The power of mentors in the health and fitness industry

Bryn Ealey is a national powerlifting champion, a personal trainer to professional athletes and a Fit Futures Academy tutor with more than 100 students under his tutelage. But behind his success, Bryn says it’s the help of key mentors that have helped him pivot and navigate through the peaks and troughs of life’s turbulent waters. Here he details how to find the right support network and how important it is to keep an open mind when setting personal and professional goals.

“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill

Scrolling through Bryn Ealey’s Instagram, it’s immediately obvious how much personal development the trainer and tutor takes on. Photos depict Ealey posing proudly with various professionals, from sports psychologists to international rugby coaches to champion athletes, the captions detailing how each individual has helped to shape his life. Bryn was only 14 when he met his first mentor Ashley Jones; an elite strength and conditioning coach for teams like the Sydney Kings, the Wallabies, the All Blacks and the Crusaders.

“He told me that he helped people to get better. I looked at him and thought, that’s what I want to do,” Bryn said. “He said firstly, it would pay to do my personal training and see if I enjoyed it and if so, go on and do a degree.”

At 19 years of age Bryn completed his personal training certification and went on to study a Bachelor of Applied Science and Exercise Science in Christchurch. But his background as an athlete inspired him to delve into the world of professional sport, where he dreamed of operating as an international rugby strength and conditioning coach.

A unique beginning

Born in 1991, Ealey spent the first two years of his life in Japan where he lived with his Japanese mother and English father. After moving to Christchurch in 1994, Bryn grew up practising judo and jujitsu, instilling in him a sense of mental resilience and shaping many of the values he still holds today.

“I come from three generations of military, so I’d say I had quite traditional childhood,” Bryn said. “Martial arts taught me a lot about discipline. My teacher was a two-time Olympian who used to write on a blackboard two words we weren’t able to use in the club – ‘can’t’ or ‘try’. We had to say ‘do’, or ‘will’ instead. Having that drilled into you as a young boy changes your perceptions of things when you approach certain obstacles.”

He quickly proceeded through the ranks and was training at a national level when a shoulder injury stopped him in his tracks.

“The surgeon said if I had another injury, I would need a reconstruction which at that time wasn’t advisable. They recommended I got into weight training to rehab my shoulder,” he said.

“I would say I have a very additive personality so I as soon as I started to see competency, I was hooked straight away. I then took up power lifting and started competing when I was 20-years-old.”

Lifting the standard

“What I love about my sport is the thing that is in your way, is right in front of you. It’s up to you, as to what you do with it,” Bryn said.

The trainer currently holds the New Zealand open title for under 95 kilograms, which he is defending again in November. “I train four to five days a week, for up to three hours a session. My competition PBis 285-kilogram squat, 180-kilogram on the bench and a deadlift of 300-kilograms.”

It was through his competitions that he met another of his mentors, former Strong Man and sports psychology expert David Niethe.

“One of the biggest things he taught me was to be able to stay calm until it’s time not to be calm,” Bryn said.

“He saw me at a competition and my old way of getting ready was to pump heavy metal music for the whole day. He asked me how I felt after a competition and I would say, I feel absolutely exhausted. Then he told me there was a better way to approach the competitions and that’s how we started working together. I really recommend working with a sports phycologist, because I think that everyone has certain limitations as an individual and as an athlete, and having a professional on your side is invaluable. David has helped me a lot with goal setting,which I pass on to my students.”

Keeping goals fluid

After completing his Bachelor degree Bryn was offered the opportunity he had dreamt of; to work as a strength and conditioning coach for a professional rugby team in Japan. In 2014 he moved to Gunma, Ota, a two-hour drive outside Tokyo. But once instilled in his new life, he realised it wasn’t how he envisioned.

“When I went there it made me realise that the professional sports side didn’t really align with my values and morals that I had. That world can be very insular and money driven,” he said.

“It was a real shock to realise that the job and industry that I’d been working towards my whole life, wasn’t actually what I wanted to do. It was really disappointing. I had a big dream of becoming an international strength and conditioning coach and travelling the world, but once I got a taste of living out of a suitcase, that wasn’t what I wanted. I was working all the time and I didn’t have a social life; I wasn’t able to enjoy the things you should enjoy in your early 20s. What I tell people now is, it’s good to set goals and have a plan, but you have to be willing to adapt. You’ve got to be flexible and not too rigid.”

At a loss as to where to go next, it was again a mentor that helped steer his ship. In Japan Bryn met Phil Mooney, the former coach of the Queensland Reds.

“When I told him things weren’t working out and that I was moving back to New Zealand, he sat me down and asked me what options were there for work. He helped me work through everything, pulling apart my goals and helping me to shape out the immediate future,” Bryn said.

“I was very fortunate to have someone like him influence me at such a critical time in my life. He has a strong family value and that’s something I respect a lot. Phil always said to me, when you get into a position to do the same thing, make sure you pass it on. That’s what I love about my job now; being able to mentor young personal trainers.”

Where to next?

Bryn has been working as a tutor for Fit Futures Academy since February 2019. He says one of the biggest things he emphasises to his students as a Personal Trainer is the importance of building relationships.

“Make sure that number one, you have great customer service and good communication skills,” he said.

“You are as much about your listening skills as you are about your training skills. You need to be able to empathise with people and work with their energy. There’s a lot to the industry and more than meets the eye with this job. You need to be able to deal with people before you know about the training. You go the extra mile and do the little things because it’s about an experience. You want your client to be able to justify the money they’re paying you and to think that the $100 they just paid you for an hour session is a bargain. You have to add value.”

Finding the right mentors

“I think Mike Tyson put it the best,” Bryn said.

“Tyson said, ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ I learnt from my mentors that it’s ok to be different and it’s ok to seek out help. I think too many people are too hesitant to do that.”

The trainer suggests in order to find the right mentor, it’s important to have the right mindset.

“I remember Ashley Jones saying to me, ‘the sensei will appear when the student is ready.’

The right mentor comes along when you’re ready to learn,” he said.

“To find a mentor, you just have to ask. It’s about reaching out into the circles that you’re involved in and those that you aspire to be involved in. It’s really important to know what you’re looking for in a mentor. Is it for training, for psychology, for life or for business? You can have more than one mentor for different aspects of your life. It’s about knowing each of your mentor’s limitations, which will allow you to seek out different mentors for different areas of your life.”