Gym owner and body builder Brian Whelan finds fulfillment in mentoring Monrovia’s fitness community, whether he’s helping someone with injury recovery, or preparing a gym member for a competition.
Whelan said he’s met and trained many people with stories of overcoming setbacks at , and the message of resilience he preaches is borne out of personal experience. Whelan nearly lost his legs in a training accident more than 10 years ago, and he now relishes the opportunity to coach clients through their own adversity.
“I love to take people and do a total transformation,” he said. “You watch people’s lives change dramatically, not just physically, but emotionally, too. It’s huge,” he said.
Whelan's gone through something of a transformation himself. When he decided to join Foothill Gym in the early 1990s, Whelan said he weighed only 144 pounds. Under the guidance of former owner and body builder Hans Hopstaken, he became interested in competitive bodybuilding.
At his first body building competition in 1993 at Venice Beach, Whelan took 4th place.
“I did my first show at a whopping 171 pounds,” he said. “I was thin but shredded.”
Whelan is originally from Ireland, but has loved the U.S. ever since visiting it as a child. When Whelan moved to Southern California he got a job as a salesman at a pager company. He didn’t have a car and he rode his bike all around Arcadia, Monrovia, and Duarte.
After climbing the ladder at various telecommunication companies and receiving numerous sales awards, he decided to pursue his dream of owning a gym when he purchased Laguna Health Club in 1996. In 1999 Whelan became the owner of Foothill Gym. Within a year, Whelan and his staff moved the facility to its current location and added childcare, new group exercise classes, and new equipment.
“We went from 350 members to over 2,000,” he said.
Whelan works at the gym alongside his wife Jennifer Whelan, who is a personal trainer. The two met at the gym and bonded as parents of children with special needs. Together, they have four children.
In 2000, Whelan suffered a terrible accident while working out and almost had his legs amputated. His legs were crushed in 21 places, and he spent 13 months in a wheelchair.
In spite of the injury, he returned to work in two weeks. He also trained while in a wheelchair and even won the Heavyweight crown at Venice Beach for the third time in 2001. He was the first person to win while competing in a wheelchair.
“I have a joke that I competed when I was 6 feet tall, then 4 feet tall, then back to 6 feet tall,” he said.
In 2010, he competed at the in El Monte, California, where he won 3rd place in the Heavyweight Division and 4th in the Masters Division, and was presented with the Hans Hopstaken Award for Most Inspirational Bodybuilder. He and his wife also won the Mr. and Ms. Muscle Beach Competition at Venice Beach in 2010.
Whelan has also received numerous awards from the State of California, Congress, and State Assembly, and won the Monrovia’s 2003 Monroe Award for businessperson of the year. He currently serves as chairman of the Monrovia Old Town Advisory Board.
Whelan and Foothill Gym have participated in the Angel Project Toy Drive for Foothill Unity Center for the past thirteen years. The gym’s Blue Star Program gives lifetime membership to Monrovians in the armed forces, and Whelan said that the 150th lifetime membership was awarded this summer. The gym has also sponsored twelve AYSO soccer teams, and donated to women’s shelters and to the prevention of domestic violence.
“I’ve always believed the gym is a vehicle to help when you can,” Whelan said. “Everyday you do something that effects tomorrow in somebody’s life.”