How One Entrepreneur Is Teaching Teens To Exercise Their Way To Mental Resilience

Leadership

October 12, 2017 | BY Oliver Giles

Belinda Koo's social enterprise, One Ten, helps teenagers build a "warrior mindset"

If you ever need a pick-me-up, head to One Ten’s website. You’ll be greeted by enormous block capitals declaring “Make Your Mark.” Scroll down and “Find Your Strength” pops up. Just beneath that, “Become A Warrior” is emblazoned in bright orange letters. It’s like having a virtual cheerleader. But these aren’t cutesy quotes off Instagram or chapter headings from Eat, Pray, Love. They’re carefully crafted phrases written with one specific purpose in mind—to get young people moving.

One Ten is an organisation offering motivational and fun exercise classes to young people in Hong Kong. But these aren’t normal gym lessons. They’re designed specially to help teenagers tackle the stresses and strains of everyday life, whether exam stress, issues at home or anxiety caused by the pervasive, all-encompassing reach of social media.

One Ten's founder Belinda Koo with programme director Ada Cheung. (Photo: Michaela Giles/Hong Kong Tatler)

Belinda Koo and Ada Cheung—One Ten’s founder and programme director, respectively—are well aware of the need of many young people for help. Ada, who is studying for a master’s degree in social work, says that among teenagers, “anxiety, academic stresses, depressive symptoms, body consciousness, self-esteem issues and even suicidal attempts are part of a reality that we can no longer ignore. Between 2014 and 2016, over 70 suicides were reported across primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions.”

“The problems affecting teenagers disturb me,” says Belinda, a mother of three, two of whom are now in their early teens. “I’m very concerned about what makes an adult, what makes a person have the perseverance to go through all the tough times? How can we strengthen that warrior mindset in order to help people power through the tough times and unravel the knots inside their mind?”

“If you have a mission that is good and selfless, doors keep opening”

And that, in a nutshell, is where their organisation comes in. “One Ten is all about having that little extra grit—we want to help young people find it,” Belinda says. It’s also the inspiration behind the organisation’s name. “We want young people to be ecstatically surprised that they can give 110 per cent,” adds Ada.

Belinda is the founder of XYZ, Hong Kong’s most luxurious indoor cycling studio, and Ada is an XYZ instructor, so they’ve both experienced the positive effects of exercise first-hand. “Physical exercise helped my perseverance,” Belinda says. “One Ten classes are about giving teenagers a safe zone where they can stretch themselves a little bit. They can then use the same mindset when it comes to problems in life. They can think, ‘I powered through when I was doing that physical workout—I can do it again now.’”

All One Ten lessons take place at leading exercise studios but are offered at vastly reduced rates or, for teenagers who access classes through One Ten’s charity partners, for free. From this month, classes will be focused on spinning, high-intensity interval training and yoga. 

One Ten aims to help young people find "that little extra grit". Photo: Courtesy of One Ten

Belinda was partly encouraged to establish One Ten by her work as a fellow of the Aspen Institute, an international think tank that helps influencers create change in their community. “My mentor at the Aspen Institute recommended that I should look at something I’m doing currently and then stretch it,” she recalls. “But instead of pointing fingers about an issue, you turn the mirror to yourself and say, ‘What can I do to change it?’” Given that she runs XYZ, it was a no-brainer for Belinda to combine her passion for fitness with an initiative to empower teenagers.

Although Belinda and Ada shared the same vision, they were initially uncertain how keen others would be to get involved. But they’ve been overwhelmed with offers of support and are now busy building a network of caring trainers who will host One Ten classes around Hong Kong. 

“If you have a mission that is good and selfless, doors keep opening,” says Ada. “It doesn’t stop. It’s because it’s not competitive—we all want to help young adults.”