Meet Clare and Caroline McDonald, a mother and daughter duo who aren’t letting health conditions or age hold them back. Channeling a shared love for fitness to overcome their own challenges, they’ve also taken action to inspire many others along the way.

Clare's story

Twenty-two-year-old Instructor, Clare McDonald has been dealt some tough cards when it comes to health, but she uses fitness to help fight back. She explains that focusing on fitness and sharing her passion with others has been key to finding strength in her weakest moments.

You suffer various health conditions and have had many battles …

"I knew from a young age that I was different from everybody else. I was diagnosed with anxiety at age 14 and then depression at age 18. I've been through all sorts of therapy (CBT, person-centered therapy, etc…) but nothing seemed to work. In 2017 I was diagnosed with a brain condition called Chiari Malformation. And last March, I was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Despite these issues, I’ve managed to achieve many things, most notably training as a BODYPUMP, BODYCOMBAT and BODYATTACK Instructor and making it through university. But that changed last month, I collapsed as a result of my brain condition and was admitted to the hospital and have been here ever since. It's been the toughest month of my life."

Clare McDonald in hospital battling Chiari Malformation

Clare in hospital in February 2023.

What’s keeping you going?

“In the past, when I’ve had to deal with challenges it’s been fitness that’s saved me. Whenever I’m stressed, I turn to exercise. When I’m depressed, I turn to exercise. Any low point in my life has been passed through with the help of exercise.

Last month I collapsed as a result of my brain condition and ended up in hospital, so I physically couldn’t turn to exercise. A full month without exercise felt like it was killing me inside. It was the toughest month of my life!”

“Whenever I’m stressed, I turn to exercise. When I’m depressed, I turn to exercise ..."

Clare with her mother Caroline and BODYATTACK Program Director Lisa Osborne at Les Mills Live in London.

When did physical activity become such an important part of your life?

“I've always been active. I started dancing at age 3 and did it right up until I was 17. I was a competitive swimmer and lifesaver and competed for my country at the Commonwealth Lifesaving Championships in 2019. I did my first LES MILLS class (BODYCOMBAT) in my local gym at age 14 and joined LES MILLS+ in March 2020 as soon as the gyms closed due to the pandemic. With the world shut down, my university exams called off and the pool where I was a swim teacher closed, I decided to use my energy to train as a BODYPUMP Instructor. I was just 19.”

"It’s a feeling like no other – my endorphins are through the roof and I feel like the happiest person on the planet."

“Since becoming an Instructor, I’ve been teaching live classes six days a week. It’s a feeling like no other – my endorphins are through the roof and I feel like the happiest person on the planet. I know that if I’m having a down day, all my worries will disappear the moment I walk into the studio.”

"If I’m having a down day, all my worries will disappear the moment I walk into the studio."

“It feels AMAZING to share my passion with others. I like to post about my workouts and my classes on my Instagram page and I relish the online community and the support from fellow Les Mills lovers all over the world. My dream is to be on the presenter team on stage with Lisa Osborne during the filming of BODYATTACK.”

Clare with Ben Main and Erin Maw at Les Mills Live in London.

You don't just teach live classes, you do at-home workouts too...

“LES MILLS+ is amazing because I can work out when I want, where I want. There is such a wide variety and the amazing international trainers make working out online an awesome experience. My mother and I have tried almost every workout LES MILLS+ has to offer, and we really push each other. Working out with her is such a privilege – she’s an amazing role model and is so fit. She’s just recently trained as a BODYCOMBAT Instructor and has been team teaching with me. I am so proud of her!”

"Finding fitness to focus on really helps remove negative energy from my life."

Not only do you inspire those who attend your classes, but your regular posts inspire many in the LES MILLS+ community too. What do you hope to achieve?

“I really feel it’s important to create a platform where everyone has equal access and opportunities to exercise, regardless of their age, size, disability or ability, race, religion and gender. We should be flexible and open-minded to the needs of participants – and to what different people bring.

My autism presents me with so many challenges in life, but also makes me the person I am. It pushes me to work harder and never give up. It allows me to empathize with other people during hard times and accept everyone for who they are. My mother calls it my superpower.

I am just trying my best to do what makes me happy. Finding fitness to focus on really helps remove negative energy from my life.”

Caroline’s story

At nearly 52, Caroline McDonald thought she might be too old to take her passion for fitness to the next level. But, inspired by her daughter Clare, she recently overcame her doubts and completed the BODYCOMBAT Instructor training.

Where did your passion for fitness start?

“My sister and I went to our first LES MILLS workout, BODYATTACK, over 20 years ago. I was hooked and I’ve never stopped. When lockdown hit in March 2020 I immediately signed up to LES MILLS+ as LES MILLS workouts were part of my daily life and I couldn’t live without them. I love all the workouts, but the energy of BODYATTACK is my favorite. It never ever gets easier, you just push yourself harder. My aim is to be still doing BODYATTACK when I’m in my 70s – another 20 years from now.”

"Low points in life have been more manageable because I keep going with my LES MILLS workouts… They give me a chance to escape from pain and pressure."

What motivated you to sign up for the Instructor training?

“When my youngest daughter started university, I thought it was time to focus on something to push and develop myself. At nearly 52, I was worried I might be too old to become an Instructor, but I thought about one of my favorite presenters, Marlon Woods. He’s always developing himself, and I thought, ‘Would that stop Marlon?’ Of course it wouldn't!

Proving to myself that age isn’t a barrier was just one motivator. I’d just been diagnosed with the heart condition Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) which made me realize that life is short and I just need to go for it. And I also wanted to team teach with my daughter Clare.”

"Becoming an instructor at age 51 shows that being an older woman doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your fitness goals. Age isn’t a barrier."

Tell us about the instructor training

“I was nervous about my age and because I’d never done training or teaching of any nature before, but I got super feedback from both my trainer and assessor who were so supportive. I loved getting a greater insight into coaching approaches and combat technique. And the buzz of submitting my first video followed by the live assessment was amazing!”

What’s been so special about team teaching and working out with your daughter?

“It's the best buzz and privilege to work out alongside Clare. I feel I helped encourage her fitness journey by being a role model, but she took it to another level becoming a BODYCOMBAT, BODYPUMP and BODYATTACK Instructor from age 19. I am so proud of her as she's had a lot of mental and physical challenges. When we work out together we laugh and smile so much, but we're both competitive – if she does an extra tuck jump, you bet I'll do it too. The ultimate honor has been recently team teaching with her.“

Clare and Caroline with Rachael Newsham and Dan Cohen at Les Mills Live in London.

How has working out helped you during your lowest times?

“I lost my mum, my best friend, during Covid in September 2020 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer and died five weeks later. Seeing my girls heartbroken was so painful and I had to be strong for them while my own heart was broken. However, the past four weeks with my daughter Clare being hospitalized with severe head and neck pain due to her brain condition has been the most worrying time of my life ever.

Exercise has been the number one thing for my mental health. The low points in life have been more manageable because I keep going with my LES MILLS workouts. They give me a chance to escape from pain and pressure, to breathe, and to be surrounded by friends and laugh, cry and hug. It's a family, both at the gym and in the LES MILLS+ online community.”

Tell us about how you fit in both live LES MILLS classes and LES MILLS+ workouts…

You can’t beat group exercise, live classes push me hard and are really social. But I love the flexibility of home workouts. I also love how with LES MILLS+ you get to work out with all the master trainers. When we went to LES MILLS LIVE in London we were lucky to meet so many of our favorite LES MILLS+ trainers and we were absolutely STAR STRUCK! It was the best weekend of our lives!

How do you hope your actions inspire others?

I think becoming an Instructor at age 51 shows that being an older woman doesn't mean you can't achieve your fitness goals. Hopefully, that inspires other women of all ages to think ‘Well if she can be fit and do these classes at her age, I can too’. If you're considering Instructor training, do it – it’s a great experience and you learn so much. Age isn’t a barrier.

Learn more about becoming a Les Mills Instructor here.