David Patchell-Evans’ mission is simple and it’s personal. He wants to help people get fit and stay fit. As founder and chief executive of Canada’s biggest network of health clubs, “Patch” is influencing 1.2 million GoodLife Fitness members to indeed, live the good life.
While Patchell-Evans runs more than 400 clubs in Canada, and hundreds more in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, he looks to home in Victoria for the inspiration that helps drive his business. He marvels at the story of his wife, rower Silken Laumann, who won a heroic Olympic bronze medal after having her leg torn open just weeks before the 1992 Barcelona Games. And he is amazed by his daughter, Kili, 19, a low-functioning autistic woman, who is one of four children in their blended family.
“Everyone has challenges and when people rise to those challenges it’s also an opportunity to make people realize how good they already are,” he says. “People don’t need a motivational speaker, they are the motivational speaker.”
Patchell-Evans tore apart his upper body in a motorcycle accident when he was 20 and studying kinesiology at university. Dedication to a physical therapy program opened his eyes to the impact fitness has on people’s lives and he decided to start his own gym.
It was a way to keep his rehabbed body in good repair and provided a megaphone for Patchell-Evans to shout his fitness message to others. GoodLife was founded in 1991, the successor to a regional group of clubs he opened in and around London, Ont.
“That accident set me up for my career. It taught me how to adapt when I got arthritis at 32. It helped me understand how to help my members,” he says. “Some days, my body would act like it was 50 years older. You don’t have the aplomb or arrogance of a young athlete. It makes you think different.”
A rower at the University of Western Ontario who had a shot at the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics, Patchell-Evans, 62, says caring for Kili taught him to stay positive and focus on things that are working at home and in his business, not dwell on what’s not working.
“Kili was 7 when I got my first kiss from her. It was because I learned to pay total attention to her when I was with her,” he says. Patchell-Evans home-schooled his daughter and while it took time away from his business, his newfound focus actually helped foster a time of unprecedented growth for GoodLife.
Through its philanthropic arm, GoodLife has donated $5 million to help build an autism research centre in Vancouver. It is funding cardiac research in Ontario, and it provides free memberships every summer to teenagers aged 14-17 at all its clubs. Patchell-Evans is also a key driver behind Canfitpro, the organization that educates and certifies personal trainers across the country.
I developed a desire to give other people what I had benefitted from – to help people get in shape and live a good quality of life.
“I developed a desire to give other people what I had benefitted from – to help people get in shape and live a good quality of life,” Patchell-Evans says. “The original vision of how to look after people is still what I’m doing.”