In our ‘A Drink with Jeff’ series, Campbelltown Catholic Club community liaison Jeff McGill has been catching up with a diverse selection of club identities.
Clare-Ann Taylor hates gyms…but loves Aquafit.
Clare-Ann Taylor hates gyms…but loves Aquafit.
“Too cliquey, too expensive, too unhygienic, too something,” she says of her long list of other memberships that have barely lasted weeks. But, she’s been at Aquafit for almost four years now and only missed three days in the past three months!
So…what’s the difference?
She gives a detailed answer to that question in her recent book — A Woman’s Way: A Freedom Ride For Navigating Life’s Highway. A less detailed answer is, the sense of community. The sense of connection.
“There’s the freedom to work out in your own silent bubble by choice or to graze through casual conversations in between sets,” Clare-Ann said. It’s also relaxed and non-judgemental. “Members have little interest in each other’s body shapes nor the branding on their shoes or gym wear.”
Nonetheless, I suspected there was more to Clare-Ann’s life story than a plug for Aquafit. I’d heard about a stroke that she’d suffered. I’d heard about her gift of human life to another family. I’d heard about her origins as a ‘coloured’ child of Apartheid-era South Africa. So, I invited Clare-Ann to join me for the next Drink With Jeff interview.
We arranged to meet at Cafe Blue on a recent Monday morning, which was buzzing as beaming barista Sonia Ferraro served her famous coffees and bumped into an old mate, Sue McGarrity, from Macarthur’s 24 Hour Fight Against Cancer. When Clare-Ann arrived we grabbed a corner seat by the window to enjoy the autumn sunshine.
Our chat began with a date: July 2019. That’s when Clare-Ann decided to join Aquafit, intrigued at first by its outside architecture, but expecting to add it to her long list of failed gym memberships. Yet, here we are all these years later, and she’s still driving 30km a day from her home in The Oaks. “Addicted,” she smiled.
I laughed aloud when she told me about how long it took her to venture into Aquafit’s “muscle room” — that part of the facility where only the most serious iron-pumped gym junkies are allowed to enter. You’ve never heard of it? Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist!!! But it DID in Clare-Ann’s mind.
“So silly,” she laughs now. “At first I kept to the other side of Aquafit, thinking it was for the correct place for us amateurs. No one told me that, but for some reason I got it into my head that I wasn’t good enough, or pumped enough, to enter the section near the upstairs front windows. It was only when I was on my treadmill one day, chatting with another member, that they asked me why I never went into the other half of the room… I truly believed I wasn’t worthy.”
Are you worthy now, I asked her in reply.
“Absolutely!,” Clare-Ann shot back with a grin. ‘I OWN that place now!”
I also discovered that Clare-Ann prefers the full version of her name. “When I was born Mum liked Clare but Dad preferred Ann and they couldn’t agree, so they hyphenated it. When I was young and shy I usually went with Clare, but deep down I didn’t like it and felt sorry for Dad. It was only when I found my voice as an adult that I began to use Clare-Ann more.”
She was born in South Africa in 1971 and said her birth certificate has a big Texta mark across it. “That’s where my father crossed out the words ‘Cape Coloured’,” she explained.
“Mum and Dad were a mixed race marriage — Dad white, Mum of a coloured background, and in South Africa skin colour dictated your life path, career, income…everything. Stamped, just like cattle. Dad despised that, which is why he crossed out the words on my birth certificate. That’s also why we left South Africa, in 1972, and came to Australia to start a new life.”
Clare-Ann is a proud Aussie who has represented her nation in sport, but still feels her African roots. In 2017, she visited and subsequently funded a water tank for a rural preschool outside of Manzini, Swaziland (with the help of family and friends via a GoFundMe page). This is mentioned by Clare-Ann in a rather matter-of-fact style…as it we’ve all provided a water supply to poor students in another part of the world…but that’s the sort of big-hearted person I was quickly learning she is.
At this point in our conversation, Clare-Ann’s husband, Adam, popped in to say a quick hello, offering the firm handshake and friendly conversation I expected. In her stories, Clare-Ann cites the rock solid support she gets from Adam. “He ruffles my feathers when they need to be ruffled, but he also lets me soar.” The names of her two adult children, Isaac and Isabelle, also pepper our chat. Adam, to me, sounds like he deserves his own book — having worked for years as a local cop in highway patrol and then with the National Parks helicopters during the bushfire inferno of 2019, and he’s now working in driver education.
But back to Clare-Ann, and our conversation next ventured into one of her biggest challenges — the 2002 stroke I mentioned earlier. In medical terms, it was a ‘venous sinus thrombosis’ which occurred in her superior sagittal sinus (the main vein running from the front to the back of her brain)’. It started with pins and needles, turned into a bad hangover-like headache, then resulted in a series of seizures, involved hitting the floor in a GP’s surgery and an ambulance ride to hospital. In a nutshell, it was a rare type of blood clotting that affects five in a million people. Clare-Ann was one of the five, but also one of the lucky ones who fully recovered, bearing nothing but minor scar tissue damage within her brain and the loss of a few memories from her son’s early infancy.
It also taught her many things. “Life is precious; it literally is an interwoven connection of muscles, bones, blood, air and heart. We are also the best listeners of our body. We know her well. We know what fuels her and also what drains her. However, we need to be silent and aware in order to hear her, especially when she is suffering.”
Clare-Ann is a born wordsmith — almost every sentence dripping with eloquence, insight and humour.
Her near-death moment, she explained, led her to donate some of her eggs so that another family, unable to have children naturally, were given the gift of a child. “It was just something in me that I really wanted to do it,” she explained. “We’re lucky enough to have our own two kids, so I went through Sydney IVF and the donations program. A little boy was conceived as a result…he turned 13 last year. I read once you’ve never truly lived unless you’ve done an act of kindness that no one can ever pay you for. It also reaffirmed in me that I had completely healed from my stroke, and — touch wood — I’ve been healthy ever since.”
We discussed Clare-Ann’s long years as a school teacher, her time in an exchange program in Canada, her passion for dancing — from ballroom to dancefloor — and I discovered that as a kid she even performed as the ‘talent discovery of the week’ on Young Talent Time. (Remember that long-running TV show of the 1970s and 1980s, hosted by Johnny Young?)
Clare-Ann as a teenager got into Sports Acrobatics — “its like gymnastics and cheerleading all rolled in to one” — and represented Australia as the world championship at Riga, Latvia in 1989.
But while all that gymnastics and dancing kept her fit, it also led to wear and tear on her joints. (As you’re reading this, Clare-Ann is actually in hospital undergoing a knee operation.) “I’ll need Aquafit more than ever with the rehab,” she quipped.
For Clare-Ann, fitness is more than joints and muscles. The body is more than a chassis, but many working parts such as mind and spirit. In her book, she uses the metaphor of a Kombi van which to her represents freedom, unleashed fun and unkept hair. A road trip into new adventures. “What Kombis lack in power they ooze in charm, and I’m in no particular rush to reach my destination,” she explained. Each chapter follows that theme: driver, baggage, brakes, spark plugs, steering wheel, fuel, etc. I’ve since read parts of her book and was impressed at how she didn’t write it as a know-it-all expert in everything, but as a ‘co-driver’ or motivator.
Clare-Ann still has a long way to go in her own journey, and after she recovers from her knee surgery she dreams of hiking the Camino trail — a long and rugged pilgrims path leading to the shrine of St James in northern Spain. She also wants to write her parent’s memoirs, detailing their South African origins. “There are things dad doesn’t want to talk about,” she admitted, “but I can see a desire in mum’s eyes that it’s now time to talk.”
Clare-Ann is a natural-born teacher, and now works as a private tutor, but she also clearly loves learning from other people.
“As I’ve opened up to the world, so have my connections at Aquafit. I’ve met a fellow budding author who needs to tell his story, and a widower who finds solace and comfort within the walls of the gym. Another member has introduced me to the world of Dr Joe Dispenza and then there’s the most incredibly kind soul at reception… Leigh Fox. Her warmth and daily greetings prep me with a positive mindset to start my training.”
(I caught up with Leigh after our chat and she told me: “Clare-Ann’s just special, right from the get-go. She’s got a beautiful quiet demeanour, is kind and very inspirational…I remember when she first started writing the book and I have loved supporting her…but’s she’s family, part of our Aquafit family.”)
In conclusion, Clare-Ann says her longevity with Aquafit probably comes down to its motto: Health, Fitness and Wellbeing.
“My gym has become a daily anticipation, a place where I can process my thoughts in silence or share them amongst willing ears. And the best thing is that while my wellbeing is enjoying the nurturing, my body is growing stronger and healthier. It’s a win-win situation.”
Clare-Ann’s 230-page book — A Woman’s Way: A Freedom Ride For Navigating Life’s Highway — is available via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or website https://clare-anntaylor.com. Also follow her on Facebook or Instagram.
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