I went through a divorce, which resulted in an increase in my experience of anxiety and depression. I then experienced an incident at work that actually left me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and this all left me really unwell. When I eventually started getting better, my fitness was poor and I’d gained weight. I didn't know what I was going to do with my life and I felt like I’d completely lost my identity. I started trying different fitness activities, and while I was thinking about what to try next, I noticed a pamphlet from the local rec centre. When I opened it up, it was promoting a mixed martial arts and music program called BODYCOMBAT®. I was so nervous as I walked into the room for the first time. I remember seeing the Instructor (who since became a great friend of mine, but sadly, who passed away this year), and I remember thinking ‘I could never be like her’ – she was just so wonderful! The class was amazing, and it was that class in that studio, which changed my life.
What do you love about being a Les Mills Instructor?
I love the participants and I love sharing the fitness possibilities, because fitness possibilities aren't just the possibility of getting fit. It's also the possibility of changing your life both inside and outside of the gym. So, you come to the gym and you train, but then you take the confidence and physical health that you’ve gained outside of the gym; so your whole world can change because of what you've done in that class. That's what I found happened with me. The way I felt from the classes transferred into other areas of my life and so that is what I love. I really love seeing the participants being successful. I also love the fact that I have met so many wonderful people; being an Instructor has taken me to New Zealand and other places that I would probably not otherwise have visited.
BODYCOMBAT is the reason I’m here – it saved my life and so I want others to experience what I did. Les Mills lets people who have anxiety or depression or whatever challenges are going on for them, to not have it for an hour because they can think about something else, or just escape or be a superhero or whatever they want to be – even if it’s just for 45 minutes or an hour.
I just want to pass on the gift that I was given.
Sarah won both the state and national title for the Group Exercise Leader of the Year in the AUSactive National Awards program
Why do you think you were selected as the 2022 Group Exercise Leader of the Year by AUSactive?
I did not think I was going to win – at all! I was totally shocked when I won the WA award category, let alone the national award! I guess I've worked very hard to get here, and I have consistently tried to be the best I can be for other people. I have always valued the Les Mills methodology, and I uphold it to the best of my ability because it's incredibly precious to me, to pass things on in the way that they're supposed to be done. I've always given the best of me to everyone, and I just love and deeply care about people.
I also started a charity called the Sarah Ford Foundation (which I always feel funny saying). It aims to provide access to fitness opportunities for financially disadvantaged women with mental health conditions, and is very much based on my own journey.
The Foundation is still in its infancy. I am hoping that over the next year, I will do the fundraising because, due to COVID, it had to take a backseat, but because of the financial situations that are going on, I think like it’s more important than ever. So this year is about fundraising and 2024 is when I'm hoping to start with one or two classes a week. There will be a strict criteria that people will have to meet to attend (e.g., referred by counsellors or GPs) to ensure I check all the boxes. The goal is that people come in, get social, get some movement happening, talk to people, feel fantastic and feel successful.”
So my charity was probably a consideration in being selected as the award winner. As was the fact that I’m also currently studying a Masters of Medical and Health Science by research, which is focusing on women and the relationship between exercise and anxiety.
So, all of these things may have contributed. But let me tell you, I was shocked!
What is something you’ve learned from teaching, which has positively impacted your non-Instructor life?
Self-worth, being able to speak more confidently in front of others, and not be afraid to be who I am. I’ve always been nervous to be myself and although it’s still there, being up on stage and having to be confident is something that passes over into other areas in life. For example, I have an opportunity to speak at a conference in front of lots of people and I’m excited!
Pictured above (L-R): Damon Lee, Sarah Ford, Shelley Hall, Lee Smith
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about becoming a Les Mills Instructor, but do not feel ready?
Do it, you won't regret it.
I was doing combat for quite some time at the Leisure Centre in the UK and then a few of their classes were cancelled for different reasons. I was still recovering at this time, so my wonderful parents sent me off to David Lloyd [a health club chain] in the UK. I went to a Tuesday night class and the lady said, “Oh, my goodness, you’ll love the Instructor on a Tuesday night, he's really great!” And I had no idea who he was. It turned out to be Steve Tansey [international Presenter and Educator for Les Mills International] and I was just in awe of him. He said, “You should come and do my module training, but the thought of teaching in front of people was terrifying! And I know (now) that a lot of Instructors felt the same; they love teaching now but they were really scared of getting up in front of people to begin with. But once you get over those first nerves, the love of it transcends everything. So I say “Go for it!” It's so worth it and you'll do things and meet people, and your life just won't be the same ever again.