Meet the couple building community through their school gymnasium in Coal Country
For most people, the idea of starting a gym in a struggling city wouldn’t even get caught on their radar. But Asha and Scott Carr aren’t most people. Turning an old Ohai classroom into a fitness center was one of the best decisions they ever made. Local democracy reporter Matthew Rosenberg reports:
On a hot spring day in the Southland countryside, Ohai is calmer than ever.
You could fire a cannon in the street and not hit anyone.
The city of 300 is home to just a handful of streets and even fewer shops, making the local mine office and fire station especially prominent in an otherwise empty streetscape.
It’s a town on its way to nowhere, and after New Vale announced in September that it was shutting down the local coal mine, a feeling built that Ohai’s days might be as numbered as the controversial resource on which it was built.
* “The reality has not struck”: the director of the medical center laments the low use of vaccines in rural Southland
* What happens to the coal towns in a future without coal?
* Anti-smut stance against grain in smoky Southland
But one block from the main road, another type of energy is generated under the roof of an old school.
The former site of Ohai Elementary School, which closed in 2003, is now home to not only a family of four, but also a thriving gym called Kapai Energy.
“I’ve heard that business is about making a profit. I want to make a living, ”says Asha Carr enthusiastically, surrounded by weights and machines.
“My accountant said to me, ‘I don’t know how you do it, but you do it’.”
In 2014, the Carr’s moved from Palmerston North to Ohai (a town they had never been to) after stumbling upon the school for sale online.
A payment of $ 235,000 later, and they settled into their new home and life in the remote areas of the Southland countryside.
It was Google that brought them there, Asha says, but a lifestyle they love that will keep them in town for the long haul.
Under the banner of their Kapai Energy brand, the duo not only run the fitness studio, but also “mums and bubs fitness”, first aid training, community music jams and senior te reo maori remedies around the world. ‘a tea (Ka Pai Cuppa).
The gym is the main branch of the business and serves both Ohai residents and neighboring Nightcaps.
At any given time, around 20 active members are using the facilities under a month-to-month membership agreement that allows them to come three times a week.
One-hour sessions are booked in advance and cost $ 6 a pop.
However, this is not business as usual for the duo who met in the army in Waiouru over 10 years ago.
As her husband Scott looks after the children in a nearby classroom – their home – Asha presents the business plan and speaks openly about the fact that she sometimes turns people down – for their own good.
If people try to sign up during the warmer months, she normally tries to talk them out.
“If you start now, you’re going to engage in the gym. But the point is, when winter comes, and it’s not that great to be outside and the pool is closed, you’re going to get bored, ”she says.
“You have to connect to the environment. “
Connection is important to her, and more and more.
She speaks with conviction about building relationships with her community and her whakapapa.
Determined to combine the two, she recently piloted a program for Maori in Ohai called Mai Ora, which offered an introduction to maramataka (the Maori lunar calendar) and cultural frameworks.
Participants had free access to the gymnasium for three months, and Asha said the opportunity to explore cultural identity was “incredible.”
“This is what we lack in communities, these are prosocial activities that people can engage in.
“Now that I have evolved to find out more about te reo maori, [I] realize that health and wellness is a hauora, which stalks you the maramataka, ”she said.
“I grew up without a belief system, and now I have immersed myself in a belief system that has always been a part of me.”
Asha says learning maramataka has been revolutionary.
She realized that the ups and downs of life are natural and should be accepted and not stigmatized.
Leading by example of assessing her surroundings before committing to the day’s activities, she says being stuck with the administrator on a high-energy day will only generate frustration.
Conversely, being around people who “burn you out a bit” on a low-energy day will have similar negative results.
Too much insistence in society on being “moderate” at all times will do more harm than good, she thinks.
“I go the other way around and I go, if you’re static you have mental health issues,” she laughs.
Kapai Energy is a play about the surnames of Scott and Asha (Carr and Asha’s maiden name, Paenga) and the couple plan to continue expanding their business, which could include transforming one from the other seven classrooms into a secondary gymnasium.
But living in a quiet city always comes with its challenges.
Asha jokes that she only runs the programs so she can make friends in the small town of 300, and sometimes says that they’re the only ones attending their own events.
During this time, Scott is often on the road for several days working multiple jobs to maintain his income.
Between running first aid courses in the area and working as an event doctor, he doesn’t think he’s had a normal work week for about two years.
The challenges only stimulate them.
Scott says the townspeople continue to live on, even when the headlines turn negative as they have in recent months after news of the mine’s closure and potential expansion was announced.
“We’re trying to show a little positivity and help the locals, and be part of the solution rather than the problem,” he says.
Asha also has a few tips for people looking to take risks and try something completely out of the ordinary, like the couple did: make the decision and then tell others what you’re doing.
“It was the occasion of what we wanted to do with our whanau. So it was irrelevant … what other people thought and their opinions.
“I was wondering ‘why are you moving there? “… now they come to us here and they say ‘that’s cool’.”