At a time when wellness should be a universal right, the pursuit of fitness often faces barriers that unfairly limit access. The gym doors may seem open to some, but for many, they remain firmly closed, guarded by obstacles ranging from economic constraints to physical limitations. As we navigate the diversity of our communities, it becomes increasingly evident that the journey to health is not a one-size-fits-all path.

This article is an exploration into the transformative power of inclusivity, a call to action to dismantle the walls that separate individuals from the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. this is a rallying cry for a paradigm shift, where fitness is not a privilege but a fundamental right. Join us as we delve into innovative solutions, inspiring stories, and progressive initiatives that redefine the meaning of an inclusive fitness landscape. It’s time to rewrite the narrative and create a world where the pursuit of well-being knows no boundaries.

The term fitness has often been paired with the thought of jacked men or women doing squats and burpees for days or participating in an obstacle course race. Perhaps this is due to the education we received in school where in order to be “fit”, you needed to be able to run, jump, climb or play a sport. Today, thankfully, the meaning of fitness is starting to change.

We’re going to introduce you to seven Edmontonians who each have their own take on what fitness means towards their the journey to health. At the end of the day, what’s important is that you find something that works for you and it helps you be happy and healthy.

Tanya Ponich

Tanya committed herself to a life of fitness. After a few decades of commitment many elements in her life have been influenced by fitness. Today Tanya’s small frame is a mountain of life. To spend time with her is to smile, laugh, and “get it”. She inspires, motivates, and teaches. She is genuine to the soul.

Tanya was born with Down syndrome, yet Tanya’s disability, (does she have one?), is shadowed by a confident woman who wants to do so much. Never one to be content with the progress she has made she continues to search for more on her the journey to health. To finish a workout means to start planning for the next one. She has a strong supporting cast: She is very close to her Mom and sister and is there to help all of us with our disadvantages; our challenges; our goals!  

““Life Rewards Action”- Life gives me rewards but it’s up to me to take action to fulfil this life.”

Chris Falconer

It wasn’t until the death of his mother in 2007 that fitness became an integral part of his life. In the moments and months after her passing, Chris was thankful to have a growing yoga practice that provided him the space to work through the mental and physical grief that he was suffering. It was during this time of heartbreak that he lost 100lbs and realized that fitness was way more than just the embarrassing phys-ed workouts of his youth.

Waking up with a new lens on life, he realized that fitness is a state of living that helps us successfully manage the challenges that our hectic world throws at us. His own journey to health showed him that fitness means needing to be physically healthy and mentally capable to thrive in his day to day. Flash forward 11 years, and he continues to challenge himself through various modalities of fitness (running, powerlifting, cycling, yoga), while ensuring that he schedules lots of time for recovery (chiro, massage), and a growing meditation practice. There is no perfect way for everyone, but there is the opportunity to grow every day!

Blake Loates

Wellness to Blake means acquiring positive tools for my toolbox that allow her to handle life stressors and challenges that come her way…and believing that she is worth the fight. Some of her tools are connection with others, surrounding herself with community, taking her medication, regular appointments with her healthcare team, loving others and taking care of her body and mind.

Robert Clark

Growing up, fitness was never a big priority in Robert’s life. HIs wasn’t a very sporty family and he had always been “the fat kid” in school. He tried many times to lose weight but could never commit and the weight always just came back on. It wasn’t until he was almost 350 lbs, depressed and unhappy did he finally realize he had to change or things were just going to get worse.

So in January of 2017, he decided enough was enough. He wanted to start loving (and LIVING) his life. So he committed with a long-term goal of losing 100 lbs, making smaller, short-term goals of 5-10 lbs at a time. He had also decided to document his journey to health through Instagram and Facebook. Through a combination of the accountability from social media, meeting TONS of new fitness professionals (many of whom he now calls good friends), and his own determination, he smashed his 100lb goal and ended up losing 120lbs. But the best part of it all wasn’t how he looked but rather how he FELT. He is a happier. more energetic person than he has ever been. He is more mentally capable of handling and dealing with stress. He is a better father and husband.

Fitness for him is no longer an option, it’s a requirement.

Ben Alvarez

Fitness is a part of Ben’s everyday life.. H found boxing at the age of 13 after being bullied and beat up in school. At the time he was using boxing as a way to get revenge and to get his confidence back, but as he continued to train and better himself physically and mentally his goals and focus changed; he knew life had something bigger ahead for him. The fitness that boxing offers has completely altered his life for the better. It has giving him both confidence and the physical edge to feel healthy and powerful. Fitness has helped him push himself to the limits both mentally and physically and as a product you find out new things about yourself that you never thought were possible. Although fitness has made him feel super, at times it has also been humbling and brought him back to Earth to discover his greatest weaknesses which has only made me stronger. As a full time athlete he is constantly setting goals for himself to stay motivated and consistent with his journey to health. He is now heavily involved in Edmonton’s fitness community and he couldn’t be happier to share his story and knowledge to help others overcome their bullies, whether that is a person, work, school sports etc.. Stay fit, stay healthy and all things will fall into place. 

Shana Dion

It’s one of Shana’s missions in life to get Nehiyaw Iskwewak (Cree women), in particular mothers – ACTIVE! More importantly to show up in their lives. Sometimes as mothers they get caught up in being responsible for other humans and they forget we have a responsibility to ourselves. There is a saying in Cree called Miyo-pimatsiwin meaning living a good life. She wants that for herself and her Nehiyaw sisters. She was taught by an Elder that she cannot care for others to the best of her ability if she’s not well. She would need to heal first. 

For me the healing began when she discovered the gym! It has brought her on a self-discovery journey of who SHE IS. She is determined. She is strong. She is resilient. She is a survivor. She is a runner. That has taken her years to say. She has always held a negative self-image of herself that because she was bigger that she could not be a classified as a runner. 

This summer she ran/jogged in a 34km healing journey from Kehewin Cree Nation to Blue Quills University (which used to be an Indian Residential School- IRS). Her father was stolen from his mother at the age of 7 to the age of 11 and was forced into Blue Quills IRS. The reason why she decided to take on this journey was to help in her healing journey of understanding her inter-generational trauma as a first generation survivor of IRS. It was a journey of tears and fears but it was also about freedom and releasing some of the anger and shame she has carried for years. 

Throughout her healing journey to health over the past few years she has received a deeper sense of her worth. That is what propels me to RISE every morning at 4:00am to acknowledge that she has been given a gift called life and she gets to the gym to honour her mobility. 

The greatest climbs have led her to some of the most beautiful views. She’s currently on the greatest climb of her life, this time on her own terms with no boundaries. 

Her dedication! Her drive! Her commitment is what will get her to the top and she can’t wait to see the view. 

Chris Liddle

Fitness and wellness are Chris‘ tools for reinvention. It is not in the sense that he is making himself into someone different than how his parents raised him. Instead, it is the act of honing the skills that make him more capable of being his best self. Fitness and being well have allowed him to raise his standards in all aspects of life. This lifestyle has led him to some of his best friends and biggest supporters. 

He’s been empowered over the past couple years to progress from someone who lost some weight and gained confidence into someone who is known for building other people up mentally and physically. If he won the lottery, He’d still go to the gym to be with his clients. He’d still want to be around all the same people, being in all the same communities. That’s how much fitness and wellness mean to him. He’s home there. 

As we draw the curtains on this exploration into our journey to health, it is clear that the journey towards inclusivity is not a solitary endeavor but a collective commitment. Each step taken, every barrier dismantled, contributes to a vision where fitness is a bridge rather than a divide. The stories of resilience, innovative solutions, and community-driven initiatives showcased here are the sparks that ignite change. Let us carry these flames forward, advocating for an inclusive fitness landscape where diversity is celebrated, and everyone, regardless of background or circumstance, has a seat at the table of well-being. The path to a healthier world is paved with unity, understanding, and a shared commitment to breaking down the barriers that once stood in the way. Together, we can redefine fitness, ensuring that it truly belongs to all.