One community champion carries on the legacy of another

January 28, 2021

Al van Zonneveld developed such a love of the gym that he became a gym-owner himself – so his natural next step was to get qualified in exercise through Skills Active. 

Al, pictured above left, has always been sporty - but his passion for exercise grew after he had his leg amputated in 2014 at the age of 47. He’d had surgery for a club foot in his childhood, and by his 40s his affected leg had developed severe arthritis. His healthcare team suggested getting his foot fused, which he didn’t want to do.  

“But I could no longer do a full day’s work, or play a game of football. I went and talked to another footballer up in Hamilton who had lost his leg.  

“I saw him, and saw what he was able to do, and after talking to my partner and kids, the decision was made.” 

After the operation, Al was determined that he was going to be “enabled, rather than disabled”.  

He joined his first gym, Napier’s The Beasthouse, and was soon hooked. When that gym closed down he switched to The Lab Training Centre, which had the same grass roots and community-centric culture.

When The Lab’s owner Pat O’Brien tragically passed away in 2019, Al and a few other like-minded gym members recognised that the loss of the gym’s culture would be a tragedy also  one that could be avoided. They kept the facility open and it’s now called Legacy Gym, as a way of honouring Pat.  

Al left a 28-year career in the removals industry and now works full-time as the gym manager, opening the doors at 5.45am and closing up at 7pm. He says that just as it was a labour of love for Pat, so it is for him.  

As well as operating group fitness classes and a workout space, Legacy also runs outdoor activities, and takes part in events like the Hawkes Bay Hundy relay run. It offers boxing classes for kids and teens, and is getting into training adult amateur boxers too.  

Al is quick to credit the others on the Legacy team who help to make the gym what it is.  

“Dallas Peneha, Jacki Houkamau, Logan Mends, Benn Scott, Stacey Loye and even my own son Lukas van Zonneveld; they all offer services from combat training through to fitness classes through to kids’ boxing.”  

After learning a lot from Pat’s training as well as helping out in the gym, Al has continued to build on that knowledge, and he completed his New Zealand Certificate in Freestyle Group Exercise (Level 4) in 2020.  

He says it was a bit daunting at first, “going back to school” after many years. Support and encouragement was always available at the other end of the phone, from his assessor Chris McIvor and his Skills Active learning support advisor Chauntelle Brown.  

“What makes me smile is the diverse range of people that we have coming through the doors,” Al says 

We’ve got professionals, solo mums, younger people and older people.  

“It heartens me especially to see families coming in. The kids see their mums and dads working out, everybody gets off the couch and out of the house.  

“And members will come in and tell me how they caught up with each other on the weekend. Some of these people didn’t know each other before, although they live in the same community. It’s awesome to see those new friendships.”