Patchell-Evans urges all to seek an edge

It’s important for graduates to reflect on what they want to do with their education, not just who they want to be – they must find an edge that sets them apart, said founder of GoodLife fitness clubs, David Patchell-Evans.

Patchell-Evans spoke to 361 graduates from the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Wednesday, June 20 afternoon session of Western’s 299th Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon Patchell-Evans in recognition of his longstanding and passionate commitment to health and fitness and his contributions to autism research.

“I’d like you to think of what are you doing that other people won’t do to have an edge. What do you do that sets you apart? Because you’re going to need an edge,” Patchell-Evans said.

“The world is changing really fast and the important thing about change is that you be the catalyst of it. You can be the one who makes change happen or you can wonder what happened.”

Just two weeks into his freshman year at Western, Patchell-Evans was in a serious motorcycle accident, after which he spent six months in rehab at the Fowler Kennedy Sports Medicine Clinic, while still attending classes. During that time, his interest in rehabilitation and fitness grew.

Patchell-Evans trained as an elite rower, ultimately winning five Canadian Rowing Championships. He started up a successful snowplowing business to put himself through school and later, in 1979, bought his first fitness club, which he turned into GoodLife Fitness, now 300 clubs strong, with 10,000 staff and over 750,000 members.

Eventually, Patchell-Evans became chairman of IHRSA, the largest health and fitness organization in the world, representing 71 countries, as well as an international speaker covering all continents except Africa and Antarctica. He received an Entrepreneur of the Year Special Citation from the USA. His first book, Living The Good Life, has sold more than 1.2 million copies and is currently being translated into Russian. His second book is also an international best seller.

In addition to GoodLife, he is part owner of fitness clubs in Australia and Africa, and owner of a spa in Australia with Hugh Jackman.

Patchell-Evans also gives to 140 charitable causes each year. In 1988, he founded the GoodLife Kids Foundation which has a mission is to inspire kids to get active, giving grants to physical activity-based programs across the country to fight the epidemic of childhood obesity.

He also established the Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group at Western – in his daughter’s name – and personally raised over $4 million directly for the program.

In 2007, Patchell-Evans received the Canadian Medical Association’s Medal of Honour for his personal contribution to the advancement of medical research in Canada.

Patchell-Evans told the graduates what they know today, what they’ve learned at Western, will open doors in the future they don’t even know exist.

“You have huge opportunities because you have a whole bunch of knowledge other people don’t have, or they’re not aware of how to use yet. Take a risk; believe in yourself. I didn’t learn anything different after I left school that changed the lives of so many people. I picked it up here and put it to practice,” he said.

In his citation, Faculty of Health Sciences Dean Jim Weese said Patchell-Evans has contributed greatly to the health and well being of Canadians.

“In his work as CEO and Founder of GoodLife, (Patchell-Evans) has been a tireless advocate of health and fitness for all Canadians. His encouragement and his insistence that we don’t have to be perfect to be healthy have led thousands of Canadians to make fitness a part of their lives,” he said.

“His accomplishments, despite a simple beginning, multiple personal hardships and tremendous work responsibilities, are proof that true happiness and passion come from giving freely to others.”

Patchell-Evans added that the graduates, as future advocates of health in their respective fields, should remember to care also for themselves.

“You are the role models and examples. To look after everyone else out there, you need to (look after) yourself.”

Also during the ceremony, Nursing professor Carol McWilliam was presented with the Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching.