Step inside the Pony Club and what you see, at first, is a weightlifting club like many others: a slick and professional modern gym.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the owner of the gym, Ella Mase — a seasoned weightlifter who competed at the 2018 Masters World Champs — has in fact built a gym like no other. Sure, it has barbells and platforms, and you can drop bars and make lots of noise, but it’s the club’s values and philosophy that set it apart.
“In my mind, it’s always been a gym for everyone. And that’s first and foremost. But out of that is creating a culture of a safe space. We do have a quite large percentage of LGBTIQ clients,” Ella tells The Weightlifting Platform.
Ella believes that the fitness industry can be highly intimidating to some people. So creating a safe space for people to be able to go and work out, feel healthy and valued is paramount.
“We don’t tolerate racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or transphobia, or fatphobia and all those things,” Ella explains. “For us, these values are as strong as receiving good coaching and a good service.”
To make absolutely sure everyone is on the same page at The Pony Club, Ella has affixed a big sign on the gym’s walls that lays out these ground rules.
It won’t be long before we start seeing Ella and her athletes at competitions, which will be an amazing experience not only for The Pony Club athletes but the wider Victorian and Australian weightlifting community as well.
Weightlifting has never had the most inclusive culture. And that’s at all levels — from athletes to coaches, to the political/administrative side of things, so it’ll be great to see a more diverse community in and around competitions.
And you will no doubt start to see Coach Ella more and more as she starts to push for rule changes around trans athletes.
Another exciting initiative Ella plans to implement is gender-neutral events. “Let’s chuck everyone in the mix. You still have the age and weight categories and let’s just see how we perform against each other.”
“Things are going to change anyway, whether we like it or not. Things will be very different in 10 or 20 years, and if we don’t push for the change now, someone else will do it anyway. Whether the AWF or the IOC decides to do it other people will anyway.”
At the end of that day, athletes are athletes, people are people and no matter who lines up next to you on the platform, you want to beat them and they want to beat you. Why should it ever matter what gender they are, what they believe in or where they come from? The end goal is always the same in competition and that’s to have some fun… and beat your opponents, of course!
Ella is not the first or only person in the wider weightlifting community to push these types of initiatives and changes. Gyms in the USA with a similar way of thinking have already started a big push on these issues within our sport.
Unfortunately, the week Ella had planned to open the doors to her brand new facility the COVID-19 shutdown was in full swing, and the grand opening has been postponed. But rest assured that when everything opens back up you will be seeing a lot more of Ella Mase.
In the meantime, Ella wants people to continue the conversation around all these issues, and says if you have any thoughts or feelings or feedback, that her door (and email) is always wide open.
“There’s nothing wrong with having a conversation about these things and I really, genuinely would like to know where some of this resistance comes from.”
Have the conversation, there’s nothing wrong with feeling how you feel or believing what you believe in. Just be willing and open to listen to the other side as well.