Wil McLean's steady rise as one of Toronto's game changers in fitness has been the product of passion, stamina and a resilient mentality towards success. As Owner of Pursuit OCR, his philosophy that fitness should be enjoyable and accessible make the obstacle course, ball pit and (literally) cool cryotherapy cabin seem like fun and games that everyone can play. We're so excited for you to get acquainted with Wil as he and his team embark on a new adventure building Pursuit 2.0 - coming very soon! With experience under his belt and new challenges ahead, Wil proves that entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint.
1. First off, tell us a little bit about you! Who is Wil McLean?
I'm 41-year-old serial entrepreneur that lives in Toronto Canada. I have a strong drive to learn and have worked in several industries from software development to high-risk security to massage therapy and design. I live with my partner who is a visual artist in Queen West and am now working in North Etobicoke.
2. What’s the story behind Pursuit OCR?
Pursuit came about in the most organic way. It began as a high school project for an elective 24 years ago. We were asked to design our dream job for an entrepreneurial course. I presented a complete business plan for a youth centre that focused on fitness as play. Of course at the time no one would have invested in a teenagers high school paper, but it lit a fire for business planning in me. Years later I had a reasonably successful massage therapy practice on the go. I was given notice that the location I was working out of might be sold by the landlord so I began the search for a new space. I had been thinking about a career change (my arthritis was preventing me from working at capacity) so I was open to changing up the business. During a site visit to a new location the superintendent walked us through the space that would become Pursuit as a shortcut to another unit. It had just been vacated the day before and hadn't been listed yet. It was way too big for my massage practice but I put in an application for it regardless. I went home and dusted off some old business plans, found the youth centre plan from high school, spent a few days updating it to make sure the idea would work financially and five months later, we were open!
3. So much of your mission is rooted in the intention to educate, and we’d say that being an entrepreneur is like being a student for life! What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about running your own operation?
Being a successful entrepreneur is a constant lesson in communication and networking. The strongest skill set you can develop is to be able to listen/learn/ask. I've yet to meet a great business owner that isn't aware of their short comings and has gathered a strong team to fill in those gaps. Being able to admit that you can't do something or don't know something is the fastest way to find a solution. I think too often protecting your ego and pretending to know something leads to missed opportunities or festering problems worsening. Being the boss means knowing when to ask for help and creates unity in your workplace.
4. We love that you promote body positivity through a fun fitness journey, especially since being in the thick of “beach body season” can have an impact on anyone’s confidence. What kind of advice do you have for first-timers coming to Pursuit OCR?
Pursuit's primary goal is to get our guests out of their heads and back into their body. Body image can be a real prison for a lot of people. It prevents many of us from even starting. We didn't want to focus on a traditional ground up approach for people where they had to get fit first and then use their bodies to have fun. Instead, we presented a space that visually would lower your guard and activities that mimicked childhood play. It gives people the excuse to just play and explore in an less intimidating and less serious way. Once they're moving there's a moment of realization amidst the laughter that movement can be fun. We removed the mirrors from the space so you don't get distracted by vanity and used low lit coloured playful lighting to make the space feel less sterile than most gyms.
Letting go of our preconceived notions about our selves, our bodies and our abilities can be difficult. We want our guests to be able to focus on having fun first and spending time with friends. If you get a sweat out of it or it inspires you to hone a skill then we'll be there to help out with that too.
5. What about the fitness industry excites you most in 2018?
I'm most excited by the current interest in moving away from drinking culture in the city. People go hard in their spare time and there's a constant pressure to drink in order to have fun. Corporate culture is shifting to healthier options and moderation in their wellness programming which means less staff benders and more team building that doesn't end in pouring yourself into cabs. That really helps to shape how we view our interactions in our daily lives as well. The trend towards non-drinking activities and social play spaces that focus on movement is growing and people are really embracing that. We hope more spaces spring up that allow people to relax and have fun with their friends that are affordable without being bombarded by advertising for alcohol.
6. What’s a quote you live by?
"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw We have it painted on the wall in Pursuit and I think it captures our mission perfectly.
7. What’s next for you and Pursuit OCR?
Currently we're in the process of building out our new home. Our original location is permanently closed and the building was torn down to make way for more condos. We used that to launch our new design in a space that is more than three times bigger than our old space. We're adding new elements of play and new attractions to the space we always wanted to have but didn't have the room for previously. We've also created a larger variety of obstacles for varying fitness levels o our obstacle course so more people can experiment with movement. The thing I'm most excited for is we've designed a racetrack for giant big wheels that is fully accessible, so our guests that use wheeled mobility devices can get on the course and race against their friends. I can't wait to show people what we've got in store for them!
8. How do you #workit everyday?
Everyday I take time to just read and browse aimlessly. So much of my job is creating and I'm inspired by everything. So I like to take time among my daily duties to read the news, watch videos, listen to talk radio; pretty much anything and everything. More often than not I'm inspired by a subject I know nothing about and that sends me down the rabbit hole with another idea that I end up applying to my work. Inspiration really is everywhere is you keep your eyes and ears open.
Thanks to Wil for walking us through his journey with Pursuit OCR. If you're looking to expand the way you get active, keep an eye out for the launch of their next location on their website and get updates on Instagram.