My biggest career challenge: training a New Zealand celebrity

James Reece

At Recreate Personal Training we aim to transform people lives though strength and conditioning, but this doesn't mean we only work with the elite. We meet people from all walks of life and sometimes we are challenged to work with people who have an injury, illness, condition or disability that requires us both to think outside the square.

 One of the most important things I've learned from clients like this over the years, is to always get as much information as possible before implementing a training programme; to start with the basics, and if in doubt to listen carefully to my client and my gut.

 My experiences training athletes recovering from injuries and illnesses, plus people with disabilities, served me well recently when I encountered one of the toughest moments in my career: training a New Zealand celebrity.

 My challenge: creating a programme for James Rolleston

 In my fourth week appearing on School of Training we were given the challenge of training a  celebrity client.

 Watch the episode here

 We had to meet with the client in a 15-minute consult; then we were asked to present a 30-minute session to the show’s trainers and our celebrity.

 I was excited about this challenge, as personal training is my bread and butter; I do this every day. But I had been thrown a curve ball with this client. My celebrity was none other than James Rolleston; the boy from the movie Boy.

 After a quick intro, we sat down and started chatting. James told me about his recent car accident. Like I do with every client, I listened carefully and took a lot of notes; his list of injuries was long.

 I was thinking: there's no way I can train someone with this many injuries without first talking to his surgeon or physio. I decided how I was going to tackle his programming; I would go back to basics, using mobility and flexibility drills to make sure he would be ready to progress into a specifically designed training programme to rehabilitate, in conjunction with strength and conditioning. 

 I created a relatively safe mobility and upper body strength based program, with basic movements and some harder progressions to get him moving again and feeling better, as it sounded like he had been pretty down and out. 

 Presenting to the judges

 I was really nervous when it was my time to present; it felt like walking into Dragons Den or the Shark Tank. I got stuck in and started presenting my work-out for James; it was hard as I wasn't getting any feedback from any of the three trainers or my client.  

 Then suddenly James pops up and says: "What's this? The warm up?! I want to do bench presses and burpees". My heart sank. I felt I’d missed the boat completely. 

 But I stood strong and told him that with his injuries, in my professional opinion he wasn’t ready to do those movements. If he could do the exercises I prescribed perfectly, we could move forward, but only after I was happy with his progress. 

 Afterwards, I sat upstairs for what felt like ages, thinking I was going to have to put my game face on for the elimination two weeks in a row.

 The result

 It turns out I aced it. The judges praised me for sticking with my morals and standing up for myself. I was amazed and relieved that I was safe from the elimination.

 This shows you should always stick with what you’ve learned from experience, use common sense and be true to yourself.


The experiences that prepared me

 I'm fortunate that I’ve had so many experiences that prepared me for this moment. 

 Post-stroke training

 The second client in my PT career was a recovering stroke victim. After living a fast life as a banker in Hong Kong, his lifestyle (high stress, rich eating, drinking and smoking) unfortunately caught up with him in the form of a stroke. He was a great guy and just wanted his normal life back.  Everyday functions were difficult; getting out of bed in the morning, sitting and standing, spending time with his family. He wanted a better quality of life. 

 Was I a stroke specialist? No. Did I do everything I could to learn about the condition and how to make his life better? Yes. 

 My first port of call was to contact his GP and Physio to find out what his limitations were. From there I developed a plan to make his life more functional and enjoyable. 

 We started with restoring basic function and mobility; creating new movement patterns and fine-motor connections. A lot of the initial work was based on resistance-bands and body weight exercises, then we progressed to light resistance training and going a little outside of the square.

 We would go for walks through the busy Christchurch CBD streets (pre-earthquake). We would link arms and walk through large groups of people to challenge his balance and spatial awareness, and these very quickly improved. We would walk stairs and develop coordination through simple medicine ball drills. We did catching and passing over different distances, with differing ball sizes and weights. We did drills standing on one foot and with his eyes closed to activate his loss of sense and awareness. 

 Peri’s story

Reece Peri 

Then, In 2014 one of my best friends Peri Marks suffered a minor stroke.

 Having experience in dealing with the condition, I took it upon myself to help him get back on his feet and recover from what was a massive shock to him and to his family, especially at only 28 years old.

 We started from scratch; for Peri walking on the treadmill at 5km per hour was a battle. The mission was to get him back on the rugby field but we had a long way to go. Peri was experiencing a lot of tingling and loss of sensation in one side of his body; everybody has slightly different symptoms post-stroke, and this was our biggest hurdle to deal with. 

 Trying to get both sides of the body functioning together and at the same time was hard. We had to go right back to basics. After having a stroke, your muscle memory goes haywire. The normal messages from your brain are scrambled and need to be reconnected.

 I sponsored Peri to work with me over a 6-month period and we started with the most basic functions. Within a year we had him back on the field and now in 2017, he's back playing Division 1 Rugby in Christchurch and is fitter and stronger than ever.

I'm super proud of how far you have come Peri. 

Read more about training Peri here

 Training Samuel

IMG 0252 

 Then I met Samuel.  He has Williams Syndrome and is an absolute champion. Not only is he one of my favourite clients, he’s now a good friend and recently hit his goal weight!

 See our progress together on Facebook

 Working with the Parafed team

 Recently, Shannon and I have also had the pleasure of working with the athletes of the junior Parafed Canterbury Academy. All have different injuries and disabilities.  

Learn more about how we trained these guys to get the best out of them.

 I'm grateful for all of these training experiences as they have reinforced in me that every person’s needs are different. People from many different backgrounds can come to you for your help and knowledge. The important thing in every case, even with a New Zealand celebrity, is to do your homework and stick with your recommendations on what’s going to be best for that person in the long term. Start with the basics and build from there.

 Stay tuned to Maori TV next week as we are down to the final four, and there will be an epic race to the finish line. 

- Reece

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