“I was born for that,” exclaimed Michelle Mulak-Cheatham, ’14, after spotting a job for a fitness and water reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. “I knew the moment I was in the building for my interview that it felt like home. I wasn’t nervous, I was just ready.”
As the newspaper’s first fitness and water reporter, Mulak-Cheatham is a trailblazer, figuring out things as she goes.
“Every day is a new adventure,” she says. “I’m all over the place — surfing one day, mountain biking the next, and then learning how to ballroom dance on the next day. There’s a lot of variety in my day-to-day life, and it rocks!”
Before landing her dream position with the Space Coast’s daily news source, Mulak-Cheatham kept busy — first, as a gymnastics teacher, then as head of the kids’ fitness program for Health First, then as an adaptive and mainstream physical education and reading enrichment teacher at an elementary school, and, most recently, as the owner and CEO of Ohana, her own surfing, art and leadership program for kids.
“Come to think of it, this is the first time that I’ve worked with grown-ups in about a dozen years!” she says.
And, her newest job is the perfect fit for her active lifestyle. In fact, it was her love of surfing that drew her to Brevard County, where she now lives and regularly hangs 10 with her two sons, ages 13 and 9, and the love of her life, Steve. It was a move she made the day after she graduated from Boone High School in Orlando.
“From a young age, I have loved to move and challenge myself,” she explains. “I never, ever, ever stayed still … Being an athlete has always been a no-brainer. It makes me feel strong and powerful and capable.”
Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. The first time my picture was on the front page of the Sunday paper and someone recognized me. They told me that they loved my writing and couldn’t wait to read more of it. That was like high-fiving the whole universe.
Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. A teacher and a writer and a gymnast and an artist and mom and a mermaid
Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. Endlessly. The whole experience of interdisciplinary education is very real-world. It gave me a fair amount of knowledge in several areas, which helps you to feel confident in a variety of situations. The career prep was top-notch. Throughout my time at UCF, I really began to master the art of concise and charismatic communication. That’s a skill set that transcends any career path. It gave me a mega advantage. Taking classes in person is so important. It teaches you how to socialize as an adult with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. It also gives you a reason to practice speaking up and presenting publicly.
Q. What has been your favorite surfing spot so far?
A. Southern Nicaragua is pretty fantastic. Costa Rica is so beautiful — it will take your breath away. Then again, I love the waves in front of my house. Wherever there are fun waves, that’s my favorite place at that moment.
Q. How do you channel your artistic inclination?
A. Paint. Draw. Doodle. Write. Dance. Sing. Make jewelry.
Q. Why are you such a music lover?
A. It speaks to me. It wakes me up and quiets me down. It connects me to the moment.
Q. Favorite band/artist?
A. There are too many. Right now, I’m loving Lake Street Dive, the Foo Fighters, anything with a fun ska sound. The answer to that really depends on my mood.
Q. First concert you ever attended?
A. The Gin Blossoms at Albright College in Pennsylvania. I was maybe 11 or 12.
Q. Do you play an instrument?
Q. Besides surfing/working out, what’s your favorite thing to do while you travel?
A. Walk around and explore. Hike. Find a beautiful place to lie down and read, or just absorb the new space. Find the best place for a craft beer and a local meal.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Deciding to take a step back from Ohana and move in a new direction
Q. What advice would you give to those who hate exercise but want to get fit?
A. Try new things. You will find something eventually that doesn’t feel like exercise. For me, that thing is dancing or surfing. Once you find the thing you enjoy, do it as often as you can. If you really hate exercise and won’t commit to doing it, you will never be fit. End of story. You can diet your way to thin, but you can’t diet your way to strong.
Q. Any other fitness/health advice you can share?
A. Don’t take your ability to move for granted. You never know when that ability might be taken away from you.
To read more stories about alumni, visit ucfalumnitoday.com.
See a video of Michelle in action at FLORIDATODAY.com.