Unsung Heroes: Bunbury fitness trainer of 15 years shares his thoughts on fitness and the world around him

Kasper JohansenSouth Western Times
Bunbury fitness trainer of 15 years Benn “Sarge” Stephens.
Camera IconBunbury fitness trainer of 15 years Benn “Sarge” Stephens. Credit: Kasper Johansen

Training Bunbury residents to be their “best selves” for 15 years, Benn “Sarge” Stephens has shared how a childhood in a hippie commune shaped his world view and the dramatic career change that helped him follow his passion.

A Back Beach silhouette often surrounded by gym equipment and exhausted faces, Mr Stephens is in charge of 19 outdoor fitness classes a week from the early hours of sunrise to evening sunsets.

“It’s an amazing balance, you’ve got to encourage people to do the best they can without making them feel like they’re under too much pressure,” he said.

“A lot of training is talking, it’s not so much about what you know — you could teach a monkey to lift — it’s about finding a conversation your client can enjoy while they have to do the painful things.”

Known more commonly as “Sarge”, Mr Stephens said the story of his nickname was “nothing exciting” but had since become a staple part of his training epithet since he first began more than a decade ago.

“I was part of a franchise group, most of the boot camp members were ex-military — I’m not — but it was a requirement that all franchisees be addressed as Sarge,” he said.

“It’s not something I’ve encouraged for years, because I’ve been away from that franchise group for some time, but it stuck.

“Unfortunately it’s marketing, it’s how people know me and most people still address me as (Sarge) ... I did legally change it to my middle name when I got married, I didn’t think I was going to be allowed to so I was surprised.”

The 41-year-old fitness expert lives a busy life also running 30 personal training sessions a week, but a career in fitness wasn’t always on Mr Stephens’ mind.

“I’m a psychology grad — who just happened to prefer (fitness training) from psych — I did my degree, came down here and fell into this role,” he said.

“I feel a lot of people do psych because they feel they’re good with people in a sense, and that’s what I felt,” he said.

“I do enough chatting with my clients about their problems to be on the edge of what’s wrong with the world, I like to stay in my little fantasy land of fitness and happiness.”

Jetts Gym Bunbury manager and fellow outdoor fitness trainer Gill Player with Benn “Sarge” Stephens.
Camera IconJetts Gym Bunbury manager and fellow outdoor fitness trainer Gill Player with Benn “Sarge” Stephens. Credit: Kasper Johansen

Growing up on a farm in Youngs Siding in the 1980s — bordering a hippie-filled Denmark — Mr Stephens said at the time it was known as a “hippie commune”, with the ideologies of the town shaping his world view from a young age.

“We had polyamorous couples, obviously gay people, we had a multitude of races ... we had an idyllic farm life, lots of lovely animals, very happy people and a great community,” he said.

“I didn’t go to a real school until I was 10 and then I went to a real school and encountered racism, homophobia and sexism and it was very strange.”

Praising the social and political “militancy” of public figures such Emmeline Pankhurst, Germaine Greer and Martin Luther King, Mr Stephens explained his thoughts outside of the fitness world.

“It’s often lost that in most social change it often comes from the angry ones that no one liked ... people who made the change were the Malcom X’s of the world,” he said.

“I find humanity a sobering thing at times and a lot of that comes down to the fact that you can present a great idea and people don’t like it. People are trying to exist in a life that makes them happy and there’s so much pushback and it’s very strange to me,” he said.

A father of three, Mr Stephens said his kids were the biggest part of his life and, pointing to the equipment next to him, said he never really grew up himself because he still plays with toys.

“My kids are by far the biggest part of my life, I thoroughly enjoy being a dad ... I’m well known for getting far too involved in the trampolines, it turns out you don’t land as well when you’re older,” he said.

Offering a final piece of sage fitness advice, “Sarge” said it’s not about “going after” a particular physical look but following your own goals and doing the best you can.

“Find something you like and find time to do it consistently — make it a priority — you’ve got to live in your body and you might as well live as best you can,” he said.

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