I had always been active growing up; outdoors most days, played cricket, netball, football, rode my bike as much as I could. When I got to high school, I was drawn to basketball, mostly due to a genetic predisposition for tallness. Then, when I was 15, I joined the rowing team – in which, initially, I was the only male. #winning.
During high school, rowing taught me discipline, increased my fitness and changed my body shape, giving me physical strength as well as confidence. When I left school, I got a job as a doorman and worked in bars. I did everything from glassing to cooking up breakfasts for the early commuters.
When I was 23 when I wasn’t working in bars or playing my guitar, I was at the gym. I realised that exercise had always been an important part of my life and it’s what gave me confidence in the first place. So naturally, it made sense for me to become a personal trainer so I could help others not only improve their bodies but boost their self-confidence through exercise that they actually enjoyed.
As a kid I’d had my fair share being the butt of jokes. I was the tallest and heaviest in my class until I was 14 and teased for my size. I had a gap in my front teeth and a strange mum-cut to boot! And who could forget those early 90’s polyprop jumpers… Yikes! I guess the psychological trauma of that, mixed with the images and messages from the American TV shows that I adored, left me feeling a little deflated once those teenage hormones kicked in. As anyone who’s been bullied knows, primary school ain’t got shit on high school disses! So, the bullying continued during my early years of high school and ate away at my self-worth.
When I started rowing, things changed for me. Being the only male from my school, I was put in training boats with the St Pat’s Town boys. I was nervous as hell. I’d specifically chosen to go to Onslow for the inclusive learning environment and now I was training with a group of Catholic boys from an all-male school. I was psyching myself up for the terror of being teased by people I perceived to be professional bullies.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Once the introductions were made, we got to work. I got a bit of shit from being from the other school, but I really felt like they were laughing with me. The banter was light-hearted and swung both ways, in the purest sense of comradery. We quickly became friends and suffered through the early morning and after school training sessions as a team. To help get through cold rough waters of Wellington Harbour, we would make up songs while in the boats. This also helped us keep rhythm. During training camps and regattas, we would get our guitars out to entertain the other squads and even serenade some girls. The training was demanding, the racing was excruciating and there was no time for a social life in season. None of that mattered because the comradery made it fun. We didn’t even really consider the grueling sessions to be exercise because we loved it. It’s through all this that my overall character was built. It was something I’d never experienced before and it made it all worthwhile. My body shape changed, my self-confidence grew and we were having fun.
These are the memories that drew me out of hospo and into the fitness industry. I wanted to help people build self-confidence through exercise and make it fun.
I quickly got a job as a gym instructor at Les Mills. I was already a member there so this was great; now I was getting paid to be there AND getting a free membership – pinch me!
A gymmie’s role is about keeping the place tidy for members as well as interacting with them and showing them through basic, pre-written programs. I worked as many shifts as I could get my hands on; opening, closing, covering at other gyms in the city. Les Mills also offers really great training modules to prepare gym instructors to become fully-fledged personal trainers. After about 6-8 months of this, I was ready to become a PT.
It was around this time that Luke and I met. He was managing the cafe over the road from the gym so we would chat most days. The cafe was the go-to spot for most of the gym team, they did great food and, while I was partial to their caramel slice, their chocolate brownie was the best I’ve ever had. Period. I’ve never had a brownie as good since and I don’t think I ever will. I now know this was due to overwhelming sugar content, but that’s by the by!
Over the first few months as a PT, I became concerned with the number of my clients who I was referring to Proactive – the physiotherapists who had a clinic in our gym. My curious nature led to countless conversations with the physio team trying to find out what was going on. Turns out that entry-level course was just the beginning of my health-training journey! Gareth Smith, one of the physical therapists at Proactive, suggested I take a look at Paul Chek’s book How to Eat, Move & Be Healthy. I Googled it and was able to read the first chapter online. I thought I’d finally found something that made sense! I ordered the book and quickly learned that there was more to the human body and exercise prescription to keeping healthy and happy.
From that point, I became obsessed with learning. I upskilled through the CHEK Institute, read a much wider variety of books – I mean, I wasn’t really much of a reader, but now I had REASON for reading! – sat in upskilling sessions held by Proactive, attended workshops, worked with my clients and the physios. But the biggest lessons came from applying all this knowledge on myself. As a CHEK coach, we need to walk the talk. This meant that in the gym I had to take my own training right back and unlearn what I had learned. I also had to look seriously at what I was putting into my body. At the gym, I was eating lots of protein bars (33% protein, 67% cardboard) not only because they were what was on offer, but because everyone knew they were what you ate if you were serious about your training. This had to stop, and I needed an alternative.
I hit Luke up about creating a fresh protein bar that would fit my needs. I needed an alternative to their brownie that would still give me my chocolate fix, but with a better nutritional profile. We played around with a recipe until we made something that was good. I’m also a musician and at the time I was playing music at Luke’s cafe on weekends. So in lieu of payment, I would get free coffee and bars from the cafe. My colleagues noticed me eating this green chocolate bar and wanted in on the action. I introduced it to my clients as well and it didn’t take long for that bar to become one of the most popular items in the cafe’s cabinet. At one point I jokingly said, “imagine if this bar went worldwide!”.
As a CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach who continued to learn about corrective exercise, I gained a reputation at the gym for being one of the more tenacious trainers. This is due to the fact that every person is different and what works for one may not work for another. Assessments are needed to provide an objective baseline for progress. My initial motivation for becoming a PT had morphed into simply helping my clients live a healthier lifestyle. So, when Richard joined the gym and said he wanted the “best trainer you have”, he got me.
Richard had been in the foodservice industry for about 30 years and has started multiple companies, from pie production to juices. He’s also the man behind Shott Beverages. After working together in the gym for about a month, I introduced him to the bar Luke and I had created. When he saw it he said, “well, what do you want me to do with that!?” before bravely taking a bite and saying, “it’s different and has potential”.
Over the next few months, we worked on how to take production from the cafe to a proper food production facility in Wainuiomata. We were planning to take the product nationally. At the time, the thing that really excited me about this business was the idea that I could go from helping people one on one, seeing 15-20 regular clients each week, to helping thousands of people weekly by using our products to help share knowledge and change lives for the better. This is why we coined the term Nourishment for Healthy Lifestyles. We didn’t just want to sell a product, we wanted to help people learn what a “healthy lifestyle” is and how to achieve it for themselves.
That was 6 years ago. A lot has changed in our business over that time. 5 years ago, I stepped away from being a PT to focus on growing Tom & Luke. When I could, I continued my education through the CHEK Institute and other workshops, as well as teaching Les Mills group fitness classes. We now have a great team within our company which means I can get into what excited me about this business in the first place: helping thousands of people live healthier lifestyles. I can’t wait to see what the next 6 years brings.