For these four Austinites, movement is not just a form of recreational fun and physical fitness but an integral aspect of their lives. From their livelihood to how they serve and uplift our community, get to know these four individuals, how they choose to move and how they are making movement matter.
Water is essential for everyone but especially Cindy Present. Cindy’s love for the water and watersports goes all the way back to her childhood growing up on the banks of Lake Austin. She grew up waterskiing and even participated in the sport at a competitive level. She also met her husband, Steve, through water skiing.
Today, Cindy still resides on the same property where she grew up and has added new watersports into the mix, such as stand-up paddle boarding and wake surfing. She is on the water everyday, whether it’s to commute to her job as the fitness and activities director at Lake Austin Spa Resort or simply to get her daily dose of “Blue Mind.”
Cindy has an understanding of the mental, emotional and physical impact that being on, in or near the water can have on personal wellness. She knows this from science and personal experience.
In 2015, Cindy’s friend, Kristin McLain, who was a Star Flight nurse, was killed in a rescue accident. Kristin also had a passion for the water, and the two would often paddle together after a stressful day on the job. After her death, Cindy, as well as others in their community, turned to the water and paddling for healing.
This sparked the early beginnings of the nonprofit Cindy and Steve now run, Operation Get Out — which provides and leads water-based experiences for individuals, youth, first responders and military that are dealing with stress, anxiety, bullying, illness, loss, grief and PTS.
Their goal through the organization is to teach others to use the water as a form of medicine that can help put them at ease, “unlock” pent-up emotions and stress, share with others and gain confidence in order to find the resilience to move forward in life.
“My legacy wish for Operation Get Out is to inspire individuals to realize and utilize water as medicine,” Cindy says. “If we can help instill a Blue Mind response in individuals who know they are positively mentally and emotionally impacted by being in, near, on or under the water, then when they are struggling, they will have this amazing, natural, readily available resource that can dramatically impact their lives if they will consciously and intentionally use it.”
Gilbert Tuhabonye believes in “running with joy.”
As a kid growing up in Burundi in east Africa, Gilbert got his start in running early on, running nearly 3-5 miles everyday to the creek to transport water for his family. This earned him an early reputation as a fast runner, and he carried it into both his high school career as well as college career at Abilene Christian University, earning multiple conference and national championship titles.
However, it’s evident Gilbert’s talent was meant for a higher purpose than solely winning races.
In October 1993, during the Burundian civil war, members of the Hutu tribe invaded Gilbert’s high school and captured him, as well as over 100 other Tutsi children and teachers. While many were beaten to death, the rest were set afire to be burned to death, including Gilbert. After eight hours spent beneath his burning peers, Gilbert managed to escape out of the fire and jump from the building, running into freedom despite the severe burns he endured.
After surviving the fire, Gilbert sprung into a new life in the U.S. and ultimately landed in Austin after graduating from ACU. Here he has become an influential leader in the running community and a source of inspiration to many — runner or not. In 2002, he began a running training group, Gilbert’s Gazelles, which is now one of the largest running groups here. He also coaches the cross country team at St. Andrews high school.
In 2006, after many were inspired by his book, This Voice in My Heart, Gilbert co-founded the Gazelle Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps to serve the needs of the Burundian people with access to clean water and other resources while also spreading awareness of the global water crisis locally. The foundation hosts a beneficiary running event, The Run for the Water, every fall.
“When I think about running with joy, I think about this gift we’re given, this gift God gave us to enjoy,” Gilbert says. “Running is free therapy you can get for yourself. It only requires shoes and clothes and getting outside. And if you live in Austin, it’s even better, because there is a trail — I call it a treasure…To be able to put one leg in front of the other, clear my head and enjoy the moment becomes a joy — I’m a blessed man, let’s put it that way.”
It’s always gone back to dance for Ashlyn Chavarria. A native Californian, Ashlyn was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area where she developed a love for dancing at around age three. While Ashlyn admits she stepped away from dancing to try different activities at a point when she got a bit older, she always found herself going back to dance.
Ashlyn pursued her dancing career throughout high school and into college at Texas State, where she graduated with a degree in dance and was involved with a student-led campus dance organization.
Ashlyn’s dance career didn’t end in college, though. After graduating, Ashlyn moved to Austin, where she started her own dance studio in South Austin. She also served as the director of the Austin Lady Vipers, a semi-professional cheerleading group for the Austin Vipers football team.
Then in 2016, she was asked to join as an instructor for the nonprofit organization, Dance Another World, by the founder of the group, Dawn Rodriguez.
Dance Another World is an English language immersion program taught through dance. It serves non-native, English-speaking students (ages 5-16) from lower-socioeconomic areas, where students learn to communicate through creative movement. The nonprofit works with organizations such as Afterschool Centers on Education (ACE) in the Austin Independent School District and Cedars International Academy Schools.
The program touches communities in all parts of Austin and helps to provide a safe environment for children to learn English and build confidence.
Ashlyn fell in love with the mission of Dance Another World and continues to work as an instructor. She also recently took on the role as the organization’s executive director.
“Dancing has always been an outlet. It was a place you could go to dance off a bad day or get away from stress or problems at home. You can be yourself, and it’s a great way to stay physically fit as well as a way to build confidence,” she says. “It’s been amazing to see the impact on my students at Dance Another World — [dance] is completely changing lives in a way I didn’t even know existed.”
Troy Wilson made his hobby of climbing into a business. Troy first became interested in rock climbing as a hobby in high school. Growing up in El Paso, not far outside of town was Hueco Tanks State Park, where it is known to be a “mecca” for the sport of bouldering — and where Troy fell in love with the sport.
Troy then got his jumpstart making his hobby into a job while attending college at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, working at a student recreation center. It was then that he realized he could actually turn this into a career. He began working summer jobs at different camps running the ropes courses, and then after college managing rock gyms and starting different programs. In 2003, he began working at Austin Rock Gym, located on North Lamar, as the general manager.
After working as the GM for three years, he and his wife Erica decided to buy the business together, and the two still own and operate the gym today.
Through the gym, Troy and Erica have been able to climb while also sharing their passion for the sport with others. The gym trains people of all ages in all niches of the sport in order to educate others to be self reliant and confident enough to safely climb on their own and outside the gym. They also take the training outside the gym and provide climbing adventures around Austin as well. Their focus is not only teaching the physical and technical skills necessary for the sport, but also the mental skills needed to climb, such as overcoming different fears and building self-confidence.
While teaching people to climb independently is the goal, the couple’s mission through Austin Rock Gym is to build relationships and connect with the people through the sport of climbing. They make it a priority to build relationships with everyone who walks through their doors.
“I love climbing because it’s always changing and it’s always challenging — and I get to meet people through it,” Troy says. “Physically it will test you, and mentally it can beat you down. But I’m going through these things with cool people and it’s so rewarding. It’s a lifelong reward.”