24 Feb 2017

Leslie Hamilton was approaching 60 the day she told me she wished she’d become a personal trainer. She had recently retired from the Queensland Police Force and had a knee injury that had doctors telling her she would “never run again”.

What I saw was a vibrant, fun loving woman who would make a fantastic trainer. So I said, “Why not just go for it?” She did, and now she is one of Coffs Coast Health Club’s most well loved trainers and living proof that you are never too old!

I spoke to Leslie about fitness and aging, and I’m sure you’ll agree she is pretty inspiring.

Would you say you are a bit of a gym junkie?

I guess I’d have to say yes. I’ve been going to one gym or another since I was in my twenties. I was travelling in America and I joined a gym that was owned by this gorgeous woman. I remember thinking, “I want to look like that!” So I started lifting weights and I really haven’t stopped since.

What about other sports?

Oh yes, I have always excelled at sport. It’s funny because I’m one of seven children and all my sisters were academic types like my parents. Not me. I was forever late for class because I had been at hockey training or preparing for a cross-country competition.

Did work and family get in the way of your sport and fitness?

Absolutely not. Some of my happiest memories are cycling around Canberra with my son on the back of my bike or taking an aerobics class with my daughter in a playpen beside me.

With work I’d have to say that exercise became a vital coping mechanism. I joined the police force when I was older than 30, and two years later my marriage ended. That’s when I took up running. I would run and run and run. I competed in the Police Games every year. I really think that’s what protected me from PTSD or a break down.

You retired at 55. Why so young?

I had chronic injuries. I’d wrecked my meniscus in a fall. The knee specialist told me that I wasn’t a young woman anymore and I had to accept a more sedentary life – or something like that, I was crying so hard I can’t remember exactly what he said.

Six months before my knee injury I’d won the Athlete of the Games in the Police Games and suddenly I’m not allowed to go to the gym or even walk.

Then I suffered a hand injury and it took me 6-months to learn to shoot again. I was stuck as a desk jockey and I didn’t like it. I decided it was time to get out.

How did retirement suit you?

Well I moved to Coffs Harbour which was great. But I got fat – which wasn’t so great. I was still going to the gym but I was eating way too much. I went from 55 to 73.8 kilos.

I decided I needed to do something, so I did a course through AIPT at Coffs Coast Health Club and started to learn about nutrition and the body. I followed the Health Inspirations weight loss program and won the 2013 body make over challenge.

It was a fabulous time and that’s when I started to think about personal training. I’d never had a personal trainer in my life, but I suddenly realised I could get much better results by tapping into the expertise of other people.

You’ve been fit all your life. So do you think it’s easier for you than for other people to stay fit as you age?

Not really. The reality is that I have chronic arthritis and some of the medications I take make my legs ache and zap my energy. Sometimes it’s pretty tough just getting out of bed. I have a little mantra that I say to myself, “My legs are strong, my body’s great, I feel fantastic, let’s go, let’s go.”

Do you always manage to stay motivated?

No, I’m human you know. Just today I was supposed to go to the gym for my Friday workout, but I got a message from my workout partner that he couldn’t come. So this morning I thought, “I don’t want to work out on my own.” In fact I didn’t really want to go the gym. I got up and all my bones creaked and my ankles hurt.

Then I thought, “Leslie, get a grip! It’s Friday. Put on your running shoes and at least go for a walk.” As soon as I got out there and got started I was right…. but I really had to force myself to get started.

Did you just say, “run”? I thought the doctor said no more running.

I wasn’t going to take that advice lying down. For ages I tried to get back into running unsuccessfully. I’d decide I was ready and I’d start with gentle jogging on the treadmill and work up to gentle jogging outside. But I always overdid it.

Then last year I wrote down guidelines in a plan and I made up my mind that as soon as I started to feel like I could run forever, that’s when I needed to stop. That seems to have a worked. I can almost do 5k again…not quite. I run three times a week and always have two intervals where I walk to give myself time to recover.

So now that you are a personal trainer how do you help other people to get motivated?

The key is to work with people as individuals. You can’t expect a weight loss program to be sustainable if you’re asking people to eat foods they don’t like. If people don’t like coming to the gym, then we need to find a range of options that are going to help them meet their exercise goals. It’s all about getting to know people and discovering what drives them.

The other really big thing is taking it slow. So many people want to do absolutely everything in a month – but that’s a mistake. Getting in shape is not a short-term thing, you need to ease into it and learn to understand the value of a healthy body.

I have a couple of clients who hated the gym when they started and now they are practically gym junkies. When I asked one of them if she’d learned to love the gym she said, “No, not really, but I understand what I have to do and why. So here I am.”

What would you say to people over 50 who think they are too old to get fit?

I say you should never, ever let age prevent you from looking after your body. Talk to your doctor and I can help safely modify exercise to suit your needs. Getting into shape can help alleviate the aches and pains that come with age. Did you know that impact is one of the best things for arthritis? My bones density has actually improved since I started running.

I’d like to invite everyone to come and try one of the 50+ Circuit, Fit or Flex classes. Honestly, they are so much fun and not at all scary. It is ok if you are apprehensive about coming to the gym. We can meet at a coffee shop and find suitable options for you. The really important thing is to get started and to realise that you are never too old.

 

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