sam rypinki

A Model for Becoming More Inclusive -- Sam Rypinski, Founder of EVERYBODY Gym by Jahan Sharif

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For a few months last year, I couldn’t get away from EVERYBODY. People went out of their way to tell me about it; how, for the first time, they felt at ease in a gym, and actually wanted to work out! They talked to me about the fitness instructors cultivating environments where they felt comfortable not knowing what to do. Or trainers who developed programs that helped them to connect more deeply with their bodies instead of trying to sculpt it. Above all else, these people told me how they felt embraced in all of the ways other places told them they were weird.

As I came to learn, this was by design.

Press outlets across the country have called EVERYBODY “the most radically inclusive gym in America.” And founder, Sam Rypinski says that was exactly his intention. As a lifelong athlete, Sam spent many years in gyms and found the culture toxic and oppressive to people who didn’t fit a specific mold. And so, in 2016, when Sam and his co-founder, Lake Sharp, founded EVERYBODY they deliberately and thoughtfully built inclusive values and protocols into their mission, vision, and execution.

As a result, EVERYBODY is a unique space in that is truly respectful of the diversity and variety of people in Los Angeles.

In this 12 minute piece, Sam breaks down what inclusivity means, why it’s important, how he’s working everyday to truly build a space that achieves those values, and what we might learn from the story of EVERYBODY.

Listen to the interview above, or read the transcript below!

Los Angeles, CA, USA
May 2019


Transcript

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JAHAN SHARIF, Host
SAM RYPINSKI, EVERYBODY Co-Founder

(00:00)
SAM RYPINSKI: Life has a funny way of propelling you into action, sometimes at moments when you least want to...I guess is a way of putting it.

(00:12)
JAHAN SHARIF: Sam Rypinski is the founder of EVERYBODY the most radically inclusive gym in America. He started the gym with his co-founder, Lake Sharp, in 2016. Together, they have built a community and a “culture for all bodies to move, strengthen and heal. [They] believe that health and wellness should be accessible, affordable, and adaptive to all people, regardless of their gender, sexuality, size, age, ethnicity, or ability.” That’s also their mission statement.

(00:41)
SAM RYPINSKI: It was all very new in terms of the set up, and I wanted to make sure that the backbone of the whole project was really strong, and really grounded in our ethics and in our vision. So I had a group of folks working with me before we opened our doors-- they were basically a founding board of advisors, and we met and we talked about this vision, and we talked about the needs of our communities-- and I say communities because there are so many overlapping marginalized folks that we try to meet the needs of here. So it was critical to me that I not be the only person deciding.

That’s what inclusivity means. It means that you’re inviting people who have basic differences and may not agree on everything.
— Sam Rypinski

I’m 45 so I’ve been around a little bit, and I’ve seen the failings of communities that don’t take into account how diverse needs are among different groups of people. And it was really critical to me that setting up a space that’s about health and wellness all of the needs of folks of different abilities of different sizes of different ethnicities and backgrounds and athletic experience be included. So I have my own very specific journey and path, and experience, and it’s informed a lot of what I’ve done and why I’ve done it. I mean, critically the fact that I’m transgender was key to how I was disenfranchised by a lot of mainstream gym culture so that informed a lot of this project. But in my experience being the ‘only one’ in many spaces, I could also see how others were the only one in different ways.

(2:30)
JAHAN SHARIF: Sam and his team have imbued the gym with that awareness. For example, they offer classes like “Punch’Empower” that make no compromises on fitness, but are also explicitly non-competitive. Not only that, they offer bilingual English and Spanish classes, as well as $5 community classes.  

(2:48)
SAM RYPINSKI: I’m very conscious of gentrification, and we talked about the effects of that here. And we certainly are the first business of this kind in this community, and we took into account what that would mean for the community.

We talked about things like “How do we become inclusive on a socio-economic level?” What does that mean for this community? And what does it mean to be in Cypress Park, specifically? That was something we talked about before we opened.

(3:14)
JAHAN SHARIF: When you’re creating a space that is inclusive of so many diverse experiences, things are going to happen. But Sam says that’s normal and should be expected.

(3:24)
SAM RYPINSKI: That’s what inclusivity means. It means that you’re inviting people who have basic differences and may not agree on everything. Definitely won’t, and will have different perspectives and different understandings and needs.

(3:41)
JAHAN SHARIF: But does a space where interpersonal hiccups are expected mean that it isn’t safe?

(3:46)
SAM RYPINSKI: I don’t ever say that this is a safe space. I actually don’t specifically, because I can’t ensure that. That is a goal. That is what we want and what we’re striving to create, but we actually prefer the phrase “brave space.”

So, there are going to be clashes, there are going to be slip-ups. People are going to get misgendered, people are going to slip into their gym culture understanding of what is appropriate behavior and grunt too loudly, or behave in ways that we discourage. It’s going to happen. I can’t guarantee that someone’s not going to be offended here by another member. And I would never claim to, because the world comes in. We don't have a barrier that filters out the people who don’t belong or who are going to act inappropriately, and we occasionally have to deal with folks who are not respectful of the space and our community. So I don’t say safe space. Because although that is something that I would love aspire to, it’s something that I can’t guarantee.

I like brave space because it actually charges everyone who comes into the space with the responsibility to show up and to be a part of it and not just walk in and expect a cloud to lift them up and hold them. It makes everyone accountable to the space to create it, to become what it wants to be.

Bravery is courage. It’s the courage to ask for what you need. It’s the courage to have awkward conversations.
— Sam Rypinksi

Bravery is courage. It’s the courage to ask for what you need. It’s the courage to have awkward conversations.

(5:28)
JAHAN SHARIF: This might scare some people, but not to worry. The team at everybody is committed to doing what they can to set everyone up for success. They train and retrain their staff, and they require all members to agree to their SOCIAL CONTRACT.

SAM RYPINSKI: It’s a pamphlet that outlines our culture and how we expect people to show up. And some guidelines for participation. It’s really 101 for folks who are brand new to this kind of a space to give them a sense of what’s expected, what’s ok, and what we discourage.

JAHAN SHARIF: There are seven principles in the social contract; Some are, show respect... come with an open mind and a willingness to learn… don’t make assumptions... if you make a mistake acknowledge it promptly and apologize... own your privileges.

SAM RYPINSKI: It doesn’t assume that everyone has a privilege, it just asks people to consider what their privileges are. And to think about how they might have privileges that other people don’t that they MAY not even be aware of. So, for some people this might be a brand new concept-- privilege-- and so it’s just sort of walking people through that idea. And, recognizing that if they do have a privilege that others do not have that this is an opportunity to be an ally. And so we explain what that means here, and how we’re giving people opportunities to be allies to communities and marginalized folks who are not typically centered in a gym environment.

(7:07)
JAHAN SHARIF: Another concept that’s not typically centered in a gym environment is “healing.”

SAM RYPINSKI: When we were first starting out, we had a wall of words that we liked and didn’t like. And most of the words we didn’t like were typical gym like “calorie burning” and “pain is your fat crying” -- the language of gym culture is so toxic and oppressive and then we thought about language that wanted to evoke or bring in to a gym that was healing, and heal is certainly part of that. I think healing is critical for wellness in terms of a rounded holistic approach to health, which is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get away from this notion that health is one thing, that it’s being cut and it’s being ripped and it’s looking a certain way and being this one weight and body type, and that it’s actually feeling good. That it’s actually feeling better in your body exactly the way it is. Doesn’t mean that your body has to change or transform in any particular way. We want people to walk in here and feel better right away.

JAHAN SHARIF: Where did that come from? That sense that healing is important and is a service that a gym should provide?  

SAM RYPINSKI: A lot of what I’ve identified as a need for the space is something that I personally have needed in my own life. I mean the best ideas usually come from experience and personal need. I have spent a lot of years as an athlete. I’ve gone to gyms my whole life. I’ve been to different classes and yoga classes and all kinds of settings where healing and wellness is the goal and I’ve felt uncomfortable in one way or another. And so for me, it was thinking through what is that discomfort? Where does that discomfort come from? How can we create something that doesn’t do that?

We are creating a little incubation station for culture here, and there’s a lot of things getting tested and worked out for the first time. In terms of having a public space, that is also providing ground rules for behavior-- which is pretty unheard of, especially in a gym,

I hear it all the time, members saying “I’ve never been anywhere like this. I never knew a gym could feel like that.” People are always astounded by the type of space that we’ve created, and the fact that it’s a gym.

(10:29)
JAHAN SHARIF: Sam says the model for creating an inclusive space is dynamic.

SAM RYPINSKI: There is an evolution to this project. It’s not, “ok we’ve figured it out, and here’s the textbook. And now we’re not going to do anything differently.” It’s always evolving. We have regular meetings with our adivisory committee. And we always come back to our mission statement. The first question is always, “How are we doing? What can we do better? Do you see room for improvement? Have you had experiences that suggest that we need to do things differently?”

The lesson that I’m always learning, and the biggest lesson of the space is: inclusivity is necessary, and it’s not always easy. But it’s worth it and everyone needs to participate to make that happen and to make it possible. And figuring out what role you can play in encouraging everyone to be welcome at the table is critical.

I’m Jahan Sharif and you’ve been listening to Jaja In. I hope you enjoyed Sam Rypinski, the founder of EVERYBODY the most radically inclusive gym in America.

You can keep up with the gym online at everybodylosangeles.com. You can follow me on Instagram @jahansharif, and you catch up with past installments of Jaja on my website, jahansharif.com.

While you’re there, sign up for my weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox every Saturday morning.

Thanks for listening, I’ll see you next week.

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