#Novemberproject: Making Fitness Free For All! Featuring Ridley Chen
Meet the free fitness movement that aims to make fitness accessible and free for all.
We speak to Ridley Chen from the November Project Miri, to gain more insight about this global movement & how you too can be a part of it.
Miri, a small coastal city in Sarawak, is home to several of Malaysia’s well known national parks (Mulu National Park), close proximity to the rainforest and beaches and also the birthplace of NOVEMBER PROJECT MALAYSIA, a FREE workout out movement that runs free community workouts for the public, where the only way to become a member is to – #JUSTSHOWUP. The Boston-born project was first launched (in November of course) as a way to stay fit during the cold winter months and encourage the community of all ages and sizes to workout together and form a sense of accountability for their health, the movement has since slowly grown throughout the world with a mixture of functional based workouts, running, HIIT and more. The movement is now slowly gaining traction around the world, with over 49 cities worldwide and counting, where interested organisers need to write into November Project and go through the pledge requirements in order to seal their commitment.
ABOUT RIDLEY CHEN
Ridley Chen is a married father of 2 girls ( 2 and half year old and a 3 month old), was previously based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for 22 years before moving back to Miri, Malaysia where he has been based for almost 8 years. Ridley has always been active in sports, even prior to starting the November Project, previously playing American football for almost 13 years and has been active in weight training for almost 26 years! Currently, he works as an operations manager at a local hotel in Miri.
Ridley, saw an opportunity to encourage healthy living amongst the small community in Miri and also showcase Miri to the rest of the world. He first organised community workout sessions called Myfitnessfeat in 2014 (modeled after November Project), but didn’t officially become November Project until June 2017, where they took the pledge for 4 months, thus the first November Project movement in Malaysia was formed, making it the first group in the ASEAN region, and the 2nd in Asia (the first being Hong Kong). Ridley aims to have the movement grow throughout Malaysia and make fitness accessible for all, and strive towards building a fitter and faster nation. We spoke to Ridley to receive a little more insight on the November Project Movement and why you should be part of the movement…
1. What is the November Project is?
November Project is a grassroot free fitness movement originating in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Started by two former varsity rowers Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric who after a few drinks decided to challenge each other to stay fit by working out everyday in November 2012 ( hence the name). What started off as a one month been turned into a few months and a few thousand members in 47 cities all over the world.
2.How did you come across the movement?
I came across November Project because Edmonton got its own tribe after I had left, introduced by an ex-professional hockey player who used to play in Boston but then went on to play for the Edmonton Oilers. He started doing these free workouts on Wednesday mornings for the community, which was rare for a professional athlete to do.
3.How is it different from any other community event?
November Project is different because it is a fitness movement not focused on profit, not even focused on the conventional fitness goals but it’s about building community, bring something positive to the community and forming human connections. (Free hugs are a thing for November Project, to break barriers and to form relationships) But along the way, you get fitter, make new friends, set fitness goals, run 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, full marathons and even ultras.
We are also different because the members of the tribe are tremendously supportive of each other, not just within the tribe but internationally. When a tribe loses a member due to tragedy, the outpouring of support is international. As recently as last year, a tribe lost one of its members to cardiac arrests and he had been traveling around to different tribes with his wife for workouts. The workout after his passing, all 42 tribes across the globe at the time wore green to show their support and prayers. This was a very touching move and there is no doubt that amount of love and support was helpful to his wife.
4.Why did you want to be part of November Project?
To share this amazing movement with Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia and also to show Miri to the world.
5. How do all pledged members stay connected?
Every tribe have co leaders, we have three that started this movement, Ing Hui, Harry and I but as we celebrate our anniversary, Harry will be stepping down and we will be introducing a new co leader in his place. We are constantly communicating with our mothership/corporate via weekly emails, Facebook groups, instant messaging such as WhatsApp, Hangout, Slack. We all manage our local social media so that allows us to constantly stay in touch. Every tribe will also have a social page where the members can post about runs, events, gathering, workouts.
6. How did you get involved in the movement? What did you have to do? Ie describe your journey towards taking the pledge.
Once I saw what November Project was about and what it was doing for the community, I decided to start a free fitness movement in Miri. I called it Myyfitnessfeat and we did our workouts Thursday afternoons at local parks and stadiums. I had initially thought there were too many cultural obstacles and didn’t think November Project was possible in Miri. The morning workouts, the hugs, the shouting and the swearing. Then around August/September of 2016 I saw that Hong Kong had gotten a tribe, this changed the game for us. Then I discussed with our members and talked to them about November Project and told them what we would need to do to pledge; change out workouts to Wednesday mornings to start, recruit and get a good size tribe going, write an email to NP and go through the pledge period in homes of landing a tribe.
7. How did you manage to get people to partake in the community sessions, especially in a small town like Miri?
It was strangely tough at first because people are cautious about anything free, we started in 2014 with 6 people at our workout mostly consisting of family and friends, and it grew to about 20 plus / 30 plus from there. Then when we pledged and had to change our workouts to Wednesday mornings, we have 11 on a rainy morning. By the way, November Project prides itself on being weatherproof and never canceling. What this means is that every Wednesday mornings, Friday mornings and some cities even have Monday mornings regardless of weather November Project workouts are happening. Edmonton holds workout at -31 degrees Celsius and Winnipeg holds their in -32 degrees Celsius, Hong Kong did theirs in a typhoon, etc. the reason behind the madness is to reinforce that regardless of what happens, the tribe/ your tribe will be there for you. Boston tribe did a controversial workout the morning after the Boston shooting, because despite everything that was going on, the co leaders thought that the workout would be a good way to show Boston’s resilience but also give the community a place to get together and support each other.
As for how did we get the people out, it’s all word of mouth, we try to talk to everyone, that’s all part of breaking barriers and forming human connection. So we tell our tribe members to talk to their neighbors, colleagues, coffeeshop servers, mailman… anyone and everyone. We held recruitment drives whereby the person that brought the most newbies won a prize, etc.
8. How many members do you have now?
I would estimate that we have had 200-300 people show up at one time or another but our biggest workout was 74 people at one morning.
9. Can you describe the type of training that is carried out during a session? When are sessions held and how often? Ie type of workouts carried out
Our workouts are Wednesday mornings at 515am at Taman Awan or Bumiko Hill, this will be posted on social media ( the locations are nearby but depends on the workout we are doing) and Friday mornings at 518am at Taman Bulatan. Every workout starts with a corky bounce, that’s fun, meant to break the ice and wake everyone up, this is also where the hugs come in (high5 too if you are not comfortable with hugs). Following the bounce we will brief what our workouts will be for that session. If we have a few newbies, we will let them know a little bit more of what we do, briefed and encourage them and send them off to join the rest of the tribe. If we have injuries, we will have an injury deck for light workout .Every first Wednesday of the month we run a PR hills which is a trial to set your personal record. We set 30 minutes to run 3 loops of the hill, finish as fast as you can or go as far as you can in the allotted time. Third Friday of the month, we do a 2 miles / 3.2km PR, set personal records for how fast you can run that distance. Our other workout comprise of challenging runs/ bodyweight exercise filled encouraging shouts and motivating high 5s. We also try to mix in a little fun into the workouts with different games. It really is something that you just have to be apart to experience
10. You started running sessions on your own, making modifications to suit malaysian culture, what type of modifications did you make?
The NP workouts are suppose to be in the mornings so that people start their day on a high and we send them out into the world on a positive note and hopefully the influence their environment in a positive way, but when we started in 2014, we did our workouts in the evenings to suit the Malaysia schedule a little better. NP also believes that weekends are for socializing and family, so no workouts on weekends but we did ours on Sunday so families can come out. The hugging was a big obstacles so we still hug but high5s are totally acceptable as well. At the end of the bounce the co leaders with shout out “y’all good?” The universal response with all the other tribes is “ fuck yeah” a tribe in Worcester uses “woo yeah” … we are flexible and will go with heck yeah if you want.
11. How has the November Project affected/ changed members who are part of the community?
The biggest difference I have seen is someone who isn’t in the best of shape take on the challenge of running a 5km race all the way up to running a 21km race. I also see that the tribe members are more open and supportive of each other even outside the workouts, they encourage each other to take on challenges like ultra marathons, spartan races, etc. we also do community work that the tribe has been very onboard with like scrubbing the deck of our workout venue as part of our workout, bring your dog to a workout, where we raised money for local animal shelter (Zero Strays), participating in local charity runs like the Palliative care run for love in 2017. I want to say we are making people a little more open and aware of their community. #BeLikeBen (a hashtag used to celebrate the life of a member who recently passed)
12. This year is November project’s first anniversary, will there be anything special happening?
We have a birthday party planned for the 8th of June, there will be a workout of course, some cakes and other surprises. On the 9th of June we have a thank you party for Harry who is retiring as a co leader and we will be doing a beer mile/ UnBeer Mile (100 plus)… stay tuned to our social media (see below).
13. How do you stay connected to communities around the world?
#justshowup that is all you have to do, be ready for hugs or high5s and a high energy workout.
15. Why should I join November Project?
As part of November Project, you will be connected to a global fitness network where by you can pop into any of those cities to join their workouts, collect tag passports ( every city has a tag on their grassrootsgear, grassrootsgear is where we spray the November Project on your shirt and if you are in Miri, you will get a seahorse tagged as well or NY will have an Apple, SF will have the Golden Gate Bridge, Edmonton, being the first NP City in Canada will have the maple leaf, Hong Kong has Hong Kong in Chinese character, etc.
Aside from these free drop in workouts and connections, all NP members are always happy to help provide tours, recommendations and even host your stays. It truly is an amazing network throughout the world.
16. I want to run a November project community sessions, what do I have to do? Do I have to be a certified trainer? Do I have to go to the states?
Certified training helps, but not necessary. They do have a set of expectations for co leaders but it’s not set in stone. Of course a certain level of fitness is required as you have to lead by example. We have co leaders who run 1:30 HM, 3:25 FM, 90+ burpees in 7 minutes, etc. The biggest asset is the personality and positivity a co leader have to bring to every workout. Time commitment is huge as you have to be committed as well as punctual. You do not have to go to the states. When Hong Kong got accepted, the co founder actually flew to Hong Kong to give them their NP stencils and the positivity award, when we were accepted, they flew me to Boston for their annual summit and announced Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia and Buffalo, NY as the newest tribes then. But once you become a tribe, the co leaders will have the opportunity to attend a once a year leadership summit in the states. This is an all expense paid leadership gathering powered by TheNorthface whom we are now partners with.
17. What do you hope for the future of Nov movement across Malaysia?
I hope this movement is sustainable in a country like Malaysia, I hope this movement will continue to grow into other cities in Malaysia. We talk about unity, togetherness and losing that personal touch that has been created with all the technology and social media, this movement gives us the opportunity to keep that human connection. We have had tribe members from Miri move to KL and they wish there was something like that there. Most fitness movements are centered around profit, there is not a lot of free fitness movement that don’t have a hidden agenda. We always say that NP is free, #justshowup you will meet friends you haven’t met yet
18. What do you hope to achieve with your current community in Miri?
Well our target for our birthday workout is to get 80 people to that Friday morning’s workout. Our hope is to keep growing the movement, maybe one day we will have 100 people, then 150, then 200? Who knows? Some of tribes continuously have over a hundred at every workout…
19. How has the November Project changed your life?
I have made friends locally and internationally that I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for this movement, I used to be a gym guy who hated running but have since ran several 10kms race, just recently completed my first HM in Miri and FM at Standard Chartered KL. It gives me a different perspective when I see the “no quit, won’t give up” attitude by some of the tribe members. It also allows me to be humble and grateful for the support of these tribe members to continue to show up for each other. I always tell them, this November Project Malaysia is not mine, it is theirs, they are November Project Malaysia and the co leaders are just honored to be able to lead them, watch them grow and get fitter and faster.