Exclusive or Inclusive?

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As the skyline of Austin evolves, so should its businesses. This also goes for those in the business of selling fitness and health.

One recent report by WalletHub ranks Austin as the #14 city in the country for fitness and health. Not too shabby, but the Austin Public Health Department cautions that Austin/Travis County continues to see disparities in fitness and health along racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

However, several fitness clubs in Austin — both local and national — are making efforts to change these disparities. Here are four Austin fitness clubs that are striving to be more inclusive for all.

Life Time

Life Time is definitely a big box gym — it’s corporate and that’s no mystery. But its beginnings were humble, and certainly the vision was and still is toward diversity. Life Time’s founder and CEO, Bahram Akradi, was an Iranian immigrant who wanted to start a gym that didn’t bind its members to hard contracts. 

“We talk about member point of view every day around here, and that means embracing diversity,” says Amy Williams at Life Time’s public relations office. 

She notes that Life Time conducts diversity trainings on a consistent basis for its 40,000 management team members around the world. On a local level, in 2017, Life Time donated over $600,000 to AISD’s efforts to bring healthy meals to students in Austin public schools. Life Time also provides steep discounts for active and retired military around the country and in Canada. Life Time tends to attract a higher income bracket, but Williams points out that anyone who walks through the doors of a Life Time Fitness center will be treated with respect, dignity and care.

Austin Fitness Center

Andy Bruchey started Austin Fitness Center in South Austin in 2007. 

“I wanted to create a true neighborhood gym where everyone — regardless of race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or athletic ability, could feel comfortable to work out.”  

Thirteen years later, Austin Fitness Center is still going strong with a broad and diverse group of members. At just $28 a month, rates are very affordable for just about everyone. That’s how Bruchey likes it — allowing all people to afford a gym membership. 

Not only a gym owner, Bruchey is also a highly praised personal trainer with over 20 years of experience in training and physical rehabilitation.  

“I’m not interested in making people just look good for a bikini. Health and wellness are my top priorities,” he says.

Bruchey also says he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

“I get along with everyone. The only group I don’t do well with is an entitled group.”

YMCA

If there’s an institution that’s evolved over the course of its 175-year history, it’s the YMCA. The Y’s mission statement now reads, “For All” and they actualize that mission in incredible ways.

There are eight Austin area YMCA’s, and through generous donations, they provided more than $2.6 million in financial assistance to more than 37,000 people. Those donations allow the Y to make membership completely affordable for anyone who walks through their doors. As a rule, the YMCA doesn’t turn anyone away based on their ability to pay. In this way, it’s not just a fitness club but a nonprofit organization committed to strengthening communities. 

Every fall, the Austin area YMCAs hold “Welcoming Week” where people of all different ethnic backgrounds, including immigrants and refugees, can share their culture and food. 

“Welcoming Week is just one way we can showcase that the YMCA deeply values diversity and inclusion,” says Austin Arnold, Southwest Family YMCA membership director. “We mean it when we say, ‘For All.’”

Castle Hill Fitness

Locally owned and operated since 2002, Castle Hill Fitness has an excellent reputation as an elite gym. But even a local gym that attracts higher-end clientele needs to evolve to stay in business. 

Several years ago, Castle Hill added membership discounts for teachers, university students and active military. 

“We want to be relevant and relate to all different kinds of people and their needs,” says Castle Hill marketing manager, Amy Rogers. 

Another way Castle Hill does this is through its Community Pass program. Weekly schedules on their website show classes that are community-based (not just for members) at half the regular price. 

Gordie Thompson, lead concierge at Castle Hill says, “If a refugee man or woman with limited income walked through the doors of Castle Hill, I’d be happy to offer him or her a lower rate.”  

Whether a gym is locally owned or just a branch of a corporation, those who can make fitness affordable for all ought to try. In a city like Austin that values inclusivity, there should be a safe space for every individual to pursue total wellness. It’s a vision for health clubs that will keep Austin weird and wonderful in the best ways. 

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