Fitness Queen transforming the lives of moms

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After discovering first-hand the importance of keeping fit for moms, Brooke Tuatao has created a unique fitness program that is changing the lives of hundreds of Auckland women for the better.

Brooke Tuatao sets her alarm to wake up at 3:50 am. She lives in a small apartment with her husband, Siaosi, and her 16-year-old daughter, Taleia, above a Mount Smart warehouse that they recently converted into a gym.

Tuatao is the founder of the women-only fitness programs FITmumz and the owner of two gyms in Auckland. And at 4:30 am, she opened the doors to prepare for the first session at 5.

“I like to make sure I’m wide awake when I greet people when they arrive. Those early riser girls are ‘on’,” says Tuatao. “They are here to work and they are very consistent. They know it’s their time and if they don’t do it, they probably won’t train that day.

“Some of them go straight to work afterward and others go home so their partners can go to work and they can get their kids ready for school.”

He knows they are sacrificing sleep for exercise and he always reminds them, “Don’t get up for nothing. You got up so early, so make it count. You feel a responsibility to make sure you give them the best session possible at all times.

As a young mother, she came to understand the important role physical exercise can play in women’s lives. Her own journey sparked a successful business that helps women not only make physical changes, but also tackle their wellness issues.

Brooke Tuatoa (centre) works one-on-one with each woman who comes to her two Auckland gyms. Photo: supplied.

Tuatoa understands the dynamics of family life all too well. The oldest daughter of 10 children, she was born in Auckland and raised in Tauranga. Her mother is a European New Zealander and her father is a German Samoan.

She and all of her siblings were homeschooled following a Christian education curriculum and she continued this homeschooling, Taleia.

“Being part of a big family, we were always raised to help. We had no pocket money and I remember getting up early in the morning and cooking a big pot of oatmeal, ironing dad’s shirts and making his lunch,” says Tuatao.

She attributes her entrepreneurial spirit and determination to that family work ethic and believes that as homeschooled children, they had more freedom to be creative.

“I used to make Christmas cards and cakes and sell them around the neighborhood. I even had my own children’s clothing line, buying second-hand clothes and reselling them under my own label,” says Tuatao.

“I was offered a babysitting job, but at 12 I was too young, so I had my older brother come with me.”

At 13, he was riding his BMX around town to work at a health food store filling bags of nuts and seeds. “When I got paid, I would ride my bike to the bank. With just those few hours a week, by the time I was 15, I had saved enough to buy my first car.”

Looking back, Tuatao realizes he always had a head for business, but he certainly had no idea that nearly 30 years later he would be running his own successful company with two gyms. “I never wanted the responsibility of being a boss. I wanted to be a school teacher, to work with children in less developed countries,” he says.

Brooke Tuatao competing in crossfit. Photo: supplied.

Tuatao was always interested in health and fitness and playing sports. He did gymnastics from an early age. At 18, he turned to competitive bodybuilding and began working out in big gyms.

But Tuatoa became disillusioned with the individual approach to bodybuilding and ended his competitive days on a high note, winning gold at the Auckland Champions in 2012.

These days, she prefers to compete as a team in crossfit competitions, where she is more interested in challenging herself and working to support others on the team. “Being in a team is great, and it’s challenging to be on the pitch alone, especially in an international environment,” she says.

During her final year of studies for a bachelor’s degree in education, Tuatao became pregnant with her daughter. It was then that she began to understand the difference it makes for women to stay in shape with a partner and a child to consider. When she graduated, she started working as a babysitter and only took jobs where Taleia could go with her.

The idea to start women’s fitness classes came to her because she was documenting her own fitness journey on social media (she has 34,000 followers on Instagram) and many women were asking her for ideas and help with training and nutrition.

“This just grew and grew,” she says. “I found myself doing everything I could to help them and I realized that I wanted to help more women.”

Starting FITmumz classes at The Gardens School in Manurewa in 2013, Tuatao wanted it to be a place where moms could bring their kids.

“At first there were a handful of women, but soon there were 50 or 60 in some classes,” she says. Over time, moving to other locations meant that Tuatao had to give up another job to focus on the business full time.

In 2014, the school reported that they were demolishing the hall that was the main location of FITmumz. At the same time, the Tuatao aiga’s landlord decided to sell their house and they needed to move.

It was the moment of decision. “I had a five-year plan and investing in our own place when I didn’t have a regular income seemed too early and too scary,” says Tuatao.

But just a year after starting FITmumz, the couple took a leap of faith, leaving home and renting a building in Manukau that became their first official training center and home.

George Tuatao leading a FITmumz class. Photo: supplied.

The business continued to flourish. By 2015, Siaosi, a sports trainer, became increasingly involved in the growing business.

Tuatao always reminds women that when they walk through the door of FITmumz, that doesn’t mean magic will take over and they will automatically start eating better and getting fitter. The important thing, he says, is to make yourself a priority.

“Oftentimes, women sign up hoping for a physical change, but they also face wellness issues. Many have significant weight problems and a defeatist attitude,” she says.

“They say ‘no, I can’t do that; I am not disciplined enough; I don’t have the drive that you have; I don’t have the motivation, the inspiration.’ The challenge is not only to teach them how to use the tools we provide, but to build their confidence and knowledge so that they continue to make good decisions for themselves and their families, forever.”

Tuatao considers everyone individually, analyzing their specific circumstances to understand who they are before designing a nutrition and training program for them.

“It’s very important that when a woman comes to me for help, I not only give her an immediate answer, but I try to further investigate why they are doing what they are doing,” she says.

“I start from when they were kids to help them understand why they choose what they do,” she says. “Whether they’re happy, sad or angry, it’s almost like food becomes a drug. It’s not just about helping reverse those things, but about understanding why we do them.”

Brooke Tuatao and her daughter, Taleia, teach gym classes at McAuley High School in Ōtāhuhu.

The FITmumz program is different from the others, explains Tuatao: It’s not a conventional gym, and it’s not just CrossFit either, but a combination with an emphasis on strength and conditioning.

“You do cardio for health reasons, not just to lose weight, and you do weight training for safety, not just to build muscle. This is important for all age groups, including those over 50 years old,” she says. “You don’t need to be pulling all the heavy barbells and weights, but you do need to be doing some form of resistance training.”

Another point of difference with FITmumz is the annual ‘Transform’ program that takes place during the winter months to encourage women to keep training. “The main reason I created it is because of that responsibility during the cold season,” says Tuatoa.

By completing ‘Transform’, women can celebrate their personal achievements – taking the stage to show their family and friends how the hard work and sacrifices they’ve made over the past few months have paid off.

“It’s not about competing with others. Everyone’s journey is unique, and people start at different levels,” says Tuatao.

Tuatao wanted gyms to be not just for moms, but also a place where families could be together. Both their Manukau and Mount Smart training facilities have a dedicated space for children. “Many of the children come from when they were babies,” says Tuatao.

Now those kids can train too: Tuatao added FITkidz, which provides age-appropriate fitness training primarily for members’ children. They have also expanded into FITcomm, which are sessions for both men and women.

A family focused on fitness: Brooke, Taleia and Siaosi Tuatao. Photo: supplied.

The recent move to Mount Smart has given the Tuataos a home where they can finally unpack the boxes they stored eight years ago. “At 16, Taleia finally got a bedroom of her own. It is the first time in years that we have our own bathroom, separate from the gym,” says Tuatao.

Living in their gyms, usually sharing a room and using the gym’s bathrooms, was difficult. Tuatao has realized that the dream of having a house separate from the gym will never come true, but she is comfortable with it. “Building our own community facility is a long-term goal and would mean much more than owning a home,” she says.

From those humble beginnings as a one-woman band, Tuatao is still at the helm.

With nearly 60 classes a week, the two training facilities have more than 500 members. They now have over 20 trained trainers, all of whom have been through the FITmumz or FITcomm program. Tuatao says that he understands the philosophy of the family and the formation of the whole person.

“Now I use a lot of what I learned in teacher training college,” he says, and many of his coaches are also educators.

FITmumz and FITcomm now have an online program in New Zealand, soon to be available internationally.

They’ve come a long way since they launched FITmumz nine years ago, with a few pieces of gear Tuatao hauled up and out of his car for each session in the school hall.

“Every day I think we’re so blessed to do what we do because we don’t have a lot of time here, you know?” she says. “And the more people we can help live quality lives, I don’t think it gets any better than that,” she says.

Tuatoa believes that riches come from seeing women succeed. “I have seen entire families changed and transformed just because the mother has prioritized herself. That’s so big,” she says. “When we go through difficult times personally, I remind myself that these are the things that are important. She makes it all worthwhile.”

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