Ray Negron was just 20 years old when he became a father. His son Raymond is now 7 months old and full of smiles. When pressed for an answer on how it feels to celebrate his first Father’s Day, Ray is also full of smiles as he struggles to find the words.
“It’s euphoria,” Ray answers, followed by a long pause. “It’s so much happiness and love. He makes my heart beat outside of my body. To see him grow and watching all of the things he’s already accomplishing, it’s hard to take it all in.”
But hard is something Ray is used to. Growing up on the harsh streets of Camden, NJ, Ray remembers being young and not being about to go outside of the house he shared with his parents and siblings. Ray is the youngest of 5.
“My oldest brother got caught up on the streets and hooked on drugs,” said Ray. “We couldn’t play outside, there were drug dealers on every street, prostitutes everywhere. It was scary to open the front door.”
Ray found Steve’s Club Camden three years ago, and it was his safe haven. He had always had a passion for sports, and that helped fuel his passion for fitness.
“I enjoyed my first day,” said Ray. “We did sit ups, dumbbell thrusters and box jumps. The next day I was so sore I couldn’t move, and I contemplated not coming back. But I didn’t have a good enough reason not to go, so I went. I’ve never regretted that decision.”
Ray recently earned his Associates in Exercise Science from Camden County College and plans to continue on to Rowan University to finish his four-year degree. His aspirations include coaching high school track and owning his own gym. Ray is a certified Level 1 CrossFit instructor and a leader at Steve’s Club.
“My favorite part of Steve’s Club is the people,” said Ray. “It’s not about lifting weights or getting stronger, it’s about the community. These people are my family. I can talk to them. They are always there for me. It’s really comforting to be around them everyday.”
Ray jokingly refers to his son as “Ray 3,” because his official name is Raymond Negron III. He is looking forward to enrolling his son in gymnastics classes to give him a nice base of fitness.
“I just want to make sure he is ok all the time,” said Ray. “Even if he bumps his head I feel so bad! Why wasn’t I there to catch him? He wants us to pick him up all the time, and we want to. But we have things we need to do, so every hour is a balance.”
And now that Raymond sleeps through the night, the balance is much easier for Ray and his girlfriend Rosie, also a college student studying business at Rowan University, due to graduate in December.
“The first day, the baby slept all day and didn’t cry,” said Ray. “Then we came home and did so much crying. He never slept! I was not accustomed to managing school, work and being up all night. After a while, I got used to it. And now? It’s easy. He sleeps an 8-hour stretch and wakes up fresh.”
Even though Ray was nervous at first, it did not take him long to become adjusted to fatherhood.
“I was so scared when I found out Rosie was pregnant,” said Ray. “I didn’t know much about raising kids. But when I saw him, everything changed. It was real it was happening, and I just knew I had to step up. All I want to do is provide for him and make sure he has a good future.”
Ray works part time in the Steve’s PaleoGoods warehouse in addition to juggling school and balancing fatherhood.
“Everyday is different, which is awesome,” said Ray. “I’m a floater. My favorite jobs are packing pallets and making jerky. It’s fast paced, and it’s fun.”
Ray isn’t sure what he’s doing on Father’s Day, but he is certain of one thing.
“As long as I’m spending Father’s Day with my son, I’ll be happy,” said Ray. “My favorite thing to do is tickle him. He has such a cute smile.”