During my last trip to Milan to visit my family I subjected my long suffering boyfriend to the visual torture of old family photos.
He said that he found the experience enjoyable (I suppose self-preservation kicked in) and in the process pointed out all the signs that foretold a life of fitness and sports.
This is actually something that people often ask me: “how did you end up working in the fitness industry? how did you know that that was what you wanted to do?”
I didn’t actually, it mostly happened by accident. But it started more or less like this.
Well my friends this is how the fitness for life thing started…
This was the first image that captured my boyfriend’s imagination when he said something like “that’s why you can hold the plank for so long, you started straight out of the womb!”…
When I stopped laughing I started to criticize my own technique as it looks more like a cobra stretch than a plank. Being that I am more of a “hit the punch bag until my knuckles bleed” kind of person than a chilled Yogi I would say I was definitely doing a plank. My excuses for a poor showing of technique: my toes and feet at the time were smaller than my belly, my triceps were like jelly and the jumper was bulky so that’s why there’s no air under the stomach.
Still not a bad effort as a 3 months old.
Ironically, some 40-something years of practice later I was photographed in the same pose and this time my technique is much better, the hair is longer as are my feet which allowed me to lift my body up in the correct position.
My forearms have grown long enough for me to clasp my hands and the big nose gave plenty of Photoshopping work to my lovely photographer on the day, Sally Parkinson.
The moral of all this Ladies & Gentlemen is: keep practicing your planks. They are good for you. It might take you 40+ years to get it absolutely right but eventually you’ll master it.
Here comes the saucy stuff…
This is me on the beach in Rimini on the Adriatic coast of Italy, where my parents used to take me on holiday when I was little.
You can’t tell from this picture but, apparently, after spending weeks in the sun my hair would go platinum blonde and all the foreigners would tell my mum that she was very lucky to have such a pretty boy. That jagged edge on the square cut fringe, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the reason why you should never let your mum mess with your hair. Not even when you are still in nappies.
So I showed them. I sort of grabbed the nearest pole I could find and started practicing the “Hello Boys” move that years later inspired women to feel empowered and get their own sexy back at my pole studio in Essex, UK.
Roll forward some 40+ years again and for a while it was a case of pole fitness for life. I simply adore this art. It allowed me to bring together 15 years of gymnastics and jazz dance in a different way that presented new challenges all the time. It’s because of my stint teaching pole dancing that I learned all about chronic fatigue, hormonal fitness and nutrition, body building, Thai Yoga massage, coping with PCOS and getting an aging body back to its former glory.
The “Hello Boys 2.0” move still featured strongly in my repertoire. However, as you can tell the relationship between size of the pole and size of me is now working to my advantage and I can actually wrap my hands around it. Plus I can now do the move upside down holding myself up with two hands and, mostly, my neck pressed against the pole. Btw, that’s not a smile. It’s a grimace.
The next evolution in my fitness journey
Speaking about doing crazy things, in this picture I was almost at the end of my stint in gymnastics and transitioning to martial arts.
Never one to miss an opportunity to show off in front of miserable relatives who had no other purpose in life than to hate my joie de vivre, somehow I thought I could pull off the splits in 1970’s tight denim dungarees and big boots.
I think I got close to mostly splitting the trousers here but I achieved the goal of pissing my relatives off so it was a good day after all. And look at those flares!
I spent the following 30+ years studying various styles of martial arts. In the beginning this was a necessity as I grew up in a violent environment where beatings, attempts on my life, suicides, terrorism, bullying and fights were the order of the day.
I felt it was a good idea to learn how to defend myself from people who thought it was OK to beat the shit out of me. It worked. After returning the favour on a number of occasions I was left alone.
For some freakishly awesome and extraordinary set of circumstances I learned different styles of martial arts from world champions and living legends both in Europe and around the world.
I love learning different fighting styles for a number of reasons: they allow you to develop great fitness and athleticism, they help you sharpen your thinking, they teach you to keep your ego in check and they are character forming.
To this day my martial arts mentors still belong to some of the nicest people I have ever met and will always cherish. Even when I do not attend classes I practice stuff at home, especially if I struggle to focus on a project. I guess some people meditate sitting down, I do it swinging my Tai Chi sword in the air.
The early need for speed
This picture was taken some time in the good old ’70s at a place called Fiabilandia on the Adriatic coast of Italy. There was no such thing as Health & Safety yet and we could have proper fun risking our lives. Which of course I did on numerous occasions. My dad had also bought some Kodak film with colour for the occasion. We were embracing the new age of technology, you see…
Funny how back then I would never have imagined that one day I would be doing this sort of thing with the big boys on real race tracks. I would say my kissing of the apex is spot on and thankfully, unlike modern F1 drivers, I kept all 4 wheels off the kerb and within the track limits. As you can see the Tifosi in the background were as excited as today’s crowds are watching the Mercedes F1 team dominance in the World Championship. By the way, the sexy legs on the left belong to my mum.
Roll on my 40th birthday and I decided to celebrate for a whole year just because I made it that far. As part of those celebrations at some point, for reasons that still I don’t understand, it seemed like a good idea to go for a jolly to the infamous Nurburgring and have a good old blast around the track.
Known as the “Green Hell” I don’t think I ever used the word “Green” before “Hell” as I was tackling each corner coming at me fast! My race driving instructor took it with classic British aplomb though and managed to get me safely to the finish line. Looking at this picture fills me up with joy as I can still feel the same fear and excitement but also pride at doing something this awesome. PLUS I made it on the cover of a specialist sports car magazine where I also had a chance to tell the full story.
If you are wondering why I am talking about cars and trackdays it’s because I believe that motorsports done well are rather demanding on the human body and fit in with the fitness for life idea. Although in my little sports car I never experienced G-forces I found myself both physically and mentally exhausted after each trackday. You need to train your reflexes to be sharper than sharp to deal effectively with any mishaps and you need to be both strong and fit to be able to wrestle a car around twisties. Let’s not mention confident.
Still not taking up hardcore knitting after all these years
Finally, as I approach the big 5 O (just around the corner) I am hoping to have a few more stints at doing something extreme, including one that I already had a shot at when I was little: Parkour (or free running for those who don’t speak French).
Actually I did have a go at Parkour in 2015 and although incredibly hard work it was also very satisfying to find out that I was still able to learn and practice gymnastics and jump over obstacles in a variety of ways. Mostly unconventional, even for their standards.
Unfortunately it was a very short stint as a combination of bad luck and not enough rest resulted in a major injury that took three years to heal completely.
Annoyingly it happened when I was doing something not much more exciting than the jump in the picture and not while I was doing “crazier” things. Although it has set me back three whole years it never put me out of action completely.
In order to get back complete functionality in my legs I had to go right basics with my exercise programs and that has enabled me to focus on 100% correct form and on taking as much time as I need to get each rep just right. I was wobbly for a very long time but it was an amazing learning experience and I am grateful for it. Because I was out of action for so long I had the time to work on my blog and sort out things in my life that weren’t working out. I had the chance of deepening my knowledge of the human metabolism and attended as many lectures as I possibly could. One of my past coaches nailed it on the head when she said: “you obviously needed a break and you literally got one”.
I consider Parkour to be unfinished business and I can’t wait to get back to it as soon as it’s safe for me to do so. And this time round I’ll make sure to take some pictures for posterity! 🙂
So… what’s your story? How did you get to do what you enjoy most in life? Let me know in the comments below.