An open air gym (ENG)




Who am I? 

I am a 48 year-old husband, father (of a wonderful 15 years old daughter), philosopher and logician, and somewhat of a Sherlock Holmes expert. I taught high-school philosophy in France from 1994 to 2009 and completed a Ph.D. in applied logic in 2009. In 2011 I moved to Sweden to work as a post-doctoral researcher at the Philosophy department of Lund University, which I have done ever since (although I am currently in sick leave).

On top of that, I'm also an amateur girevik (for all I know, that's the Russian word for "kettlebell lifter", derived from girevoy, the Russian word for "kettlebell lifting") husband to a champion powerlifter [styrkelyftare] and father to a junior world record holder in girevoy and I've done my level best to keep up with them in the last past years. I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in January 2019, and staying at the level has been a real challenge, but I've managed to stay in decent shape, I think. 

Excercise is close to my heart

When I was a teacher in France I mostly viewed exercise as a necessity to compensate for my otherwise sedentary lifestyle. After moving to Sweden I became involved with competitive strength sports. First, I learned about training theory to train my wife who had taken up powerlifting [Styrkelyft] soon after moving in Sweden, and she set up a Swedish Veteran Squat [knäböj] record in 2015 that she held for a couple of years. Then, I trained my daughter first in powerlifting, then in Olympic weightlifting [tynglyfting], and she finished 5th at the 2016 Junior Swedish championship. In late 2016,

I suffered from an onset of sciatica and began to rehabilitate myself with kettlebells. My coach convinced me to set up 'real' goals, that is, to achieve a rank in girevoy. The ranking system does not depend on whether one wins or lose, but on achieving specific goals during competitions, so you can actually compete against yourself in that sport. My daughter started to train out of curiosity and we both achieved rankings in late 2017. In August 2018, she broke a junior world record at the Cup of Scandinavia.

I have helped a few people with their training outside of my family but never considered it as a professional activity. I did, however, start a personal company in 2017 to help office workers with sitting-related issues (such as back pain) through kettlebell training at the workplace, and consulted for Philosophy Department of Lund University in that capacity. Finally, when I have some time, I blog about training theory and occasionally post pictures and clips of my training on my blog's Instagram account (@the_polerine). 


An open air ("outside") gym

As soon as I was diagnosed and hospitalized, I researched the effect of strength and conditioning training on leukemia patients. There is an emerging body of research showing that it is not only safe to train during and after chemotherapy treatments (and in the case of leukemia, before and after a transplant) but also highly beneficial to the patients' quality of life and long-term survival. And so kept training in my hospital room, and even participated in an online competition while still being hooked to my IV!

I soon learned that my leukemia had a high risk of relapse and that I would need a bone marrow transplant. My doctors explained to me that the transplant would be a tantamount to second immune system "running" at the same time as mine and it would have to be aggressive enough to kill cancer cells, but not so aggressive as to attack the rest of my body. To prevent the latter, I would receive immunosuppressing medication, and I'd have to avoid places that would put me at risk of infection such as indoor gyms, although training outdoors was ok.

I could train kettlebells anywhere (including my hospital room) but I, leukemia or not, did not want to give up on my girevoy goals, and for that, I'd still need to get much stronger. And that would require lifting heavy weights, much heavier than kettlebells, and the few open air gyms in Lund were equipped for bodyweight training only, and that's not heavy enough! I had interviewed competitive strongwomen for my blog and strong(wo)man events are often organized outdoors (and are heavy, as the name implies) so I immediately thought that I could train with strong(wo)man equipment outdoors.

Fundraiser via GoFundMe

The equipment is relatively expensive, though, so I set a GoFundMe fundraiser to buy it. But I never considered this to be just for myself and thought of it as something to share with other people with the same limitations as mine from the very first day of that project. I initially thought about cancer and leukemia patients, of course. But it turned out that one of my neighbors has an immune system disorder and could not train in indoor gyms, and they joined our training group. 

I am very happy with the fundraiser, especially because the sum I had set initially was 'only" 13 000 SEK! People were just so generous that it took less than 2 weeks to raise that amount, and donations kept coming for a while even after that goal was reached. The initial sum was intended for a "basic" open air gym with minimal equipment, but with the 'extra' money, I could upgrade to better quality and add additional equipment allowing for a much more complete set-up. 

Without getting into too many details, strong(wo)man is not only about lifting, but also about carrying heavy weights and when your body adapts to the extra load you carry, you become both stronger and more endurant. The additional equipment allows for a wider variety of loaded carries, and since loaded carries are less technical, easier to learn, and safer for beginners than other lifts, this additional equipment will really help to make this type of training accessible to more before, during and after their treatment, irrespective of their initial strength levels.

The open air gym in Lund is just a beginning, so the GoFundMe fundraiser is still open and donations are still possible. But people tend to neglect campaigns that have reached their goals, and GoFundMe takes rather high processing fees, so we have decided to launch a Patreon crowdfunding subscription campaign starting at 10 SEK/month for long-term support to help us going forward. 

An open air gym already in 2019?

I certainly hope we will have an open air gym already in 2019! However, at the moment, I cannot give a timetable as to exactly when. First, there must be some formal agreement with Skånes Universitetssjukhus (SUS). We are already training as a small team, including my family, the neighbor I mentioned earlier, and a patient I met during my treatment (we trained together with kettlebells at the hospital) and my coach Stefan Hedengren. We are informally referring to ourselves as the "Survivors L.C." (Lifter Club) because all members of the team have actually survived life-threatening conditions.

Our plan is to transform this informal "club" into a legal entity, that is, an association or a sports club, which could, in turn, enter in a legal agreement with SUS. An association would also make things easier financially by making us eligible for tax exemptions: as of today, the equipment was purchased by my company, and I will have to pay taxes for the donations as if they were the result of commercial activity. For all these reasons, setting up an association is our priority for 2019 and we hope to be done with it by the end of the Summer (by the time I am scheduled to return to work if all goes well with my treatment).

We have already set up a website to support the club when it is officially created. As for the equipment itself, it fits in a storage space of less than 2 square meters and it could easily be transported in a small truck or a trailer. So it would be entirely possible to transport it for a demonstration, for instance in a parking lot. In fact, all that is needed to train is a strip of concrete or grass of about 20m long and 3-5m wide.

And even if this is not a complete answer, it certainly shows that storage space won't be a major issue in reaching an agreement with SUS, but there are many other practical details to consider, for instance, how to train in winter when it rains too heavily, how to keep the training safe for patients, etc. Some of these details will raise legal issues, but I'm confident that we will find a way around them and set up a model for other open air gyms in other hospitals. 



Some final words...

First of all, we have no advertisement budget and so we are relying on word-of-mouth: if you find our story interesting or inspiring, we hope that you will share it with their friends and relatives. You can also visit and recommend our Facebook page and our website, and if you do so, please "like" the first and bookmark the second. Both are still under construction, but you can already read about our plans and projects for the future (the open air gym in Lund is just a beginning). 

Again, the GoFundMe fundraiser is still open and our Patreon subscription will soon be open. We would be grateful if you took the time to follow the links and read more about us and our projects, and then decide if you want to support them. Donations will help us set up other open air gyms for cancer survivors in Sweden and elsewhere (we have a project in Norway but it's at an early stage, so I can't really say too much about it), but also travel with our equipment to show what cancer and leukemia fighters and survivors like us can do, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

Finally, to all of you who live in (or travel to) the Lund-Malmö area, you are welcome to join us for a training session, or a few! Just leave a message via the House of Strength Facebook page mentioned above or the contact form of the House of Strength website. Last but not least, I want to thank personally Dr. Vladimir Lazarevic for his support first with the GoFundMe campaign, and then with getting me in contact with Blodcancerförbundet; and Christian Pedersen, Head of Secretariat at Blodcancerförbundet, for setting up this interview.

I also want to thank collectively the personnel of the Hematology Ward #3 at SUS for their support during my stays there, and all the readers for the time you put down reading this interview. I hope that you will visit us soon, both virtually on Facebook and our website, and in person at our gym! Tack för idag!!