Jonathan Chipalo is an Olympian and coach who founded his own mobile fitness company, Health and Fitness Sports Academy Zambia.
Jonathan completed an online course, attended a workshop and received six months of mentoring through the Athlete365 Business Accelerator programme, which has inspired him to create more social impact through his business.
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During my athletic career as a 400m sprinter, I had never really given any serious thought to what I would do after. When you’re competing, it feels so important to stay singularly focused on your immediate goals that everything else takes a back seat.
I’m very proud of what I was able to achieve in athletics, with the peak certainly being the Olympic Games Seoul 1988. The whole experience was wonderful.
These highs didn’t last forever though. Unfortunately, I sustained a serious injury that forced me to prematurely retire from competitive athletics, and so I was suddenly confronted with a very tough question: what do I want to do with the rest of my life?
I really wasn’t sure, but through my sporting career I was able to take up a governmental role before earning a scholarship to study at Leipzig University, Germany. When I returned to Zambia after graduating, I took up a role at the National Federation (NF) as an assistant coach and was soon working with young athletes to help them qualify for international competitions.
A thirst for knowledge
Throughout my time working with the NF, I was also interested in furthering myself in any way possible. As such, the Athlete365 platform has been a boon for me. In total, I have participated in seven courses, ranging from coach development to safeguarding athletes from harassment and abuse, which have all really helped me to develop my understanding of multiple facets of sport. I also attended the 2019 International Athletes’ Forum in Lausanne, and it was there that I discovered the Athlete365 Business Accelerator.
Taking part in this programme has really inspired me to do more. I used to dream of establishing simple events like road or cross-country races, just to see how I could engage with sport in a new way. But when I took part in the Athlete365 Business Accelerator workshop in Jordan, I took a completely new path.
The workshop leaders really emphasised that we could make great social impact with our businesses, and that idea stuck with me. As such, I decided to try to help my country in the way I knew best: fitness.
Fitness with a social difference
When I first founded my company, Health and Fitness Sports Academy Zambia, it was focused on providing children across the nation with access to fitness classes through a mobile programme. We would drive from school to school, working with children in compounds and their communities to help them develop their fitness and in turn maintain a healthy lifestyle. Another key benefit is that being involved in sports or community activities like this helps ensure children are off the street, stay safe and remain on the right path.
Since these first steps, we have further developed the programme to include elderly people. It is so important to remain active throughout your life and not just when you are young, but unfortunately we see many people stop exercising as they get older. This is a double-edged sword. Of course, the first negative is that your fitness and thus your health start to decline, but just as significantly, you aren’t getting out and about. Ensuring that elderly people remain involved in the community and activities, seeing friends and enjoying life is a key idea we want to transmit through the business.
Regrettably, the global COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, had a huge impact on not just the business, but the sector as a whole. With understandably strict social distancing measures in place in Zambia, it is nearly impossible to join fitness programmes at this time. As such, we have had to adapt temporarily by creating a host of online routines for our members to access, as well as a programme for them to self-evaluate their health and monitor their own performance. Even though it is important to maintain our health through social distancing and reduce the transmission of COVID-19, it is also important that we don’t fall into the trap of becoming unfit and damaging our health through inactivity.
Developing your own business is very much like a race, and I dream of crossing the finish line one day. Other people outside your business really only see the glory at the finish line, but the hard work really goes on behind the scenes, long before the big day.
The key lesson I would pass on to others who are thinking of taking part in the Athlete365 Business Accelerator programme is to just do it. The material is absolutely wonderful, and it can really help to give you direction both during and, most importantly, after your career.
So often we see that athletes can become lost or stuck, without knowing what to do outside sport. Courses like this one can help open your mind to new opportunities that you perhaps were not aware of before, particularly in business. It’s been so rewarding to me personally, and I will certainly be encouraging my NOC to introduce these courses as a pathway for our athletes.
THE WORKSHOP LEADERS REALLY EMPHASISED THAT WE COULD MAKE GREAT SOCIAL IMPACT WITH OUR BUSINESSES, AND THAT IDEA STUCK WITH ME. AS SUCH, I DECIDED TO TRY TO HELP MY COUNTRY IN THE WAY I KNEW BEST: FITNESS.