It’s hard to believe now, but Michele Levy was once a shy kid, hesitant to speak up and take center stage.
Today, the 2011 Harpur College alumna runs her own children’s fitness business, Zing! for Kids, hiring employees and interns (with a preference for Binghamton University students) and teaching tykes the wonders of exercise. She’s been a sought-after fitness instructor at high-end gyms, worked in marketing for major brands, and spread her energy and enthusiasm on multiple platforms.
She laid the first building-blocks of her success during her time at Binghamton, where she worked as a fitness instructor and started her own business while majoring in philosophy, politics and law (PPL) through Harpur College.
“My current business, Zing!, is like a 2.0 version of what I started at school,” she said. “I learned so much during my time as a student that I’ve applied today and I continue to go back to my roots several years later.”
A native of Bellmore, N.Y., Levy — or Michelle Gordon, as she was known during her college years — has Binghamton roots: Her parents met during their first year at the University, and many of their friends also attended Binghamton. As a child, Levy visited campus with her family; that she would become a Bearcat herself one day was a given.
Initially uncertain of her career path, she credits the liberal arts with providing a well-rounded education that explored a wide range of areas, from economics and sociology to math and logic. She particularly enjoyed marketing and business law, which both proved valuable when she started Zing!
“Very early in my college career, I discovered my passion for fitness and entrepreneurship, and I had the opportunity to do things that weren’t necessarily within my major,” she said. “I think that actually gave me a leg up. For people who might be figuring it out, you don’t have to be set on one thing.”
Determined to break out of her shell at Binghamton, Levy began checking out the many clubs and activities on campus to find her niche. Always a fan of exercise, one day she noticed a sign at the gym advertising an internship as a group exercise instructor.
“It said, ‘Are you motivating? Are you energetic? Are you outgoing?’” she recalled.
She only hit two out of the three requirements — she wasn’t, at that point in time, outgoing — but applied anyway. At the same time, she joined a student leadership program that had her lead team meetings and icebreakers, and even do some public speaking.
“It was like a light just came on,” she said.
Levy put her heart into her Campus Recreation job, practicing and honing exercise routines on her own. That effort paid off: She became one of the most popular fitness instructors on campus, and peers described how they would opt for a Tuesday night class with Michele rather than hitting the bar, she said.
During her time at Binghamton, she also became involved with multiple health and wellness boards, helping shape such initiatives as a new Campus Recreation gym and the health and wellness minor. She mentored more than 60 people to become fitness instructors; was a student leader on the Eating Awareness Committee, for which she planned health and wellness events such as dining hall tours and residence hall workouts; and also helped out at the University’s first-ever triathlon.
“My job on the day of the triathlon was to hold the arrow and tell people how many more miles they had left,” she said. “I loved every second of it.”
Although outside her major, Levy loaded up on all the wellness classes she could, including nutrition and exercise physiology, and became a teaching assistant for many of these courses. Outside of campus, she became a personal trainer. She began to wonder: How could this passion for fitness translate into a future career?
She found an answer in a business plan competition offered through the School of Management. A finalist, her kids’ fitness program — dubbed Adventurcise — started in the Campus Pre-school and spread to other Broome County locations.
“As somebody who was a shy kid, exercise helped break me out of my shell,” Levy said. “I wanted to bring that to other kids who might not feel included in sports.”
After graduation, Levy ended up moving back to Long Island, where she got a job as regional director for a gym chain, managing eight facilities with 400 instructors. She transitioned into consulting, worked in marketing for Reebok for a time and then became the marketing director for a high-end sporting goods store in New York City, all while continuing to teach her own popular fitness classes.
She later brought her marketing expertise to Self magazine, but decided to leave the corporate environment to figure out her next steps. After the pandemic hit, she found a problem to solve: With schools shifting online and the cancellation of extracurricular activities, parents were burned out, teachers exhausted and kids sorely in need of a physical outlet.
She began teaching kids’ fitness online and it took off; one pandemic class drew nearly 300 kids from around the country. Levy decided to make the leap and pursue Zing! for Kids full-time.
“At this time two years ago, I was putting together the business plan and calling parents and schools to ask, ‘What are your struggles and pain points? And how can I help?’” she said. “Adventurcise was 10 years old at that point and the problems I would be solving now were slightly different.”
She launched Zing! a few weeks after leaving her magazine job. The New York City-based enterprise took off quickly; today, the company runs kids’ fitness programs both online and in person in schools, camps, community centers, at events in partnership with brands and organizations, and even at birthday parties. She’s working on plans for an app in partnership with a global retailer.
After an opportunity in a school system arose last year, she had to hire eight instructors within three weeks and teach them her method. Today, she has more than 20 employees, including two Binghamton students.
“Our class fuses positive affirmations and mindfulness into the fitness workout. I always tell people that it’s like an adult boot camp class, but made for kids,” she explained. “We’re going to be making silly faces while we’re in a plank. And have kids doing squats saying, ‘I am so strong,’ and they think breathing exercises are cool.”
Since her time at Binghamton, Levy has been genuinely passionate about making a positive difference in the mental and physical health of children, reflected health and wellness studies lecturer Sarah Thompson, who has stayed in touch with Levy and remembers those early Adventurcise days.
“Now, a decade later and following a global pandemic, our children’s mental and physical health needs great support. Michele’s current iteration of Zing! is a wonderful resource for families and it is igniting a revolution in physical education and wellness programming for children,” she said.
Levy remains grateful for her Binghamton start, which laid the groundwork for her future success. Her advice to fellow Bearcats: “Try everything, put yourself out there and connect. There’s so much opportunity.”
“I still talk to my professors from school. I really don’t think I’ve changed that much,” she said. “I’m still jumping around and carrying a huge backpack!”