From Fat to Fit at Sixty Four

G’day Groovers. Sorry the downloads have been a little scarce lately; I’ve been a busy boy flitting around the nation sharing a little Life Renovation Love with the masses. I’m in Sydney today presenting a workshop for a team of lawyers and legal folk, so I’m guessing that whole ‘work-life balance’ part of my presentation should be interesting! I hope your weekend was fun, we had our last RYL (for a while) here in Melbourne at the Harperdome (my gym) and we had a ball. Lots of laughs, plenty of learning, a few tears and if certain people do what they need to, lives changed forever. I thought that today I’d share a story with you from my early days of PT. Have a great week.

A Deer in the Headlights

Not long after I opened my first Personal Training studio an older lady walked through the front door. It wouldn’t be unkind to say that she didn’t really look like the ‘gym type’; early to mid sixties, morbidly obese and carrying what looked to be her shopping. Not that a gym can’t be home to all ages, shapes, sizes and types, but she definitely looked like a deer in the headlights as she tentatively made her way from the door towards me. At 5’2″ and 101kgs (222lbs), it’s fair to say that Tonia was in need of a physical (and as it turned out, mental and emotional) overhaul.

Unnecessarily Large ArmsShe walked into the gym around lunch time and I was on my own, lifting weights. So there we were; me and the sixty four year-old (as it turned out), petrified, Italian grandmother who had never set foot in a gym, or been involved in any structured exercise, in her life. Standing there in my singlet with my shaved head, my unnecessarily large arms (those were the days) and some AC-DC pumping, I realised that I was probably scaring the shit out of her; not really my goal as a new business owner trying to build a clientele.

A New Client

So I turned down the noise, put on a shirt, sat her in a chair and did my best to demonstrate that I was much more than a monosyllabic, intimidating beefcake. Within a few minutes, the absolute terror was replaced with mild curiosity and ten minutes later the curiosity had made way for enthusiasm to begin an exercise program. I had a new client; a morbidly obese, hypertensive granny with Type-2 Diabetes! To that point in my career, I had seriously never met a less athletic person in my life (in terms of fitness, co-ordination, strength, balance). But the beauty of working with someone who had zero understanding of exercise and zero experience was that, in terms of her beliefs, knowledge, understanding and expectations (about what was possible for her), I was working with a clean sheet. When I told her that we would complete a five kilometre (three mile) fun run within six months, she had no reason not to believe me. I, on the other hand, wondered if I was completely full of shit.

When she told me that she had never run in her life (even one hundred metres), I believed her. However, she was very excited at the prospect of completing a fun run. Oops. I wondered if I had opened my gob prematurely and possibly over-estimated her potential and my ability as a trainer. In the first four weeks of training we did all the normal things; created an overall plan, modified her diet, addressed her crappy habits, educated her, set some goals and of course, started to run. Now, I know what you’re thinking; how far can a morbidly obese, diabetic grandmother run and the answer to your question is… not very far.

Baby Steps

On her first day of running (her debut workout), Tonia and I completed ten, thirty metre jogs in a straight line on soft grass. We’d jog thirty metres (very slowly), rest for a minute or so and then go again. For her, completing those shuttle runs was like running a marathon. She loved her first session and was totally pumped. For an Italian grandmother that is. By the end of week two (she was doing three sessions per week), she completed ten one hundred metre jogs in her session and had lost 4 kgs (8.8lbs); not bad. Of course I could give you a blow by blow account of her progression over the first six months but let’s just say that the gorgeous Italian grandmother did incredible things and probably taught me more than I taught her.

The Shrinking Granny

Two days before her sixty fifth birthday and five and a half months after we met, Tonia completed a five kilometre run without stopping!! It wasn’t particularly rapid or pretty, but she did it; something she had never even dreamed of doing until months before. Something completely amazing. I ran beside her. By the time the day of the run arrived, Tonia had gone off all medication (with her doctor’s consent) and had lost 37 kgs (81.4 lbs). Her 101 kg body had shrunk to a (relatively) svelte 64 kgs (140 lbs). She later lost another 9 kgs and stabilised at 55 kgs (121 lbs). We tried to co-ordinate our running goal with the fun-run calendar here in Melbourne but we couldn’t find an event to suit our schedule and time frame for her goal, so we created our own; we did our own personal fun run.

The Agony, the Ecstasy, the Triumph and the Neighbours!

What I didn’t tell Tonia was that her daughter had been in contact with me about the run; she wanted to organise a few members of her family to be at the finish line of our ‘event’ to cheer the uber-athlete over the line. I thought it was thoughtful and supportive of her daughter to organise a few people to be there to cheer the matriarch of the family home after all her hard work over the preceding months. So at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning in the middle of winter, the grandmother and I set off on our epic adventure (it’s all relative); a five kilometre loop from her house. After easing into it for a kilometre or so, she slipped into a rhythm (of sorts) and ran like a champ. I won’t say she ran the distance effortlessly but all things considered, she ran incredibly well; no stopping and no complaining. As we turned the last corner into her street, I could see a crowd gathered outside Tonia’s house. She wasn’t wearing her specs so she had no idea what lay ahead. It wasn’t until we were about one hundred metres from the finish that she realised that more than fifty people(!) had gathered to celebrate her achievement and cheer her over the line. She crossed the line (the family had made a finishing line from some material) with tears in her eyes and joy on her face; she was crying, her kids were crying, her grand kids were crying and allegedly, I may have shed a tear. Keep it quiet. Nieces, nephews, friends and even neighbours had come out to cheer the considerably lighter, fitter, leaner and healthier Tonia home.

She trained with me for another six months or so and then moved on to do her own thing. And no, she didn’t regain the weight. I saw her a few years ago and she was still remarkably fit, healthy and functional, even as a septuagenarian.

So What did the Young Trainer Learn from the Uncoordinated, Unathletic, Obese Grandmother?

1. Bodies can do amazing things when our mind doesn’t get in the way.

2. ‘Old’ is more about our psychology than it is about our physiology.

3. When we find ‘a way’ rather than find an excuse, change can happen quickly.

4. Creating exceptional results comes from doing exceptional things; what most won’t.

5. Success is not about how much potential we have; it’s about how much we use.

6. Our history doesn’t need to be our future.

But you knew all that didn’t you?

See you tomorrow x

If you liked this article, subscribe to my blog and receive my FREE eBook. Click here: I want a FREE eBook. If you’re interested in having me work with your organisation you can contact me here.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda November 2, 2008 at 5:43 pm

This is a fantastic Story that is motivating for people of all ages and abilities. If this granny then i a 27 year old could certainly do it.


Michelle November 2, 2008 at 6:07 pm

Hi Craig,

Great story! Brought a tear to my eye! Her courage and determination is an inspiration. Good to know she hasn’t gone back to her “old ways”.

My head is still so full from the seminar, thanks it was great!! I had a fabulous day, met some really lovely people and learned a lot of very valuable information which I am going to work through and apply over the next few days. (I just hope the cheesecake wasn’t too awful lol.)

Have a good day in Sydney…hope the mobile phone idiots aren’t with you again.

Hugs for everything

Michelle xx


Anonymous November 2, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Hi Craig,

What a wonderful story and what an inspirational woman!! Brought a tear to my eye as well…

Great day today, you did good! :-)

( )
Amanda B


Craig Harper November 3, 2008 at 6:46 am

Thanks Amanda

… yes you can! ( )


Craig Harper November 3, 2008 at 6:47 am

Hi Michelle

Good to see you yesterday…
Thanks for my cake, it is awesome!

I had ONE slice last night. I wanted five.

( )


Craig Harper November 3, 2008 at 6:48 am

Thanks Amanda B!

You did good too ( )


Anonymous November 3, 2008 at 7:02 am

Dear Mr Harper

A great read on a Monday morning

Im sure that you have created many, many wonderful memories with your clients



Craig Harper November 3, 2008 at 7:12 am

Thanks Anon ( )


Anonymous November 3, 2008 at 7:31 am

Loved this Craig

Cheers, Claire


Asma November 3, 2008 at 8:50 am

What a beautiful way to start the week. That was an amazing story and made me get tearful…

You make such an effort to touch people’s lives each day and for that I hope you are blessed with nothing less than amazing each day also from those around you


Craig Harper November 3, 2008 at 2:37 pm

Thanks Claire… ( )


Craig Harper November 3, 2008 at 2:38 pm

Hello Asma… long time no hear

Thanks for your nice wishes ( )


Sus November 3, 2008 at 5:56 pm

That was a great story, thanks Craig. I shared it with my Mum, who only a few years ago was overweight – but now is very fit at 53, & competing in her first Half Ironman in December. She loved it, & printed the points at the end off to stick on her wall for inspiration :)



Jules November 3, 2008 at 7:50 pm

That’s phenomenal! What a great achievement for you, Craig as a ‘young’ naive trainer for setting the bar high for both you and her but not too high and unrealistic. Sounded like a major achievement for all involved! Fantastic- sounded like she taught you tons in those 12 months.

Yeah- goes to show that through commitment and consistent EFFORT and the desire to create positive change that it can be done.

How did it go today with the all the lawyers Craig?? Did they ‘get’ the whole work-life balance thing?


PS. Sus- wish your Mum all the best for her first Half Ironman for me. I’d be keen to know how she goes! I’m going to attempt my first Half Ironman maybe in Feb or May next year.


Craig Harper November 3, 2008 at 8:08 pm

Hi Sus

say hi to your mum for me.

( )


Craig Harper November 3, 2008 at 8:11 pm

Hi Jules

Went great with the ‘Legal Folk’ – they were a great bunch.

( )


Tina November 3, 2008 at 11:28 pm

Hey Craig ! Loved this story ! I get sooo annoyed with people who say they’re too old/fat to exercise. Wish they would all read this and take notice.

Thanks for a great morning yesterday. It’s going to be interesting to see how much my dear hubby responds. I asked him if he didn’t feel a little guilty chomping into the shortbread fingers while almost everyone else went with the healthy stuff. His reply “Someone had to eat them, I wouldn’t want them to go to waste”. Hmmm…. did he leave his ears at home, I wonder ??!!!

Anyway, thanks again, and I’ll just keep my fingers crossed for him !
{{HUG}} Tina


Vincent November 4, 2008 at 2:24 am

That is a great post. Thanks for sharing this great story with us. I really hope that one day I can be like you and touch the lives of others, helping them to achieve greater results that they can think of.

Personal Development Blogger


Craig Harper November 4, 2008 at 7:23 am

Hi Tina

yeh, it’s a great (true) story.

Good luck with Boy Wonder (Bill)…

( )


Craig Harper November 4, 2008 at 7:25 am

Thanks Vincent – keep doing what you need to – and you’ll get there



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: