Meet our Healthier Communities Award recipient

Congratulations on being named the St.LukesHealth Healthier Communities Award recipient. Tell us how you felt when your name was called out?
Thanks so much. This was my second time in the hot seat of finalist, and I have to say I was nervous this time around.
 
I think being in person at Wrest Point Tasmania added a whole level of tension. The wait between the “… and your winner is…” and the announcement felt like an eternity.
 
But I have to say, it is an absolute highlight of my life. Very few things have ever come close to that feeling.
 
What attracted you to creating Raw Strength?
I originally created it for my mother.
 
I was pursuing my sport at the time and I suggested she come train with me to help her health and to spend time together and she said, “No, I am too fat for the gym”.
 
It got me thinking about how few places there were for fragile people to work on their health.
 
I wanted somewhere without mirrors and exposing lights drawing attention to faults and to create a place that does not ask you “how much weight do you want to lose?” but rather “what do you want?”.
 
So, I took out a loan, found a space and my buddies and I started doing our weight training from there. I advertised the business as a “judgement free, safe space” and away we went.
 
Tell us about the work you have done with the community? What led you to catering for the disability/disadvantaged sector?
I was working for mental health and disability care at the time I started my gym and I still do from time to time.
 
It drew my attention to the struggles for sport and health within that area. After we got the ball rolling in our gym, I reached out to organisations and individuals and invited them for come and try days. And it just sort of clicked.
 
We are still the only people to date to run any para-lifting events and our gym at Clarendon Vale is starting to bring in enough data that we can package up a “how to” and take it to other vulnerable communities.
 
We hope this helps create positive change for people who are otherwise without access or funds to grow their own health.
 
How did you manage to positively impact your members’ lives throughout COVID-19?
COVID-19 created a unique challenge for everyone, and the fitness industry was particularly hard hit.
We used our initiative and created some “at home” training booklets for our members and leased out our equipment to our existing members to take home.
 
We also made it our mission to check in with every member once a week to make sure they were dealing with the pandemic as best they could.
 
I understand you recently proposed to start a low-cost gym at Clarendon Vale Neighbourhood Centre? What made you decide to do that?
Our original gym was at Rokeby and I just felt like we had lost a fraction of what made us unique.
 
I always said that I never wanted to lose myself or my “why” as I got further into the business world and I think starting the gym at Clarendon Vale this was a nice way of grounding myself and my newer members.
 
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
The Tasmanian Young Achiever Award - 100 per cent, without question.
 
Coming in closely behind is winning Motors Homeground Advantage Award and recently we took 11 athletes to an Oceanica Region event and did EXTREMELY well.
 
Can you share a personal story of someone you have assisted on their health journey?
 There are a lot of different people I could share here from those with visual impairments and veterans to eating disorders and so on.  But I have one that comes to mind.
 
I started training an older lady who was directed to train for osteo health. Shortly after she began, she mentioned to me she had been systematically bullied at work, among many other psychological complications. 
 
As we got more into our training our sessions became as much about social engagement and healthy interaction as much as anything else. Within time she noticed the benefits to her body, began interacting socially more and was becoming more confident within herself.
 
Soon after she made the decision to compete in the sport of powerlifting. After that, she quit her unhealthy job, went back to university to study what she had always been interested in, and pursued a sporting career for the first time in her life.
 
Since that time she has developed many friendships within that sport, engaged in elite level competition and is enjoying her life outside of the gym, doing what she enjoys free of criticism.
 
This might not seem like your standard progress story but to watch someone go from a quiet, depressed person to grow into someone pursuing their own interests and to have confidence in themselves and their body, is quite wonderful. And it all began with some weights on a metal pole and some positive reinforcing.
 
What are the benefits of living in the community you work in?
I think the greatest thing is that having grown up here, I have experienced what people in some situations are forced to go through and witness.
 
It means that when I say, “I understand” or I give advice that it’s coming from a place of true understanding and not just read knowledge or “I think I know”.

I also tend to disarm some of the more agitated or scared individuals.
 
I am a big, tattooed gruff looking guy that they have seen at the shops or driving around for years. I am not some stranger from the outside that does not really care.
 
What do you believe are some of the health challenges for Tasmanians and how can we make an impact in these areas?
Access, cost and education.
 
One of the biggest issues is the misinformation about both nutrition and fitness.
 
Gaining access to a fitness facility or sporting team and the cost associated is also a barrier. Health and fitness SHOULDN’T be a luxury and unfortunately, it is.
 
What do you think Tasmanians can do differently to look after their health?
Instead of numbers on a scale or how you look in a mirror or in someone else’s eyes, we should make it about how do you feel?
 
If you feel good, you will not only look good, but you will also be happier.
 
What do you hope to achieve by being the recipient of this award? What is next for Raw Strength?
We would ideally like some more people to step into our facility and experience what we offer.
 
Post COVID-19, it has been very challenging to recuperate lost financials and even one or two more people would make a world of difference.
 
Hopefully, the next step is another one or two small gyms in rural communities and many more success stories from our members.
 
Thank you so very much to St.LukesHealth and the Tasmanian Young Achiever Awards for the opportunity to share our story.
 
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