Walking into Elite Fitness gym every Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., members are greeted by a new, exciting sight and sound. In the aerobics room, women of all ages are lined up, dancing and twerking to the base of Afrobeats booming in the background. Perhaps the most thrilling part is the exciting voice and movements of the only woman fitness trainer in the Gambia, Margaret Forster leads the class.
Growing up in The Gambia and attending Ndow’s Comprehensive, Margaret Forster got involved in every sporting activity the school had to offer, from soccer and basketball to volleyball and track. When Meg went to college, her thirst for sports and extracurricular activities were not yet quenched. She went on to play basketball for Sutton Coldfield College in the UK with the added inspiration of her dad’s love for the sport. The same love for being active, motivated Meg to pursue and earn a diploma in Performing Arts which included ballet, Jazz, Tap, contemporary dance and musical theater, which she fondly described as interesting because “Every time I sang my mom said ‘Lord! Would you stop?’ but I had to practice for exams”. Today she is the only female fitness trainer working full time in The Gambia.
Every time I sang my mom said ‘Lord! Would you stop?’ but I had to practice for exams.
Margaret Forster was born and raised in Serrekunda where she feels is the best place in The Gambia because ‘it has a little bit of everything one could ever want due to its central location and huge market.’
At the age of 15, Meg and her family relocated to Sweden and the young Gambian took advantage of the opportunities she was presented with. Though she was happy with her life, she had a lingering feeling that she wanted to be home and closer to family.
Years later, Meg started taking fitness more seriously when she became a mom. Two months after the birth of her son, she fell into a severe depression. Movement, having been a huge part of her life, she felt stuck and restricted by post baby and needed an outlet for her anxiety. So, she decided to go to the gym and got involved in boxing, Crossfit and body combat as a way to heal. She’s also a strong activist of women learning self-defense due to personal issues she had to overcome during this period of her life.
Meg went on to work at restaurants, clothing and fashion shops and other jobs, but she knew it was not her calling. That yearning to return home was still very present in her life. She was getting tired of living in Europe as well. Meg also noticed that when she would come home for holidays, there were not a lot of women in the gym with her and neither were there any female trainers, so she decided that she was going to take a chance to come back home and turn her hobby into a career and it paid.
Meg wants to show women that working out can be fun and women should not only do it for a figure or to lose weight but to live healthy lives. This could mean working out at home, taking the stairs or walking places instead of taking taxis, as long as they find the joy in it and understand the health benefits. She also wants the Gambian female trainers in the diaspora to come home and show representation as well as inspire the ladies that are here that train very well to take the next step and see it as a career path.“I’m the Alpha Female in the business, it pushes me out of my comfort zone and reminds me that I can do it as well as the guys. It also allows me to dispel the myth that you look like a man if you work out.” The journey has been interesting, however being the only one in a man’s world in The Gambia.
I’m the Alpha Female in the business, it pushes me out of my comfort zone and reminds me that I can do it as well as the guys. It also allows me to dispel the myth that you look like a man if you work out.
It was a bit of a challenge for Meg at first to get clients, especially male clients because of how new the concept was. Working in gyms however, showed not only the guys, but the general public that she knows what she is doing and deserves a seat at the table. She also used social media as a tool to promote herself, showcase her talent, and educate people. She does YouTube videos and daily workouts and health tips on Facebook and other social media outlets for people who might not be able to make it to the gym.
Meg is a self-proclaimed “all you can eat buffet” food lover and like most Gambians, she has to eat rice but supports and promotes eating healthy and well balanced diet along with exercise in her life and work. She is also looking into volunteering her time in schools and female empowerment-inspired NGOs to teach young women how to box and be able to defend themselves if the need arises. “It’s all about educating people that the whole package, body, mind, spirit and soul”.
It's all about educating people that the whole package, body, mind, spirit and soul.
A lot of Meg’s short term plans include promoting and inspiring the next generation to get up and get moving not only because it’s fun, but also because it is a healthy life habit to develop. “We did not need Beyoncé to tell us we run the world, but we do and we need to be our best selves to do that, and fitness is my contribution to that. So I call on my Gambian sisters to join me in that effort… the ones here and abroad so we can make the next generation’s life better.”