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PROUD TRAINERS SHARE THEIR POWERFUL STORIES

by Emma Hogan

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prides-story

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Luke Etzler

“Being a Les Mills Instructor has taught me that ‘comparison’ is the thief of joy! We can get caught up too much in trying to be like others, and we forget what makes us special and individual. Since I stopped comparing myself to others, I have found that my authentic self shines through. I believe this makes my classes far more enjoyable to teach, as I’m no longer worrying about being something or someone that I’m not.

To me, being a member of the LGBTTQIA+ community means I don’t have to be afraid about not conforming to the social norms and I can, instead, live authentically. It’s about celebrating those who are different and loving everyone, regardless of who they are, who they choose to love, or who/what they identify as. I don’t hide who I am, so my family, friends and members all know my sexuality and they are supportive and never judge. In Australia, there is a large proportion of male Instructors who are also part of the LGBTTQIA+ community, and at our CrossFit box we also have a lot of community members who are inspiring athletes with lots of members who look up to them.

With regards to the LGBTTQIA+ representation in the fitness industry, I do believe that there is still a bit of work to do in this area. There are lots of diverse ethnicities represented on DVDs and in marketing campaigns, but it would be great to see more Les Mills/Reebok Ambassadors, for example, who are part of the LGBTTQIA + community. I think this is important because, personally, it can often feel like we have to prove that we can do things just as good as someone who is not part of our the LGBTTQIA+ community. And because we are not as well represented in the fitness activities I do (e.g., Les Mills and CrossFit), I always try harder to be better than others, and to constantly improve my skills so I can show everyone that gay men can be strong and tough and shouldn’t be stereotyped.

I think people just need to remember that not all cookies are cut the same; meaning, not all gay men act the same way and like the same things. The LGBTTQIA+ community includes amazing athletes, but they are not as widely celebrated; there needs to be more highlighting of the amazing athletes within our community.”

Click here to read more about Luke’s Les Mills journey.

 

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Regina Lee

Regina (known as “Lee”) is proud to be part of the LGBTTQIA+ community. She says, “It means lot to me because I can finally express my true self, and feel proud about it.” Lee believes the fitness industry is a great environment to work in, as it enables LGBTTQIA+ community members to be as authentic as they want to be, without having to hide. “In fitness, we should be able to express and not feel ashamed about who we are. Furthermore, it would help to open the eyes of the world that we can be successful in the fitness industry, as well as any other!”

“Of course, there is still work to be done – work on ourselves, so we can believe in ourselves; as well as more unisex clothing designs, so I can express the real me! I would also love for more members of the LGBTTQIA+ community get more opportunities to express themselves to the world and to openly share their passions.”

To anyone considering becoming an Instructor, Lee says “be brave and don’t be shy to show the world who you are and what you are capable of.”

Click here to read more about Lee’s Les Mills journey.

 

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Otto Prodan

“I grew up in Brazil, in a religious family with a military background. It’s fair to say there was an element of toxic masculinity. As a boy, I was expected to play sports and do 'boy' things, and I was heavily discouraged from dancing and gymnastics because my dad thought they were too feminine. So, as a young boy, I did soccer, basketball and swam with the other boys. But I never felt I belonged. I always felt like I was faking it.

When I hit 15, it all changed. I started going to the gym. I discovered BODYATTACK® and BODYSTEP® and found a way to express myself physically that I actually enjoyed. This helped me become really strong-minded about what I wanted to do – and about my identity. I found the confidence to be myself, I was feeling fit, strong with more body confidence, and finally felt like I could put my foot down and push back on doing all those things I didn’t want to do (like soccer). This is also when I came out.

My family didn't respond well. Dad said as soon as I turned 18, I needed to leave the house and he didn't talk to me for months. By the time I got to 18, dad had digested things and he didn't actually kick me out, but I still felt that just by being myself I was disappointing my family. When my sister moved to New Zealand, my dad suggested I move too, which felt like he just wanted me to go away so I didn't embarrass the family. I was happy to go because I knew who I was, and I wasn't prepared to fake it anymore to keep others happy.

Coming to New Zealand helped make me even more confident to be myself, because I didn't have to hide from my family. I spent my days continuing my geology studies at university (something that my dad had pressured me to start) and constantly going to the Les Mills Auckland City gym doing group fitness and exploring how I could get into being an Instructor.

Becoming an Instructor was another transformative shift. For the first time in my life, people were telling me to be myself. And the things that I thought were my weaknesses – or things I needed to hide – were the things that were being celebrated as an Instructor. For so much of my life, my default was to just try and blend in. Becoming an Instructor helped me find my voice and be comfortable with who I am.

The openness and accepting nature of the fitness community is what I love. When I first went to the gym, I met people from the LGBTTQIA+ community and I saw that it was possible to be out and proud and loud and happy. I couldn't do that in the environment I grew up in, but seeing happy people encouraged me.

Now I know seeing people who are openly gay and who have a normal happy life is so important – and I want to use my role in fitness to extend my reach and showcase my happiness. I think back to my younger self and all I want to do is help others like me learn to be true to themselves – that’s my ultimate goal. I don't think it should take courage to be yourself, you should just be yourself.”

 

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Tommi Wong

“I don't see gender, colour, or any difference. I just love people. If I have to explain how I fit within the LGBTTQIA+ community, I would identify myself as bi.

Growing up in Fiji, in my traditional Chinese family, this was not really talked about and if it was, it was labelled as 'wrong'. My family has not accepted my identity, but that's fine. I know that they love me, it's just that they are from their era, their culture, with their traditions. I am not about going against what people have grown up with and been conditioned to believe. But that doesn't mean I can't live authentically.

Being part of the Les Mills fitness community has encouraged me to be more of who I am. It’s such a diverse and cultured family and everyone loves everyone – there are no differences; it’s very much love is love. As an Instructor, you're encouraged to be open and authentic. But that doesn't mean I have to start yelling to everyone about who I love and how I live.

I just want others to know they can be who they are and feel okay about themselves, particularly in Asian cultures because I know it can be really challenging. This is where the fitness community can come in. It’s full of positive vibes and lots of acceptance. It can be a place where you can start to open up and explore getting out of your shell.

Pushing myself in the gym, and having the opportunity to teach others at the gym, has really helped me to settle more into myself and into my skin. I am now comfortable being who I am … And I am so proud to be doing what I am doing. Every time I see people leaving my class happy, it’s my proudest moment. I love seeing people enjoying life and finishing a workout feeling really energised or happy. You can definitely get addicted to that feeling of making people happy. Every time I teach, I feel like I am throwing a big party and it makes me just want to keep going. I just want to spread the love and make as many people happy as possible.”

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Nick Parashchak

“I used to be quite unfit. I was struggling a bit with my weight. And I didn't have a lot of confidence. I would constantly wear baggy clothes and I would rarely go out. My brother saw I wasn't in a good space (it wasn't about physically how I looked, he knew I just didn't feel good about myself), so he took me to try the Les Mills workouts he was doing at the gym. I fell in love.

Going to the gym and making friends with everyone in class and the Instructors, my confidence grew and then I really decided to push myself and train to become an Instructor too. This is what brought out my personality. I was that shy, introverted person, but being on stage and having to get other people inspired, brought confidence out of me. It taught me not to worry about what people think about me.

But despite feeling better about myself, living in my hometown of Manchester, I still felt I was in a rut. I suddenly decided to travel and ended up landing a zookeeper role (animals have always been my biggest passion) at Auckland Zoo. Now I feel I have achieved my two biggest life goals – being a zookeeper and teaching at the heart of Les Mills.

I have gotten more into the LGBTTQIA+ community as I have gotten more into group fitness. Les Mills is such an inclusive company. There is such a diverse range of people and every walk of life is pictured, celebrated, and showcased. And that is the great thing, I really feel that Les Mills doesn’t just jump on the pride bus once a year, it’s a business that consistently supports and represents all members of the LGBTTQIA+ community.

There is every single walk of life and every single type of personality in our fitness community. Whenever I teach, I know that there will be people doing the workout who don't feel confident about themselves, and I want them to know that this is when they can be whoever they want to be. And as long as you are you, and you do what you want to do, and you're enjoying it, that is all that matters.”

 

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Meno Thomas

“I started teaching BODYJAM® at 15. Teaching group fitness at such a young age really helped my confidence, especially going through my journey with transitioning into being transgender. It definitely helped me to find out who I really am.

I always knew I was different from my twin sister because I was quite tomboyish, growing up. And I was like, why? Why am I so different from my sister? She was a very girly girl, quite into makeup, dressing up and all that stuff. And I was too, but I always admired my father – the way that he looked and the way that he dressed.

I remember being in kindergarten and just not feeling comfortable wearing a dress, and crying because I wanted to get out of it. My sister was like: “Get over it, you look pretty.” But I didn’t want to look pretty.

I did some self-education around the age of 12 and I asked my Mum: “What does this mean?” When I found out what transgender meant, it made absolute sense why I’d been feeling the way I had since the age of about three.

The more I started to accept who I am, the more comfortable I felt with myself. I’ve had a pretty cool journey, and I’m still going through an incredible journey. I’m glad if I can bring some light to those who might be going through similar times, who might not have the support that I do.

I found such a passion in group fitness and helping people to feel good about themselves. For me, it’s about getting people to feel a big rush of feeling good about themselves and leave on a high. You never know what people are going through, so if I can shine a little bit of light for 55 minutes, that’s a bonus.”

Learn more about Meno and why he believes being an “outcast” is his superpower.