A woman smiling in a gym with people working out behind her
Tanika Santos MacSwain works with a team of 40 trainers and fitness attendants at RecWell. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Meet-a-Ram: Tanika Santos MacSwain, who finds joy in fitness

MacSwain, who is fitness coordinator with RecWell, is passionate about student fitness and developing collaborations throughout the university.

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Editor’s note: Meet-a-Ram is an occasional VCU News series about the students, faculty, staff and alumni who make Virginia Commonwealth University such a dynamic place to live, work and study.

When she was a little girl, Tanika Santos MacSwain was interested in nearly all sports.

It wasn’t until her father, who is from Peru, told her girls in Peru didn’t play soccer, that she decided she decided to show everyone she could.

“It seemed I was a feminist from a very young age,” said MacSwain, fitness coordinator with Recreation and Well-Being (RecWell) in the Division of Student Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I played soccer through school and at the collegiate level. My dad coaches now and fully believes in the power of women in sports.”

MacSwain, who earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science at Wingate University and a master’s degree in kinesiology and health promotion at the University of Kentucky, where she worked as a graduate assistant, came to VCU in January 2021.

“I had ruptured my Achilles tendon while I was playing soccer in a recreational league at the University of Kentucky and moved home to North Carolina during my recovery,” she said. “I was looking for a change, trying to find a job a little closer to home. I interviewed a lot of places, but when I interviewed at VCU the people I spoke with made it feel like home. I made the decision to accept the job here based on my gut and without visiting VCU. I knew I made the right choice when I got here.”

MacSwain is passionate about student fitness and helping students grow. She is a National Exercise Trainers Association-certified personal trainer, an American Council on Exercise-certified group exercise instructor, an ACE pre-course instructor and is Yoga Level One certified. She teaches the ACE Prep Course to help students become certified personal trainers at VCU.

Since coming to VCU, MacSwain has grown her team to a total of 40 trainers and fitness attendants.

“RecWell had just formed the fitness floor attendant position. I was able to develop it,” she said, adding, “I like it when students take ownership of their job and have pride in what they do.”

She enjoys collaborating with other departments at VCU, such as with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

“We’ve held Latin dance nights at VCU and International Dance Day to promote well-being and joy during Latine Heritage Month,” she said. “The first year we held the events at the Compass and averaged 10 to 20 students. This year, we had the dance nights at Monroe Park, and we averaged closer to 40 to 50 students. That was cool to see.”

She likes being able to incorporate movement back into her routine after her Achilles injury.

“I’m finding joyful movement like salsa dancing. I perform with a salsa group, and I like the social aspect. I also work at a yoga studio teaching classes,” she said. “This year I want to be more intentional about finding a group where I can play soccer. I missed out on that last year.”