“I came to New Zealand with my mum when I was five. It was just me and her and I had a classic Chinese immigrant upbringing. If you're a girl, you're expected to be nice, calm, graceful, elegant and feminine. You meet a nice boy, you get married, have children… Growing up I remember trying to fit into the mold that my mom had for me. I never really explored my sexuality, I kind of knew I should like boys, but I was never sure I did.
After I graduated from medical school, I moved to Whangarei, which allowed me to re-introduce myself to the world. I joined the local community gym and trained to become an Instructor.
Amy’s advice to her younger self:
“Follow your heart. Fearlessly do the things you love to do. Let the things you like about yourself shine, and just keep doing whatever it is you do to make yourself and other people smile. Just be you.”
When I began teaching LES MILLS classes it felt like a whole new world. At Les Mills, everyone was just so free. Everyone was so themselves. For the first time in my life, I felt accepted and encouraged to live my truth. And that gave me the courage, I suppose, to come out to my mom.
It was difficult. I tried two or three times. The first time she just responded with the typical: “Do you need to go to church? Do you need a therapist? What have I done wrong?” It was the ultimate rejection. I tried a handful more times, convinced she would love me unconditionally and finally be okay with it. Unfortunately, she wasn't. Eventually, it was swept under the rug and we kind of just stopped speaking.
We started talking again when she got diagnosed with cancer – hands down the most excruciating thing I've had to navigate in my life. I was 26 when she was diagnosed. 28 when she died. I didn't have any adult figures around to show me how to process grief. No siblings to share the load with. It was a very dark period in my life, and I’m only just starting to come out of it now.
I give a lot of credit to the Les Mills community for getting me through. If it wasn't for teaching fitness, I'm really not sure I’d feel as content with myself as I do now. I don't think I would have ever felt free to express myself and to be who I've always wanted to be. I love the person I am now. I love the person I am when I teach. That's the version of myself that I love the most.
People are often more impressed by my work as a doctor, but I'm most proud of the work we do at Les Mills. In hospital, I feel as though I’m dealing with things at the bottom of the cliff. It’s not always satisfying because you’re not always sure if you’re making a difference in people's lives, or if you're just a band-aid. In fitness, you’re giving people confidence. You’re giving people health. You’re giving them the space and opportunity to create a better version of themselves. You're empowering them to make choices so they can be successful and their best self in their day-to-day life. It's all stuff that people need to feel happy.”
“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.
Otto’s advice to his younger self:
"Don't fear your qualities that separate you from the others. Don't try pushing them away and hiding them. This will not make you into the person you are here to be.”
When I did become 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.”
“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.
Meno’s advice to a young Meno:
"Keep chasing what you love Meno. Don't let your assumptions about how you think the world sees you hold you back from living your dreams. Things will start shifting when you begin owning who you are."
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, 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.”
“I don't see gender, color, 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 labeled 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 is no difference. 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 energized 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.”
“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 gave me the confidence to not 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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