Spotlight: Renee Clarke

A goal of girlcando is to place the spotlight on the many strong, inspirational women I know who have achieved awesome things in health, fitness and life in general.  These girls all come from different walks of life, with different experiences, approaches and perspectives. As well as celebrating their achievements, I also hope that by sharing their experiences, people will see that anyone can overcome their perceived challenges and make positive changes to their lifestyles so they can live a healthy, active and fulfilling life. 
Renee embarked on a journey to improve her health and wellbeing following recovery from injury, significant back pain and surgery. Over the past year she has lost 20kg, but more importantly, she feels fitter, stronger and no longer has persistent back pain. Read her story below :)


2011 -> 2012


What prompted you to take the step to make some changes to improve your health?

I had back surgery (having my coccyx removed) in March of 2011. I was in a lot of pain before and after this, and I also made bad choices in my lifestyle. I stacked on a lot of weight and it didn’t bother me a huge amount. But then one day around seven months after my surgery, I was walking around the prison where I was working at the time and I became out of breath walking only 100m. I thought at that point that something has got to change, because I had never been that unfit in my life.

Did you encounter any obstacles along the way? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

One of my biggest obstacles was pain from my healing back and scar tissue from my surgery. I was in constant pain 24/7 and then I began training and at the start it only seemed to make it worse. But slowly I noticed the back pain starting to ease, and I didn’t need to use pain killers as much.  Now I am almost entirely pain free (in my back) 90% of the time, and I am SO happy with this! I never thought that this was possible.

Another obstacle that I came across was lack of support for my new lifestyle, particularly from those closest to me, including workmates, and some family and friends. People did not understand why I had decided to make this dramatic change in my life and why I had thrown myself into it so whole heartedly. From the outside it may have looked like I was going a little mad. But I had found something that changed my life for the better, a better way to deal with stress, a better way to live my life, a better way to eat, to survive. I rediscovered what feeling healthy, fit, strong and pain free was like and there was no way that I was going back. People may not understand my journey, but I took it for me, not for them.

What changes have you made to reflect your new lifestyle?

I eat a lot cleaner; I train most days of the week at least once. I have completely changed my life from the ground up. I recently completed a personal training course so that I can use my new found passion to try and help other people now. My life is very different from the girl of 12 months ago who was 20kgs heavier with no muscle as I lost it all after my surgery. I was miserable then, and I don’t really recognise the person I was. I feel as though through this journey I have stripped back the layers (both literally and figuratively) and have emerged more myself and happier than I have been in a very long time.


Were you always active and if not, how did you get into training?

I was generally always a pretty active person until I was about 21 because I again broke my coccyx at that age and the bad pain started. In December 2011 I decided to try and get fitter, and so I began getting on my exercise bike every night after dinner and watching TV instead of sitting on the couch doing the same. By April I had lost 8kgs and my sister then encouraged me to attend her local gym with her. I was unsure to begin because I felt gyms were intimidating places. But I started going, did some personal training and classes and never looked back.

What is your favourite type of training or favourite exercise?

I actually love all sorts of training as I get bored easily just doing one thing over and over. I do classes (core, circuit, boot camp style), I do resistance training, I do high intensity interval training, running etc. I still use my exercise bike on occasion. I now do a lot of plyometric power based exercises as I love how strong and fit they make me feel. If I had to single out one that I enjoy the most it would have to be boxing though. What an awesome way to get all those frustrations and stress out!

Where do you train? What is the atmosphere like where you train?

I train at Snap Fitness Pacific Pines. The atmosphere there is fantastic; it is almost like a second home for me there now. The people that I train with there are so supportive and friendly.


What are your biggest achievements to date?

-       No back pain anymore!

-       Losing 20kgs

-       Getting fitter, stronger and healthier.

-       I won a best female transformation award after completing the 12 week challenge at my gym.

-       Gaining lean muscle.

-       Changing my entire lifestyle to a much healthier one.

-       Completing my personal training course.

-       Smashing push ups (and can now bench press 60kgs), being able to dip my body weight unassisted easily, being able to do unassisted pull ups!

How have your achievements changed your outlook on life?

As I noted earlier, my whole outlook on everything has changed. I am more myself than I have been in a very long time. I am happier and more confident, I smile more! I have more energy and I am more positive. Life now seems full of possibilities as I don’t have pain and an unhealthy lifestyle holding me back anymore.

What are your future goals?

I want to continue to get fitter and stronger and more powerful. I have recently decided that I would love to complete a triathlon, even if only an amateur one. Another goal is finishing my law degree, whilst working as a personal trainer. I want  to be able lift more weight and continue to strengthen my lower back.


What does strength mean to you, and why is being strong so important?

Strength to me is physical, mental and emotional. I was always reasonably strong as a person, but then I started training and my body became strong as well. Now because of that I am mentally and emotionally stronger as well. I can also lift things more easily :o ) and carry things around more easily. Sometimes I surprise myself by doing something that I previously would have been completely unable to do. I recently had to move a mattress by myself and I did it without breaking a sweat. Strength to me is those things above, but it is also being able to live my life how I want to and the power to be myself.

What makes you happy?

At this point in my life just being me right here right now makes me happy. It has taken a lot of work (both emotionally and physically) to get me here, but I am. Training also always makes me feel awesome, so even if I am feeling horrible I will always still go to the gym because I know that afterwards that will have changed.

What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?

To stop looking at the scales! A lot of people are obsessed with the number on the scales and will weigh themselves multiple times a day (that used to be me…). But it really is just a number and there are so many better ways to measure progress!

I am also just going to add here that girls, resistance training will not make you too big!! It has been awesome for toning me and making me stronger but my muscles definitely aren’t too big! :)

Do you have any tips for girls or guys who want to start training or making healthy changes, but may be hesitant or confused as to where to start?

Go to the gym, I know it is scary! Ask questions; learn things from those who have experience. Do some research. Listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs from you. Drink more water, that’s good for everyone! Take a step, go for a run or a walk.

A journey starts with one footstep outside your front door and that is all it takes. Remember that people are generally always happy to help and if you are trying to make healthy changes to your life then you already have done the hardest part – decided to try.

  Today: Fitter, Stronger, Painfree!


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