Marilyn was in year 8 when she decided she wanted to be a personal trainer.
“At a young age I could see a lot of young people going through body image issues who also didn’t have a great education about health and wellness.
“Back when I was in school you learnt the basics, but I didn’t know enough about how to lead a healthy life. I could see my whole family struggling with health conditions like diabetes and weight problems and I wanted to be able to help them and make a difference.
“That’s what really drove me to personal training. I just knew at that young age I was meant to do this for life.”
When she was 15 years old the Campbelltown local sought out work experience in a gym and was encouraged by her dad, who swum at the Mount Annan Leisure Centre every weekend, to contact the Y.
“I was here for about a week and I got to follow around all of the personal trainers and jump into some fitness classes, scan membership tags at the front and get a real feel for how the centre works.”
“And at the end of it, I really liked the place and felt a real sense of community, so I asked and was lucky enough to get a job in the café.
“I left school at the end of year 10 to study my Certificate 3 and 4 and Diploma in Fitness at TAFE. While I was studying, I was working here at the Y in the café and then when I finished, I worked my way into the gym.”
Over a decade, Marilyn worked on the gym floor, ran classes, delivered personal training, school PE, youth programs and supported the seniors, disability, and mental health access programs in various roles to ensure Mount Annan Leisure Centre was a place for everyone to belong. In 2017, she put her hand up for a promotion.
“I was making a difference in the roles that I was in, but I wanted to be able to make a bigger impact,” she said.
“I got the Fitness Coordinator role at 23-years-old for one of our larger centres in NSW. We’ve got thousands of members here so for them to trust a 23-year-old was very exciting.
Although she has worked in other roles with different organisations over the years, it’s the Y that has her heart.
“In many other companies you’re not seen or respected as much as older people within the organisation and your experience isn’t valued. One thing that I’ve loved about the Y is no matter my age, they’ve always opened opportunities for me to learn and grow,” she said.
“There’s not been a single day I’ve walked into work and left saying that was a boring day. I think that’s what’s kept me here: the constant opportunity.”
One of Marilyn’s passions is ensuring that women feel at home and powerful in the gym.
In 2018, she and trainer Jessica Collis created a 6-week program to promote the benefits of fitness and healthy habits among young girls as part of the Australian Government’s Girls Make Your Move campaign.
“It can be quite daunting coming to the gym. I know the first time I walked into the gym even as a personal trainer, I was terrified walking in there with all the big strong men,” she said.
“We thought we need to educate young people about the importance of weight training and create a safe space where girls can come in and try it without feeling like a man is going to be staring at them or someone will judge them for not being able to do it properly.”
The Female Wellness Project consisted of a mental wellness session followed by a 45-minute fitness class. With funding from Camden Council, the program which started as a 6-week bootcamp grew rapidly to run for 10 weeks every school term - supporting 20 to 30 young women. Eventually, a mixed-gender class was also added to the mix.
“We started every session asking young people to tell us one thing they love about themselves. Especially for young people tackling their HSC and university, it’s so important for them to regularly exercise and benefit from that endorphin release. The program aimed to create healthy habits early that they could carry throughout their life,” Marilyn said.
Marilyn credits the relationships that trainers Jessica Collis and Karlee Franeck established with the girls for the program’s massive popularity.
“A lot of work went into planning and structuring the program but if we didn’t have the right females to come in and run it, it wouldn’t have been the same. It was great to have the two of them as young women themselves come in and share their journeys.
Paused during COVID-19, a supported wellness program for teens and youth has now returned to Mount Annan Leisure Centre in the form of Uplift.
“Uplift is a collaboration between our fitness staff and the Y NSW Youth and Community team who are qualified youth workers.
“Bringing our teams together allows us to focus on the fitness side of the program and lean on their expertise to strengthen the mental health side so young people with mental health concerns get the support they need.”
Uplift is running at Mount Annan Leisure Centre now and currently accepting enrolments.