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Amirali lifts weights

Amirali Paknahad / Photo by Kyle Sokoloski

UM Recreation Services member testimonial project underway

The community discusses how UM’s fitness facilities improve physical, mental, and social health

April 18, 2022 — 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the recreation facilities and programs at the University of Manitoba have seen many adjustments as decision-makers grapple with changing restrictions and difficult circumstances. There have been periodic closures, mask and vaccination requirements introduced, and students, staff, and community members have been required to book their workouts ahead of time.

With all these ups and downs, it has been a challenge for many in the UM community to maintain a consistent fitness regime. At the same time, given the isolation induced by the pandemic, and the physically stagnant lifestyle that has begun to permeate our society, remaining active now feels more important than ever.

Dentistry student Amirali Paknahad, who uses the gym frequently alongside a large cohort of his classmates, says that recently he’s noticed a “growing interest in health and fitness, even across every profession, across all the faculties.”

“Once you lose it you realize the value of it,” he explains, referring to the full gym closures that happened during the pandemic.

He adds that some individuals who had no desire to use the facilities pre-pandemic have started to show an interest.

“I have some friends who picked it up because they were in lockdown, they had nothing else to do, they worked out at home. Now they’re into it and as things open up they’re eager to come out.”


Amirali, a young man wearing a black t-shirt, stands in the ALC with arms crossed

Amirali Paknahad / Photo by Kyle Sokoloski

Paknahad is one of a small group of people who have been interviewed for a testimonial project, aiming to put a face to the UM Recreation Services community. The goal of this project is to showcase the diverse members that use the UM Recreation Services programs, services and facilities, and to explore how they have helped the community address common problems—such as physical and mental health issues.

Paknahad’s dentistry cohort of about 10-15 people has been using the gym regularly, and has been taking a mirror selfie every time they work out together. He says the photos got people talking on social media and also encouraged more in-person conversations within his program about why going to the gym is important.

He explains that friendly conversations are critical in getting people to consider going to the gym, which is why his group has experienced such a striking snowball effect.

“Let’s say what I would try to address with my friend who is trying to get into it: I’d explain to them the process, how easy it can be, how effective it can be, how fruitful it can be, (the) dividends it can pay,” he explains, noting that “the more personable you can be, the better it is.”

Ultimately, the UM Recreation Services testimonial project aims to mirror these crucial conversations for those who don’t have in-person support systems built in, offering the community some insight into the life changing results that many members have experienced.

The testimonials collected will be shared on the UM Recreation Services social media accounts, outlining individual success stories, and presenting diverse reasons that members and participants have chosen to get active.


Kathy, a young woman wearing a red shirt and glasses, stands with hands on hips

Kathy Glover / Photo by Kerri Chase

Testimonials that have already been collected emphasize factors such as isolation and physical/mental health issues that often cause people to seek out fitness services.

PhD student Kathleen Glover was battling serious health issues when she decided to make using the Joe Doupe Recreation Centre facilities and fitness classes part of her routine. She says that things really shifted for her when her doctor presented her with two options: “one was to live a life whereby I could be healthy by exercising, eating well, avoiding certain things, or I could live a life dependent on certain medications,” she says.

Glover chose the former and has been working out at the Joe Doupe Centre in between classes multiple times a week ever since. She loves the group fitness classes and feels very supported by the gym staff and programming.


Jason Rykiss similarly came to working out because of dissatisfaction with where he was at mentally and physically. “I was trying to figure out ways that I could take control of my life,” he explains. “So, I started going to the gym and I started meeting with a therapist regularly and I started learning what was healthy to eat . . . how I could plan my day so I’m not screwed over health-wise.” Rykiss emphasizes that for most people going to the gym isn’t about being able to lift the most or toning one’s body to an extreme. “I’m not doing this because I want to look like Schwarzenegger,” he says, “I’m doing this because I just want to be healthy.”


Jaron Rykiss, a young man in a black button-up, stands in the workout area of the ALC

Jaron Rykiss / Photo by Kyle Sokoloski

Saman Sobhani, an international PhD student from Iran, explains that the UM Recreation Services helped him find community and feel supported while he navigated his transition to Canada. He mentions the weather, the fact that when he arrived he didn’t have suitable clothes or boots, and the his isolated living situation. “Because I lived alone, I thought it was so important to engage with other students in sports activities and be active,” he says. “Sport benefits everyone . . . it makes me more happy, I don’t feel alone all the time.”


Saman sits on a workout bike

Saman Sobhani / Photo by Kyle Sokoloski

People decide to use the gym and sport and fitness programs for many reasons, whether to improve their physical or mental health, deal with a health issue or ailment, or find community and surround themselves with like-minded individuals. What several of the members who participated in the testimonial project highlighted was the fact that the UM’s gyms and fitness classes aren’t only for athletes, kinesiology students, or people with advanced abilities in the areas of health and sport—they are for everyone in the UM community.

Taking that first step and activating a gym membership or deciding to attend a class takes courage, they all agree, but it’s worth it.

“I just hope that people out there would see the benefits . . . I mean, students in the university, the facility is there—use it. It’s the best medication you can ever have,” Glover stresses.

“Definitely do it, it pays all the dividends,” Paknahad says. “When you do something that’s difficult and outside of your comfort zone you become better for it, and that’s why it’s so fulfilling right away.”


People who have questions about how UM Recreation Services can meet their personal fitness goals are encouraged to reach out to: rec_services [at] umanitoba [dot] ca with questions.

For now, members are still required to book their workouts ahead of time. Please visit for details.

For those interested in following our testimonial project as it develops, follow @uofmrecservices on Instagram. Individuals wanting to share their story for the project are encouraged to reach out to kyle [dot] sokoloski [at] umanitoba [dot] ca.

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