Words by Nikki Sorbello & Larine Statham-Blair

The idea of strength brings up images of flexed, bulging muscles, dumbells and sweat. But if you ask anyone who exercises regularly, very few actually equate strength with lifting heavy weights.  

There is no doubt being active leads to maintaining or building muscle mass and strengthening bones. It improves brain health and can help reduce the risk of disease. But many people focus on how they feel after exercise – enjoying the endorphin high. They describe how their mind feels clearer and, surprisingly, most talk about the sense of community.

Walking into a group class or session with others who you normally wouldn’t cross paths with. Exchanging a knowing groan as the instructor or coach orders ‘one more’. The shared pats on the back when you are done for that day. Knowing that if you don’t show up, someone will notice. 

When Crush Magazine began working on the Strength Issue, there was no shortage of stories about people finding enjoyment in exercise, across all decades. In every gym, group or class there seems to be people at all stages of life defying the odds of what ‘exercise’ should look like at their age or ability. 

It inspired us to examine what strength and fitness mean to a handful of local people. We also spoke to some of the businesses, organisations and volunteers that are supporting others to achieve their personal fitness goals.

Bella Dickson first picked up a basketball when she was six-years-old, after watching High School Musical and thinking it looked like fun. The now 14-year-old Kepnock High school student is at it six days a week, including games, training and strength and conditioning classes at Bundy Fit (more on page 35). She plays with Bundaberg Basketball, has competed in representative teams and attended the Queensland State Championships a few times. She also started refereeing 12-months-ago.

Aside from her love of the game and wanting to keep active, Bella said joining Bundaberg Basketball had helped her in other ways. “Being fitter really helps with a whole range of things. It helps your brain and makes you more focused with schoolwork,” Bella said. “When I started playing I didn’t have very much confidence, but I’ve enjoyed working with a range of different coaches who have taught me how to be resilient and confident.”

Strength. noun 1. The quality or state of being physically strong.

For Jason Lyons, living with cystic fibrosis means he’s always had an active life. A sporty kid, he first started visiting a gym when he was 14-years-old. “For me, I love the gym because of the sense of trying to better yourself in specific ways. Whether you want to get a little bit faster or stronger; it’s that want to be a little bit better than you were,” Jason said.

Now 26, Jason brings his passion and energy for fitness to others, working as a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness. “I like to use a lot of different modalities. So I will do long-distance endurance events, like swimming, running or cycling. I also really enjoy calisthenics and weight training. I like to encompass a lot of different forms of exercise because it gives me a good perspective on different things people are doing and it allows me to mix up my training. I feel like I’m more adaptable,” Jason said.

Jumping hurdles

Bree Watson had always been active. The youngest of six, living on the family strawberry farm at Avondale, she played netball, enjoyed pony club and loved athletics – particularly hurdles. Regular exercise went by the wayside when Bree was a young adult, studying photography, environmental science and general science, before going on to complete an honours thesis on soil carbon.

Like many women, her first taste of structured exercise was at a mum’s and bub’s group class in an attempt to lose the weight she’d gained. “I was pretty close to going down a dark hole at that time, but meeting up with other women to exercise really pulled me out of that,” Bree said. “We were walking with the prams and doing lunges and things like that, but I remember my arms being so dead that I could barely put my son in his car seat.”

Bree set a goal of running a marathon, and started jogging and walking between posts alongside an irrigation channel. “I also used horse jumps and tyres to make my own obstacle courses on the farm,” she said. “Every little bit I did added up, I am very competitive with myself. I did a lot of research, designed my own fitness programs, and started seeing great results. That’s where the science part of me kicks in – if someone says you should eat protein to build muscle I want to know why, what sort, how much and when.”

Bree entered her first amateur body building competition in Brisbane where she won all of her classes. “I won overall for the state-wide event,” she said. “I still remember my mum saying: ‘she’s never going to give up now, is she’. It gave me a big taste for it.” Bree competed all around the world, before winning her professional competitor licence in the United States.

But it would be a social mud event that would be her undoing. “I was swinging on monkey rings on the third obstacle from the finish when I slipped off and heard a pop. I’d ruptured my ACL in my knee and my meniscus had worn through. It was devastating. I’ve had three surgeries and I’m still recovering three-and-a-half years later. I deconditioned, but I’m working my way back.”

The self-proclaimed “rule follower” believes it is the discipline she learned as a body builder that has served her so well in her role as Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers Chief Executive Officer. “There are so many things that farmers have no control over, like weather, politics, input costs and market conditions. I’m a big advocate for focusing on the things you can control, such as exercise, what you put in your body and buying fabulous gym shoes. When everything else seems out of control, I go back to my routine, even if it’s only exercising for 20 minutes a day and prepping my meals. And no matter how much my weight fluctuates, my shoe size always remains.”

Bree said her work required her to be an extrovert. “I’m really an introvert that loves time to myself and the gym gives me that. I’m a big believer in the mind muscle connection, so quite often I train with my eyes closed and focus of that one muscle; being mindful and silencing all the other noise.”

She conceded that many people disagreed with her decision to “bulk up”, believing body building to be a mens’ sport. “A lot of people don’t like it, seeing someone that’s only seven per cent body fat. But I liked how regimented the sport was. It was about proving to myself that I could do it.”

And that’s what strength means to Bree. “It’s believing in yourself and knowing you are enough in that moment,” she said. “It’s having the courage to have a conversation that you don’t want to have. It’s doing something that’s unknown, scary or takes you out of your comfort zone. It’s your own journey.”



Rough justice – Interchanging robes

We’re all guilty of making assumptions about a person when it comes to their looks, attire, interests or job. If you heard about a man with degrees in history, religion, philosophy and law, who plays classical guitar, has an interest in antiquities and the ability to read Hebrew and Greek, you probably wouldn’t expect an Ipswich-born, Australian amateur boxer with a shaved head and tattoos.

Nick Larter is an intriguing contradiction in every sense. At night, this gently spoken Bundaberg barrister trades his courtroom wig and robe for boxing silks as part of Fred Brophy’s Boxing Troupe. “I’m a sheep in wolves’ clothing,” Nick laughed. And he’s not alone. His fellow Troupe members all have regular day jobs too.

Brophy’s touring tent is the last of its kind in Australia, where Fred invites “all comers” to enter the ring and give members of his Troupe a run before of an eager crowd of rowdy spectators. Many see the demise of this nomadic entertainment as a progressive step in the right direction. Others lament the loss of Australian outback traditions that we once solemnised in national symbols of pride like the iconic boxing kangaroo.

Dubbed the Fighting Barrister, Nick said Fred knew exactly how to get the country crowd going at every show. “He tells them I’ve kept him out of goal for the last ten years. He’s looking for a contender with a good long criminal record, plenty of tattoos, must weigh 20 stone and have served at least 10 years for serious crime. He’s trying to get me killed – he’s great like that! If they beat me, Fred says I’ll represent them in court and waive their legal fees.”

Nick cut his teeth working for Legal Aid as the prison duty lawyer, and has met some of the State’s most infamous criminals. “It was a baptism of fire and I was desensitised quickly,” he said. After sitting the bar exam in 2010, he worked under renowned barrister Jack Pappas in Canberra for a year. “Since my 20s I’ve been privileged to be surrounded by leading people in whatever pursuit I had at the time. When it comes to boxing, I’ve trained with world champions and Australian champions.”

Nick said there was no doubt that fighting attracted some “wayward people”. “To help them learn discipline and hard work that brings reward and see them grow into contributing members of the community is a very satisfying thing. I was lucky enough to find people to do that for me at a young age, and now it’s nice to have come on that journey to the point that it’s something I can offer back.”

It’s largely this mentee-mentor relationship that continues attracting people to the sport of boxing. “If you want to have a fight, let’s do it safely and earn your reputation the right way; not in some pub brawl where one punch can kill,” the 43-year-old said. “If you think you’re tough, you’re going to put your hand up and climb the tent ladder and give one of us a run. If you don’t do that when the Troupe is in town, then no one is going to take you seriously later when you want to assert your alpha after too many drinks.”

Nick said his perception of strength had changed since taking up boxing, and he now placed great value on vulnerability and exposure. “My trainers and fellow boxers at Attila Boxing Academy in Bundaberg and the Brophy Troupe have given me the courage to put myself in a position where there’s a very big chance of spectacular and public failure,” Nick said. “Fighting, for all it’s worth, has actually got rid of all of the anger out of me. I was not confident enough to express myself in the past because I thought that may have been viewed as a weakness. Now I’ve got the strength to expose myself.”

For Glen Miles, 68, Keith Miles, 72, Karen Beveridge, 69, Addalyn Large, 8, and Cameron Sorbello, 9. Bundaberg Parkrun is as much about community as it is about fitness. 

Glen said the free weekly event first appealed to him a few years ago. He was looking for something active to do where he could be around more people. His brother Keith thought it sounded like a good idea and joined him. While the name of the event can put some people off, the pair are there to enjoy the outdoors and company; choosing to walk and jog the 5km course.  

Karen said being in the fresh outdoor air was a great mental health boost, with the course taking about 45-mintues to complete if you are walking. “By the time you start your walk and meet up with others, chatting away, before you know it the 5km is finished,” Karen said.

Run by a team of volunteers, Bundaberg Parkrun is an event for all ages. Parents bring their children in prams, until they are old enough to register at four-years-old.

For more visit www.parkrun.com.au/bundaberg

Strength. noun 2. The capacity to withstand great force or pressure.

For bodybuilder Graham Evans, who owned Improvements Gym in Bundaberg for almost 20 years, strength is as much about the mental game as it is about the physical. Crowned Mr Universe in Italy in December 1993, Graham used the bulk and trim method. “One of the differences between power weightlifting and bodybuilding is that one is based on genetics and brute force and the other is mental toughness,” he said. “It was the discipline of dieting that I enjoyed, with the consistency of training. Persistence is so important in body building, particularly when the gains stop or you are in a plateau,” he said. 

Winning Mr Queensland and Mr Australia multiple times gave Graham credibility in his own gym to help novice body builders, as well as people who just wanted to get fit or lose weight. “I enjoyed helping other people,” he said. In his early retirement, Graham was a strength and conditioning coach with the NRL, on tour with the former Origin greats (Qld) and former international greats (Aust).   Today, at age 67, Graham enjoys playing golf and riding his bike.

After the age of 50 many people begin to choose exercise they can do at a slower pace. Low impact. Easier on the body. But 67-year-old Maureen Branson still runs, swings kettle bells and box jumps with the best of them. Training four-days-a-week at Bundaberg’s only outdoor bootcamp, BTY Fitness, Maureen doesn’t let her age dictate how she moves her body. “I enjoy exercise and being outdoors. It’s good for my mental health,” she said.

Maureen said she has always enjoyed group classes, which help keep her young-at-heart and give her something to keep pace with. “I suppose one day I might switch to swimming or something low impact. But I just think while I can still do this, and it’s not causing me any issues, I’ll keep at it,” she said.