BY KELLIE HANDFORD
I took myself off to a gym in 2004 after having my second baby, and on arrival I was met with silence. There was no interaction from staff, just the noise of the local radio.
I soon made friends at the gym with an older fellow who had survived a quadruple bypass, and a struggling copper who had been badly assaulted on the job. As a trio, we agreed a group fitness class would be more beneficial than pottering along on our own. This realisation, and these 2 people would forever shape my career in fitness. I very quietly achieved a Certificate 3 in Fitness, completing the course in 3 months, and the small local gym became my new base.
In January 2008, my local gym was awarded a government funded Heart Health Program for local defence force veterans, and I was gifted with 22 Vietnam veterans to rehabilitate. These local veterans were all men, and all aged 60 years plus. This was not exactly the image I had in my mind as a gym instructor, but it was a new direction for me, and a new role to fulfil.
My new reality was a day-to-day need from these men wanting to exercise, some of them wanting to fight with each other, and some just needing the company. The unofficial U.S. Marine Corps motto of Improvise, Adapt, Overcome, quickly became the fabric of Bodyworx Fitness and through this time, I absolutely thrived in their care! This 12-month course transformed over time into 12 years of time spent with friends, and a bit of exercise thrown into the mix. Within our 12 years together as we trained, we climbed Mt. Warning 5 times for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Men’s Peer Health, we completed Relay for Life, and immersed ourselves into our larger communities of Casino and Kyogle.
Bodyworx was not only a fitness group for younger people, we also normalised, supported, and encouraged older people exercising too. We created our own micro-community, and in 2017, I re-trained as a personal trainer with Fitness Australia and was nominated for the National Student of the Year – which I proudly won. The win was equally shared with all my Bodyworx athletes, particularly the older gym participants, who described the loneliness experienced as they aged, and how the gym, and the friendships they made there, helped ease their social isolation and the loneliness associated with it.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, and all gyms (regardless of size) were shut down immediately (and indefinitely), my role as a trainer suddenly became limited to multiple phone calls to remote veterans who were once again completely isolated. A shocking disaster for everyone.
Weeks later we re-grouped and hatched a plan to create a “gym” space on our family farm at Fairy Hill. We painstakingly followed all mandated NSW Health Orders and established an outdoor fitness space. My COVID-19 🦠 plan became the most important business plan I never knew I needed.
Over the next 3 years, our small outdoor space has been regularly expanded and updated to meet the needs of the community I support with my training, to become a private semi-outdoor/indoor training facility. Being rural based, and central to a lot of other farms, our gym is now home to farmers, local businesspeople, mums, dads, and their teenage kids.
We have created a close-knit intergenerational community of all ages. People who are genuinely interested in improving their health and being connected to other likeminded people. Young or old, that connection has proved heart-warming during our best of times (e.g. weddings, births, and Christmas parties), and the worst of times, (sharing the losses of Bodyworx members, partners, and children).
The creation of the Fittest Farmer event was the next most natural progression for our athletes. I used everyday jobs that we do daily on our farm as the basis to create 7 obstacles that people could have a go at as part of our Casino Beef Week town celebrations. Overall, it was a super fun and positive experience that represented our farmers with the integrity that they deserve. We were well supported with passion and energy by our local farmers, athletes, and spectators alike.
We attracted a lot of non-local media attention, and I am honoured to have been approached by RAMHP to share the story of Bodyworx Fitness. I truly believe what we do here at Fairy Hill is completely repeatable by other fitness professionals, ensuring each individual is met where they are at and keeping mental health a priority over and above all physical or financial gains. I have experienced, through my role as a trainer, the empowering strength of community connection with benefits to both physical and mental health, which has ongoing positive effects for all.