On this week’s episode of African Voices, CNN International meets a former Kenyan tennis star turned studio instructor who is inspiring her country to keep moving. As founder of the Reform Cycling and Strength Studio, Saloni Kantaria aims to help her clients reform their minds and bodies.
Kantaria fondly remembers the role her father played in introducing her to sports, as she tells CNN: “I was born in Nairobi in the early 1980’s… My dad was a very avid sports person. He said to my mom practically the minute I was born, “I’m going to make her a tennis player.” And so from the early age of five, he introduced me to tennis… And I think my dad realized that [it] was something I was enjoying and so kept practicing and practicing… [In] 1991, I got asked to represent Kenya and that was really the first time that I got any international exposure for competing outside of Kenya.”
Having lived and worked outside Kenya, Kantaria was able to see a range of studio and fitness choices that weren’t on offer in Nairobi. This ultimately led to the formation of her Reform Cycling and Strength Studio as she tells the programme: “Every time I came back home, I would want to work here because I enjoy fitness and I couldn’t find high quality group exercise classes in Nairobi. Having lived in Dubai and Sydney and the US for some time, I’d noticed that boutique studios were coming up… So, I sat down and I put myself in a client’s shoes, what’s going to work? And what I realized is if we come up with a studio concept [and] we have a large variety of classes that are offered, then I think potentially if a client wants to do a class every single day and a different class every single day, then they can do that.”
Kantaria explains how she aspires for her studio to reach the same standards as other international fitness centres: “The Kenyan clients, there was hardly any boutiques on the ground. So, I think it took a little bit of time for them to identify, but the major reception from a lot of our Kenyan clients or East African clients was [that] I don’t even feel like I’m in Nairobi. And that made me really happy because one of the goals that I have been trying to accomplish for this studio from day one is to make sure I get it up to the standards of London, New York, Singapore, Australia.”
To continue to be successful, Kantaria reveals how she continues to reach new members: “Thanks to the virtual classes now, as opposed to having about 30, 35 classes a week, we’ve now got about 65 classes a week. That means if some clients cannot come during early in the morning or late in the evening, they [can] come at sort of off-peak hours, it can even be like 11 in the morning, there is a class for them to be able to do.”
Kantaria’s studio not only enriches the lives of its clients but also has an impact on society: “I think as a fitness community, we can come together, and we can do something very special to help another community… Every December, I make sure that Reform raises money for charity. So, in December 2016 and 2017, we raised money for an organization called Jaipur Foot Trust and it builds legs for amputees.”
Despite the success of her studio, Kantaria tells African Voices how her greatest satisfaction comes from seeing her clients’ transformation: “Success for me is not the bottom line in terms of the monetary bottom line… One of the things I love seeing at Reform is our clients reforming their mind and body. So, for me if clients are saying to me you are doing an amazing job, right, that for me means Reform is successful. I don’t have to have sales of a certain amount to define us as successful.”