I started by asking Sandra a little about her background and how she ended up in Berlin doing what she’s doing! Sandra is originally from Zimbabwe, she explained to me that she had always been sporty but this was mainly due to the face that it was compulsory at school and in fact she never loved it: Sport wasn’t her passion.
In her early 20s she started to discover her true calling in sport when she took part in a step aerobics workshop and loved it. Because of this, she was encouraged by the instructor leading the classes to do a group instructor and personal trainer course. Once obtaining a certificate and diploma, teaching in front of a class and crowds helped push her shy and reserved nature. However this was not an easy road. Before Sandra became a trainer, she experienced weight and body image issues from her early teens and swung from one extreme weight to the other, multiple times. An eating disorder meant that Sandra lost a lot of weight and struggled with her next steps.
“During that time sport saved my life,”
She faced a harsh decision, and was at a crossroad whether to stop taking laxatives, embrace her body image and teach her classes or not. Thankfully, with time, Sandra found the courage and strength within her to move away from her eating disorder and took a step further in her health and fitness journey.
From this point onwards Sandra has always tried to empower through fitness a healthy and balanced lifestyle. ‘Body image starts inside’ she explained and I couldn’t have agreed more. A huge part of ‘fitness’ and all of ‘being healthy’ starts by looking after yourself. Sandra explained to me that she wasn’t, and didn’t look, healthy at that time although she was the size she had always dreamed to be.
She focused on doing sport (mainly running) the healthier way, in a healthier moderation and looking healthier. Her sporting achievements are incredible and are not defined by her journey. She has completed many ultra marathons such as 2x56km in Cape Town, South Africa and an ultimate 1x89km also in Durba, South Africa. She has also just recently competed in the Berlin Marathon this year.
She too competed in a bikini/fitness body building competition, even reaching the top 6 in her hometown on Harare, Zimbabwe. However, after once in the body building arena she decided that bodybuilding was amazing, but not the kind of sport she enjoyed. She explained that a stage, performance based sport like this was not in her character and coming from a background of an eating disorder, could trigger up feelings relating to her body image and confidence. Thankfully it did not, but cleverly she realised this potential and moved away from bodybuilding.
She told me that she ‘isn’t a stage person’ and prefers group sport where everyone can bring their experiences to the table and motivate each other through positive discussions, support and encouragement.
Change takes time.
Overall Sandra is of the opinion that becoming an instructor saved her life. She explains that her eating disorder involved a hard and long road to recovery but with time gained the confidence, mindset and ability to beat it.
Sport has radically changed her values and her outlook on life. She said that sport builds confidence, makes you feel strong mentally and physically life nothing else. Those characteristics, no matter what sport you do or at what level you do it, it help shape your whole being and can have a huge impact on your life. Mindset, motivation and attitude can be particularly powerful in getting yourself out of a difficult situation. These new characteristics empower you, although a change of mindset takes time.
Being healthy in an online world.
We then spoke briefly about the online pressure of the fitness world and how a culture of ‘being the best has taken over. We mentioned that now Victoria Secret models posting their ‘workout videos’ and then posting a caption weeks later saying that now the show is done they can finally enjoy a bowl of pasta is dangerous and creates a ‘fear culture’ surrounding not being perfect. Sadly at the moment it seems that the world is all about looks. This probably isn’t going to change anytime soon and most of us are always going to be too big or too small. We have to try and shut out external pressures and really focus on our own core. Doing the right thing for our bodies and doing whatever that is in moderation and find a balance.
Kickboxing- Sandra’s real passion.
Cardio kickboxing is Sandra’s main love. Initially she was meant to go to a competition level with the sport but broke her hand. But as ever, Sandra carried on and used her passion in through a different outlet- teaching. She told me ‘It is amazing how some of the ladies I’ve been teaching look forward to the classes and help them through their own daily struggles making it more than just an exercise class. In a kickboxing class, they are able to leave everything behind stress, a bad day at uni, work or release whatever negativity they are experiencing.’ This ‘give-back’ aspect to her teaching is what drives Sandra and keeps her going.
Kickboxing as self defence.
I asked Sandra about the role of self defence in Kickboxing, she explained to me that she does not do Kickboxing for this reason and her classes should not be expected to be lessons in this way but she did stress than she does notice the transferrable skills and may teach more in this direction in the future. Kickboxing now does tend to have more connotations with self defence than perhaps before, in turn bringing in martial arts into the sport more. However, the most important thing for Sandra is that people enjoy whatever type of kickboxing, or wider-sport, they do!
The Berlin attitude.
Both being from different places other than Berlin we also quickly touched on the topic of different attitudes and issues in the gym around the world. For example in Abu Dhabi, Sandra found that going to the gym was more of a status thing than anything else, like a tick in a box rather than actively trying to improve your fitness. I could identify with this and said that in England, where I am from, the gym was often sometimes a fashion show where matching co-ords and and make-up was not only normal but felt almost expected. Ridiculous considering sport should be a personal joy and journey, not something for others to qualify or judge.
I was really surprised when she explained to me that in Berlin the biggest issue she has picked up on is actually eating and mental disorders. She said that this might just be due to her own background and subsequently being more receptive to the problem, but still the point remains. She told me that she has even gone to the lengths of showing clients photos of when she was at her lowest point in an effort to help those being affected. She said that the biggest comment she heard was that people were often lonely, usually those new in the city who are trying to feel part of something and find their community. This is why she said her classes were so important to her. For her they may just mean an hour’s class, but for others that could be that one community they feel they belong to. This empowerment and sense of fulfilment can be life changing.
Although Sandra has experienced some really difficult things and her story is hard and shocking at times her achievements outweigh anything else. ‘What I have learnt throughout my journey is that the harder you struggle to achieve your goals, the more worthwhile the triumph. My biggest piece of advice is to not rely on others when it comes to your self worth and self image. Love who you are at every stage of your journey.’
Moreover, the fact that Sandra now uses her journey to help and inspire others is more than admirable. Her courage and determination is truly inspirational and it was an honour for me to interview her. We thank her candidness and honesty and for letting us share her incredible life-changing journey.
Have you been inspired by Sandra’s story and want to join one of her classes? Look out for all of Sandra’s events in the SPRT App and join a community of like minded and open people for an amazing and empowering workout.
IMPORTANT If you have been personally affected by anything in this post, or know someone who is, please remember that there are numbers to call and professional help available to you no matter your situation. Please talk to a trusted person or a healthcare professional.