“GROUP FITNESS WAS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT”
by Sarah Shortt
SARAH SHORTT: Hi Caley! I’d love to hear your story of how you got into teaching?
CALEY JACK: I was going through a really tough season toward the end of my teen years into my early twenties, which altered my career choices.
Toward the beginning of grade/year 11, my parents took a brave leap and decided to emigrate to Australia from our home in Cape Town. Preparing for this big move proved to be an exceptionally difficult and emotional year that involved selling our family home, our cars, having farewell parties, basically shutting down life as we knew it in South Africa and preparing to open a new door in this brand new life my parents were setting out for … three weeks before we were set to climb on the plane, my parents made a very tough decision: they weren’t going to go through with the move. Something didn’t feel right in their gut.
We had to reopen every door we had spent the year closing, which included re-establishing our lives as well as our assets. It was incredibly taxing on our emotions and mindset as well as our family dynamics. I was clinically depressed in my last year of high school – this was a journey of its own. The year after I finished school, the immense pressure of everything that we had gone through as a family took its toll, leading to a string of unfortunate events. My Dad had been a functional alcoholic for many years but the pressures of these past 24 months amplified this disease. My parents had sadly gotten divorced and we (my siblings and I) began understanding the dynamics of what life was like living between two homes. Within the same year, my father passed away very unexpectedly.
A lot had happened in a short space of time and it felt like the floor had been pulled out from beneath my feet – I realised I had no idea who I was and what I wanted any more. I struggled with a victim mentality for a long time. It felt as if my identity had been taken away from me and everything I had envisioned for myself when I was at high school – go to university, study occupational therapy – was no longer of any interest. It was a terrifying and lonely space to be in.
Rikki’s mother (now my mother-in-law!) invited me to attend a group fitness class with her, and from the very first class it absolutely changed my life! The sense of community and support from the people in my group fit classes became a daily anchor of self-affirmation and empowerment. The physical and mental benefits of exercise began reshaping my attitude towards life. The group fitness coach at my gym took me under her wing. She became my mentor – she coached me through mental and physical wellness and I’ll forever be grateful for this. She helped refocus my value and purpose. I knew from then, group fitness would be the right vehicle for me to help others the way this woman had done for me.
And how did you get into Les Mills?
I studied fitness as well as massage therapy and decided my passion would be to niche within the group fit and pregnancy fitness world. I started doing pre and post-natal pregnancy fitness, then got into teaching step aerobics, body conditioning classes etc…
A few months after I had begun teaching, Les Mills came to South Africa for the very first time. The gym I was teaching at became an exclusively Les Mills licensed facility and needed to train up their first batch of Les Mills Instructors! Only two of the head Instructors were allowed to go on the training so when I put my hand up and said, “I’m new, I really need experience, please can I go on the training?” They were like, sorry, you’re not on the priority list!
The day before the course started I got a call asking if I was still interested in going on the training. They said it was seven days, bring a paper/pen and a water bottle, this is the address, arrive at 8am tomorrow morning… I didn’t know what type of training it was, and knew NOTHING about Les Mills! Steve Tansey (currently Les Mills UK Head of Research and Development, Programme Specialist/International Trainer and Presenter) was my Initial Module Training coach. When he introduced himself, I thought he was Dutch/Afrikaans (typical South African profile!) until he continued speaking and I heard his international accent... I realised, hang on, you’re not South African, this must be something different!
We rolled straight into my first LES MILLS GRIT™ class experience. Before that class I had thought I was fit but when I did GRIT I was like... oh dang! My first ever experience of a Les Mills class was on my Initial Training and it was LES MILLS GRIT, BODYPUMP™ and BODYCOMBAT™ back to back for six days, a passion inside of me had been ignited!
The sense of community and support from the people in my group fit classes became a daily anchor of self-affirmation and empowerment.”
So what has teaching done for you?
It’s helped me realise the importance of human connection. I love being around people and I love a positive community spirit. For me it’s such an integral part of my daily lifestyle: being accountable to people all seeking the amazing health benefits of what exercise offers and helping them see their best selves!
Right now you’re living part of the year in the United States and part of the year in Cape Town. How do you find the challenge of living between countries and communities?
Change is never comfortable but growth comes with being uncomfortable and growth is a good thing! Rikki [Caley’s husband] and I try to embrace having an open mindset. We can’t stay in a little bubble for the whole of our lives, we have to be able to step out and make new friends, have the capacity to plug ourselves into new environments and test out our ability to be able to influence and add value in different corners of the world.
Do you find it easy to make friends in new places? It can be harder as you get older!
It can be a daunting and lonely experience, especially when Rikki is on the road (which is not that often – I don’t know HOW he does it with the amount I travel). It is tough but not impossible. My friends back in South Africa are the friends I grew up with at primary school and high school so we share a lot of history together. Whereas now, in America, I’m trying to become personal with people who already have established circles, trying to fit in with that.
I suppose it’s like when you’re looking for a relationship: you know what’s important to you and it’s trying to find the right people with the right outlook in life and knowing you want to be a part of that. It’s so important to find people that you can gain value from and not always have to give. Surrounding yourself with people who anchor their lives on similar principles and who can help and encourage you on is so important to us.
So when it does get lonely, when Rikki is on the road, do you have tools to get through that?
Right now I’m spending a lot of time studying the Bible. I focus on self-care, journaling, listening to podcasts, spending time working on developing my own mental capacity. When we are in the US, I Facetime my family back at home, that’s always a good comfort. The biggest challenge is putting myself out there – going to a place where I know there’s going to be people and I can feed off that energy. That’s a coping tool that I need to utilize more and that’s one of the most challenging ones.
One of my biggest limiting beliefs is doubting my confidence. When my confidence drops, self-doubt creeps in and completely affects my performance and self-belief
You’ve done Advanced Training, could you please share your limiting beliefs and how you cope with them?
One of my biggest limiting beliefs is doubting myself/my ability, and my overall confidence. When my confidence drops, self-doubt creeps in and completely affects my performance and self-belief. It feels like pushing a wheelbarrow up a mountain that’s full of heavy rocks and all you really need to do is chuck them out, because what’s the worst thing that can happen? What do you have to lose and what are you most afraid of when falling? Because the only thing that can happen is that you get up, try again and keep getting better at perfecting the process.
My limiting belief specifically within my Les Mills role is not being able to teach classes to the standard I set out for myself due to the limited time I have for mastering my craft. Back at home in South Africa, specifically Cape Town, we don’t have many licensed facilities. So when I come to filming or when I do live events, I think: I don’t have a platform to practise my coaching, I’m not up to date with the choreography because I don’t get to teach the releases on a weekly basis, so where does that leave me against the people that do this every single day, and how can I be equally good or better? Because the secret to mastering a skill is repetition, so how do I master it when I can’t do it? That’s been a limiting belief for me.
What do you have to lose and what are you most afraid of when falling? Because the only thing that can happen is that you get up, try again and keep getting better at perfecting the process.”
So how do you combat those limiting beliefs?
Having faith that despite my locational circumstances, the value I get to add on a daily basis is unique and different (we all have unique gifts – this is our very own superpower!) and as long as I keep putting my best foot forward (remembering the best requires more than average effort, you need to be willing to work longer and harder than others are prepared to do) – I believe life will continue to direct me on the path I’m needed to walk.
It’s also about knowing what you can and can’t control. When the Les Mills licenses were cancelled in South Africa I tried so hard to change that by myself, it was draining! But I couldn’t do anything without the foundational establishment of a business. I needed to change my focus and see what I as a person could do within my control to develop myself and maybe that would have a kick-on effect to what Les Mills growth was within South Africa. Now it’s just become more of a personal journey for myself.
So what’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
My dad dying has definitely been my biggest bruise but also my biggest learning curve. It’s shaped and directed a lot within my life and my career. It’s humbled me a lot and I suppose it’s given me a different way of connecting with people. Another challenge (specifically within my Les Mills career) was having the Les Mills licenses cancelled in Cape Town just as I was asked to do my FIRST Les Mills filming. I had been teaching for two years and thought to myself, how on earth am I going to arrive in Auckland for filming knowing I’m ready? I had no platform to practice, no pacesetter or Les Mills mentor/coach to help me along the way. That was a big challenge for me but I had to be accountable to myself and be responsible for whatever growth path I needed to take in those few months to be ready to perform.
If you could give your 16-year-old self advice what would it be?
I would have told her to completely embrace her 20s because they go very quickly. To not be afraid of being vulnerable and falling because the biggest growth and learnings come from falling. Not to get caught up with trying to fast-track the mastering of the skill because nobody in the world can speed up the process of experience. Experience comes with time. It is what it is!
Are you someone who sets goals?
Yes. Every single year, around Christmas time, Rikki and I sit down and assess our goals from the previous year and what we were able to tick off and what we weren’t. We also debrief who played the most important role in our lives over the last 12 months – who added value and who didn’t. Every year we debrief on who our biggest influencers have been over the last 12 months and who we would like to have as a mentor going forward, who we would like to constantly be in contact with because that person adds value.
Do you have any your long-term goals?
I want to be a Mom! I am always looking at how I can design my career around that. I want to be a homemaker so I need to have a career where I can control my own schedule, and that’s a big reason why I chose fitness. It’s a healthy, positive environment where I can control my own schedule.
The fitness industry can be extremely competitive, how do you cope with that?
I am not a competitive person. I do like to compete with myself, but I don’t enjoy team sports – competition freaks me out because I feel like bad energy is created and I feel it’s damaging to relationships. I don’t want to be competitive with you because I love you as a person and this [competitiveness] could get in our way. In a workout if someone is the pacesetter – awesome, love it – but I don’t want to compete with where you’re going. I don’t want to clash with you. Hahaha!
Every person on the planet has a gift to share with the world and what you have, I will never have and what I have is something you will never have. I think it’s very important to embrace that. That’s your gift and this is my gift and there’s no point in competing with your gift. I try to remind myself of that when self-doubt starts creeping in and I start comparing myself. To remind myself that I am unique and I have something to offer that nobody else does.
Do you have any funny anecdotes from filming you could share?
LES MILLS GRIT Cardio 19 was my first ever filming and I had this moment where I said “BEAST MODE ON!”. When I play it back – I don’t recognise my own voice, haha! After filming I just wanted to [lifts tee shirt over head to cover her face] die, like hide away for the rest of my life. What are people going to think of this new presenter?! When we watched the Masterclass for the first time Rikki was sitting next to me and he said, “Look, you’re British, oh no wait you’re American, oh wait there’s a little bit of South African, oh wait now you’re Kiwi… what accent is this?” And then “beast mode” came on and he was like, “What was that, what are you doing?!” Three weeks ago I did a Masterclass with the American team and this Instructor was like, I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life: can you please say “beast mode on” and do it in the same voice? What a CRINGE moment! It’s funny how sometimes the things you hate may be the things people love!
What else? Kylie Gates brought a hair dryer to filming to dry my crotch ‘cause I’m always in outfits that show crotch sweat. That’s one of those things, “I’m the sweater! That’s what happens!” Oh, the glamour…
Do you have any advice for Instructors?
I don’t want it to sound clichéd but stay grounded with your purpose and it will keep you focused. We can get so caught up with where we want to be within our industry and it can totally distract you from what’s really important. Life is so short and tomorrow is not guaranteed, so what value are you adding to the world today? Because that value should align with your purpose.
Also – always seek development and feedback because the learning process is continuous. If you slow that process down you’re going to stagnate, so always be willing to be vulnerable and to learn. That’s such an important element in life’s journey and in any industry really. Don’t get too comfortable. Keep growing.
Caley Jäck is a BODYBALANCE/BODYFLOW, LES MILLS BARRE and LES MILLS GRIT Trainer, a BODYPUMP Instructor and a BODYCOMBAT and SH’BAM Instructor/Presenter. Based in Cape Town, she is also a Les Mills Ambassador for BODYBALANCE/BODYFLOW, SH’BAM and LES MILLS GRIT.