I was born in 1983 at Armidale Hospital in New South Wales. At the time, my father and mother had not long bought a farm at Guyra, about 40 kilometres away. My birth name was John James Ellis but I was soon known as J.J. as we had several other Johns in our extended family.
Dad was a wool buyer and on weekends we travelled out to the farm where Mum and Dad were busy making improvements such as renewing fencing and sowing new pasture. As a toddler, Mum had to keep a tight rein on me as I always wanted to follow my Dad out into the paddocks.
Dad bought us a Shetland pony to learn on which Mum named Lady Di, after Princess Dianna. Our pony had plenty of attitude and spirit, which is typical of the breed, but as a children’s pony she was ideal because of her small size.
As our riding skills improved we progressed to a larger horse, Mum’s mare Black Beauty. She had a beautiful nature and by the time I was eleven, I was competent enough to ride my own horse – Brumby. She was a young brumby which we had caught. Dad broke her in, and he did quite a good job, proof being in the soft mouth that he developed in her. She was ideal, very quiet but also quite athletic and capable. We became good mates, and I loved it when she whinnied when she saw me coming in the early mornings to ride her. She was with us on the farm until only a few years ago.
We also had working dogs – kelpies, border collies and blue heelers. I loved the dogs and I have fond memories of getting up early in the morning whenever we had new pups to play with. My first dog was Jess and I used to get up very early in the morning to walk her all around the farm when she was young.
When we went to school, my brother and sister and I had an hour-long each way ride on the bus into Guyra where we attended St Mary’s Catholic School. It was only a small school then, but the teachers were engaging and caring. This is when I became involved in sport and during my time there I was fortunate enough to represent the region in rugby league as well as high jump, cross country and 800 metres athletics events.
Mum and Dad enrolled me in boarding school from Year 7 to Year 12 at St Gregory’s College at Campbelltown in the west of Sydney. The school had an interesting history in that a local grazier had donated 1,000 acres to the Marist Brothers so there was plenty of room for outdoor activities.
Our Dorm Master, Brother Anthony, was a caring and dedicated man who would take us out to the school farm on weekends where we could participate in healthy exercise which included swimming in the large dam and swinging on a flying fox.
St Gregory’s was heavily involved in sport, especially rugby league, producing players such as Jason Taylor, Trent Barrett, Ryan Hoffman, Beau Scott, Chris Lawrence and James Tedesco, to name just a few.
I enjoyed playing rugby league; it was intense and passionate and I learnt plenty as I played it throughout my years there. In my final year, I was fortunate enough to make it into First Grade. I am pictured below – the third player from the right in the second row.
We were a successful team, making the final of the nationwide competition against Palm Beach/Currumbin. In the first half Palm Beach/Currumbin jumped to an early lead and we were not able to catch them, going down 16-4.
We lived and breathed rugby league and I think that was possibly the fittest I have ever been thanks to the constant and testing fitness regimes we had to follow.
After taking a year off after finishing school, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Rural Science degree at the University of New England (UNE) in Armidale. I lived on campus at one of the seven colleges – St Albert’s. I suffered from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and got myself involved in every social activity going. I also had a job, not to mention I was playing rugby league as well as rugby union. Combining all of this with my studies kept me pretty busy.
My studies included subjects such as Animal Husbandry, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Soils, Biology, Plant Ecology and Soil Chemistry, among others. My degree is well respected in its field, and I originally planned to use it to become an agronomist (someone who advises farmers and graziers on managing their crops and soils), however late in my degree I realised that I was more interested in physical fitness and health. But I was too far into my degree to pull out so I made the decision to finish it. I graduated in 2010.
Rugby League was my preferred football code but St Albert’s College only had a rugby union team and, as I wanted to play alongside my college mates, I played rugby union with them. Quite often, I would play rugby union for St Albert’s on Saturday, and then rugby league for my hometown on Sunday.
St Albert’s had a strong rugby union team and, in my final year at college, I focused solely on rugby union. We were undefeated all year and faced our greatest rival, Robb College, in the final. They had a player who went on to play for the ACT Brumbies and we were trailing with only ten minutes to go. But we believed in ourselves and were confident in our ability. We maintained our composure and scored to win the match 19-12.
However, rugby league was my first love and after three years of trying, I was finally selected for the Queensland Universities Rugby League Team. Playing at a higher level where the speed of the game was so much faster was exhilarating. We played in the State of Origin Title against New South Wales and despite them making a late bid, we hung on to take it out.
In the photo that follows, I am listed as John Ellis which, as explained earlier, is my birth name. I became known as J.J. because my grandfather and two of my uncles were also named John.
After that I was selected to play for Australia in the Universities World Cup which was played in Brisbane. We spent a week in camp on the Gold Coast and then moved to another training camp in Brisbane.
We played Scotland, England, France and New Zealand with wins against them all. However when we met New Zealand again in the final, key injuries in our halves proved too much and New Zealand took the World Cup home. While that was disappointing, I made some great mates and being young and full of life, I had a great time.
In addition, during my rugby league career I was influenced by some incredible coaches, mentors and leaders who helped shape me. Whereas I started out at University thinking I would become an agronomist, my interests had shifted to physical fitness, health and well-being.
The university ran an impressive sporting complex, complete with a gym that was on par with most well-known chain gyms. I had formed the habit of training in the gym right from my very beginnings at the university and became well-known to the staff there. I began to think about becoming a personal trainer.
Wearing the green and gold of Australia is still a source of great pride for me.
This photograph was taken by a good friend of mine who was into amateur photography, and I am very grateful to him for his time.
To become a personal trainer, I needed to get qualified. I was quite used to studying and I enrolled at the Fitness Institute of Australia (FIA) in Sydney to complete my Certificate 3 in Fitness. I had a great time doing it as the lecturers were light-hearted and entertaining. I was taught how to increase muscle mass, strength, speed and fitness for clients of various levels. I learned about muscular anatomy, the different muscles and muscle fibres, as well as the different energy systems of the body and how to train each of them. We also learned how to measure fitness and strength and body composition, stretching exercises and steps to take to minimise the risk of injury.
I gained employment as a gym instructor at SportUNE (the university gym) where I instructed members how to use the equipment safely and effectively. I also ran a number of boot camps. Armidale has a cold climate and there were many winter mornings when my boot camps were conducted with frost underfoot. You could see your breath as you ran and my boot campers were rugged up against the cold with gloves and beanies. It was good to see they wouldn’t let the cold stop them from working towards their goals.
During my time at SportUNE I also enlisted in the Army Reserves. Although I did not find it physically excessively challenging, the strict routines were demanding, particularly at Basic Training. But it was an adventure and I met some new people and made some good friends.
Much of my time in the Army was spent learning new skills which I enjoyed. I became qualified to drive the Bushmaster (the vehicle which is being used in Afghanistan to transport troops because it offers more protection from IED’s than any other vehicle) and had the chance to drive it on training exercises.
In 2010 I was given the opportunity to work alongside the Navy in our border patrol operations along our northern shores. I was sent to Darwin with a number of other soldiers from our regiment where we underwent further training in preparation for the operation.
Once again we had to learn a whole new set of skills which was typically challenging but interesting. We would go out to sea on the patrol boats for weeks at a time. Our job was to intercept illegal boats coming down from the north and then transport their personnel to Christmas Island. On one of these occasions we had to move both adults and children from their derelict boat onto our boat; it was dark, and there was a reasonable swell, but despite this we managed to transfer them all safely and without incident. As with the rest of my involvement with the Army, these experiences greatly broadened my perspective.
When we were not at sea on operation, we were waiting for our next operation whilst being stationed in Darwin. We would make the most of these down periods and go on trips to Kakadu and Litchfield. Darwin is a fun place and I recommend you going there if you ever get a chance. I have a lot of fond memories from my time there and made some good friends with some of those that I worked with.
Our operation ended and I went on to complete my Certificate 4 in Fitness to become a qualified personal trainer. After that, I moved to Brisbane and in 2012 began working at Goodlife in Morningside. Here I have completed a number of courses, giving me the ability to train a wider range of clientele, providing them with a wider range of services. I enjoy learning, and will continue to broaden my knowledge and increase my skills so I can apply this knowledge for the benefit of my clients. My mission is to help as many people as I can to achieve their personal goals towards health, fitness and well-being.
Physical activity has been a natural part of my life from a young age. Early on I was introduced to sport, including tennis and rugby league; for the love and care that my parents showed in doing this, I am grateful. Having played sport all through my school years, whilst I was at university I then took a job supervising the university’s gym and running a number of bootcamps. From there I moved on to personal training.
During my time as a personal trainer I have learnt that too often people are not setting enough time aside in their week to look after themselves and meet their own needs. Exercise and sleep are two factors that are often neglected and not given enough priority.
I believe that many people find diets on the internet that end up starving themselves which results in loss of muscle mass. Muscle mass is important because it is one of the main factors affecting your metabolism. Because of this I like to use nutritionists to work with my clients. They are qualified to give the person a diet that will meet all of the body’s needs, and are experienced enough to provide menus that have tasty meals. A good nutritionist will also try to work out triggers that cause you to eat poorly.
People come to me with a range of different goals – some people want to get stronger, others want to get fitter, and others want to get into shape. Each person is motivated by different interests, and may have injuries that need to be taken into account. These are the factors that I consider when designing their program and conducting their training.
Many people are time poor because of work or family commitments and so need to be shown how to best utilize their time when it comes to exercise. The time they spend with me is only a very small portion of their week, so I need to get them doing what is necessary for the rest of the week such as eating healthily, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
Another way I can help people is to guide them to other health professionals when needed such as physiotherapists, musculo-skeletal experts, massage therapists and nutritionists.
I enjoy seeing my clients getting the results that they want, be it stronger, fitter, faster, or changing their body shape. One of my clients can now run at the top speed on the treadmill, something which she had once thought not possible. Others tell me that they have been complimented on the way that they look. However, the one that I find the most satisfying and important is when my clients tell me that they have more energy and are sleeping better – I want my clients to have the energy and the spring in their step to be able to get out there and do the things that they want to do.
Exercising is your moment to drop your daily worries; to release some stress. Being fit and strong gives you a sense of confidence and energy -an energy which will overflow into all aspects of your life, including your work and your relationships.
These are my thoughts on exercise and healthy living. I wish you all the best in the life that you decide to create for yourself.
“I feel and look better than I have in years and I couldn’t have done it without you! Thanks J.J.!”
~ Kirrily Hayes, Kangaroo Point
Geoff and Kirrily at Base Camp
From my time as a personal trainer, I have come to believe that success is more likely if;