Willmar Opening ‘Multicultural’ Gym for Somali Women Who Feel Uncomfortable Working Out in Front of Men


A new gym set to open in Willmar, Minnesota will be reserved exclusively for women, particularly Somali women who feel uncomfortable working out in co-ed spaces.

“The thing is, women cannot open their hair in front of men,” Lul Ahmed, a 20-year-old female Somalian who helped with the project, told MinnPost in a Wednesday article.

“We didn’t have like a private spot that we can open our hair and feel comfortable,” she added.

Jon Haefner, a chiropractor who owns the Meridian Disc Institute, told MinnPost that he came up with the idea for the new gym after observing the “discomfort” Somali women displayed while exercising.

“The problem was, being on cardio equipment … most (Somali women) wear dresses or most of them wear hijabs so there was some concern their clothing would get caught in the equipment,” he said, noting that many Somali women would choose not to exercise in public spaces.

So he started the Multicultural Women’s Fitness and Nutrition Center, which received start-up funds from Healthy Together Willmar, a project of Blue Cross Blue Shield. Specifically, Haefner was supported by the organization’s Idea Fund, which supports “ideas that help build a healthier Willmar for all, and create a community that has the same opportunity for health across cultural, racial, generational and ethnic groups.”

Haefner has been working on the project for five years and has the support of Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin, who said that the new gym “has allowed us to express our opinions, express our thoughts and do it in a healthy way.”

“We communicate better, but I also think it’s changed the way our health care is delivered,” he said.

Sarah Senseman, a community initiatives director for Blue Cross Blue Shield, predicted that the “demographic profile of Willmar today looks very much like what the rest of Greater Minnesota is going to look like in the next 10 years.”

“If you want to know what the rest of Minnesota is going to look like, you look to Willmar. So we really wanted to engage there, and learn to be able to apply those things elsewhere,” she explained.

Haefner said he already has 45 people on a waitlist for the gym and expects to have more sign up soon.

“I think it’s going to be a well-needed service,” he said. “The whole goal is to make Willmar a healthier place.”

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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].







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