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I loved the Fast Show, stupid humour at its best – a tongue in cheek sketch requesting women know their place, sarcastic views of how women are incapable of doing or achieving anything. I did find it funny and the fact it was being made fun of, actually sent a powerful message about all the pompous, sexist idiots that are out there.

I believe I can achieve anything if I really want it bad enough. I’ve encountered self-doubt in areas that I may have found a little challenging including academic stages in my life…I think I was a late developer, as I’m now achieving qualifications that I may have struggled with when I was younger. I always thought it was my weak area but looking at the list I hold currently and now studying for my Masters, it can’t be that bad. Maybe it’s my own perception because I have to work harder to achieve such qualifications, that sometimes I need to read the same page at least 3 times for it to sink in, is just ‘my’ way. Self-belief has to be stronger than self-doubt but it’s one of the biggest killer of women’s ambitions and achievements.

It’s taken me quite a few years of learning and searching through life’s wonders to really feel I have reached a point that I know where I’m heading. At nearly 40 years of age, I have a fire burning that keeps my passion, drive and determination fuelled. I have a huge burning desire to succeed and no one will stop me from believing I can. This is what I believe sets aside women that achieve and women that do not. My aim in life is to not only achieve the very best I can be in my lifetime but to encourage and instil that burning fire in other women, to help them believe what they feel is
the impossible.

I’m very lucky. I entered this world with two amazing parents that believed in me from the very start. They were going to call me Claudia and back in the 70’s, the meaning of names was very important. Claudia means ‘lame’ in Latin terminology. Claudia is a lovely name but when I entered the world at 9lbs 14 and the length of the ward’s baby cot (mum said I used to get visitors from other new mums, I was the local freak show lol), they thought the name might not be for me, so Melissa Estelle meaning Honey Star was registered.

From a very young age, I was a little different to the other girls. I was tall, sporty and very strong. I got picked for every sporting event, team and could out run the boys and throw a rounders ball the furthest (still got my certificate). I’d spend my Sundays playing football with my dad, throwing a tennis ball against the house and practising my catching skills. I loved being active. If I look back, my parents allowed me to try out different sports and I stuck to them to achieve as much as I could. If the right coaching support was there at the time, I feel I could have really progressed as an athlete but it wasn’t meant to be. I enjoyed club and county level at hockey and have brilliant memories of those playing days.

Academically, I just went with the flow but sport and fitness was always my passion. I did ok at school, I did ok at college, I certainly didn’t excel but at 17, I drank my way through University; social and sports courses certainly entertain that. I spent 3 years working through modules that I couldn’t give a crap about but loved the interaction and Uni life. One module stuck out for me and that was Coaching Education. My lecturer was ex-Olympian Bill Tancred who was a track and field athlete in the 60’s. His stories of his Olympic days really drew me in. I’d be so engaged in his experiences as an elite athlete, I’d say he was the inspiration that started my interest in performance coaching. 20 years old and not a clue how I’d get there…

After University, I travelled. I’d recommend that you travel. Not only does it show you the world in all its glory and not just the dismal eyes of the media, but it allows you to grow as a person. I travelled on my own, I chose where to go and I went with my head held high. I know this can be a daunting thought for some and don’t get me wrong, I certainly had my doubts and anxious thoughts and who wouldn’t as a 21 year old woman but, the one woman who set me straight, the one woman who was probably feeling even more anxious about me going, the one woman who said, you have to do this and if you don’t like it, you come home, was my mum. She settled my nerves every time, she is the calm to my storm, my rock and I owe so much to her and my dad.

So I travelled and had a huge life enhancing experience. I literally could write a book about my travels, the places I visited, the people I met, the laughter, the worry, the freedom that I felt and the growth of the person I was and who I wanted to be. As much as an academic journey can set your mind to a higher level for knowledge, experiences from travel can enhance your mind to a whole different level.

At 24, I felt I needed to start finding my calling…what on earth was I going to do with my life?

I returned to England feeling low, I was back at where I had started. From the age of 19-24, I’d completed a sports degree, travelled America, Canada, Malaysia and Australia and now was back in my home town unemployed and skint and not a clue where I was going to start.

I managed to get work back at my old Leisure Centre, where I’d worked before in school holidays so they were kind enough to take me back on. My luck changed as my boss offered me a place on a Fitness Instructor course as someone had dropped out. I took it on, not knowing that this was the start of my journey to where I am now.

I worked at the Leisure Centre for a few more months but I knew I wanted more. It had been great and I got some experience but I wanted to explore this new found career so I applied for Fitness Instructor jobs in London. I was offered a place at a gym in Tottenham, I took it, went home. My dad told me I’d been offered an interview by Soho Gyms in Camden and although I’d been offered a job, I should go along. I’m so glad he gave me that advice as the MD didn’t offer me the Fitness Instructors role but the Fitness Managers position. I couldn’t believe it, I’d only been an instructor for 3 months at my local leisure centre and now I was being offered this amazing opportunity in a sought after part of London. The reason? Was it the degree? Well kind of, but it was a bit flimsy. It certainly wasn’t my experience as 3 months doesn’t amount to much. His reason as to why he employed me was the fact I had travelled! He explained that the gym encountered many different cultures from all over the world. Many lived in London where some were just passing through. He wanted a strong personality who could deal with the clients coming through the door but also had the desire to learn regarding training needs and management.

I spent an amazing couple of years working there, learning from some of the best trainers, coaching some of the best clients. I found that it wasn’t about money that drove me to excel but the reaction from people I worked with when they could see the results. Realising someone completely trusts your judgement and your knowledge really is something to strive for. One of my clients just so happened to be the son of the President of the Canadian Olympic Committee, who invited my along to the 2003 Athletic World Championships in Paris. Not only did I have an absolute blast with him but I also got the chance to watch the event and meet the GB team. Again it was here that the interest and desire to become a performance coach deepened and a great conversation with ex-Olympian Tessa Sanderson sealed the deal…but how I got there, I still had no clue.
I moved around a bit with various companies, stayed in middle management but very much kept my coaching and teaching hat on. I loved being on shop floor, interacting and training people was where I was happiest. I had highs and lows and working in a very male dominated environment, encountered interesting characters that tested my own way
of thinking and how I reacted to certain situations.

An event that took place when I was a Fitness Manager at a health club, was a turning point for me. I was becoming stale in the position I held and although I was part of the furniture and loved the clients, I needed to move on and managed to pick up a couple of hours teaching at the local college. I must have impressed as 6 months later I was working full time as a sports lecturer. I studied and gained my teaching qualification while still teaching some classes at the health club and training people as a freelance personal trainer in my own time.

I was a lecturer for 9 years and I loved it. Working with 16-19 year olds was hard work but rewarding at the same time. I worked in a small town so these kids were sometimes lost, not realising what was in this amazing world. I taught my lessons from experience and to interact, inspire and create enthusiasm for them to believe their potential was a reward in itself. I’m still in contact with some of my ex-students and I’ve loved watching them grow and succeed. After 9 years, I knew it was time to move on and I knew what I wanted to do. I knew by this time that if I was to succeed in my own right, I needed to be self-employed.

Moving back to Kent was a great move. I have a family and I knew I needed support from my family and friends. I think as a woman and a mother, we try to juggle everything. We have an amazing coping mechanism that seems to organise and complete many tasks without realising the impact if we didn’t. Moving house, job, area, leaving friends, moving my son to a completely different area and school and not knowing if starting all over again would actually work. It was a gamble but looking back, it was the right one.

We had moved back to Kent and I had a found a part time lecturing job at the local college. I did this on purpose so I could concentrate on building my own fitness empire. This is where Amazon24 Fitness was born. The name originated from my hockey days where a nickname had been created because of my 6 foot, athletic stature that could sprint and hit a hockey ball pretty hard. Amazon had stuck for many years and the 24 is my son’s birthday. I wanted a name that stood out from the rest and it’s worked so far.

I wanted to personal train. I didn’t have a venue, I wasn’t really well known and there was so much competition around me, that I had to really showcase myself. I taught some classes at local gyms, just to raise my profile and get myself a reputation. My logo for my company was to show strength so in my classes, that’s what I delivered. Strength, power and a confidence to empower. I delivered hard but rewarding classes. I wanted people to come back, I wanted people to go away and talk about the session with a mass desire to come back every week. Slowly but surely, I was creating a small following in the local area.

Within the small following, a group of ladies were interested in trying out some weight training. They wouldn’t dream of trying it in a commercial gym as they felt too self-conscious and worried about making fools of themselves. This wasn’t news to me. In my whole fitness career working in various gyms, I’d hear the same thing over and over and it was disheartening to think women didn’t feel comfortable in that environment as I loved it. It was my safe place, my calm and a place where throwing some heavy weights around really relaxed me.

This is where I started the Ladies Only Strength Programme. An exclusive workout programme designed for women only. I wanted to break the stigma and show how amazing you can look and feel by working with weights. It was a great success and after almost 2 years, they still train with me now.

I have now delivered many of these programmes, working with 100’s of different women, all with the same worries about how they look. Without trying, Amazon24 Fitness has predominately female members. Whether its personal training, strength programmes or classes, more and more women are coming along and joining my small fitness centre that is basically a converted village hall.

Why go along to a beaten-up building when there are modern, fully equipped gyms surrounding me? The responses were pretty much the same. Intimidation, lack of motivation, fear of failure, fear of making fools of themselves, didn’t think weights were for them, too old, too many mirrors and they got bored. Some were even worse, some of my amazing ladies actually used the word hate. They hated the way they looked, they hated the way they felt, they hated looking in a mirror, hated their reflection, hated themselves for losing their identity, even to the point where one woman said she felt lost, lost of her own purpose and didn’t see who she was supposed to be when she looked in the mirror. I didn’t understand why women especially could be so negative about their appearance, their self-worth and their belonging in society. I felt a deep urge to help these women believe in themselves again. To understand that they were amazing. This is where the Ladies Only Strength Programme grew as women came together. Even though there were different ages, abilities, shapes, sizes, background, careers, stay at home mums or retired, they all had one goal and that was to feel amazing again.

Not only did I see physical changes but attitudes changed, confidence grew, friendships formed, a family was created and even counselling was given. They could turn up so angry but after shifting some heavy weights and have a rant, they walked away with a smile. It was and is a safe haven, their time, a break away and they hated missing a session. The results came in and ultimately, they started liking themselves again. Finding who they were and appreciating their body, their mind. Learning new techniques, setting new PB’s. The main goal of losing weight was now stored as a secondary goal. These ladies now wanted to lift heavy and learn some fab techniques.

Some that have attended these sessions have changed in many ways from wearing a bikini for the first time, fitting in to clothes that have been in their wardrobe for years, going for a new job and getting it, talking more, laughing more and sticking two fingers up at society where once they felt they didn’t fit in. It’s the most amazing and empowering scene to watch unfold and I’ll never stop running these programmes as I can see the positive effects it has.

These women inspire me every day. I have goals of my own and pursuing them to get where I want to be. I’m studying hard, learning and upping my game to be the best. I own my business, I get to work with the most amazing people and I am now a performance coach. I am lucky enough to work with some top GB elite athletes and have worked with some brilliant top strength and conditioning coaches. I’ve found my passion and if, by sharing my story of taking opportunities and experiencing as much as possible, I can inspire just one person then I’m doing something right… So, WOMEN, KNOW YOUR LIMITS?.. there are no limits. Only you can limit yourself by restricting your pathways. Have courage and strength to pursue. It’s not easy on any level but there is nothing to stop you succeeding and if you need inspiration? Go and chuck some heavy weights around, it’s a rush!

Mel Young

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