'A labour of love': Celebrating the GTA founder of North America’s first gym for Muslim women
TORONTO -- It’s been a knockout year for Fatima Lee Garsi, the founder of ‘Sister Fit’, which is considered to be the first gym in North America for Muslim women.
“They feel comfortable [here], especially women who wear the hijab,” Garsi tells CTV News Toronto. “It’s very relaxing for her to workout without worrying about being seen by men, and being understood and valued and respected and appreciated.”
Offering classes like boxing, Muay Thai and self defence, Sister Fit was created to be a space for women who enjoy privacy and want to experience fitness and martial arts in a personalized, intimate way. It’s a project that Garsi says is ‘deeply personal.’
“I’m really motivated by pain, and I feel like fitness is a great way for me to take control over situations,” she said. “I have a lot of pain in my past. I was bullied so much because I was overweight.”
Garsi adds that Sister Fit has also allowed her to ‘reconnect’ with the Muslim community.
“I had a very painful past with that particular community,” Garsi said. “So this gives me a lot of control over that personal narrative.”
Farishta Wahidi is a member at Sister Fit and has been participating in classes for three years. She said the benefits of a program like Sister Fit extend far beyond the gym walls.
“There’s the fitness aspect, but there’s also the social aspect,” Wahidi said. “I’ve met some great women here. So we’ve connected in the gym, and then made connections outside.”
One of those connections was with Garsi herself.
“She’s become a friend and she’s a leader and I hope to see this grow, truly,” Wahidi said. “She’s brilliant, her classes are fun, she’s not afraid to let you know what she thinks, but that just motivates you!”
With International Women’s Day approaching, Garsi says she hopes that women prioritize themselves more.
“That’s why I love fitness, it forces women to put themselves first, and when women are strong, communities are strong,” she says. “My hope is that we continue to know our values and develop our culture and continue to show others that we’re doing this in our style.”
And Wahidi says Garsi is someone who should be celebrated.
“She’s very strong willed very determined, and she perseveres and this is a labour of love.”