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Leisure Management
2014 issue 4

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Leisure Management - A good workout


A good workout

Gymtopia was set up with a simple aim – to spread the word about how the fitness industry is helping communities across the world. Here founder Ray Algar shares a few amazing stories

Gymtopia is a community-focused initiative that tries to encourage charity work, volunteering and fundraising in the fitness industry

Gymtopia: a place where clubs do social good

Gymtopia was conceived by founder and chief engagement officer Ray Algar, who believes the global health and fitness industry has enormous influence and potential to do good in the world, beyond its immediate customers. The idea of Gymtopia is simple: to curate and spread remarkable stories in which the fitness industry uses its influence to reach out and support an external community in need. It was created with the generous support of five organisations: Companhia Athletica, Gantner Technologies, Les Mills, Retention Management and The Gym Group. Gymtopia received an Outstanding Achievement Award in the ukactive Matrix Flame Awards 2014.

Read more stories and submit your own: www.Gymtopia.org

These stories first appeared in Health Club Management as part of an ongoing Gymtopia series showcasing best practice in corporate social responsibility



Recently I was undertaking some online research and stumbled upon an American search result that grabbed my attention: ‘Charity-Driven Gyms Are Popping Up All Over The Country.’ Gyms undertake acts of charity all the time, but these new gyms are different as charity is at the very heart of their business.

The Movement, a new boutique fitness studio in New York City, US, operates according to the philosophy of ‘give back, move forward’ – enjoying exercise while simultaneously helping others. It donates US$1 per person per class to The National Brain Tumour Society, not just for a few days, but every day of the year. It’s the first fitness business I’ve discovered that donates a portion of every single sale it makes.

How the studio started
Jordan and Dana Canino are lifelong athletes who envisioned a studio that would make a positive difference to the lives of others. However, their definition of ‘others’ is far wider than the customers who attend the hybrid cardio, strength and yoga classes at the 297sq m (3,200sq ft) facility. They wanted to create a place where people were not only changing their own lives, but the lives of others.

Deeply embedded charity
When a business aligns with a charity, there should be a compelling story behind the partnership. In the US, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million non-profit organisations. Many are worthy of support – so why did The Movement select The National Brain Tumour Society (NBTS) as its charity partner?

According to the NBTS, 700,000 Americans are living with a primary brain tumour and 69,000 more will be diagnosed this year. In my research, I discovered Andrea Canino, Jordan’s mother, died of a brain tumour when he was just 18. This was a deeply personal cause, giving purpose and meaning to The Movement.

“Our hope is to start a true movement: when you give back, you’re enabling yourself to move forward. It motivates people not only to go to a class and get their sweat on, but to help fight a terrible disease,” he says.

Impact to date
IHRSA data suggests there are more than 30,500 gyms across the US, with boutique studios regularly popping up, so for a small studio only open since May 2014, it’s already generating quite a media buzz. ‘The Movement Ignites a Charitable Fitness Revolution’, ‘The Rise of Charity Driven Gyms’, ‘Five Fitness Studios That Give Back’ are headlines that show how its philosophy has captured attention.

The studio is currently only operating 30 classes a week, yet this already translates into a donation to the NBTS of US$1,000 a month. When they reach 56–70 classes a week, then donations are expected to double.

I dedicate this workout to…
I read an article about The Movement written by Heidi Kristoffer, a highly rated American yoga instructor.

In the article, she recalled a comment made by an instructor during a class she had attended at another gym: “If you feel like you can’t do it for yourself, do it for someone else who needs this more than you do.”

Kristoffer found the idea of mentally dedicating her workout to someone other than herself a very powerful concept. Now imagine this being amplified by everyone else in the class, across all classes, every day of the year.

“Sometimes we need to do things for ourselves, but often the power of doing something with the intention of helping the greater good, or just one other person, can be life-changing,” she wrote.


Jordan and Dana Canino founded a US fitness business that donates money to charity every time a person attends a class
Initiative by: The Movement – www.themovementfitness.com

Location: New York, US

Project status: Ongoing

Impact: National

Gymtopia keywords: Environment, Education, Health & Wellbeing, Medical Research



Imagine you’re a 23-year old soldier deployed to western Afghanistan. Every day, your life – and those of your comrades – depends on you bringing your ‘A game’ to the battlefield in pursuit of the shared mission. You’re a valued part of a team and, if the day came when you had to sacrifice your life in pursuit of the mission, or to protect a comrade, you’d do it – all would – because you’re a team.

But what happens when the mission ends and it’s time to return home to life as a civilian? Life after war should be a far simpler mission, but for far too many US military veterans it’s one they’re poorly equipped to deal with. Adjusting to the rhythm of civilian life becomes a daily challenge because it now lacks purpose, and those unique skills acquired and honed on the battlefield are not in demand here. For many, this can lead to depression and addiction to alcohol and drugs.

Step up Team RWB
Mike Erwin, a US Army major, had the foresight to recognise that the reintegration of war veterans into civilian life would become increasingly challenging given the rise in overseas deployments; an estimated one million US military personnel will retire or separate from the military in the next five years.

So Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB), a non-profit organisation, was founded in 2010 with its own mission: to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to people in their community through physical and social activity.

War veterans often report feeling ‘disconnected’ when they return home; Team RWB’s vision is to increase the connection between America’s combat veterans and their communities.

Team RWB Chapters
The organisation has created local groups, which are known as ‘chapters’, across the United States. These chapters host regular activities that provide an opportunity for veterans and the community to come together.
This can be any type of activity, such as a weekly running group, hike, ball game or post-race gathering, where other war veterans meet each other – but, more importantly, it is where they meet members of their local community, because it’s the sense of belonging that the veterans truly crave.

Enter Iron Tribe Fitness
Iron Tribe Fitness is a fast-growing American functional training brand that was also founded in 2010. Iron Tribe Fitness does not have members or clients but ‘athletes’, and there are just 300 of them at each gym. These small ‘tribes’, drawn from all parts of a local community, meet as a group for 45-minute classes based on a simple system of full body movements in addition to personal coaching.

A purpose beyond fitness
Forrest Walden founded Iron Tribe Fitness, and from the outset believed the organisation possessed the ability to achieve more than merely transforming the lives of its own ‘athletes’. It operates by the philosophy that fitness has a greater purpose, and its gyms are a platform to help others.

“Yes, it’s to teach healthy lifestyles. Yes, it’s to be a leader in results-based fitness. Yes, it’s to encourage fellowship within our tribe and global community. But it goes beyond that. It’s to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of the downtrodden, by partnering with local and global charities. Our venue to do this, of course, is Iron Tribe Fitness. Together we can touch those lives,” Walden says.

Two school friends re-unite
Jim Cavale joined Iron Tribe Fitness in 2010 as chief operating officer and is a lifelong friend of Mike Erwin, the founder of Team RWB. The two organisations began discussing whether they could form a collaboration and quickly realised that they were a perfect fit.

In 2011, they kickstarted their partnership with Iron Tribe creating an event called Workout For Warriors, dedicated to military personnel, past, present and future. This involves Iron Tribe Fitness athletes coming together to complete military-style exercises in 11-minute stints, representing the 11 November Veterans Day.

The inaugural 2011 Workout For Warriors raised US$30,000 for Team RWB. This event is now repeated annually, taking place every 11 November, as well as on Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) across all Iron Tribe Fitness gyms.

Workout for Warriors
As Iron Tribe Fitness grows, so does Workout for Warriors. With 33 gyms now open, approximately US$150,000 has so far been raised to support the work of Team RWB. However, Iron Tribe Fitness wants the idea to spread, and so Workout for Warriors is now run by other American gyms (under a revised name: Workout of the Day with Warriors), thereby raising more funds for Team Red, White & Blue.


In 2011, Iron Tribe Fitness created the Workout for Warriors event to raise funds for Team RWB

Team RWB is organised into local ‘chapters’. Activities are arranged that are designed to bring veterans and local communities together
Project by: Iron Tribe Fitness (Alabama, US)

Website: www.irontribefitness.com

Project status: Ongoing and long-term

Charity supported: Team RWB

Impact: National

Gymtopia keywords: Education, Health & Wellbeing


PROJECT by: goodgym

GoodGym asks: ‘How do we make the act of running more purposeful and socially useful?’

Instead of running around a park, a GoodGym runner embarks on a mission to do some good in their local community, either alone or as part of a group. Rather than run straight past that nursing home, why not stop and spend time with someone who’s craving companionship? Now the act of running is no longer a self-centred act but a generous and compassionate one.

How it started
Back in 2008, Ivo Gormley, an enthusiastic amateur runner, was thinking about how to encourage more people to volunteer. Volunteering could be made easier if it could be integrated into already busy lives. He realised the physical activity a person did could be channelled into doing social good. It flipped the idea of running to serve ourselves into running to serve others.

Making a run more purposeful
The simple idea was to connect a person’s run with a visit to an elderly member of the community, offering companionship as well as bringing them a small gift (£1 or less), such as a newspaper or a treat from the local bakery. The home visit is not long, ranging from 10 minutes to an hour.

Duration is not the important measure here – it’s the personal connection that helps break the long periods many elderly members of our communities spend alone and isolated.

Becoming a GoodGym member
Runners of all abilities register on the GoodGym website and select from London or Bristol, where the project currently runs. Members need to have a criminal record check due to contact with vulnerable adults and be over 18.

Working with the NHS, charities and community centres, GoodGym matches runners to a housebound elderly person who’d like a regular visitor. Runners commit to at least one weekly run.

From one to many
As GoodGym develops, it includes more projects in the community. GoodGymmers in Bristol have done community gardening and helped homeless shelters, and GoodGymmers in London have helped a hospital to create a new vegetable garden.


Supplying manpower for community garden projects is one of GoodGym’s popular missions

Time for a cuppa: GoodGymmers aim to help break the monotony of a lonely pensioner’s day
Initiative by: GoodGym – www.goodgym.org

Location: UK

Status: Ongoing

Impact: National

Gymtopia keywords: Environment, Health & Wellbeing



In April, I opened an email from Anna Rounaja, CEO of the Hukka fitness club in Finland. Rounaja was writing with the story of how her club’s used squash balls were helping children with autism to better cope with their disability.

A basket of balls
Among the extensive facilities at the family-operated Hukka club are its four squash courts. With 3,500 members and a thriving squash community, the club gets through more than 2,500 balls each year. One day, Rounaja asked members to begin leaving used balls in a basket, thinking they could be put to a second, useful purpose.

Enter Facebook
Hukka has been on Facebook since 2010 and has 5,660 fans. Rounaja posted pictures of the basket of balls and set a challenge: create a new purpose for them. People began posting suggestions, but none were compelling enough. Then came the winning idea: a special needs teacher suggested the balls could create a ‘ball blanket’, a sensory stimulation aid for calming children suffering from autism and other developmental disabilities.

The blankets have proven therapeutic effects for children with autism, helping to relax and soothe them and reducing the time it takes them to fall asleep. Rounaja says: “They don’t know the borders of their own bodies – it’s one of the reasons they find the world overwhelming. The blankets adapt to the child’s body and calm them, as though they are being hugged.”

Normally these blankets are filled with plastic or glass balls. They are complicated to make, and medically certified blankets are expensive.

Enter the furniture maker
Rounaja went to a local furniture maker with the idea of producing the blankets, using her donated squash balls. The company was enthusiastic and agreed to get involved.

It now produces blankets for Hukka members, parents and local schools. The charge for the blankets is to cover costs, but just £118 (US$200) rather than the £570 (US$960) charged by specialist suppliers.

Altruistic creativity
This is a beautifully simple project, using what a club already has in abundance. It also shows how Facebook can be used as an idea generation platform, allowing members to contribute and become more deeply involved with their clubs. The Hukka club now publishes Facebook updates showing children using the blankets and the difference that they are making to them.

Let’s also not forget how quickly altruistic acts can spread. This story has now been picked up by organisations across Europe and the United States. It’s proof that thinking about others can pay off on so many levels. As Rounaja says: “I wasn’t expecting something this great. It opened my eyes and makes me feel so warm inside – maybe the same feeling the kids get by using the blanket.”


The idea for sensory blankets came from Facebook. The ‘ball blankets’ have been shown to help relax and soothe autistic children

The idea for sensory blankets came from Facebook. The ‘ball blankets’ have been shown to help relax and soothe autistic children
Initiative by: Hukka – www.hukka.net

Location: Finland

Status: Ongoing

Impact: Local

Gymtopia keywords:

Health & Wellbeing, Helping Children

Charity supported: Various

Originally published in Leisure Management 2014 issue 4

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