Kay Nyenuh fled his home country of Liberia to settle in Mackay, and found his passion for fitness along the way.
The regional Queensland town of Mackay has faced its fair share of hard times. First, they faced the Global Financial Crisis, which saw many businesses close down. While the rest of Australia recovered in the following years, Mackay was to face another major hurdle – the end of the mining boom.
However, not all businesses in the area faltered following these economic downturns.
Kay Nyenuh has been running the gym Muscle Garden there for nearly 8 years.
When he first arrived in Mackay, he saw the need for a positive gym environment.
“What I saw at fitness centres at the time was guys going to the gym, dropping their weights, screaming, carrying and normal people felt intimidated in that kind of environment so I saw the need to open a fitness centre that would cater for those people where they felt included, where they felt supported.”
Mackay is in the federal Division of Dawson, headed by one of the most conservative MPs in Parliament, George Christensen. Christensen has spoken out against refugee resettlement in his electorate, suggesting that local jobs should go to local people.
As a Liberian refugee, Nyenuh wants to fight assumptions people can make about refugees.
"I had to leave Liberia at an early age and live in other countries as a refugee before moving to Ghana and migrating to Australia in 2009."
“Initially when I moved people would say to me go back to where you come from but I haven't heard that for six or seven years now,” he admits.
“Not every refugee that's going to be criminal causing trouble on the streets. Using myself as an example, a law-abiding citizen, creating a positive example in the community, I have a lot of people look up to me to the point where a school invites me to give a TED talk to their students.”
Nyenuh’s gym has also employed three locals in the past, and he plans on expanding that in time.
“If everything goes well I would love to see that happen,” he says.
His gym isn’t just about breaking down the gym hierarchy, but also helping the community overcome its challenges, particularly when it comes to mental health.
“Here in Mackay we have a very high suicide rate and one thing that I found as soon as I moved here was we have this culture that males have to toughen up,” Nyenuh says.
“if we get a chance for people to say what they're going through without being judgemental or telling them to harden up because what that does is to drive people into isolation because it's like I'm expected to be hard, I'm expected to be tough.”
From his refugee experience to opening a business, he’s maintained one simple philosophy, and that is that anyone can achieve their goals, as long as they want it bad enough.
“I have come to realise as a refugee is it doesn't matter where you are in life right now, it doesn't matter, it matters where you want to be and how bad you really want to get there.”