I WENT FROM THINKING, ‘I NEED TO GET SKINNY’ TO WANTING TO BE THE BEST ATHLETE I COULD BE
by Sarah Shortt
Hi Kaylah! You're the daughter of BODYSTEP® Program Director Mark Nu'u-Steele and Les Mills New Zealand Licensee Relationship Manager, Carla Fitzsimons. What was it like growing up in a group fitness household?
I joke to my friends that I was born in Studio One [at Les Mills Auckland City] – I’ve been around group fitness since the day I was born! Ever since I was little, I would watch my parents on stage and knew that’s what I wanted to do too. I'd watch Mum and Dad at Masterclass filming and thought how cool it was that they were on stage, inspiring all these people.
Do you remember asking if you could be part of the LES MILLS GRIT® audience six years ago? I recall you wrote in your message: “I probably don’t have the right look”. You’re now appearing on Masterclass for multiple programs, including BODYPUMP®! Can you tell me about your journey over the last six years?
Even though I was always fascinated by what my parents did and thought I could do it, one of my biggest hurdles was body image. I knew I was a bigger girl and even though I knew I could perform well, I felt I’d have to lose a whole bunch of weight before I would get any opportunities.
One day in the gym, me, Dad, Jackie [Mills] and Diana [Archer Mills] were all doing a BODYCOMBAT® class and Diana turned to me and said: “Do you want to film LES MILLS TONE®?”. I was really surprised and was like: “Are you sure? I’m not in the best shape.” She stopped, looked at me and said: “What are you talking about? You’re strong and beautiful!” and said that I would be great in TONE."
That really shifted my mindset. I went from thinking “I need to get skinny” to thinking “I want to be the best athlete I can, so I can perform.” I'd spent my whole life thinking I needed to get skinny to be successful in the fitness industry… but trying to get ‘skinny’ had never worked for me. I’m just not built to be thin. I gave myself a new goal of wanting to be the best athlete I could: To be my own hero, be my own inspiration, and to be proud of myself and the journey that I’m on.
With each filming I do, I look back on photos from the filming, and try to say the right words to myself to remain in a good headspace. I have this devil on my shoulder saying: “You’re not skinny enough to stand next to other Presenters”. But I’m learning to pause, be grateful, give myself a pat on the back, and move on.
When I first appeared on a Masterclass, I had people messaging me on Instagram saying how great it was to see different body types, and that I was an incredible Instructor. Initially, I only saw the comments about "different body types". I was like: “I do not want to be the token big girl.” But then, I came to see it as a positive. Yes, it's really great to represent more inclusive body types, but I also opened my mind to what else was being said: that I was inspiring them, and that they thought that I was an incredible Instructor.
That was another hurdle where I was like: I’m here; I’m where I want to be right now and I’m really proud of that. It’s been a journey, and I’m still on the journey – doing what I can to keep a good mindset and celebrate my current achievements.
That sounds very challenging! How has your Dad supported you on this journey?
Both my parents have been super supportive. Being able to work alongside Dad is awesome.
We train together every day; we keep each other accountable and motivated. His philosophy has always been to train smart, and "give your body what it needs", never "that’s not good enough, go 10 per cent harder". He’s always told me that when he does a filming, he treats it as if it was his last (in a positive way) – never assuming that the next filming was granted. This has inspired my work ethic to put in the work, show up as the best version of ‘me’, and to be thankful for each and every project I’m involved in.
He has guided me through all aspects of presenting and also the behind-the-scenes things like music editing, music selection and creating choreography.
I’m so thankful for the amazing relationship I have with both my Mum and Dad(s), but if you’ve been to any of our classes, you’ll know that we get into cheeky little fights that sometimes result in dad taking his shoe off, and throwing it at me while we’re teaching! Haha!
With each filming I do, I look back on photos from the filming, and try to say the right words to myself to remain in a good headspace. I have this devil on my shoulder saying: “You’re not skinny enough to stand next to the other presenters”. But I’m learning to pause, be grateful, give myself a pat on the back, and move on.
Can you tell me about your life outside of teaching?
I’m a personal trainer at Les Mills Auckland City. I think all PTs say they have amazing clients, but honestly, it’s true – I’m surrounded by great people.
I like the flexibility of being a PT. I set my own schedule and it also allows me to help take care of my younger sister who has special needs. The hardest part about learning how to run my own business was doing my own taxes! When I first started personal training, Mum and Dad always told me to put $X amount away for taxes. Of course, tax was the last thing on my mind, so I thought I was rich, until Mum and Dad sent me to the accountant!"
Dad has taught me how to have a good work/life balance. He has always been good at working hard, but also knows how to prioritise his time and energy. He only really creates when he’s in the right headspace, rather than trying to force creativity when it's just not happening. I’ve learned from Dad not to be too hard on myself. If something isn't working right now, I'll shift my focus on to something else and come back to it later.
You mentioned you have a younger sister with special needs, can you tell me about your relationship with her?
Along with her developmental delays, my sister has regular seizures which, thankfully, have gradually improved over the years.
Whenever Mum or Dad need help, I’m there. If my sister has a seizure, I can drop everything and be there to help as I control my schedule, and my clients are always understanding. Caring for her needs is a big team effort; family is my number one priority. Despite all that comes with her disabilities, my little sister is SUPER loving and she's the happiest little chick you could come across. If anyone is reading this thinking “Oh that’s so sad", it’s not all doom and gloom. Yes, it's tough at times, but she brings so much love and joy to our family. My relationship with her is the thing I'm most proud of in my life.
As a fitness professional, what tips do you have for those new to exercise who are struggling with motivation?
As Instructors know, we're taught that there are different types of motivation that appeal to people. You know, some members are motivated by the aesthetic – that they’re going to lose weight or be more toned. Others are about the feelings – they want the endorphins and the emotional benefits. And some people don’t care about any of that stuff, and just want to be social, to work out with you.
I would say, find what works for you. Figure out what fills your tank, and what makes you want to get moving, and on those days where you don't feel like exercising, remind yourself.
So, for those days when new people just want to throw in the towel and give up, how can they stick with it?
If you’re doing a workout and you’re really not enjoying it or having a great time , then it’s OK to pause. Either come back to it later – or say: “Great, I’ve done my half hour, that’s all I really need right now.” Give both your body and your mind what they need.
If you feel like quitting fitness altogether, I would say remind yourself of why you started in the first place. Whether you’ve been told by doctors that you need to exercise for your health, or to be able to keep up with your kids, or maybe for your mental wellness… remember your ‘why’. The great thing about fitness is that there are so many options to choose from; so if one thing isn’t working for you, try something else.
As a personal trainer, you must have clients who don’t feel they’re fit enough to exercise. What advice do you have for those people?
I see this a lot in new clients at the gym – people just too scared to even start. I think it’s about remembering that everyone has to start from somewhere. Showing up is the first step, and this should be celebrated. Nobody wakes up and magically transforms into an athlete overnight. Try to enjoy the journey, and avoid dwelling on the destination.
Be proud that you’re making a start, and try to avoid comparing yourself with others. It’s a human instinct, but comparing yourself to others is dangerous, especially when you’re starting your own fitness journey.
Focus on the positives, and on your daily fitness and mental achievements, no matter how big or small they are. If you got out of bed and did 20, or even just 5 minutes of exercise, that’s something to be proud of. On some days, just getting out of bed deserves a high five! The fact you're getting started is a big deal.
Kaylah-Blayr Fitzsimons-Nu'u is a BODYPUMP, BODYSTEP and LES MILLS TONE Instructor, as well as a Coach for LES MILLS GRIT, CEREMONY and CONQUER. She lives in Auckland, where she is also a personal trainer at Les Mills Auckland City.