This is the story of how Megatlon, a long established chain of health and fitness clubs in Argentina responded to a request to help build a gym in Antarctica. It is written by Ray Algar, founder of Gymtopia.
For this Gymtopia story you will need your coat because we are off to Antarctica, the Earth’s southernmost continent and officially recognised as the coldest place on Earth when during 2010 a temperature of minus 94.7C (-135.8F) was recorded. This is an extraordinary project involving Megatlon, a leading Argentinian health club chain, the Argentinian Air Force and scientists who were putting on weight as fast as the local elephant seals.
Antarctica’s entrance door
Marambio Base is a permanent all year–round base founded by Argentina in 1969. It is located on Marambio Island, Antarctica, which lies around 1,167 kilometers from the southern tip of Argentina. The base acts as a strategic hub for Antarctic scientific missions as its runway can accommodate aircraft using conventional landing gear. For this reason it is known as ‘Antarctica’s entrance door’, supporting over 100 intercontinental flights each year. Operated and maintained by the Argentinian Air Force, Marambio base is home to 200 permanent crew and scientists undertaking a diverse range of geological and atmospheric experiments on missions usually lasting a year.
Good science, bad lifestyle
For those living on Antarctica, their lifestyle is tipped on its head. With less than three hours of daylight during the winter and 120 kilometre per hour winds, the tendency is to hunker down and ‘fuel-up’ in the 24-hour kitchen and ‘Casino’, a recreation room complete with bar, smoking area, card and pool tables. Consequently, physical activity levels plummet, while bodyweight on the base, balloons.
Megatlon operates 23 clubs across Argentina as well as 10 corporate workplace centres. Arturo Dewey, who heads up the corporate division was contacted by an officer from the Argentinian Air Force asking for advice on improving the wellbeing of Marambio Base members. The big idea was a fully operating gym, but there was neither money nor obvious space at the base. At this point, Fernando Storchi, Megatlon’s CEO became involved and committed to financially support the project. Hitching a ride on the next available Hercules, Fernando and a senior officer surveyed the base for potential gym locations, eventually deciding to utilise part of the ‘Casino’. The vision was to create a ‘mini Megatlon’ following the same look and feel as if people were back home in Buenos Aires.
I asked Fernando why he agreed to finance the gym: ‘because our mission as a company is to improve the quality of life of people through physical activity and we knew we could contribute to the daily life of our compatriots. They spend a whole year at the base, rarely venture outside and we had the opportunity to make their time there, a little better.’
The world’s southernmost gym takes shape
Discussions took place about where in the ‘casino’ the gym should be located. They eventually secured space with large windows facing the Southern Ocean; this gym may have one of the world’s most remarkable views. Fernando and his team continued working closely with members of the Argentinian Air Force coordinating the complex transfer of fitness equipment from Argentina. Precious space on Hercules aircraft being negotiated to transport an array of strength and cardio’ machines which was flown piece-meal over several trips.
On March 2010 the Marambio Base gym opened and is now a core part of enriching the Marambio Base experience, and being open 24-hours means there is now an alternative to the temptations of the always-open kitchen. Megatlon look after the gym as though it is one of their mainland centres. As well as financing the initial gym fit-out, they provide programming support via email and maintain all of the equipment. They have experimented with online programmes, but Internet access to the Base has been limited, although this is now improving. A small number of Megatlon staff have been invited to visit the base, flying out just two at a time as space is so precious. The staff are there to encourage use of the gym, but also allow them to experience first-hand the role their company is playing on Marambio, a place of significant global scientific importance.
Deep sense of pride
I asked Fernando how he and his team feel playing a part in a base, which acts as a gateway for the world’s scientific community: ‘We feel a deep sense of pride that the base authorities trusted us to collaborate on this project. It triggers strong emotions because we never imagined having a connection with Antarctica. Projects like this simply allow us to be closer to our compatriots who are doing great work in inhospitable conditions.’
What’s your business story?
What I find interesting about projects like these is that it makes the business, well, interesting. With the world awash with vanilla and mediocre fitness offerings, it’s just refreshing to share stories about a brand that cares more than the value of next month’s direct debit run. If you need a better reason to begin re-writing your own organisational story, here is one. Deloitte Consulting has just published its 2014 Global Human Capital Trends Report. The report discusses how to engage a 21st century workforce and it focuses on Millennials, those born since 1980 (aged under 34). Look inside your organisation and it will be brimming with Millennials who are projected to make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025. Yes they will turn up for a pay check (for a while), but what truly motivates and engages them is to be part of something with real meaning and purpose. Megatlon is leaving its mark in Antarctica; where will you leave yours?
When we first approached Megatlon we asked them which of the many community impact projects they were involved in, were they most proud. Javier, their Corporate Affairs Manager immediately replied that it was their work in Antarctica. Very few of us will have the opportunity to step onto this remarkable continent, but Megatlon has and for four years been providing a vital facility for the 200 permanent crew and scientists.
|Start date:||March 2014|
|Submitted:||28 November 2014|