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The Paqtnkek Wellness Centre: Fitness at all levels

Liam Walsh, wellness centre lead, looks on as Chastity Morris spots Molly Peters cranking out a set of dumbbell shoulder presses.
Liam Walsh, wellness centre lead, looks on as Chastity Morris spots Molly Peters cranking out a set of dumbbell shoulder presses. - Sam Macdonald

Plenty of people from the Antigonish area know about the Paqtnkek gym, prominent from the hill, while driving into Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation from Afton. But nowadays, a new facility in the building is a whole other type of gym – one where you can get in seriously good shape.

The Paqtnkek Wellness Centre has actually been open since the middle of the summer of 2018, with people from the community and the larger area regularly working out there.

“As soon as we had equipment, we’ve had people in here, working out,” Liam Walsh, wellness centre lead, said.

Walsh said the main goal he had in establishing a local gym, aside from saving Paqtnkek residents a 15-minute drive either way, to Port Hawkesbury or Antigonish to work out, was to create a space where he can help people get to their potential.

“It’s founded on quality. We’re not the biggest gym, but we’re using world-class equipment, and we provide the support you need,” he said, while giving guidance to some of the people setting up one of the racks in the room to do some power lifts.

That world-class equipment includes; Rogue Competition Olympic weights and barbells, Eleiko IWF training platforms, Rogue racks and benches and Watson dumbbells and a full complement of cardio machines from the Precore Cardio line.

The Olympic plates the Paqtnkek Wellness Center has area ideal for everything from heavy-duty lifts to the workouts of beginners.

“Olympic plates are very functional because you can use them for anything from powerlifting to Olympic lifting,” Walsh said. “You can drop them without damaging the floor on these platforms.”

Although a lot of the equipment and the gym itself sounds hardcore, Walsh noted the clientele for the gym is diverse.

“Anyone can get stronger, if they put their minds to it,” Walsh said. “We’re capable here of assessing what your level is, and to see what you need to do to tune up your body. It makes the path to building stronger muscle and not injuring yourself in the process much easier – and that’s a good thing to do for longevity’s sake.”

Although the majority of the people utilizing the Olympian-class facility are mostly from the community of Paqtnkek, they are of diverse ages, and have a wide variety of goals they set.

Some people who work out there show up just to get in shape – sometimes national-level powerlifters stop by to stack on the plates and perform mighty lifts.

Although the prospect of working alongside single-wearing power lifters and Olympic lifters girded in muscle may sound an intimidating prospect, one of the people working out while the Casket spoke to Walsh was quick to dispel that notion.

“This is my happy place,” Molly Peters said. “You end up talking to people you wouldn’t normally talk to.”

Peters said she was apprehensive at first, assuming some of the more experienced lifters would be judgmental, “but everyone you talk to in here is always supportive.”

Everyone is welcome, Walsh stressed, “from 13 or 14, all the way up to age 73. Young people and elders alike.”

Walsh said he set out to make the Paqtnkek Wellness Centre different from other commercial gyms.

He compared his business to some of the larger commercial gyms, which often charge significant fees for separate services, with memberships covering only part of the fees, and with personal training being separate.

Meanwhile, Walsh’s aim at the Paqtnkek Wellness Centre is “to have a supportive structure.”

“We want to have everything included in a holistic approach, where people can come in and are encouraged to talk,” Walsh said.

“It’s not a place where people should just close themselves off and go into a workout,” he said, with the sounds of conversations going on in the background.

“With younger groups they come in, put on their headphones, and that’s okay, but what we’ve got here is an open dialogue,” Walsh said. “It has that buzz that you might not find at a conventional gym. An old coach of mine used to say, ‘a quiet gym is a losing gym,’ and I like that mantra.”

“When someone comes in the door, they can expect to be taken from whatever level they’re at and be worked with to get better. That’s part and parcel of coming here,” Walsh said.

More than 40 people in the community regularly work out at the Paqtnkek Wellness Centre in the last few weeks since the start of February, Walsh said.

“That’s somewhere close to ten per cent of the people who would be physically able, or maybe a little higher. That’s pretty good, as far as the population goes.”

It goes without saying that the response from the community has been good.

“I find people are really finding their stride and setting new goals and also looking to think bigger than before,” Walsh said. “I’ve seen people hit some real goals that have taken some time, and that’s nice to see.”

Walsh also sees a great deal of potential in some of the people who train at the Paqtnkek Wellness Centre.

“A few people who train here right now have a lot of potential – the potential to be powerlifting champions,” he said. “A few people certainly have the potential to be national champions.”

On that note, Walsh also hopes to start forming local teams, and down the road, hosting meets for people to compete with other weightlifters.

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