The city of Willmar, Minn., is now the site of a new women-only gym designed to cultivate a multicultural atmosphere. In an effort to make the space more comfortable for all women, the gym will welcome only women to use its collection of ellipticals, treadmills and dumbells.
20-year-old Lul Ahmed, a Somali resident who advised on the project, told MinnPost, “The thing is, women cannot open their hair in front of men. We didn’t have a private spot that we can open our hair and feel comfortable.”
Gym founder and local chiropractor Jon Haefner added, “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.”
Haefner’s vision to create a space that allowed more Somali women to pursue healthy activity became a reality after he was awarded funding from the Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Healthy Together Willmar initiative. “I think it’s going to be a well-needed service,” he said.
The multicultural gym is just in time to serve Willmar’s changing and diversifying demographic. Blue Cross Blue Shield community initiatives director Sarah Sensemen told MinnPost, “Willmar is really unique in 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,” she said. “So we really wanted to engage there, and learn and be able to apply those things elsewhere.”