Can you please tell me a little bit about yourself and how your passion for fitness developed?
Born in 1966 and raised in Coogee with my older sister Thelma and my older brother Con, we grew up in a typical Greek household. My passion for fitness developed from the strong sporting nature of my school at Randwick Boys High. Basically you played sport or you didn’t!
My brother Con was a natural born athlete so as to not let him down I tried to follow in his footsteps. He was the captain of all the football teams he played for and was very popular amongst the students at Randwick Boys High whereas I was just a skinny little kid that idolised my brother Con.
I clearly remember following him around like a shadow after school where he was old enough to obtain access to our local gym at Coogee Beach called “Giles Gym” which was situated on the north head of Coogee Beach. Giles gym was demolished in the year 2000 as the building was in disrepair.
Anyway I was too young to enter the gym so I just waited outside for Con, sometimes for hours with an older gentleman who ran the gym. He was so tanned and his skin was so wrinkled that we nicknamed him “the lizard man”.
When I turned eleven years old, I was allowed to enter the gym. I couldn’t be more happy and excited to get big and strong, thinking it was so easy and I would be a BEAST in no time LOL.
However there was one more hurdle to overcome, the entry fee.
The entry fee was five cents from memory and I did not have five cents! My father worked two jobs. We were always struggling to make ends meet, so even though I was allowed in the gym I did not have the entry fee.
My brother Con worked in my cousins car workshop so he was “cashed up” and good to go and I was not! Until the “the lizard man” came up with a solution.
He said to me in these exact words “hey sonny, see that Hoover”? which was what we called the vacuum cleaner back then. I replied “yes” then he said “just Hoover the gym and I’ll let you in” For me that was the best news ever! I would clean the gym floor and train myself immediately afterwards.
I eventually took on more tasks like folding towels neatly and giving change to the patrons when they bought a can of coke or lemonade. Sometimes the patrons would give me a tip and back then five cents could buy me lots of lollies in a white paper bag. This was the best thing ever walking home from Giles. I often wondered how and where the “patrons” could produce 20 cents from because all they would be wearing is Speedos and thongs were optional. Now that I think about it….“eew”
I became very fond of the gym environment and enjoyed training even though I had absolutely no idea with what I was doing! Anyway this is how I started in the fitness industry, right at the very bottom!
You’ve achieved a lot in your time, you’re known at Titan as the ‘the master’ trainer. What is your biggest sporting achievement to date?
I left school in 1980 and once again followed my brother into the auto trade and began my apprenticeship. However I just knew that one day I would work in a gym, doing what exactly I didn’t know.
Over the years I developed a good understanding about exercising and training in general. I was always helping my friends and family with exercise from a young age so I suppose in a way I became their trainer. They would give me a fee for helping them. Back then there was no such thing as a personal trainer as the fitness industry was in its embryonic stage.
I really enjoyed helping people in the gym and to be paid for it was a bonus. I began training in Taekwondo at 11 years old and in due course I received my third dan black belt. Throughout my training from a white belt to a black belt I taught classes twice per week and over the years this amounted to over 500 classes that I taught on my own and this is how I was able to afford my own lessons and classes.
My sporting achievements are nothing to brag about really however I did win the junior world championships in 1985 in Taekwondo and then progressed and qualified for the Australian Olympic team in 1988. My TKD instructor David kept telling me to train with weights because it would help with my fighting ability. He was so right! I really enjoyed lifting heavy weights and showing off to my brother and anyone else at every opportunity.
So if my brother was the natural born athlete I was definitely the natural born show off! My best lifts were as follows: Squat 225 kg, Bench press 162.5 kg and Deadlift at 260 kg all with my body weight of 67 kg.
In 1995 I met my wife Frances and she encouraged me to become a personal trainer full time and leave the auto trade behind. I took the opportunity to study my Certificate III and IV and became a full time personal trainer.
I devoted my time to my clients and learning as much as I could on the job. I had an amazing and extremely kind mentor when I was studying my PT course. His name is Paul Haslam and he is still one of the most influential and knowledgeable trainers in the world! A true master in all things training.
Paul also took me under his wing in 2002 as his assistant lecturer for all students studying cert III, cert IV and the diploma of fitness. I owe Paul Haslam the utmost respect and honour for what he has done for me over the years because without Paul I would not be where I am today as a lecturer and teaching for the Australian College.
I have been a senior lecturer now for almost fifteen years and I absolutely love teaching. I have taught to approximately ten thousand students so far and for me it is still as exciting now as the first class I taught in 2002.
I have been involved in the fitness industry since 1977 till this present day which makes it 41 years and I still love it now as I did when I first started out.
I have been working with Titan Fitness since 2007 and I am most definitely staying until the end of my career if they will have me for that long. Maybe I will end up as the “lizard man” too one day.
The owners of Titan Fitness were also my school mates from Randwick Boys High: Danny, Murat and our fearless leader Mets have always been good friends of mine since around 1978 and it is an absolute pleasure and an honour to be working with them after all these years.
Our staff are an absolute pleasure to work with, our club manager Tina, Susie, Sinead, Marion and all our reception staff make our home accommodating for us all. Our PT team are highly skilled so don’t be shy, if you have questions about your training or anything fitness related I am sure they would be happy to help you train more effectively.
Some of my colleagues at Titan’s refer to me as the “master trainer” which is very flattering however to me they are the future of this industry and I love the fact that a fair percentage of them are former students of mine. This makes me very proud and humbled to be among them everyday.
One of the most common questions I am asked is what makes a successful personal trainer? Well first of all we must define what is meant by the word successful as it can be one of or all of the following:
Is it an overwhelming passion and hyper vigilance? Financial stability? Longevity in the industry? Fame in the industry? Being in constant demand with a waiting list? Waking up every morning and loving what you do? Working with great people in a great facility and environment? Or is it all of the friends and clients that you have made and helped along the way?
For me personally perhaps it’s a bit of everything. I also advise any and all personal trainers to keep up-skilling themselves and adapt to an ever changing industry.
Fun facts about me that you may find amusing or interesting is that in early 2000 before I took on full time PT, I was a live action stuntman for Marvel Comics. My martial arts abilities and diverse “show off skills” finally paid off!
I was contracted for 250 live performances mostly in Dubai, Phillipines, Singapore and Hong Kong. Entertaining young families was the most enjoyable time of my life. This probably explains why I am always dressed in Lycra as per my costumes.
In my spare time I enjoy building high powered Electric bikes, unfortunately these bikes offer minimal cardio exercise as they can propel you up any hill without turning the pedals once!
My business name is Raftosterone which is derived from my surname “Raftos”. My friends and family love the name as it suits me well.
You’ve been in the fitness industry for over 40 years, can you please tell us a bit about how the industry has evolved since you began. Do you believe the fitness industry has changed for the better?
In regards to the fitness industry and its development over the past forty years I have seen many changes, some great and others perhaps not so great. These are just my opinions and I will not criticise anything or anyone, but I will mention that we should all access reputable sources to satisfy our questions or curiosity.
The internet has an almost infinite amount of information so just do your best to learn from the best and if you are still uncertain just check with our awesome PT’s to set you on the right path. I truly believe that if you apply some physics, geometry, mathematics and common sense to your training you should be able to train and gain effectively.
Keeping it simple is usually the best way to go and over complicating things usually produces minimal results.
As you are aware Titan Fitness is an incredible facility, probably one of the worlds best! The owners work tirelessly to stay ahead of the competition with always upgrading and maintaining the equipment.
I am known as Mr Fixit around Titan Fitness so if you hear a squeak or a rattle please let me know and I will be on to it ASAP!
Let’s end on a fun one: If you could only use one piece of gym equipment for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Even though we have literally hundreds of high quality pieces of fitness equipment, my favourite is the good ol’ Olympic bar. I believe it can produce incredible results whether it be for Strength, Hypertrophy, Weight Management, muscular endurance or for sports performance. In the right hands it can do it all!
I have not trained myself for almost five years now and I could give you a list of excuses, but 2018 will be the return of the little Greek man in tights!
As a former powerlifter, 1 rep is great and 2 reps is cardio!
I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading my little story.
My motto is “BE STRONG BE HAPPY”
Written by Alana Willis
Alana is a qualified Personal Trainer who is passionate about instilling her love for training into those around her.
Alana recognises that to achieve long term results, the inextricable link between exercise, nutrition and mindset needs to be addressed.
This has led her to pursue a degree in Psychology with a Masters of Nutrition.
The health industry is complicated. Throughout the course of her studies, Alana has refined her ability to distill and explain only that which is relevant to your specific needs.