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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

UC Davis alumna is Facebook’s “Hot Mom”

Maria Kang said that she has always considered fitness a priority. One of her current goals is to motivate others to as well, and her work began in Davis.

Kang sparked a controversial campaign in 2013 that garnered national attention when she posted a picture of herself looking fit after giving birth to three kids in three years. The photo’s caption read: “What’s Your Excuse?” In spite of negative responses, Kang has defended her photo and the message it represents.

“I knew during the photoshoot that it would be a powerful image. I wanted to send out a clear message — that if I can do it, with three kids in three years, then so can you,” Kang said.

The “it” she refers to doing is maintaining a healthy body while raising kids and working. Maria’s manager and husband, David Casler, pointed out her ability to multi-task effectively.

“Maria is a tireless self-starter and super mom,” Casler said.

Kang started her work locally, where in four years at UC Davis she earned degrees in international relations and history with a minor in political science. While in college, she worked part time as a trainer at 24 Hour Fitness.

“My goal was to work for a global company and follow my passion — which at the time was fitness,” Kang said.

Fitness has remained the primary focus of her career. After college, Kang sent out her resume and was contacted by someone higher in 24 Hour Fitness’ chain of command.

“I was granted an interview with Mark Mastrov, founder and former CEO, and was hired as the first female on his corporate team to launch a series of circuit training gyms in the Bay Area,” Kang said.

Even beyond contributing to her financial success, Kang said her time at UC Davis had a great impact on her life. She studied in Beijing as part of the UC Study Abroad program, which inspired her to travel to other parts of the world — including Greece, Thailand, France and Italy — by herself. Her education also changed the way she looked at the world.

“Education at UC Davis taught me how to ‘think.’ I started to problem solve, consider viewpoints, do research and question the status quo,” Kang said.

Questioning the status quo is part of what put Kang in the spotlight. Her controversial photo was designed for exactly that.

“I was targeting everyone who’s had an excuse for why they can’t make their health and exercise a priority,” Kang said. “Was it an unrealistic image? I don’t think so. I think we are facing a health crisis in America where the majority is overweight.”

In terms of her goal, her photo was a success.

“I wanted to create dialogue about a gamut of issues, and I did,” Kang said.

Her husband believes people’s negative response was due to a misunderstanding of what the photo and caption meant.

“Maria’s photo and question touched a nerve with a lot of people,” Casler said. “Most found it inspiring while others took it out of context. I watched people attack Maria, then read more about her, and it turned out they appreciated the message.”

He went on to say what that message was: to make health a priority. Kang’s other projects include opening residential care homes for the elderly and starting a fitness-focused nonprofit.

“I founded Fitness Without Borders in 2007,” Kang said. “It is a nonprofit focusing on education and leadership in underserved communities. We’ve had several outreach and school programs. We have found the most successful program to be the ‘Family Transformation Boot Camp,’ which takes families through a 12-week effort to lose weight, learn about nutrition and exercise together. We are starting five new boot camps this spring in San Francisco and Sacramento.”

Kang’s work and internet presence has inspired a project that reaches a larger audience through social media, which Kang has called the No Excuse Mom movement. At the core of the effort is Lori Hare who, after contacting Kang, created the No Excuse Mom Challenge group on Facebook.

“The No Excuse Mom movement is a gathering of moms to offer free, no nonsense, no gimmicks exercise and nutrition guidance to help moms create balance in their lives and build a legacy of health in their families,” Hare said.

Kang said she was excited to have inspired the movement and the commitment to fitness shown by those that join it.

“I knew I wanted to be a fitness role model and I knew I wanted to make a difference,” Kang said. “If you believe in something so strongly, you will become what you believe. So be careful of your thoughts, be positive about your abilities and be faithful in your future.”

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