grew, so did our ideas. During this time, we developed the Centre for Community, Clinical and Applied Research Excellence (CCCARE) – our inspiration was drawn from our interactions with our UW WELL-FIT participants over the years. We wanted to create a space where innovative research ideas were born – influenced by our community members, staff, students and researchers – these ideas and our research were put into practice within our programs. With this platform, we have been enhancing our educational programming and hands-on training for our students to become highly knowledgeable and skilled healthcare professionals and researchers. UW WELL-FIT became a signature program for CCCARE and a template for similar clinical programs such as STEPS (for stroke survivors) and Brain and Body (for those experience early cognitive impairments) – putting research into action.

Since the global pandemic evolved in 2020, UW WELL-FIT shifted to remote programming and continued to support cancer patients and survivors at no cost. We continued to provide opportunities to help people with cancer stay active and fit over the course of the pandemic at a nominal fee.

To date, the UW WELL-FIT program has helped over 2,000 individuals diagnosed with cancer to maintain or improve their fitness during treatment and beyond. It is a program for individuals in cancer treatment to exercise, but also a place for them to connect and find support with others with similar experiences. Over the past 20 years, we have established that exercise can combat the negative side effects associated with cancer and its treatment, as well as improve sense of well-being through lifelong friendships and support from peers in the program. We now have supported thousands of students, many of whom have become health care professionals and are now delivering clinical programs, using exercise as an important tool to support health. We strive to continue building strength in our UW WELL-FIT participants, our volunteers and staff. Help us work towards a healthier community by supporting our 20th Anniversary celebration campaign.

How to support

UW WELL-FIT fitness staff in gym

To show your support for the UW WELL-FIT cancer exercise program, consider making a charitable donation directly to this program or becoming a sponsor.

For more information about Sponsorship opportunities, please contact us by email at cccare.info@uwaterloo.ca

To donate online, please complete Waterloo’s secure online donation form and select "UW WELL-FIT Program" from the list of options.

To donate over the phone, please call our Office of Advancement at 1-800-408-8715 and specify you'd like to donate to the UW WELL-FIT program.

To mail-in a donation, please contact us first at fitness@uwaterloo.ca for a CCCARE donation form that you can print off and mail-in with your preferred method of payment.

For general questions related to donations, please contact Katelyn Gordner, Faculty of Health Alumni Engagement Officer.