It's never too late
Electric. From her hair to her toes, Anne Brunner is most definitely electric.
Her confidence and determination is a palpable charge waiting to spark an intense drive in anyone who ventures close enough. I feel the static as she talks me though her journey - from taking her first step into a gym, to stepping of stage at the annual Fernwood Fitness 12-week challenge as the national winner.
She tells me it all started with a photo.
"There is a photo of me and my grandson. It made me realise I had to change my life, so I could be here for my grandchildren and see them grow up. I just thought 'this is it'." This life-changing decision happened in October 2016 and, as Anne informs me, it's been a journey of not just physical fitness, but also of personal growth and mental health.
Throughout her life, Anne has been a dutiful wife, a loving mother and a caring daughter. She raised three children, and is a proud grandmother to three grandchildren. She has had to say goodbye to a father that clearly meant the world to her, and she lovingly takes care of her aging mother. Anne has always taken care of other people.
Now, at age 57, Anne tells me it not only feels great taking care of herself as well, but she emphatically believes it is absolutely essential to the happiness and lives of her family. "If women nurture themselves, it affects everybody in the family. It is such a positive thing," she said.
Anne chose to join an all-women's gym to kick off her life-change. "That first step, I still maintain, is the best step I've ever taken for my life and my health." Anne firmly believes the hardest part of making a change, is that first step. She also believes once you take that step, all you have to do is keep going. "You just have to turn up. Be consistent and persistent, and the rest will take care of itself."
Anne admitted she's not a morning person, especially on cooler winter days. Like many women, she had the habit of setting an alarm and just turning it off in the morning. This changed when Anne stuck a big picture of an orange alarm clock to her mirror door. "It says 'Get up and move!', and it is the first thing I see when I wake up. As soon as my alarm goes off, I see that, and I move."
We all have different things to encourage us. Every day, Anne wears a gold bracelet inscribed with the word 'persistence' as a reminder to keep going. "I know ladies who say 'I have to do this for my children', but the main thing is, you have to do it for yourself. Everything else will benefit from that."
When Anne joined the gym, she started a slow, six-week journey that taught her about nutrition and food. She went on to participate in the 2017 Fernwood Fitness 12-week challenge. "In that challenge, I learned a lot about myself." In the sixth week of the challenge, Anne fractured her sternum, but went on to complete the full 12 weeks of the challenge regardless. "I believe it's in some of the lowest times in life that you learn the strongest lessons about yourself, and I realised how determined I am."
Anne could have thrown in the towel and nobody would have blamed her, but she wanted to finish what she started. "My late father always told us 'if you're going to do something, to it properly or don't do it at all', and I still love him for that."
Even though Anne lost much weight during this first challenge, she knew she still had a lot to improve on. "I just knew, I'm not finished yet."
This year, 2057 women from all across Australia participated in the Fernwood Fitness 12-week challenge. "This time round, I wanted to focus on my fitness. It's not just about weight loss, it's about an overall improvement."
Anne set out to improve her fitness and strength. She threw everything she had at this challenge and, in the end, it paid off. At the annual gala dinner, held in Melbourne, Anne was crowned as the national champion and had lost a further 17.2kg.
She credits her personal trainer, Mel Anttila, and says she couldn't have done it without her. Anne said this challenge was never about being competitive. It was about being fitter and healthier. "I set out to be the best version of me I could be, so that was all I was focussed on. Everyone had things to work on."
Anne's improvement throughout the challenge was remarkable. At the fitness test in the first week of the challenge, Anne managed 15 sit-ups. By the end, she could do over a 100 without rest. "My motto was, and still is, 'I can and I will'."
When I asked her about how she feels, being picked as the national winner out of so many women, she said: "Everyone that takes the time to better themselves, is a winner. It was never about winning."
For Anne, the improvement in her strength is a reward in itself. "I can't get over the strength I've gained. I now feel fitter and stronger than I have in many years, and age doesn't worry me."
Through the competition, Anne has come to realise how beneficial weight training is for women, especially with respects to improved bone density.
When she first walked into her gym, Anne had a bad right knee. "For many years, I couldn't ride a bike with my family because of the pain in my knee. Now I do RPM regularly, because I can." Anne said a lot of women have 'can'ts'. "My 'can't' used to be 'I can't because of my knee'," she explained. "You just have to turn your can'ts into can's."
Anne is thrilled to be able to do things with her family that she previously couldn't do. "I recently had a boxing class with my daughter. I just looked at her and said 'who would've thought'."
At a recent family day in the park, Anne raced her grandson and, she says, this was one of her favourite days ever. "He had a head-start, and my husband and I raced him. He enjoyed it so much, and we all just laughed and laughed. I thought, 'this is what it's all about'." Now Anne is healthier, she can enjoy these moments even more. "It's never too late. That's what I want to resonate with ladies."
I asked Anne whether she thinks this lifestyle change, and taking care of your health, means you can never again have pizza and beer. She laughed and said she'd just been out for lunch with friends before coming to meet me. "You have to live life too. Everyone has to learn balance."
Anne said she doesn't believe in a completion date when it comes to her health, and she plans to keep improving herself every day. "I'm not done yet," she proclaims.
While Anne is reigning champ, she'd like to encourage women to take that first step. "Just get up, move, and make every day count, because it's all too short."