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Stories from UOW

Women who are surging to success in a saturated industry.

The health and fitness sector has been booming and rapidly evolving over the past decade. As more and more people seek out information on how to hit their goal weight, achieve a fitness aspiration or make lifestyle changes for the better, the industry has responded.

Since the launch of Instagram in 2010 about 177 million people have posted images using #fitness and more than 51 million have used #health. The number of people employed as a fitness instructor has also more than doubled over the past decade. In a sector that is so saturated with new businesses, people and ideas, it takes a unique kind of person, with a decided determination, to really rise above. Meet three women who pursued their passions to run, squat, jump, eat and post their way to the helm of an empire.

From little things, big things grow

It was inside the wards at various Sydney hospitals where the saying “you are what you eat” began to show its harsh truth for Rebecca Gawthorne. As an undergraduate Nutrition and Dietetics student at UOW, she went out on placement to realise just how many people are hospitalised with diet-related diseases that are often preventable.

From this realisation the seed of Rebecca’s empire was planted. Through hard work, collaboration and her passion for health, that seed grew… and grew. Rebecca now owns the successful Instagram account @nourish_naturally, which has a following of more than 147,000 people, as well as a private dietetic practice in Sydney, and a blog. All these components contribute to her mission to promote health through food and nutrition. But her success didn’t come easily, nor did it arrive overnight.

“I started work as a dietitian with The Royal Flying Doctor Service, travelling to rural NSW each fortnight to work with Indigenous communities, while at the same time, I opened a private dietetic practice in Sydney and built this up,” Rebecca says. “This was quite challenging, but I needed to do the flying work while I built up my client base in Sydney.

“I found that the communities I was going to were isolated and sadly lacked access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. So I helped work on community veggie gardens and programs with local mums and bubs groups to establish better eating practices.

“What it did make me realise though was that many Australians, especially where I was running my private practice in Sydney, did have access and were able to afford healthy food, but weren’t taking advantage of that, so I wanted to motivate people to do that.”

In a clinical setting, Rebecca was able to contribute to bettering health outcomes, one person at a time. But increasingly, people wanted to know more.

“I had so many clients, friends and family asking how I live a healthy life as well as wanting recipes and health tips,” she says. “Instagram was an easy way for me to share this with more than one person at a time.

“I’ve always liked taking photos of my food, so one day I decided to upload them to Instagram for a bit of fun. I created the account @nourish_naturally and started with a few hundred followers which has since grown organically.”

Rebecca now works as an accredited dietitian with different brands and companies to develop healthy recipes, review their products and write health articles for various media. As her success continues to snowball, her passion remains the same as it did all those years ago in the hospital wards – it comes back to the people. One particular story that stands out is a girl who found fruit and vegetables “boring” to eat.

“It would be rare if she ate any even once a week,” Rebecca says. “She then started following my @nourish_naturally account and loved the vibrant fruit and veggie pictures I posted. She started trying some of my recipes and after a few days she started to feel better physically and mentally.

“After three months she said she eats fruit and veggies everyday and has energy to exercise and look after her kids. Her stomach and bloating problems have also stopped, her skin has cleared up and she feels alive.”

“I want to help people live a healthier life and feel the best they can. I want to help people learn how to nourish their bodies with real, healthy food and show them how easy and delicious healthy, nutritious eating can be.”

The Savvy movement

Angela Saville’s business extends beyond fitness. She says she is in the business of positive change – a factor that has played a major role in her empire’s success. She wants to influence individuals, groups and whole communities to get active, get involved and create change for themselves and those around them.

Angela, who studied a Bachelor of Education (Physical Education) at UOW, says movement seems like such a simple thing to do, yet so many people can find it difficult to incorporate enough of it into their everyday lives. That’s the reason Savvy Fitness began 10 years ago. She had been working as a teacher for seven years when she decided to combine her love for teaching and fitness to establish Savvy.

Angela Saville teaches a morning yoga class. Photo: Paul Jones.

Her “blue army”, often dressed in the company’s merchandise, can be seen running, stretching, lifting and sweating throughout Wollongong, embracing the outdoors and improving their health – one class at a time. It’s an army that has helped Savvy become one of the biggest outdoor fitness companies in Australia, with about 400 members and 20 staff.

“When I was a kid I never knew exactly what I wanted to be, but I knew I loved to run around and I loved to play sport,” Angela says. “At an early age I discovered there was a real power in movement.

“I considered the influence it could have in my life and then moving through uni, to teaching kids movement and then progressing to teaching adults, it was a real eye-opener to how much of an impact this could have on changing people’s lives for the better. We see a huge positive effect from that.”

Angela not only aims to get people moving on an individual level, her business is a movement in itself. Whether she is inspiring teamwork or holding charity events, she has found great things can be achieved when people come together for a common goal.

“We have witnessed many clients achieve what they thought was impossible and the outcomes associated are so good that at times they are hard to believe,” Angela says. “Improved fitness has so many other benefits in all aspects of people’s lives, such as improved emotional state, reduced stress, positive state of mind, increased energy and wellbeing.

“It also creates communities of like-minded people who care about making a positive impact in their own community. Through fitness, Savvy has managed to raise more than $400,000 donated to varied local charities and causes.”

A balancing act

A workout video posted online, and an aim to create a sense of empowerment among women is where it all started for Tanya Poppett. Now, with a following of more than 352,000 people on Instagram, the energy-filled fitness guru is a daily source of motivation and inspiration for people around the world. Her posts, including new ways to exercise and words of encouragement, have received a reaction she never could have dreamt of.

“It all started with me posting short workout clips which people really responded to,” Tanya says. “It grew well beyond my expectation and I have had to learn a lot of what I know about social media along way. I suppose the biggest barrier has been juggling my platform alongside my other passions – teaching and training.”

A post shared by Tanya Poppett (@tanyapoppett) on

Tanya, who studied a Bachelor of Primary Education at UOW, ultimately says her business is about balance. As she manages her work, her passions and her fitness, creating balance is an act she has learnt to master.

“I job-share teaching twice a week and work as a trainer on my other days: working with my own clients, contracting with brands and creating content for my ‘Train with Tanya’ workout app,” she says. “My main goal is to encourage women to use exercise as empowerment rather than punishment; taking the ideals away from burning calories, having defined abs or looking a certain way and moving towards fitness for function, resilience and overall health.”

Tanya’s passion to influence and motivate other women originated with the women in her own family. Her mother and eldest sister were both trainers who she says she was inspired by.

“Health and fitness is something I’ve been passionate about for a big part of my life,” she says. “I first started my account as a way to show some friends who were struggling with balance little ways they can add some healthy aspects to their lifestyle. From there it grew and I saw that my little workout clips were actually helping people all around the world.”

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