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Gyms - The real deal

The month of May I headed home to Australia to see family, friends and to do a memorial camp for one of my old coaches who was struck down by stomach cancer. We paid tribute to one of triathlon’s real supporters at every level – Scott ‘Aardvark’ Penny. Scott was old school. Scott helped people. Scott got involved. Some would say he was a Triathlon Coach, but that was a cover, the reality is he wanted to help people lead better lives. Money, position, fancy facilities was not his motivation. He ran a local bike shop, he took bike tours of Aussies to Europe. All small scale, but he had one thing he did huge – his effort to help people.

This was brought home to me further when I was looking for gyms for my daughter to train in. Zali is a skier, so nothing to do with triathlons, however I’ve worked in a lot of gyms, and thought no problem, we will find something everywhere we go. I expected to pay for a workout, and to get on with it. We visited many gyms, we looked inside, all shiny equipment, a couple even had an air freshener smell, but they could not give my girl a one day entry. The buff trainers walking around simply said ‘Impossible. She has to buy a membership’. Not helpful when we were only in town for two days.

This was not a one off. The Gold Coast, Sydney then on to Melbourne. I must have ventured into 12 gyms and got knock backs. So disappointing, so I stopped taking her, as it made me sad to see my girl with a dream, and a sparkle in her eye, get told ‘impossible, this is a private gym’. It also had me pondering, and I said to her let’s look for a real gym, with real people.

When we arrived in Sydney, I wanted to give the family the Bondi Beach experience of where I spent a lot of time when I was younger. Again I must have visited five gyms in a 2km radius and were knocked back by all, or except two that were 50 dollars and 30 dollars! So when we saw the new building at the Bondi Icebergs we assumed the gym there would be now the same. However old habits die hard and I said Bondi Icebergs is a traditional place with a wealth of history, let’s at least take a look. We were amazed to walk in and it hadn’t changed in 30 years. The same barbells were there, a bit rusted, and the kettle bell had my name on it, as it had come back into fashion now. Old school alive and well on Bondi Beach.

Of course, the pool in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast, ‘Aardvarks’ club had a real functional gym in a shed. They nearly broke their arm on the door opening it for us – ‘there you go missy knock your self out the place is yours’. We were joined for a couple of days by my nephew Dale, who we called ‘White Lightning’ as a kid. As he was always so passionate, he followed the Camps. Even after 8 years of running Ripple Fitness in Brisbane, his motivation, the care he took for his athletes ‘You don’t mind uncle Brett if I come to Sydney too. But my motto is I do everything to help my clients have a better experience with their training, I won’t get in your way’.

Then at our camp in Melbourne with coach Michael Harvey who is so passionate about how he can do a better job for his Victorian athletes, that he has travelled to Asia and then all the way to Europe to learn from us, and be better for his athletes.

The camp wasn’t about promotion but about my sadness of how poor the performance levels have been out of the State Of Victoria since the 90s. I thought that some would like to know how the most successful group on the planet trained during that period of time? To my astonishment the one person who didn’t need my advice, the great Stephen Foster made his way from the Mornington Peninsula to attend.

‘What are you doing here Stephen?’ ‘Sutto I want to learn. I’m missing something and I want to be a better coach.’

Then i walked the streets in Melbourne there was no shortage of swish gyms. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment. Sparkly buildings, sparkly equipment and buff attendants who proceeded to say no, we are sorry, but it is not our business model.

Just when we were about to give up we saw a little gem. No not a spelling mistake, it was a gym, but it had heart. No real flash equipment, Muhammad Ali poster on the painted walls to try and lift it. I said to my daughter, that I bet the guy running this place will be happy to let you train here. ‘Why Papa?’ – because when you see a place with a heart and a soul, you can bet those in it are just the same.

Sure enough in we went, and were meet by Dave. Older guy, not buff, just fit, hard as a rock with track suit on and peak cap, with a group of women in there working out like real athletes. No tinsel togs here.

Dave was so attentive to his clients my daughter got impatient. Just watch and learn from a real coach. His clients are his fixation, look at him, this bloke is our man. You watch when I tell him what you do he will say yes. When Dave had finished the circuit training, he came over. He said what they did a monthly fee here. I said we down for all of two sessions, and he said the gym is yours enjoy it. I asked about money. Dave said ‘no charge. Why don’t you get to work Zali, we will worry about that later.’

I watched Dave take 6 lessons. And they were lessons. His motivation was only matched by the skill set he was showing in his workouts. This guy knew his stuff. His clients are very lucky, to be in such good hands; and hats off to the ladies who were there, as they were working like real athletes, and they had good shapes that only come from consistent and well trained work. Well done ladies’. I’m happy to say if you in the area from St Kilda to Elwood or Elsternwick, take my tip and do yourself a favour and drive past the fancy Dan soulless gyms and walk into a real gym at For Fits Sake and say hi to Dave and his team . If your serious about your work this is the place.

Which brings me to my point. Facilities mean nothing! One day when we couldn’t get into a gym or an oval as the football was on it we did our work in the cricket nets and boy was it a great session. We improvised, we over came. What really matters is what you do, and who you do it with. Dale, Dave, Caloundra pool. Their place did stink – it stunk of motivation, passion and care. A place where success is nurtured in an environment that can’t be matched by shiny pieces of metal .

They all reminded me of my friend ‘Aardvark’. When I first meet him, ‘Hi Sutto. My names Scott, but call me Aardvark. I’m just here to help!’ The world is worse off for the loss of Scott Penny, but there are still some pockets of places where Scotts favourite saying is still in play. The ‘no dick heads allowed’ camp was a great success, and the trip made me realise more than ever, that we must keep spreading the word where ever there is one person there to listen.

Rip Aardvark. All who count, miss you terribly.

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