Size really doesn’t matter when it comes to the determined Freya Thomson. You can find her in the early hours of the morning at the gym training her clients and in the late hours of the evening being trained herself in the kickboxing variant of Muay Thai.
“I was the sporty girl at school. I loved going to the gym, and was very passionate about eating healthily and having a healthy lifestyle. I was the girl who would try to get the overweight girls to go out for a walk and not drink Coke. So I was that girl, the annoying one,” Freya Thomson laughs.
Ever since she can remember, Freya has been doing some form of sport. “When I was ten I decided to go vegetarian then, later on, vegan and I just noticed how much that changed and helped me. I became a better athlete and it meant I persevered with sport, rather than it just being a thing you did after school.”
New Zealand’s culture surrounding health, exercise and lifestyle is “pretty slack” in Freya’s eyes, with her message being for people to get off the couch and start moving. “It doesn’t have to be high-intensity, scary stuff, it is just about moving, changing one unhealthy lifestyle choice. Swapping juice for water or a herbal tea is enough. It doesn’t need to be this dramatic drop that you are never going to maintain.”
“You go to the supermarket and see the obese, really unhealthy looking people and look at their trolleys and it’s chips, white bread, pasta, fizzy drink and juice. You can just see the difference.”
The day I wake up and not want to go to the gym is the day that I need to find a new job
“It’s the Kiwi culture of ‘it’ll be right’ or ‘that’s too hard I just won’t bother’ that has created this thing where the gym is only for fit people. So it’s really hard for people who have never been before to come into the gym and acknowledge that they need help. If it’s not one week it’s two weeks, then a month, then six months and all of a sudden you are overweight with heart disease.”
Helping clients to reach their goals, or make significant lifestyle changes, is the most rewarding part of her job as a personal trainer at Massey Rec Centre. “It’s when clients come in and are so stoked about their lifestyle changes, especially ones with quite severe medical conditions. When they come in and say, ‘My doctor said I can drop this medication’, those cases are highlights. It’s cool to know that I have made that kind of change to someone’s life.”
Improving a client’s lifestyle one bad habit at a time is all in a day’s work, but for Freya it doesn’t stop there. She’s also passionate about training in Muay Thai, a combat sport that uses stand-up striking and includes various hits and blocking techniques that aim to injure or incapacitate, which she converted to in 2009.
“I changed to Muay Thai from Taekwondo because I only wanted to spar, and I joined a local Muay Thai gym around the corner just to get in some sparring practice. I then really wanted a Muay Thai fight, but my trainer at the time wouldn’t let me until I quit Taekwondo. It seemed like the right time and after the first fight I was hooked.”
Freya’s first title fight was back in 2012, when she went in as the underdog and came out a national champion. “When the authorities match you up for fights they don’t ask you about other styles, so I was fighting other people who had only had one or two fights and I was doing really well against them because I had ring experience from Taekwondo. I very quickly got to the point where I was fighting more experienced girls and there was just no one else around my weight for me to fight, so the only way was to challenge for a title.”
Her recent trip to the Muay Thai World Championships in Malaysia in May is something that Freya says was a great experience. “They have a rule over there that there is no blood, which is very different from New Zealand. In my first fight the girl got a good hit in, I got a bleeding nose and it was all over. But the team got some really good results.”
It’s when clients come in and are so stoked about their lifestyle changes
Sport is a mental game, according to Freya. Going into her last fight after three losses in a row would have been enough to mentally drain the best of them. “You get the physical injuries but it is nothing like having to get your head mentally there to be able to train and still be able to fight. I made the decision that if I lost this fight then that was it, so as the ref held my hand up that was a good moment.”
“You have to have mental strength. You can teach someone how to hit but you can’t teach the heart or the passion, it has to be within the person. It is pretty scary stepping into a ring where you know someone is trying to knock you out. But that’s why I quite like it, because it’s making me go outside my comfort zone. Once that final whistle has gone there is such a huge amount of respect for each other. Amongst fighters, we are like a little family.”
There are times when work does get the better of Freya, but she takes it all in her stride. “I’m lucky that I love my job. I have a cool client base whom I get along with really well. There are days when I find it hard to go to training, and when I’m coming up to a fight clients do find that I push them a lot harder. I love both jobs and I wouldn’t be able to choose one over the other.”
In her spare time Freya relishes working with the horses she trains and spending time with her much-loved dogs. “Again I’m one of those really annoying people who exercises in their spare time. But when I have the spare time that’s when I can take my dogs for a longer walk or go to a park. It’s mostly about mentally relaxing and winding down. I love going to get a facial and a massage on the weekend, so as much as I like getting dirty with the horses and punching people in the face, sometimes I like to do girly stuff too.”
In terms of the future, Freya is a “go with the flow kind of person”, and is happy with life as it is. “But the day I wake up and not want to go to the gym is the day that I need to find a new job. Until then I love my job. I live a good life, why would I change what I’m doing?”