Community, student and staff members share their insights and experiences of the Hart House Fitness Centre during COVID-19 and now, as the pandemic wanes. They describe how the Fitness Centre rose to the challenge; and how, today, it continues to safely provide an exceptional fitness experience via a variety of services and à la carte programs.

The Hart House Fitness Centre offers everyone a specially-tailored experience as unique as they are, with a wide array of options for meeting their individual health and wellness needs. This was just as true during the heights – or was it the depths? – of the ongoing  pandemic, when virtual classes first launched and flourished, as it is now that Hart House is once again delivering so many in-person opportunities to get and remain strong and healthy.

Catherine Walcott

Take the experience of University of Toronto undergrad Catherine Walcott. Pre-COVID, the third-year student in Human Resources/Industrial Relations and Psychology participated in group Pilates and Zumba. During the pandemic she switched to virtual classes. Now, she’s back in the House, enjoying personal training sessions with Solah.

Asked about the pivot to virtual programming back in 2020, she says, “Hart House definitely did a good job having everything available online. It was really nice to have virtual fitness classes because I did a lot of workouts from home. Hart House had many online options that I could always fit into my schedule.”

She describes what it was like when in-person programming started again: “The timed-entry slots and capacity limits helped me feel comfortable. And maintaining the virtual classes is a nice option when you don't feel like using the gym.”

She emphasizes the superlative instructors: “They really care about your growth. They want to do everything they can to ensure that you're able to use the facilities to enable that growth. In my personal training with Solah, she really cares.”

I've never thought of myself as a customer of the Fitness Centre. I am a member of the community at Hart House.

Andrew Lesk, Community Member
Andrew Lesk

Graphic novel expert Andrew Lesk, a sessional lecturer in the English Department, had a similar experience. Before the pandemic, he took high-intensity interval [HIIT] classes and worked with instructors Dustin, Greg and Sheela. Singing their praises, he says, “They really make it. They’re great instructors.”

Andrew was pleased when virtual classes were offered during the worst of the pandemic, but was delighted when in-person classes began again in Fall 2021 with new health-and-safety precautions in place.

And he feels a very strong sense of community at Hart House. “I've never thought of myself as (just) a customer of the Fitness Centre. I am a member of the community at Hart House.”

Quality of Experience Down to Remarkable Staff Members

These personal stories speak to the tremendous dexterity that the Fitness Centre staff continues to exhibit and embrace during the ongoing COVID pandemic. Their dedication to the highest standards of individualized support for student and community members, combined with their expert skills and knowledge, keep those visiting the facilities evermore engaged.

You connect with people here. I think Hart House is one of the best places to work on campus. It’s such a friendly and welcoming place. – Ibrahim Shodeko

Ibrahim Shodeko, Hart House Information Service Attendant
Ibrahim Shodeko

Ibrahim Shodeko is a perfect example of this. The mechanical engineering graduate student and expert on big data is an Information Service Attendant (ISA) at Hart House.

“My role is to engage with the client side,” he says modestly. In fact, there is little that Ibraham and his ISA colleagues don’t do to to ensure students and community members feel welcome at the Hart House  Fitness Centre. He answers innumerable questions about membership, welcomes people when they arrive to work out, helps them register for classes or personal training, oversees exercise rooms to help ensure member safety, administers Zoom meetings for virtual classes,  and so much more.

Ibrahim has been on the frontlines at the Hart House Fitness Centre whenever it has been open for in-person visits since the COVID pandemic began. Since September 2021, in welcoming students and community members back to an in-person experience, he has been ensuring that they complete their symptom self-assessment protocol; enforces the mask policy and the traffic flow of visitors through the facilities; explains the rationale underlying the various policies; and makes certain the equipment is cleaned between users.  

Ibrahim’s passion is for people. “We have a lot of regulars, returning clientele – some of whom started coming to the gym before I was born! It’s very nice speaking with them.

“They come for the community aspect. There's such a big emphasis on community. You connect with people here. I think Hart House is one of the best places to work on campus. It’s such a friendly and welcoming place.”

H. R. Martin Phills

H. R. Martin Phills has worked to foster this kind of environment at the Hart House Fitness Centre for 30 years. A certified member of the Ontario Fitness Council with a bachelor’s degree in molecular genetics and biology, he is the head Pilates instructor and a valued program advisor with the Recreation and Wellness Department.

Over the past three decades, Martin has played an important role in shaping fitness programming at Hart House.  One way he does this is by staying on top of new approaches to promoting client wellness and emerging fitness trends. Martin works hard to integrate that knowledge into Hart House’s fitness programs. And that hard work pays off. According to Martin "(Hart House has), today, a top-notch fitness program that’s second to none. I would say we’re one of the best fitness programs in the country, given our resources.”

He emphasizes the key is understanding clients’ needs and maintaining close communication with them to help fulfill those needs. “Talk to them; ask them questions. Then you can start challenging them to rise to the next level in their own growth and development,” he says.

Martin also underscores the importance of nurturing a sense of community: “It is important for us to be a place where people want to belong, and where they feel they’re very much a part of the growth and development of the Hart House community.”